The Women of Karbala

December 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Asghar Ali, Engineer

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Women of the Ahlul Bait at the feet of Zul-Janah (the horse of Sayyidinal Hussain (kw)) who returns after the martyrdom of its rider.

TRADITIONAL Muslim set-ups place many restrictions on women. They cannot even venture out of their homes; most are required to restrict themselves to performing household chores only. Few Muslim women take up public roles; fewer still participate in outdoor events.

All this is being done in the name of Islam by the self-styled guardians of social norms. However, if we cast a glance on the early history of Islam we find women taking part in various events alongside men. Prophet (s) Muhammad (PBUH) had from Hazrat Khadija four daughters and brought them up as model women who participated in his revolution.

Islam’s was not only a spiritual but also a social revolution. It empowered women and gave them equal rights which was unthinkable at that time. Women played at best a secondary role in any civilisation in the seventh century CE. However, Islam raised their status and assigned them an equal role in all worldly affairs along with men. Many women, like Umm-i-Ammara, even took part in various battles which the Prophet (s) had to fight. In the Battle of Uhud, Umm-i-Ammara took the attack of a sword on her arm and saved the life of the Prophet (s).

Hazrat Fatima, as all Muslims agree, was indeed very close to her father, and thus Muslims highly revere her. She too was brought up by the Prophet (s) enshrining the highest values of Islam. Her sons, Imam Hasan and Husain, were equally loved. Her daughter, Hazrat Zainab, played a pivotal role in the aftermath of the battle of Karbala. Bibi Shehar Banu was the daughter of Kisra, the King of Persia who was defeated by the Muslims, and Hazrat Ali married her to his son, Husain.

Shaher Banu also faced the tragic events at Karbala very bravely and sacrificed her two sons, Ali Akbar and Ali Asghar, in the way of Allah.

It is important to note that when Imam Husain was leaving Makkah for Kufa (Iraq) in response to the letters he had received from many important citizens of Kufa to lead them in their fight against Yazid (who had usurped khilafat in violation of the condition laid down by Imam Hasan while abdicating in favour of Ameer Muawiyah), Imam Husain was advised by his well-wishers not to take his family along to Kufa.

It was feared the people of Kufa might betray him.

However, despite the risks, Imam Husain turned down the advice and took along all his family members, including women and children. He knew that the women, who included his wife, his sisters and daughters, would play a very important role even if he had to fight against Yazid’s forces in or near Kufa. The people of Kufa did betray him even though they were the ones who had invited him to lead them in a fight against Yazid’s tyranny.

Yazid stood for all that was against Islamic norms. Not only was his lifestyle against that of the Prophet (s) (PBUH) and his companions he also tried to destroy the institution of khilafat by introducing monarchy.

This was totally against the revolutionary spirit of the political system introduced by Islam. Husain perhaps knew, before he left for Kufa, what was in store and he deliberately took women along with him to show to the world that women could also play a role in saving the Islamic way of life.

The women of the Karbala tragedy did play a role which was no less significant than that of the male companions of the Imam.

The Imam was right: his women played a pivotal role, particularly the Imam’s sister, Hazrat Zainab. After the martyrdom of Husain and his colleagues, Imam Zainul Abidin and all women and children were arrested and taken to Damascus on camelback via Kufa. Bibi Zainab, a brave and bold woman, addressed Muslims everywhere along the way, exposing Yazid and his evil actions and un-Islamic acts.

Bibi Zainab and the Imam’s entire family were kept in prison in Damascus. When they were brought to Yazid’s court, Zainab eloquently spoke in front of Yazid’s courtiers and thoroughly exposed him. She never shied from her mission, so much so that he had to release her and the Imam’s entire family. They were sent back to Madina with their security being ensured.

Syeda Zainab’s role was exemplary. It showed how bold Muslim women were and how they played a key role in consolidating Islamic teachings.

Today, despite so much progress and the spread of education, so many Muslim women are suppressed. In Saudi Arabia, for example, even a woman’s voice is considered ‘awrah i.e. so that it should not be heard in public; and here was Zainab from the Imam’s family who became a public speaker to save Islamic values.

Zainab was the eldest among the women of the Imam’s family, including Imam Zainul Abidin who was very unwell at the time.

The leadership of the family thus fell to Zainab, and she proved to be more than what was expected of her. Today, women have to learn much  from her example and leadership qualities. Her public role in the Karbala saga has much to teach us.

It is wrong to think, as many Muslim men do, that women are weak and cannot achieve much in the public domain. Hazrat Zainab’s role is a wake-up call for those who feel that women are fit only for domestic chores and nothing beyond the confines of a house.

The writer is an Islamic scholar who heads the Centre for Study of Society & Secularism, Mumbai.

Source: The Dawn, Karachi

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Profile: Imam Sayid Hassan Al-Qazwini

February 22, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dana Inayah Cann, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

His mission was to follow in his forefather’s footsteps and become a scholar and religious leader.

What Imam Sayid Hassan Al-Qazwini didn’t realize is that his goals in life would take him to the other side of the world, to America, and captivate the minds of people from all walks of life. Whether for political leaders or for Christians, Al-Qazwini has given a better understanding of Islam in hopes of defeating the widespread misconceptions about Islam and Muslims. Al-Qazwini was born in Karbala, Iraq, in 1964, during the time of the Ba’athist regime, which was gradually brainwashing the people of Iraq.

Al-Qazwini’s family, well known in Iraq and in the Muslim community for their scholarship, leadership and community service, were against the Ba’athist regime.

Al-Qazwini’s father Ayahtollah Sayid Mortadha Al-Qazwini was one of the religious scholars who not only spread the word of Islam to the people of Iraq, but also opened Islamic schools and other institutions.

Since Al-Qazwini’s father migrated to the United States in 1984, he has opened Islamic schools, mosques and other institutions in Los Angeles, California.

Because the Al-Qazwini family refused to side with Saddam Hussein and the Ba’athist regime, they fled Iraq and moved to Kuwait after Al-Qazwini’s grandfather, Ayatollah Sayid Mohammed Sadiq Al-Qazwini, was arrested and never heard from again. During his time in Kuwait, Al-Qazwini decided to fulfill his goal as a religious leader and scholar.

As the Al-Qazwini family migrated from Kuwait to Qum, Iran, to escape Hussein’s hunger for more power in his regime, Al-Qazwini joined the Islamic Seminary in 1980 and graduated in 1992.

Towards the end of 1992, Al-Qazwini moved his family to the United States where he directed the Azzahra Islamic Center founded by his father in Los Angeles, California. He also taught several Islamic fiqh and other Islamic courses during his four-year stay.

A year into his migration to America, Al-Qazwini was invited to the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan to speak during the upcoming holy month of Ramadhan.

Having a positive effect on the Muslim community in Dearborn, Al-Qazwini was invited to return a year later.

The Islamic Center, established in 1963, is the oldest Shi’a mosque in the United States.

Wanting to reach out to the younger generations of American Muslims, Al-Qazwini felt that it would be best to speak their language: English. Committed to reach his goal, Al-Qazwini devoted himself and quickly learned English and began to successfully communicate with the youth and cater to their needs.

By 1997, Al-Qazwini moved his family to Dearborn after accepting the role of scholar and religious leader at the Islamic Center of America. A year into his position, Al-Qazwini founded the Young Muslims Association (YMA), which is affiliated with the Islamic Center. The goal of the organization is to educate, promote leadership and create a place where young Muslims can actively support Islam.

Since 9/11, Al-Qazwini has been one of the most influential American Shi’a Muslim religious leaders. He has visited numerous churches, colleges and the White House. He has been invited by the State Department, the Defense Department and has conducted interviews on NPR, BBC, CNN, VOA, The Detroit News, The Detroit Free Press, and The New York Times, among others.

While speaking to the American public, political and religious leaders, Al-Qazwini discusses issues relating to Muslims and he also speaks out against those religious leaders who commence attacks on Islam and Prophet Muhammad (s).

When asked about the biggest hurdle facing American Muslims, Al-Qazwini believes that the major hurdle is misconceptions that non-Muslims have about Islam. Part of the problem is the American media.

”No doubt, there is bias in the media,” said Al-Qazwini, describing how the media gives a negative view with images of car bombings, beheadings and the war in Iraq. “The biased media here in this country is playing a major role in promoting and pushing these misconceptions in the minds of Americans.”

Al-Qazwini blames CNN for having a show with Glenn Beck who spoke negatively about Muslims, along with Fox News and the O’Reilly Factor. He also blames religious leaders Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham for “once in a while inciting hatred against Islam and Muslims in this country.”

”We’re dealing with, I would say, a ruthless enemy that is aimed at discrediting us, at labeling all Muslims as extreme Muslims,” Al-Qazwini said as he mentioned that there are also hundreds of ant-Islamic websites on the internet promoting hatred against Islam. “They brand us all as extremists so they can coax this fear and paranoia in the minds of Americans so they do not get to know us.”

Al-Qazwini said that the other part of the problem for the misconceptions that non-Muslims have about Islam is Muslims themselves.

”We have not done enough to let others know us and learn more of our religion,” said Al-Qazwini. “Our job is to deliver the message of Islam, to show the example of what kind of people we are. We are a people of peace. Therefore, we need to emphasize the concept of peace.”

Al-Qazwini went on to say “I can challenge any person by saying that Islam is the first divine and monotheistical religion that can publicly invite the Jews and Christians to have a dialogue. It is in the Qur`an where God says:

Say: Oh people of the book! Come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him, nor set up any human beings as lords beside God.

If they turn away, say “Bear witness that we are submitters.”

Ali-Imran:64

To spread the word, promote peace, and lessen the misconceptions of Islam, Al-Qazwini says that Muslims should reach out to non-Muslims who want to know about Islam. The mosques are always open for all to attend to seek education about Islam, not motivated conversion. Al-Qazwini says that it is up to Allah to convert people.

”If people don’t want to go to the mosque, we can go to them,” said Al-Qazwini. “In classrooms, with colleagues, or at people’s homes,” Muslims can teach those who want to understand Islam.

When asked if the younger generation is prepared to become religious Islamic leaders in the future, Al-Qazwini doesn’t think so.

Al-Qazwini takes part of the blame with other Islamic centers that “have not done enough in preparing the new generation.”

Al-Qazwini says that if the younger generation is convinced to go to the Middle East, study Islam and come back to America, people will be able to relate to them better because they were born in the same place and speaking the same language. He is willing to work for a sponsor to help a young Muslim to go to the Middle East to study Islam.

”We need to have more English-speaking imams who not only speak the language, but they understand it,” said Al-Qazwini. “And, they can educate in a more adequate way with the American society.”

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