Monday, March 10, 2008,12:43 am
The Training Ground of Faith
Just as the jihad of Imam Zain al-Abideen (AS) did not end in Damascus, the jihad of Imam Hussain (AS) did not begin in Karbala. Our third Imam’s entire life, and not merely an oft-noted span of three days, was filled with struggles and griefs; from the death of his beloved grandfather and mother in his youth to his father and brother’s brutal deaths later on. When he stepped into the battlefield of Karbala, Imam Hussain (AS) was thus already equipped with a lifetime of difficult experiences and the fortitude and faith with which to overcome them. His entire life, and not merely the tragedy of Karbala, remains an enduring example to the Shi’a of Ali (AS) regarding how a believer should live and how he or she should hope to die.

The lifelong mission of Imam Hussain (AS) teaches us a few particularly important lessons: what it means to truly believe, and what the true nature of courage really is.

Imam Hussain (AS) showed us that courage is not merely how tough we can be in the face of adversity; because difficulties naturally push us to defy our limitations… Courage is even better described as the resolve we have in day to day living; which in turn creates such gradual strength within us that when the greater adversities do arise, our battling skills are proven stronger than ever. Was Imam Hussain’s revolution built up in a day? No, it began from the moment his blessed countenance graced the earth and merely found its climax in the land of Karbala. What we Shi’a need to realize is that we cannot wait until the greater battles to develop our skills as mighty warriors of truth. Sometimes it does take a greater jihad to lure us out of our security blankets; because until we are actually pushed to the limit, we do not recognize the ability within ourselves to meet it. But simply because that greater jihad has not yet reached us, does not mean we cannot or should not build up our abilities regardless and exercise the same degree of faith in our day-to-day lives.

It may be for this reason that every Imam deserves just as much recognition and commemoration as Imam Hussain (AS) himself, and why the lifetime of no member of the Ahlul Bayt (AS) can be considered inferior or less important. Yes, the tragedy endured by our third Imam is unparalleled by anyone, but yet his honor and esteem is like that of the rest of the Imams. What does this mean?

It means that just because the lives of your closest companions and family members aren’t being threatened, doesn’t mean you can’t exercise equal resilience as one in such a situation. It is easy to guess what one might do if the degree of distinction between two choices was great enough- after all, as Kufan commander Hazrat Hur (AS) told us, choosing between limited wealth in this life versus unlimited abundance in the next is a no-brainer. What we really need to consider is the amount of courage it takes to make such distinctions when the lines are blurred.

On the night of Ashura, the companions of Imam Hussain (AS), Hur (AS) included, exemplified a beautiful understanding of this when they refused to leave the Imam’s side, even after he gave them the guarantee of heaven if they left and went on living. The reader must pause to truly appreciate the magnanimity of this proposal- the companions could have continued to live a peaceful worldly life all while being guaranteed a wonderful life in the next as well- and yet they chose a brutal death and leaving their loved ones to the mercy of fate instead, for the same surface reward… What could drive a sane human being to make such a decision? The answer is something beyond the callous rationality of doing a cost-benefit analysis; the answer is something so selfless, that the concept of ‘benefit’ becomes thoroughly meaningless and foreign. The answer is love, devotion, faith; the answer is TRUE courage.

If we had the chance to give our lives for Imam Hussain (AS), we would know beyond a doubt that heaven was guaranteed. By continuing to live as we do, most of us have no such promise, no matter how many minor good acts we commit; and we are required to work hard for a longer span of time in order to secure the same favor of God for ourselves. So isn’t it in a sense easier to say that we want the guarantee of heaven in the face of temporal pain (ie. Martyrdom in the way of our Imam) as opposed to a shot at heaven in the face of lasting aversion (ie. Living)? We must bow our heads with shame and wonder how our priorities would change if we knew that we could continue our worldly existences with the promise of Providence. Would we be so willing to fork over everything dear to us, including our very lives, then? If we had the purity of intention and true love for the Ahlul Bayt (AS) as the companions of Imam Hussain (AS) did, then undoubtedly we would, and it is here that the crux of the message of Imam Hussain’s companions arises. In the most basic fundamentals of Islam, we are taught how important intentions are, as in our every daily prayer we recount this understanding when we verbally declare our desire to gain closeness to Allah (SWT). Coupled with the lessons of Karbala, we must arrive at the conclusion that it is not the extremity of the situation that ensures a believer victory; it is the intent and pure-heartedness with which one steps into each respective battlefield, no matter what the circumstance.

It is easy for us to say that we would give our lives for Sahibuz Zamaan (ATF) in the event of his zahoor. After all, the reality and assurance would be right there in front of us and our good fortune after death set. But would this aspiration be based on faith marred by cost-benefit-analysis, or would it be based on faith embellished by true and sincere devotion, blind of reward?

The question is often asked why Al Qaem (ATF) will only have 313 close followers, when there are millions of Shi’a worldwide who honestly believe they would give their lives for him. Perhaps now we have uncovered the reason… Perhaps what our Imam (ATF) needs and is waiting for are people who would not only prove themselves strong in trying times of conflict, but who would be just as steadfast in times of uncertain regularity. Believers who would strive for the tranquility and sheer peace of serving the Ahlul Bayt (AS), as opposed to striving for the blessings of Heaven… For when your intentions are pure, your faith should not merely be provable when the need arises to actively prove it- your life at every moment should be based around the very same goal of pleasing Allah (SWT), for true belief is unconditional and does not wait for opportune moments.

The question of which priority group we fall into, my brothers and sisters, arises now; it does not begin in the heat of a jihad marked by weapons and bloodshed; it begins in the jihaad of the nafs as it fights its everyday desires.

It is easy to switch off our music players with the pain of Imam Hussain’s sacrifices looming over our consciences… It seems to be much harder for some in the months beyond Muharram and Safar, where the lines are harder to draw, conscientiousness harder to feel, and the off button harder to find. But as we abandon our hijaabs, switch on our IPods, delay our prayers, and bite into our haram take-out, the question needs to be asked:
Do we love in hopes of loving, or do we love in hopes of gaining?

And if the latter, are we truly living up to our reputations as Imam Ali’s (AS) ‘Shia’, and have we truly yet learned anything from the lessons of the enduring revolution of Al Hussain (AS)?

Do not waste time and find yourself unequipped in the greater battle; the training ground is the here and now.
posted by R
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