The Birth Anniversary of Imam Ali B. Hossein (A.S.)

Reprinted with permission from IRNA (12/6/97). The following article has been slightly edited for the Shi'a Homepage

"Agreement in error is far worse than division for the sake of truth."

By Ali Amin-Nia

The Imam after Hossein b. Ali (AS) was his son Ali b. Hossein Zayn al-Abidin (AS). He was also known as Imam Sajjad. He was born in Medina in the year 38 A.H. (659). He lived with his grandfather, the Commander of the Faithful Imam Ali (AS), for two years, with his uncle, Imam Hassan (AS), for twelve years, and with his father, for twenty-three years. After his father, he lived a further year as an Imam.

His Imamate was confirmed in several ways. He was the most meritorious of the creatures of God, after his father in traditional knowledge and practices. He was more appropriate for authority by virtue of his father and more entitled to his position after him through his merit and lineage.

His grandfather designated him during the lifetime of his father. The testamentary bequests were made by his father and they were deposited with Umm Salama for him. He received them when his father was martyred. Although any revelations of the official atrocities against his father inevitably provoke a sense of disgust denouncing the horrifying and shocking policies of the ruling elite as repugnant to the conscience of man, I do not think that the fact of cruelty as such is any more tolerable at any time. The circumstances of his father's martyrdom still vivid in the minds of the people were crucially important for his activities in the spreading of Islamic principles and expressing his views of the incident.

Indeed, atrocity is a weapon of the weak or imbalanced authority. This is a factual observation: it does not exonerate those who use savagery as a weapon from any moral blame that may be put on them by their victims or by anyone else. Nor does it imply that the victims are morally inferior to the one who is perpetrating the barbarity. This is particularly more so when involving the noble members of the Household of the Prophet. All acts of enormity irrespective of its year are open to severe criticism on moral grounds if on nothing else.

The extreme wickedness of the perpetrator can take to many forms and shapes.The atrocious ruling elite are as an agent often miles away from where the atrocity is taking place. The perpetrator of the evil instruction is more often than not physically close to his victim. Often enough, the victims of atrocity are the God-fearing members of the community.

The one who commits a wrongdoing and he who is being wronged are irreconcilable and unlikely partners. It seems that there will never be any agreement about the morality or immorality of actions when involving the ruling elite and the subjects. However, agreement in error is far worse than division for the sake of truth. The atrocious ruling elite justifies its use of anomalies and eradicating of its opponents by its conviction of the absolute righteousness of its cause.

The innocent godly people justify their opposition and overt and covert activities to entice people in their enjoining good and forbidding the evil.Those who dispute the righteousness of the ruling body or dismiss the relevance of the opposition will disagree without the subjective judgments of those whose actions they disapprove. Nevertheless, a cruel and atrocious power structure may indeed be awesomely tyrannical and oppressive and an opposition may be absolutely justified, yet people would still rather remain as passive observers. Such is the eccentricity of human nature!

Of course, the ruling body has a right to defend itself -- implicit in the absolute necessity of the power structure. A properly constituted system of government, atrocious or not, nevertheless is threatened with extinction. The idiosyncrasy of man often cannot tolerate any set of standard for a long period of time. In the confusion of such misunderstandings nothing can be helpful unless derived from the divine constitution that is implicit in man.

Having objectives, for instance, is grand. Achieving these objectives has nonetheless its limits. There are many things in life for which man does not have to do anything or use ruthless methods but wait. These will come to man tried or not. Here, it is only fair to add that man can easily lose his remarkable tradition of seeking help from godly people or the Almighty God in his private hours. Ruthlessness never pays in the end. Is it not fairer to blame the shortcomings of man on man himself and his whims?

It could be argued that if the godly people were to insist on people's right to an honest life, the people themselves would have, perhaps, revolted against these very same sincere people. These are the peculiar In many ways, the time of Imam Ali b. Hossein known as Imam Sajjad in 659 was a classic case of post-insurgency and the response of the ruling elite was conducted on classical counter-insurgency lines. Suppressive measures of one kind or another were adopted and designed to deprive the Imam of the popular support for his cause.

Against the advantage of this polity, there were serious disadvantages. For one thing, the vivid memories of the incident of Karbala and the people's ill-treatment of Imam Hossein and the fact that the people did let him down at the most crucial moment of his effort to uphold Islamic principles meant that the full glare of publicity was permanently trained upon these events. Any departure from the recommendations of Imam Sajjad and his standard of studying Islam and performing prayers was immediately criticized by the public at large.

Moreover, for the first time in a situation of this kind involving the Household of the Prophet, public support instead of the shame they carried for their disappointing behaviors concerning Imam Hossein, played a major role in the determination of public opinion, however tacit. We all know that even in those days public opinion was never impartial, and that it could have been easily marred. It can always be conditioned to favor the atrocities of the ruling elite and place the godly people at a disadvantage. A further disadvantage was of Imam's experience of the people.

The excessive and unrestricted control of the unjust rulers of the situation was undoubtedly a grave handicap to the efforts of Imam Sajjad in spreading the Islamic codes of conduct, as any such restriction always is in a situation of this kind. Moreover, the undoubted need for a humane social behavior served to reduce the momentum of the official ferocious drive, giving some form of advantage to the Household of the Prophet.


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