Karbala: Our Guiding Principles

Throughout time the power of narrative has remained a potent force for constructing common zones of collective existence; ones that often travel through multiple generations. Power of the narrative is like the miracle that overwhelms the human consciousness with its pathos, its sensitivities and its emotional appeal. Few narratives in history have so captured the human consciousness, as has Karbala. An event that took place more than thirteen hundred years ago has indeed left behind multiple messages. Four are particularly significant.

One, Karbala represents indivisibility of being, of values, of sensitivities, of thoughts and of action. So in the heat of the struggle, at the height of what believes is the virtuous act, the correctness of human behavior must not be compromised. Pursuit of the virtuous and the moral provide no license for the immoral. In collective zones these are easy licenses to give to oneself. We see this licentious behavior at display in Guantanamo bay, in Iraq, in Afghanistan; maybe in most battle fields. No less this license is at work when suicide bombers target the innocent. Karbala is the story of combining the struggle with the best of human values. It is about no licenses at the height of the struggle. At Karbala the followers of Islam the practitioners of the Quranic teachings and followers of the prophets and his family’s spiritual track. In the tradition of his grandfather the Prophet Muhammad, at Karbala Imam Husain demonstrated that the efficacy of message of the struggle is so entirely linked to the character of the messenger. Character is the first prerequisite for establishing the validity of the message.

Two, in journeying through life, opt for the correct path, the effective path. The one through which you can actually impact upon your context. The effective path is not always the confrontational one. Space to spread one’s message, one’s ideology one’s way of being is what is most important. If just not giving bayat, not giving allegiance to the corrupt and the malevolent Yazid is possible then opt for it. When you have space then take it. However if all the space is squeezed like its as for Imam Hussain, then battle becomes imperative. Don’t be forced but when space is all squeezed then don’t be forced to change you ideals, don’t change your Qibla, don’t kill the human spirit. To be the force or change of reform it is essential to embrace both inflexibility and flexibility. Your own character has to be inflexible; for example steadfast and inflexible in sacrifice and incorruptible in position of power. Yet flexibility is the hallmark of engagement with people and with power. Flexibility is an essential pre-requisite to bring about change; it increases avenues for engagement and for influence and hence for change.

Three, Karbala’s most compelling message remains – never let the spirit die, never give up your ideals. They must remain your guiding principles to enrich your soul and spirit. Life without ideals, without struggle is to exist at the margins of the human grandeur. Human grandeur so fully blooms in the pursuit of excellence and what better pursuit that enriches the spirit and the soul.

Four, Karbala effected a revolutionary recasting of power, both in content and in practice. The strength of the martyred Imam’s message confronted the oppressive power of its times. The message of resistance, the power of resistance pauperized the riches of the corrupt and of the vile It confronted tyranny and injustice through the centuries. Imam Hussain’s own conduct at Karbala; in executing his responsibilities, in conducting his relationships, in engaging with the enemy the Imam presented power in a changed context; it was power away from brutality –”from brute force to the gentle spirit of humanity. Karbala not only threatened tyrannical power, it also humanized power. Karbala tutored subsequent generations also in the values of justice, fair play, respect, dignity, patience, tolerance. Karbala’s values have connected generations. Ultimately it is around the swivel of values that the human civilization connects. Take a look around to know that the contemporary calculus of power that informs most politics is a doomed calculus.

The world has been hit by unprecedented calamity; the mountains the sea-beds, the land and the atmosphere rattled by earthquakes, tsunami, cyclones, snowstorms and floods. All this has so emphatically demonstrating the utter fragility of being. And after all against the utter fragility of being this is not such a hard message to comprehend. When the being is so fragile the only the intangible spirit remains the abiding reality. The spirit represents the core of our being. The Spirit is that which, above all else within our being dares, determines and declares. Yet in witnessing the power-propelled and the force-enforced frameworks of management, it is difficult to forget that the human spirit that naturally gravitates towards good is being stifled in the process. Hence the mayhem.

Undoubtedly for the sprit the message of Karbala offers the most abiding lesson.