The Goals and Motivations of the Ashura Movement from the Viewpoint of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

The Goals and Motivations of the Ashura Movement from the Viewpoint of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

One can only claim that they love Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) and are among his true followers when they have reflected upon the various corruption and problems which exist during their own time period and they have done their best towards reforming these issues. Without any doubt, if the mourners of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) make a logical and calculated decision together towards fighting the corruption which exists in their society, they will be successful in reforming it.‌

The necessity of understanding the essential goals of the revolt of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) has brought us to look in to the viewpoints of Ayatollah MakArem Shirazi in regards to this issue. Furthermore, perhaps the best way through which we can understand the goals of this revolt is by reflecting on the words of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) himself during the course of his journey from Medina to Karbala. Additionally, his Ziyāratnāmeh (the supplication recited when visiting his shrine) also contains many valuable insights in this regard.  In light of this, let us look at what Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has said about this issue through reference of the Imam (ʿa)’s words from these two valuable sources.

The Reformation of the Muslim Ummah through Enj o i ning the Good and Forbidding the Evil

In explaining this issue, the following is quite important: In a section of the epistle of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) to Muḥammad ibn Ḥanafīyah after the Imam (ʿa) refused to pledge allegiance to Yazīd, it has been mentioned that: ‘…I have risen up with the intention of reforming the Ummah of my grandfather’.[1]   Therefore, the first goal of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) in the revolution of Karbala was the reformation of the Muslim Ummah. Reformation is essentially the opposite of spreading corruption; spreading corruption in turn means the perversion of the necessary order of a being, an individual, a family, or even a society or nation.

In line with this meaning, reformation is to take that perverted order of being and returning it to its original and balanced state.  It is possible for a nation to become corrupted in regards to their state of economics, morals, beliefs, culture, or even emotions. The reformation of this corrupted state is the removal of each of the root elements which are causing this state and returning that nation to its state of original balance and health.

From this perspective, Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) wished to reform the corrupted state of being which had come about during the long years of Umayyad rule (under the rule of Muʿāwīyah and Yazīd). Things had reached a critical mass and so Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) refused to pledge allegiance to Yazīd and he revolted in order to reform the state of the Muslim community. This was a reformation which would return the state of the Muslims to what it had been under the guidance and leadership of the Prophet (ṣ). This would reform both the individual state of the Muslims, as well as the general society overall.  Due to this reason, Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) said to Muḥammad ibn Ḥanafīyah in his epistle that: ‘My intention in rising up is to enj o i n the good and forbid the evil.’[2]  This same noble goal is expressed in the various visitation supplications related to Imam al-Husayn (ʿa), such as the Ziyārat al-Wārith.[3]

Reviving the Prophetic Way of Life

Another philosophy behind the revolution of Karbala was to revive the prophetic way of life.  Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) has said in regards to this issue that [4] : ‘I invite you to the Book of Allah and to the prophetic way of life, for the way of life of the Prophet of Allah (ṣ) has been passed in to oblivion, while the innovations in religion have become the norm.’[5]  In essence, this tradition is explaining that Muʿāwīyah had created many negative innovations in religion by means of which he had passed the true prophetic tradition in to oblivion.  

Similarly, the value system of the Muslims had been altered as well. It had previously been based on piety and religion, but now, it was based on worldly issues such as wealth and tribal status.  The Arabs had been made superior to the non-Arabs under the Umayyad rule, while various other groups within the Arabs had arbitrarily been raised over others.  All of these un-Islamic elements which had been normalized by the Umayyad rulers compelled Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) to revolt in order that he could reform the state of the Muslims, allowing it to return to a state of justice and healthy balance.

The Revival of the Truth and the Elimination of Falsehood

According to history texts, Muʿāwīyah would send various armed groups from Syria to Iraq (the center of Imam ʿAli (ʿa)’s rule), where they would attack the people who lived on the bor-der towns, loot their wealth, and then return to Syria. This was done as a political ploy in order to make Imam ʿAli (ʿa) seem weak in his rule and make the people lose hope in him. If the security of these border areas could be taken away, then they hoped that the influence of Imam ʿAli (ʿa) over the people would be greatly weakened.[6]

Moreover, Muʿāwīyah also attempted to utilize the killing of ʿUthmān in the political arena and he used this against Imam ʿAli (ʿa). Yet, the pinnacle of Muawiyah’s deviation and corrupt nature was demonstrated in his appointment of Yazid as his successor and the next ruler of the Muslimds. Yazīd was an immature individual addicted to various sins, such as drinking, fornication, and the murder of the innocent.  He was so corrupt that he did not bother to conceal his corruption; he manifested it openly for all to see.

This level of corruption was unprecedented amongst the Muslim rulers and Yazīd wasted no time in attempting to pervert the religion itself from a root level. He began to destroy the truth and establish falsehood; this was in reality his primary legacy of rule. From this perspective, Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) had no choice but to rise up to save the religion of Islam, for it was the very truth which had been established by the Prophet (ṣ), and it was now in danger. Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) rose up in order to destroy this falsehood and uphold the banner of the truth amongst the Muslim Ummah. He was willing to pay any price for this sacred cause.

Fighting against Ignorance

Another one of the goals of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa)’s revolution is found in the Ziyārat Arbaʿīn[7]  where it states [8]: “Imam al-Husayn sacrificed everything in Your [i.e. Allah’s] way in order that Your servants can be saved from their ignorance, foolishness, and confusion”. Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) rose up in order to fight against ignorance and save the people from deviation and misguidance.  During the period of the Umayyad rule, the Muslims were steeped in ignorance and they had not bothered to realize that the Umayyads were not the rightful successors of the Prophet (ṣ) and his religion.

They were content to just let things be and assume that the Umayyads were the rightful successors of the Prophet (ṣ). This was particularly true during the rule of Muʿāwīyah and Yazīd.  In a talk from Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) to Marwān ibn Ḥakam, the Imam (ʿa) refered to the famus tradition of the holy prophet who said: ‘The caliphate is unlawful (Ḥarām) for the children of Abū Sufyān, and if you see Muʿāwīyah sitting upon my pulpit one day, then you should kill him.’

So, the Muslims were led astray but they themselves were also guilty with regard to what happened to them because they saw Muʿāwīyah sitting up on the pulpit of the Prophet (s) but they did not kill him as they had been ordered to do; as a result, Allah (swt) punished them with the rule of Yazīd, a man of great corruption and evil.   In such an environment, Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) rose up in order to awaken the Muslims. Unfortunately, the Muslims were in such a deep state of ignorance and unawareness that it would take nothing less than the blood and martyrdom of the Imam (ʿa) and his loyal companions in order to awaken them and save the religion from complete destruction.

The Establishment of a true Islamic Government as the Rejection of Secular Islam

One of the most important goals of the Imam al-Husayn (ʿa)’s revolution was the establishment of an Islamic government.  Those who believe in the separation of religion and politics have neither understood the proper meaning of politics, nor have they understood the proper meaning of religion. When we look back in history during the time when the Prophet (ṣ) first immigrated to Medina and he finally became free of the enemies of Islam who threatened him in Mecca, his first move was to establish an Islamic government.  He did this in order to be able to implement the various aspects of Islam throughout the society.

There is an enlightening tradition narrated from Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) where he says[9]:  ‘Oh Lord!… my intention for governance is to manifest the signs of your religion to the people, and to reform the regions and cities, and to create security for your servants, and to act upon the obligatory actions and Sunnah (the way of life of the Prophet (ṣ))…’[10]  From this tradition, we can understand that the Imam (ʿa) wished to establish an Islamic government but various factors prevented him from being successful in this regard.

Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) and the Implementation of Justice

In a letter to the people of Kufah, Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) mentioned that one of his goals was the prevention of oppression and tyranny, and the implementation of justice. In this letter, the Imam (ʿa) mentioned the following: ‘Allah will place the individual who does not care about the oppressive ruler and his edicts, which oppose the Sunnah and the prophetic way of life, in the same place as that oppressive ruler (i.e. they will both end up in the Hell Fire).’[11]   In this letter, Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) has explained that the essential nature of the message of the Prophet of Islam (ṣ) was one which strictly opposed oppression, tyranny, and injustice. After delineating the goals behind his revolt, the Imam (a) then invites everyone to participate and fight against the oppressors.  

As followers of Islam, we have no option but to fight against the oppression which we see around us. We must help those who are being oppressed and save them from the evil of the oppressors and tyrants. The mourning ceremonies which we establish in the remembrance of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) are simply the prerequisites for such goals. After we have understood the message of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) and we have been awakened to its reality, then we must implement the essence of that message in our day to day lives.

The Revolution of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa): The Place of Test and Trial

The revolt of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) was in reality a test for the Muslims of his era.  It was a test for some Shias who had always considered themselves as being the true followers of the Imams (ʿa); they considered themselves as being individuals who would sacrifice themselves for their leaders. Similarly, it was a test for those companions of the Prophet (ṣ) who were still alive at that time; these companions had heard the Prophet (ṣ) praise Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) and Imam al-Husayn (ʿa), and they had heard him describe their lofty characteristics and rank.

It was a test for those individuals who had missed out on the opportunity of fighting alongside the Prophet (ṣ) in the battles of Badr, ʿUḥud, and Khandaq. It was a test for those individuals who had missed out fighting alongside Imam ʿAli (ʿa) against the Nākithīn, Qāsiṭīn, and the Māriqīn. The revolt of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) was a test for all of these individuals; it served as a means to demonstrate who among them were truthful in their wishes and would fight alongside their Imam (ʿa) and pass their test, and who among them would refrain and fail. As it turned out, only a very small group ended up j o i ning the Imam (ʿa) and the many, who deemed themselves worthy, found themselves insufficiently prepared and they ended up failing.

Benefiting from Imam al-Husayn (ʿa)  God-given Rank of Intercession

When we examine the Ziyārat of ʿĀshūrā, we read the following[12]:  O Allah, (please) grant me the intercession of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) on the Day of Coming (to You). This is a reference to the intercession of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) which will be given to a certain group of individuals. When we take a step back and examine the issue of the intercession of the Infallibles (ʿa), it is clear that this is not a green light through which people can go ahead and sin. It is rather a means of further restraining oneself from the sins.  When we ask the Imams (ʿa) for their intercession, we develop a closer relationship with them and so we say to ourselves that we should be even more careful not to sin, lest this connection is weakened or disconnected completely. Therefore, intercession becomes a means of restraining ourselves from sins to an even greater degree and it becomes a means of attaining a higher rank in the next world.

A Final Word

We must utilize the mourning ceremonies held for Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) as a means for spreading what is right and preventing what is false and evil. If we find that in spite of the mourning ceremonies, the right is being prevented and falsehood is being spread, then we have clearly not reached the goals which Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) strove to establish. In our own time period, our society and the way our religion is being practiced are in need of reformation; there is a real need for people to enj o i n the good and forbid the evil. If we neglect these two important religious precepts, then our society will be in serious danger, particularly the danger posed by the negative cultural onslaught of the West.

Similarly, the ones who claim to love and to follow the school of thought of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) can only make such a claim when they have engaged in a serious struggle against the corruptions which are present around them. They can only make such a claim when they have fought against these negative elements in their society and have made an honest effort in reformation. Without any doubt, if the mourners of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) make a logical and calculated decision together towards fighting the corruption which exists in their society, they will succeed in their goal.

Since the Yazīds and their followers still exist in our era, and they are active in spreading ignorance and confusion amongst the people (particularly focusing on those in the Muslim countries), we must do our best to awaken the Muslim Ummah to this reality. We must be even more aware of those who pretend to be the followers of Islam but work hand in hand with the main enemies of the Muslim Ummah. These people have sided with the enemies against the Muslim community, and we can see this reality in the lands of Palestine, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, etc… We must be aware of these individuals and the danger which they pose to us.


[1]. Futūḥ Ibn Aʿtham, vol. 5, p. 33.

[2]. Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 44, p. 329; Maqtal Khawārizmī, vol. 1, p. 188.

[3]. «اشْهَدُ انَّكَ قَدْ اقَمْتَ الصَّلاةَ، وَآتَيْتَ الزَّكاةَ، وَامَرْتَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ، وَنَهَيْتَ عَنْ الْمُنْكَرِ،؛ means that I give witness that you (Imam Husayn (ʿa) established the prayer, gave the Zakāt, and enj o i ned the good and forbade the evil.

[4]. ادْعُوكُمْ الى‏ كِتابِ اللَّه وَسُنَّةِ نَبِيِّهِ صلى الله عليه و آله فَانَّ السُّنَّةَ قَدْ امِيتَتْ وَ انَّ الْبِدْعَةَ قَدْ احْيِيَتْ

[5]. Tārīkh al-Ṭabarī, vol. 3, p. 28; Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 44, p. 340; ʿAyān al-Shīʿah, vol. 1, p. 59.

[6]. Imam ʿAli (ʿa) in the twenty seventh sermon of the Nahj al-Balāghah has mentioned this issue.

[7]. The Ziyārat Arbaʿīn has only been mentioned in regards to Imam Husayn (ʿa) and nothing can be found like it for the other Infallibles (ʿa). This visitation supplication has been narrated by the late Shaykh Ṭūsī. The beginning part of the tradition shows that we can visit the Imam (ʿa) from a distance and we do not necessarily have to be in the vicinity of his shrine.

[8]. وَبَذَلَ مُهْجَتَهُ فيكَ لِيَسْتَنْقِذَ عِبادَكَ مِنَ الْجَهالَةِ، وَحَيْرَةِ الضَّلالَةِ

[9]. ...وَلكِنْ لِنُرِىَ الْمَعالِمَ مِنْ دِينِكَ، وَنُظْهِرَ الْإِصْلاحَ فِي بِلادِكَ، وَيَأْمَنَ الْمَظْلُومُونَ مِنْ عِبادِكَ، وَيُعْمَلُ بِفَرَائِضِكَ وَسُنَّتِكَ وَأَحْكامِكَ

 .[10]Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 100, p. 80

 .[11]Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 44, p. 382

[12]. أَللَّهُمَّ ارْزُقْني شَفاعَةَ الْحُسَيْنِ يَومَ الْوُرُودِ