The Politics of Shahid-e Javid

Note: This article was originally published in Rainer Brunner and Werner Ende(ed.), The Twelver Shia in Modern Times, vol. 72 of the Social, Economic, and Political studies of the Middle East and Asia (Leiden, etc., : Brill, 2001). The author would appreciate any comments; these can be sent to his email address, . Unless you object, I will post the comments, with your name and email address, at the end of the article, so that the issues raised in this article can be discussed. Finally, if you want to reach Evan Siegel's webpage, click here.

The Author and the Book

Shahid-e Javid (The Eternal Martyr) was written in 1968 in Qom, with a revised version being published after the Islamic Revolution,1 by Ne`matollah Salehi Najafabadi, an Iranian Shi'ite cleric and historian.2 The idea behind the book was first conceived, according to the author,3 seven years before it was completed, i.e., around 1961. An early draft of it (discussed below) was published in 1963. According to a biographical sketch introducing an article of his,4 he was born in 1923-24 and studied in Isfahan with Ayatollah Rahim Arbab and Ayatollah Haj Shaikh Mohammad Hasan `Alem Najafabadi.5 He then traveled to Qom where he studied fiqh and usul with Ayatollah Borujerdi, who had just come to Qom. He also studied there with Ayatollah `Alama Tabataba'i, the highly regarded scholar of Shi`ism. That he benefited from the presence of Imam Khomaini is mentioned only in passing with no details offered.

The author tells the reader that he had worked for seven years on the book before it saw publication. The idea for the book would, then, have predated the March 1963 massacre at the Faiziya Seminary in Qom after some of the Iranian Shi`ite clergy protested against the Shah's White Revolution, an event which could be said to mark the birth of the revolutionary Shi`ite movement which culminated in Imam Khomaini's rise to power. Indeed, although the it was incubated in the milieu of radicalized Shi`ites, it does not seem to have been conceived as a revolutionary act.

Shahid-e Javid's was a criticism of the Shi`ite understanding of Imam Husain's martyrdom at Kerbala, this being the very trauma which consolidated Shi`ism as we know it.6

According to what has become the traditional view, although the caliph Mu`awiyya was strongly anti-`Alid, he would not force Imam Husain, the third Shi`ite Imam, to publicly pledge allegiance to the caliphate. This was to change in 60 AH with Mu`awiyya’s death and the accession of his son, Yazid, to the caliphate. Yazid (traditionally depicted as sharing all of his father's negative characteristics with none of his positive qualities of common sense and an adherence to at least a public recognition of Islamic principles) arrogantly tried to force Imam Husain to publicly recognize him as caliph. This the Imam could not accept, and so he fled from Mecca to Medina. He was invited by the people of Kufa, a Muslim garrison town in Iraq, to launch a rising against the caliph. The Kufans, we are expected to remember, had been allies of `Ali and of Imam Husain's older brother, Hasan, the second Shi`ite Imam, and had shown themselves to be completely unreliable, regularly leaving the `Alid cause in the lurch. 7 Imam Husain went along with this, although he privately knew that a rising against such a powerful institution with such useless allies was hopeless. Rather, his strategy was to accept such a horrifying martyrdom upon himself and his family, seeds of the Prophet of Islam, at the hands of the Ummayids, that this dynasty would be disgraced for all time and the people would be shocked out of their terror and awakened from their apathy to ultimately rise against the usurpers.

The book attracted some interest in the reading public but created a furor among religious circles. The conservative clergy were appalled to see what it considered to be a cavalier tampering with core Shi`ite doctrine emanating from a citadel of Shi`ism. Shi`ite modernists rejected it because the received version of the story of Imam Husain's uprising served as a valuable parable of revolutionary self-sacrifice. All told, according to its author, 13 books were written to answer it.8 The clergy banded together and called on the believers to boycott the book as damaging to their faith. This had obvious implications for the author of this book, who went in fear for his life.9

SAVAK, the Shah's secret service, stepped in and secretly provided assistance to the book's enemies:10 Sayyid Hosain `Ali Montazeri, a prominent ally of the exiled Ayatollah Khomaini, was also the book's most prominent champion and this gave the regime a way to discredit Khomaini in the eyes of the pious. As the author himself stated in a leaflet, "since the authors of the endorsement [of the book] and the author himself are signed supports of His Eminence's being a marja`, Ayatollah [Khomaini]'s opponents have used the book as an excuse, and, in order to wreak vengeance on the authors of the endorsement and the author of the book, have resorted to certain provocations."11 This came to a head in 1976, when a relative of Montazeri and supporter of the book's thesis, Sayyid Mehdi Hashemi, had Ayatollah Shamsabadi, a pillar of the Isfahani Shi`a and a leading opponent of the book, kidnapped and strangled to death. It was revealed ten years later that Hashemi, too, had been turned into a SAVAK asset after the murder; thus the Shah's regime was able to play both ends of this conflict.12

The author enjoyed a certain respectability under the Islamic Republic while his admirer, Ayatollah Husain `Ali Montazeri, was being groomed to replace Imam Khomaini.13 When Khomaini turned on Montazeri, Salehi-Najafabadi's position fell even below that of his position under the monarchy. He was no longer able to publish; an article on Islamic ecumenicalism he had written was censored at the insistence of the conservative clergy.14 He was not only defending ideas which enraged the guardians of Shi`ite dogma, but was associated with a circle of clerics who were now considered a menace to the existence of the Islamic Republic. He currently lives under effective house arrest which is exacting a toll on his general health. Even so, his controversial book continues to be republished.

On the other hand, Ayatollah Montazeri is seeing a sharp rise in his popularity, and it is quite possible that Salehi-Najafabadi, who is highly admired by the ayatollah, will follow him out of pariahiship and back into the political spotlight.

Salehi-Najafabadi is unfortunately neglected by historians of the rise of political Shi`ism in favor of figures who have had more of a visible impact on this movement such as Mehdi Bazargan, `Ali Shari`ati, or Jalal Al-i Ahmad. He was not a politician, a screamer, or a muddled Westernized intellectual and the issues he raised required more discipline and attention to appreciate than those raised by the run of the Shi`ite opposition. Yet in erudition, originality, and intellectual courage, he outshone them all. While one may find Salehi-Najafabadi's arguments problematic, he squarely raised issues at the core of Shi`ite belief and demanded that they be examined. Even those who differ sharply with him will have to admit that he performed a service by compelling the defenders of Shi`ite orthodoxy to clarify issues too long simply assumed.

This paper focuses on the specifically political issues raised by this polemic. The prevailing opinion in the English-language literature is that Shahid-e Javid represented an important contribution to the development of Kerbala story in a revolutionary direction. We will show that this is a fundamentally flawed view. We first review the secular scholarly literature on the subject.

Shahid-e Javid in Western Scholarship

Setting the tone for the discussion was Hamid Enayat's Modern Islamic Political Thought.15 Its author mentions its "semi-scholarly methodology," an apt description of its blend of critical method and religious polemics. However, he then claims

the principle aim of the "Immortal Martyr" is the politicization of an aspect of the Shi`i imamology which until recent times was generally interpreted in mystical, lyrical and emotional terms. The result has been a cautious, but growing tendency among the Shi`i militants to treat the drama of Kerbala as an essentially human tragedy, and, concurrently, to avoid regarding Husayn's heroism as a unique and inimitable event in history, above the capacity of the common run of human beings.

Enayat cites as his sole example a quote from Imam Khomaini in which the people are urged to follow Imam Husain's example; but this quote assumes what Enayat is trying to prove, i.e., that Khomaini had been influenced by Shahid-e Javid's husainology. He otherwise offers no proof that the book had any impact on the islamist movement in Iran. Indeed, Enayat in that very same book had shown numerous examples of how the traditional view of Imam Husain's martyrdom had provided a model for Islamic political thinkers across the sectarian divide.16

Roy Mottahedeh, in his sweeping epic of religion and society in Iran, Mantle of the Prophet,17 mentions the publication of this book "in 1969" as reflecting a change in the image of Imam Husain corresponding to the rise of the clergy as a political class in late Pahlavi Iran. Mottahedeh accurately observes that this book maintained that "Hosain had not gone to Kerbala simply to be martyred but that martyrdom had been the subordinate consequence of Hosein's political activism. He had gone to Kerbala intending to overthrow an unjust government and, if possible, to win." The clergy was depicted as being "split" by this debate, with "two 'models' [maraje`-i taqlid?] of Qom approv[ing] of the book, [and] two disapprov[ing]."

Eventually the quarrel subsided with a seemingly official victory for the older, passive image of Hosein..., but in fact the new image continued to gain ground. It was supported by Montazeri and Meshkini, two leading madreseh teachers in Qom who were spokesmen for and former pupils of Khomaini. And it was a central theme of the talks of Shariati....

In addition to portraying this work as somehow pivotal to the development of a revolutionary husainology, the author leaves the reader with the impression that the book divided the clergy into roughly equal factions; but those who upheld the book's thesis were a tiny minority of the clergy. And although Shari`ati used the Kerbala tragedy as a "central theme" in one of his works, it was to attack the book, as we shall see. Finally, Mottehadeh's statement that "one faction even killed a member of the other faction"18 is objectionable; it was a member of the "progressive" faction who had a "reactionary" kidnapped and strangled.

In Fouad Ajami's The Vanished Imam,19 the author makes an unmistakable reference to the book when he writes:

by the late 1960s and early 1970s, modernist Shia Iranians had begun to reinterpret Imam Hussein's legacy. And in the new Iranian discourse, the Shia folk conception of Hussein as a willing martyr who rides to a sure death... was set aside in favor of the idea of a political man who weighs his choices, and embarks on the best course left to him.

But Shahid-e Javid was the only book written in this period containing this reinterpretation. Moreover, it is far from clear that it had had much impact on Iranian discourse, new or otherwise. In any case, the author certainly did not cause the traditional view to be "set aside" in favor of his own.

After quoting an example of how unworldly the traditional view of Imam Husain's martyrdom could be, Said Amir Arjomand, in his "Ideological Revolution in Shi`ism"20 had this to say about Shahid-e Javid:21

A drastic change in the conception of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn set in after the clerical agitation of the 1960s. In 1968, Ni`matallah Salihi Najafabadi, a student of Khumeini's, published the Shahid-i Javid..., offering a radically politicized interpretation of the events of Karbala. Diverging from the doctrinal Shi`ite position,... Najafabadi denied Husayn's foreknowledge of his fate.... Husayn's martyrdom is thus interpreted as a political uprising against an unjust and impious government, and thus the model for Shi`ite political activism.

Amir Arjomand's characterization of the substance of the book is wholly accurate, although he is wrong in saying that its author was a student of Khomaini's. However, it needs to be demonstrated that it was a product of the events such as the 1963 clerical uprising in Qom. In any case, it was a direct polemic against the concepts of revolutionary martyrdom to which "the doctrinal Shi`ite position" readily lends itself.

We note two other references to the subject. There is a brief, straightforward mention of the book and its pre-revolutionary reception in Ervand Abrahamian's Khomeinism, where the book's highly controversial character is stressed.22 Shahrough Akhavi, in his Religion and Politics in Iran, published soon after the revolution, mentions in a footnote his doubts about whether a book with such a revisionist theme could possibly have been published in Qom, putting its very existence down to monarchist black propaganda.23

We are aware of two references to the book in the German literature. Wilfried Buchta, in his book on Iranian Shi`ism and Islamic ecumenicalism24 describes the book rather in the way its author would, as a search for truth among the hadith literature, including the Sunni hadith literature, adding that its kernel thesis was that Imam Husain had launched his uprising as a struggle for power so as to become caliph himself. In particular, although its author asserts that the Imam was an outstanding individual and was endowed with occult wisdom, he felt that his mission had nothing to do with a foreknowledge of his martyrdom.

In addition to this, there is a very brief mention in Rainer Brunner's book on a similar theme.25

Before Shahid-e Javid

Before proceeding, we will survey the author's earlier writings and they shed light on the book under review.

In the introduction to a collection of his articles published by a group of his friends,26 he notes that he began writing for Maktab-e Tashayyo`, a magazine founded in 1959 by politicized Muslim clergymen and laymen, at the request of its editors; in these articles, he is simply introduced as "the esteemed scholar."

The author's first two articles give a picture of someone content with life. The first one27 begins by explaining that mere strict adherence to Islamic law would mean a life without warmth and love. Just as a passenger should not just pay the taxi driver his wages and leave, but should offer him a cigarette, chat with him, etc., or just as a husband should not simply provide for his family materially, but should provide a loving atmosphere, so is justice without compassion lacking.

A second article28 shows the author living a comfortable existence in a house with a perfumed garden and a pet gazelle, a kindly father of happy children. He enjoys a deep friendship with a professor of apparently secular studies. Although the essay is a meditation on mortality, the fundamental harmony of his life comes through. This contrasts with the sturm und drang of revolutionary biography, full of people seething with rage and discontent and suffering.

We now examine several articles of Salehi-Najafabadi's from this collection written just after the 1963 Qom uprising.

An important insight into the author's attitude towards politics is provided by a study of Imam `Ali's decision to accept the position of caliph.29 After having been deprived of the caliphate once more, this time by `Uthman, `Ali becomes the reluctant rallying point of revolutionaries who had become exasperated with `Uthman's policies. Eventually, `Ali accepts their call.

The author begins by asking why `Ali would have wanted political power in the first place. Here, the author upholds the quietist position that the Imams, and by implication their successors, the Shi`ite clergy, are destined to be guides to the worldly rulers and not seek for themselves political power which, he writes, is a burden which only the worldly could wish for.30

According to this essay, `Ali had to walk a fine line. He could not allow himself to become identified with the "enraged and extreme" [`asabani ba ehsasat-e tond] revolutionaries (something which Marwan Hakam, `Uthman's advisor whom the Arab chroniclers make out to be the truly evil presence in `Uthman's caliphate, was trying to accuse him). "He had to act so that it would be clear to all that he agreed [with the rebels] that the government's perversions had to be prevented, but that he did not agree with [their] rioting and creating disturbance [fitna], and was not leading a revolution."31 He preserved "his complete impartiality." `Ali had the foresight to be concerned that if `Uthman was backed into a corner, he would unleash his army on the people, resulting in a massacre.32 On the other hand, the rebels had Egypt and Iraq behind them and were allied with the powerful A`isha. Not being a revolutionary himself, the prospect of a powerful rebel army gave the author's `Ali no comfort; rather, it troubled him all the more: He felt a rebel onslaught would only drag the country into greater chaos, going so far as to say that "if there was a war, a victory of neither side would be in Islam's interest."33

Moreover, although the article is peppered with references to "liberals" and "popular forces" and "revolutionaries," these elements are considered to be a menace whom `Ali viewed with genuine misgiving. These revolutionaries are depicted as being "ready to change the country's political structure by any means." That this was not necessarily a good thing in the author's eyes is seen in how he sizes up the matter: "The vast Islamic country was on the verge of an explosion. There was no solution other than `Uthman's resignation or killing him or a bloody war between the popular [milli] forces and the government's."34

When `Ali is finally catapulted into power, he becomes a Hamlet figure: he can neither confront the corruption which had completely taken over the caliphate and its institutions, nor could he rule while these corrupt institutions were in place. However, feeling that he could not deprive the Muslims of his qualities at such a time, he, with great reluctance, accepted power.

The closing years of `Uthman's rule are described in ways which could only remind one of Iran in the mid-sixties. For all his faults, `Uthman had been acceptable as caliph during the first half of his term, just as Muhammad Riza Shah had been grudgingly accepted by the Iranian clergy up until the years before the 1963 crisis. But the people were becoming restive because the taxes they payed by the sweat of their brows were being consumed in "alcohol, parties, banquets" or "laid at the feet of singers and dancers" and the public treasury's silver and gold was being used to build summer and winter palaces "over the crushed bones of the dispossessed classes."35 Moreover, "individual freedoms had been destroyed, sometimes by exiling and torturing militant figures like Abu Zarr Ghaffari..., and sometimes by beating and insulting people like `Amar Yasir," etc.36 However, the crime committed by these two ancient heroes of the Shi`a is that they had offered sincere advice and warned the caliph of the consequences of his deviations: Abu Zarr is not the socialist rabble-rouser Salehi-Najafabadi's revolutionary contemporaries would make him out to be.

Another article in this collection,37 deals with the challenge posed by non-Muslims and their influence over a Muslim country. The author begins by stressing Islam's "peacefulness [sulh-talabi] and abstention from war and bloodshed. Islam condemns any armed and aggressive uprising [qiyyam]; rather, it calls for peace and conciliation [mosalemat]," although one's defensive means must always be kept prepared.38 In particular, non-Muslims should be treated politely but their attempts to ingratiate themselves with the Muslims’ political leaders are merely to gain influence over them and subordinate them to their will.39

But the point of the article is an offer for an alliance between the clergy and the government as a solution to the problem of foreign interference. Although it has no material power, "the prominent members [rejal-i bar-joste] of the clergy" have provided guidance. In addition, they have lent their "deep moral influence among the people to support governments' sound programs" and, on the other hand, "have prevented extremist measures [tondraviha]" with no other motivation than an intense desire for the people's development, prosperity, and sovereignty."40 Instead, it offers a domestic policy based on "social justice, cultural development, economic harmony, industrial progress, and an independent judiciary, in short, the people's prosperity and sovereignty."

On the other hand, "if the political leadership of a country falls into the hands of foreigners and its fate is determined from outside its borders,... then culture, economics, industry, and other manifestations of the nation's civilization must develop in the interests of others and not those of the people." In this case, the clergymen "will spare nothing in the struggle and, if the danger warrants it, they might go as far as risking their lives and sacrificing all they have for the cause of saving Islam."41 It is not said explicitly what forms this struggle will take. The only example the author offers is that of the thirteenth century scholar Khaja Nasir ud-Din Tusi, who showed such selflessness in providing guidance for the Mongols "and directing them to serve the people and secure their prosperity."42 In this essay, then, the only example of anyone risking his life for Islam is an advisor to the Mongol court.

Moreover, even here, the argument immediately becomes a utilitarian one from the point of view of the government. The author writes that the oriental peoples are full of religious passions which are easily provoked; this explosive element is a valuable asset which must not be squandered, but should be harnessed to further the government's ends. There is absolutely no intimation that the clergy has a right to rule; the author's polemical thrust against Shi`ite doctrinal opposition to involvement in the affairs of state is limited to the idea that they should not totally ignore such matters. Indeed, the author closes his article with some advice to the ruler of an Islamic country: do not waste your resources in confrontations with the clergy; rather, form an alliance with it which will serve the interests of both clergy and state. The author's sole historical example of an alliance of this sort shows how little the clergy will demand for such a coalition--one may ally even with the hated Mongols.

The author is offering an alliance between clergy and crown--or whatever institutions rule a Muslim country--and expresses a willingness to accommodate even a highly impious government for the sake of peace and stability. He takes a middle position between turbulent priests and selfish and autocratic kings, wishing they would resolve their problems peaceably. The king is warned against being heavily influenced by the non-Muslim powers and neglecting the Muslim clergy, who can rally the people's religious passions to support him.

Shahid-e Javid's First Draft

Insight into the author's intentions in this study can be gleaned from an article he had written for Maktab-i Tashayyo` in 196343 which served as an initial outline for the finished project. The author begins by presenting his work as a scholarly-critical effort to "analyze [Imam Husain's uprising] like other historical events."44 This would in turn serve to make it more comprehensible to non-Shi`ites.45

But the most outstanding feature of this article is the lengths the author goes to portraying Imam Husain’s behaviour as being purely defensive. The author begins by arguing that an aggressive uprising (qiyyam-e ebteda’i) , in which a class or individual dissatisfied with the government rises against it without having been itself subject to active persecution (mored-e ta`arroz), is only permissible if the revolutionaries have overwhelming power. Otherwise the revolutionaries would be held responsible for the inevitable fiasco, which would not only not “prevent the government’s deviations and transgressions and not allow any king of reform,” and “the disruption of social order ending in a bitter defeat and the provocation of the government of the time,” but would, on the contrary, lead to the government becoming more repressive.46 Even in those circumstances, the revolutionaries must still answer questions of “law and the preservation of public… order and social tranquility.”47

It is much preferred to work within the system. “It is possible,” Salehi-Najafabadi argues, “that with sensible moderation and conciliation, without approving the government’s deviations, one might sometimes restrain its crimes.”48

A defensive uprising, on the other hand, is a response to persecution and is permissible and even obligatory. Even in the event of an uprising in self-defense, this must be done “so that disturbances (fitna, ashub) and bloodshed and convulsions not arise. For example, to defend onself, one should take refuge in strongholds, one must not resort to bloodshed and killing.” In particular, armed struggle is the last resort. (It is important to recall that these words were written at the birth of the New Left influenced by Fanon and Che, whose doctrines were based on launching military operations against governments of overwhelmingly superior power to inspire the oppressed and pierce the image of an invincible oppressor.) The author then argues that Imam Husain’s uprising was purely defensive. The government had the treasury and the military “ and no sort of military of financial power was in Imam Husain’s hands. Aye, the only power he had was his extraordinary belovedness and his vast social personality and the profound and deep-rooted respect he enjoyed in Muslim public opinion. But experience shows that [these] alone cannot stand up against military force, especially during those times when the people’s sensibility and learning and intellectual and social development were still at an elementary level.”49 On the other hand, Imam Husain (and, presumably, the Shi`a) had not yet been subject to persecution which would justify an uprising.50

But with the new caliph’s demand that he recognize him, Imam Husain is placed in mortal jeopardy , for this he cannot do. In agreement with tradition, Salehi-Najafabadi leaves Medina to extract himself from this situation, with this exception: Traditional accounts have him fleeing for his life;51 Salehi-Najafabadi has him simply seeking to “extract himself from this disturbance (fitna) and antagonims,” in line with the author’s belief that Imam Husain was above all seeking to preserve public order. The revolutionary aspect of the Imam’s flight, also present in traditional accounts, that he was heading towards Kufa to launch an uprising at the people’s invitation, is not mentioned, not to mention the tragic upshot of this gambit. The author reasons backwards to prove that Imam Husain’s actions were purely defensive: "[I]s it possible that a man like the Prophet's progeny could raise the banner of a coup d'etat [sic] and revolution without having been attacked by the government?" Rather, it would have been more appropriate to have used "a sensible policy of accommodation... to now and then restrain the government from sins and corruption. Experience shows that great spiritual and religious figures who are left at liberty by the government are always the refuge of the dispossessed and the downtrodden and can to a large extent restrain the government's deviations with wise instruction."52 Although the Imam is depicted as scoping out the terrain for sites for military strongholds to be held by soldiers of unknown provenance, the narrative quickly returns to the idea that the Imam had wisely chosen neither to help the oppressive government nor to compromise the honor of the Prophet’s household, nor “lead to social upheaval and revolution and bloodshed.”

“Thus, there was nothing wiser in Imam Husain’s eyes than to behave like God’s Prophet, who emigrated from Mecca in time of danger… and go where the danger is more remote. It was this emigration which was the first step to defending himself.”53

Another striking feature of the article, which is only brought out in a footnote, is the idea that the Imam and the Caliph had a commonality of interests. Its author pleads that the conflict was bad for both Caliph and Imam, and that if it were not for the latter's enemies at the former's court, things could have ended peacefully.54

The author concludes with Imam Husain's flight from Mecca to Medina. It is striking that, despite the title, no blood had yet been shed; this is clearly a story in which the ending is missing.

We now proceed to exam Shahid-e Javid itself.

Imam and Caliph

Just as in Difa`-i Khunin, Shahid-e Javid, Salehi-Najafabad takes pains to depict the Imam as a reluctant warrior and his struggle as a defensive one.55 In the dedication of the book, he salutes the Imam as he "who struggled with all his might to preserve public security and refrain from fighting."56 He "made great efforts to avoid fighting and bloodshed and used all his resources to establish peace."57 In the beginning of his discussion of the nature of Imam Husain's uprising,58 the author spends much of his time stressing its defensive character. He even states that it was not, from the beginning, an offensive against the caliphate, and in fact was, with the exception of one brief phase, an act of self-defense.59 Perhaps as part of his effort to de-emphasize the issue of martyrdom, the author declares that the battle of Kerbala was only a small episode in a long sequence of events and not their culmination.60

Similarly, the author offers an accommodationist strategy towards dealing with a strong political enemy in power. If one does not have the military might, one might treat the government with "sensible mildness and accommodation [molayemat va sazesh], while not supporting its aberrations and disorienting the people. This might sometimes prevent crime or corruption or at least allow criticism, just as was Imam Husain's policies during Mu`awiyya’s time." The author continues, "Experience has shown that great religious figures are always the refuge of the dispossessed and the oppressed and they could to a large extent restrain the government's administration's deviations with their wise counsel."61 The example the author offers is that of Imam `Ali during the time of the second caliphate. The political implications of this for Shi`ite militants are clear enough. Golgpayegani scorns this policy as one of "kissing the hand you cannot cut off."62

Illustrative of the author's attitude towards the caliphate is the following:63

The collision of two forces arises from the collision of two ways of thinking when... the groups supporting these two different ideas cannot come to an agreement....
Husain b. `Ali had a particular way of thinking which arose from the Prophet's Household....
On the other hand, Yazid b. Mu`awiyya’s way of thinking... was the same as Mu`awiyya b. Abi Sufiyan, and these two ways of thinking were in conflict and at two opposing poles and they could not come to an accord. But it is possible under special circumstances for those who have these two [ways of] thinking to follow the thesis of peaceful coexistence so that there be no collision between the two existing forces. The first condition for this is that both sides use the force of thought and counsel to a sufficient extent....

Again, when his forces were surrounded by the Ummayid armies, Imam Husain proposed peaceful coexistence between the two forces in a way the author finds reminiscent of the peaceful coexistence between the Western and Eastern blocs,64 a coexistence which would have actually materialized were it not for the presence of his fanatical enemies in the Ummayid court,65 although it would have been in the common interest of both the Imam and the Caliph.66

In this vein, the author declares: “It would be fitting if the Shi`ite community would recognize His Holiness Imam Hasan… more and hold more services in his honor.”67

The question of what would have happened if Yazid had not forced the issue cries out for an answer here. The author confronts this question68 by trying to combine both scenarios: Indeed, Imam Husain would have scoped out the situation and, if he found it to have been favorable, started his revolution. This scenario is all the simpler to spin out for being entirely speculative.

Another obvious question, but one evaded by the author, is raised by Golgpayegani:69 was the whole affair a success or not, i.e., on balance, would it not have been better if Imam Husain had pledged allegiance to the caliphate in the first place? The received tradition, of course, has a prepared answer to this: the martyrdom was the whole point of the exercise. The author, however, not wanting to reject the traditional position of the impossibility of Imam Husain's taking this pledge on the one hand and rejecting its view of his martyrdom on the other, is left with no apparent answer in sight.

Similarly, the author recalls the tradition that Imam Husain had offered to retreat from Kufa when faced with the caliphate's forces.70 The traditional view was that this was part of Imam Husain's propaganda directed at the enemy to emphasize his own reasonableness as against their leaders' bloodthirstiness (etmam-e hojjat). Since the author rejects this and takes the Imam's offer to retreat at face value, he has to answer the question, would Imam Husain have pledged allegiance to the caliphate after he retreated.

Shi`ite Tradition and the Masses

The point has been made71 that Shi`ism takes a generally pessimistic view of the common people. Shi`ites refer to themselves as the khass (the elite) and the non-Shi`ites as the `am (the commoners). Defenders of Shi`ite tradition lays the burden of the blame for the failure of the `Alid cause on the shoulders of the Muslims at large.

In particular, this is how the in debacle Imam Husain’s movement found itself is understood. Thus, Golpayegani concedes that while the people who truly cared about Islam sympathized with Imam Husain, this public sympathy "when it was tested, could not separate the people from the Ummayids' money and prestige and power. In those days just as in these, material things had an extraordinarily seductive quality, and the people would wage war on their own ideas and beliefs for the sake of money and prestige, and would slay their consciences."72

Another example is provided by Sayyid Ahmad Fahari-Zanjani, in his Salar-e Shahidan (Commander of the Martyrs), which is for the most part an answer to Shahid-e Javid, as well as others who sought to politicize Imam Husain's martyrdom. He points out that it was these "freedom-loving people," as Salehi-Najafabadi called them, who had repeatedly changed sides whenever the caliph got the upper hand over the `Alids, and that this is reflected in expressions of exasperation by `Ali directed against them and recorded in the Nahj ul-Balagha. He suggests that there is absolutely no evidence that the people were particularly dissatisfied with Mu`awiyya, pointing out that he was wily enough to know how to buy the people's affections. Finally, he asks,

Did the people of that time have the mental sophistication to realize that its deeds were against social justice and demand pure fairness and absolute justice? 73 Then what was all this destructive dissension in Imam Hasan's army and what the Syrian people's loyalty and obedience towards Mu`awiyya?74

And if you were to say that the people of Iraq were more loyal to the `Alid cause, did not Imam `Ali himself cry out in despair of them, "If only for each ten Iraqis I had one Syrian!"75

Shahid-e Javid, however, describes the general political situation as quite positive. The people are overwhelmingly sympathetic to Imam Husain and ready to rise up to support him.76 Even the political careerists were preparing to jump on his political bandwagon.77 Finally, he had a secret army of a hundred thousand behind him78 that was even more powerful than the Caliph's forces.79

Martyrdom as a Strategy

Salehi-Najafabadi leaves himself vulnerable with his studied ignorance of the traditional sense of martyrdom. In the first edition of Shahid-e Javid, he repeatedly says that his opponents believe that Imam Husain was out to get himself killed and produces the appropriate Koranic injunction against such an act.80 He also deplores the loss to Islam the death of such an important person represented.81 He could understand a courageous soldier for the Faith being killed in battle, but not someone deliberately courting death.82 This is a misunderstanding of a religious tradition that exists in both Islam and in Christianity before it, of the martyr as "witness" (in both its Arabic and Greek original meanings). In earliest Christianity, the believer was taught to follow Jesus' model and endure persecution in part to turn the persecutor or at least the onlookers, into a fellow believer; suffering was a form of witness. Although this had an aspect of encouraging passivity in the face of injustice, it also had a certain missionary force. If nothing else, it gave meaning to the martyr's death and fortified him in his final minutes. In later centuries, under the Roman persecutions, this became an important issue, the believers being expected to bear witness to the Faith by resolutely meeting their death.83

Similarly in Islam, it was understood that both the prophet Ibrahim and his son, Isma`il were fully aware that the former was to sacrifice the latter on the altar before God in obedience to His command.84 This is an example of accepting a martyr's fate as a sign of obedience to God, and is one aspect of Shi`ism's way of understanding Imam Husain's martyrdom.85 Thus, Golgpayegani asks the author if he thinks it was pointless for Ibrahim to have offered his son up upon God's command.86

In addition to being understood as accepting martyrdom as a sign of courageous obedience to the divine will. Shi`ite tradition holds that it was only by sacrificing himself that the Muslims could have been shocked out of their spiritual torpor and Islam could be saved. One could dispute this perspective, but the author simply closes his eyes to it.

For example, there is a widely-attested tradition that Imam Husain declared "inni la ari al-mawta illa sa`adatan," "I see death as nothing but a boon." Here, the Imam is clearly expressing an acceptance of certain death. Salehi-Najafabadi tries to explain it away as the attitude of a good Muslim soldier who goes into battle seeking either victory or martyrdom.87 He then suggests the opposite argument, that if the choice is between abject and unconditional surrender or death, he will consider death a boon.88 Golgpayegani puts this hadith in its proper context: that it was said either upon Imam Husain's seeing the Caliph's army closing in on him or just before the actual battle of Kerbala, when there was clearly not the slightest chance of anything but dying a martyr's death or surrendering.89 Indeed, he points out the futility of denying this even from the author's perspective; if Imam Husain did not know he was going to die before this point, he certainly knew afterwards!

But the author goes further and claims that his opponents’ belief that Imam Husain wanted to die so much that if his enemies had repented and join forces with him, he would have appealed to them to adjure their repenting and kill him.90 Golgpayegani makes short work of this argument,91 and indeed, the author dropped any reference to this hadith from the second version of his work.

Shahid-e Javid: A Guide for Political Struggle?

Traditional Husainology, according to Salehi-Najafabadi, is only good for making people weep. It was supernatural, presenting no model for believers to follow.92 As opposed to this, author is keen to demonstrate that Imam Husain's rising was actually a military struggle for the caliphate which indeed stood a good chance of succeeding. But the alternative he gives is a bland study in realpolitik:93

First, one must not accept a government of the ungodly, but "if there is hope that the popular forces can become organized and launch a struggle against the oppressive government, they must evaluate the political situation and the popular forces’ condition to see if there is a possibility for struggle.... "

Second, if, "after evaluating the popular forces it becomes clear that public opinion is in favor of a change of government and there is enough strength to form a government, they must courageously take steps to form a just government."

Third, "if it is discovered that there is no longer the possibility for military victory, one must strive with all one's might to preserve the peace and prevent war to preserve one's forces to begin a more widespread struggle for Islam at future opportunities."

Fourth, "if the leader of the uprising is surrounded by the enemy and is called upon to surrender unconditionally, and if it is discovered that were he to surrender, he would be disarmed and killed in a humiliating fashion, he must not surrender to the enemy, but struggle valiantly and defend himself either to win, even if there be but a one percent chance of victory, or achieve an honorable martyrdom."

But as Lotfallah Safi Golgpayegani pointed out in his reply to Shahid-e Javid, Shahid-e Agah (The Conscious Martyr),94 any political leader knows all these things instinctively and would requires no lessons in them. But let's examine these four points further in light of the issues involved. The first and second points leave unanswered the obvious question: What happens if the contrary conditions obtain and the people are terrorized or lulled into apathy by a usurping government, or if for this or some other reason it is impossible to launch a struggle against the regime? In particular, if Imam Husain had come to the conclusion that revolutionary struggle was out of the question, should he have publicly pledged allegiance to Yazid after all? The third and fourth points are equally troubling: If a movement finds that a military struggle cannot succeed, its leader is not only permitted to do everything possible to give in to the regime, but is obliged to, providing he does not expect to be killed upon surrendering.95

This last issue is brought home in the author's explanation of this position. He quotes Imam Husain as saying on `Ashura, the day he was to face martyrdom, that he was being forced to choose between "drawing the sword or accepting humiliation."96 ... He says

[i]t is clear that in this sermon by the Imam, accepting Yazid's caliphate is not an issue, but rather Husain b. `Ali's surrendering in a humiliating way to b. Yazid.97 So if under the unlikely assumption that [Imam Husain] were to accept Yazid's caliphate in Kerbala, he would still not have been set free... but would have had to submit to b. Yazid's will after surrendering to Yazid. And so, as soon as Imam Husain was surrounded by `Ubaidallah b, Ziyad's forces,98 he had to fight on two fronts: both to struggle not to accept Yazid's anti-Koranic government and to struggle not to accept the humiliation and abasement which they wanted to impose on him and so defend his self-respect. Self-respect was the dominant issue in the final stages of the Imam's struggle.

As Golgpayegani commented, that this is to say that Imam Husain's death was not even a matter of struggling for political power, but for defending his honor;99 although this was worth dying for, it did not quite raise his final struggle to that of a common mojahed.

Revolution and Tradition I: Shari`ati and Shahid-e Javid

It is instructive to compare the author's Husainology with those of the Organization of People's Mojahedin, `Ali Shari`ati, and Imam Khomaini; the latter two in particular lean heavily for their inspiration on the received tradition, and this affords us a means of comparing this tradition's capacity for development in a revolutionary direction with the innovations found in Shahid-e Javid. A full study of the Husainology of these last two sources, though interesting, is outside the scope of this paper.

In his book, Hosain, Adam's Heir,100 Shari`ati explains the Husain story using the tools of liberation theology. Scholarly re-examination of the source material is the least of his concerns.101 Rather, he is interested in using the story as it exists and turning it in a revolutionary direction. We examine this at some length because it demonstrates the received tradition's potential for development in this direction and because Shari`ati had a sense of what his audience, which was anchored in or seeking to anchor itself in traditional Islam, was prepared to accept from this tradition. Moreover, Shari`ati leaves little to the imagination in his using the struggle between the Caliph and Imam as a parable for the struggle between the Pahlavi monarchy and the opposition.

Shari`ati intuitively accepts this. All social classes have been corrupted, the nobility having no taste for `Alid rule and the commoners having lapsed into feebleness and negligence.102 By the time Imam Husain arrives on the scene, the social situation is grim. The passionate revolutionaries had been killed, the enlightened had been kept preoccupied with scholasticisms, and the warriors had been bought off103 "It was an age in which ideas were paralyzed, people were sold, and the loyal were abandoned."104 Or, as he summarizes the situation, the Imam105

couldn't remain silent and he couldn't scream! He couldn't remain silent because all these responsibilities [sic] were waiting to see what this lone man could do. He couldn't scream because no one would hear him and his words would reach no one in this deathly silence of a people who were victims of intimidation, scared for their security, negligent in their ignorance, opiated by the ruling religion, in the midst of the caliphate’s phony and savage cacophonies and wars conducted in the name of jihad and conquest and booty and rituals and public prayers and the haj and the Koran and Islam, simultaneous with dancing and music and culture and progress and power and parties and feasting and rotten liberties which gushed forth from the Islamic caliphate's throat and reverberated everywhere.

Nor is the military situation at all encouraging. There is not even a sword left, nor a soldier to wield it.106 Imam Husain must rise up against the Ummayids empty-handed.107

It is therefore particularly interesting that much of Shari`ati's essay on martyrdom in his book on Imam Husain is taken up directly or indirectly with polemicizing with Shahid-e Javid. We produce the salient parts of this here:108

... A book has been published recently which has become quite well known and which many people have attacked; its worth is greater than that of the attacks against it. For my part, I say that it is the only book which I have ever seen—among the books which our scholars have written—that is a work of research: its author has gathered the documents, has posed both pro and con, has analyzed and criticized, and has even had the nerve to reject some things and affirm others, in the sense that he has presented a new scholarly perspective and has conducted a vast amount of research, having examined many sources and having devoted himself to a scholarly task of research. It is these merits which I believe the book has and for which I respect its author, whom I do not know but consider a man of serious scholarship and intellectually analytical and original and independent. In this atmosphere of people crying scandal, of gossip, of demagogy, of imitation, and of repeating the repeated, such pens are valuable. But I have a scholarly difference of opinion with him. Unfortunately, it is a fundamental difference of opinion! His thesis is a popular one which many like him believe: "Husain rose up from Medina in order to undertake a political or a military uprising against the government, against the regime, and he would then overthrow the regime in power and restore his rights and those of the people by taking up the reins of society."
... This is an ideal, but an ideal which, unfortunately, is not consonance with the external situation.
Some, in rejecting this thesis, say, "Was Husain a politician, then, who went and staged an uprising to take power?"
Astonishing! For what did the Prophet and `Ali fight,109 then? For what did Imam Hasan fight?110 It is not a political issue, it is a matter of criminality ruling over the people's fate. Someone who was responsible for the people's fate had, to the extent of his abilities, to eliminate usurpation and restore what is right and take power; this was the Imam's right, indeed, his absolute duty. So the principle is that the Imam had to launch a political military uprising against the usurping government and remove the powerful pagan government with the force of revolution and uprising, and revive what is right and rule the people. What I say is that this was Husain's mission, but he did not have the practical means to execute it.
The reason that some people who believe in this theory of an official military uprising give is that the Kufa garrison town was a basis of support of Husain and of his family and the family of `Ali and the Prophet; Iran, which had been a supporter of `Ali, lay just beyond Kufa and `Ali's friends were there, among all the factions [which existed there.] To be sure. [Suppose]111 I say that Kufa was entirely in Imam Husain's hands. Suppose I even say that Kufa had not betrayed Muslim.112 Suppose I say that Kufa was sufficiently powerful so that if Imam Husain had been able to reach Kufa, it could have become Islam's most powerful military base, that a free Islamic government led by Imam Husain could have been formed which could have even demolished Damascus. Let's even say that. But Imam Husain's movement was not a military and political uprising, not in the sense that, as some say, it would have been wrong for Imam Husain, that it is demeaning to devote oneself to politics and political revolution! No, it is a duty. But we say that he didn't have the resources to do this. [Rhetorically asking himself:] How is it that the resources weren't there if you say that had Husain had been able to reach Kufa he could have done all these things? You yourself say that Kufa was a military base which could have wiped out Damascus and placed the Islamic government in Imam Husain's hands. So why don't you consider the Imam's uprising to be a political and military uprising against the Ummayid system?
... [Replying:] Husain emerges from Medina and comes to Mecca after the appeals from the people of Kufa arrived: "We believe in you and are awaiting you. We need your leadership and will put the power in your hands. We will rise up against usurpation and tyranny and defend you and you will deliver us from the yoke of corruption." He announces in Medina, "I, following in the footsteps of my grandfather [the Prophet] and my father [`Ali], have come to command the proper and forbid the improper." He then goes to Mecca, traveling six hundred kilometers, publicly and along with his entire family. There, too, he announces, before all those assembled to perform the haj, who have come from all the Islamic lands, "I ... am heading towards my death: The mark of death upon the sons of Adam is like a necklace adorning a beautiful young girl."113
Someone who wants to make a political uprising would not utter such words. He would say, "We will smite, we will kill, we will win, we will demolish the enemy." But when Husain launched his movement, his speech to all those people was, "Death is as beautiful for the son of Adam as the necklace upon the neck of a beautiful young girl." ... Death is an adornment for man! And after Mecca, he took the road to Death.
... Is it possible that a man (here, I have nothing to do with occult knowledge), a political man, an ordinary conscious man who lives in the heart of Ummayid power, who is in the government's hands, who is under the jurisdiction of the enemy's central government, when a far-off garrison town which is in a state of revolt against the central government invites him to go there and take the leadership of the revolution, he should for his part formally announce, "Fine, I'm coming," formally announce this and then even put his wife and child, all the members of his family and the children of his brother and all the women and men of his family on the road and then leave in an official caravan, publicly and announced, in the usual way, and leave the city which is under the enemy's control, the central government's powerful base, and then travel through six hundred kilometers of road which is under the central government's control just like that and then, when he gets to Mecca, in which all the representatives of the Islamic lands which are subject to the government in Damascus and in which all the Islamic forces and factions and communities are gathered, that he should announce there, too, that he is heading for Kufa! And then, in the evening, take the road for Arabia just like all the country's caravans traveling east and west and head for Iraq, for Kufa, the center of revolution?!
... It is completely obvious that they would not let him get away with it. If anyone, even an ordinary political opponent, would want to leave the country to place himself beyond its borders, to join with revolutionary forces against the regime in power, and to participate in the struggle against it, how would he do it? He must surely not announce it and this invitation [by the opposition to join them]. He would keep his destination and even his traveling so hidden that no one would find out about it and secretly flee, and this would be the obvious and natural thing to do. If he were to come and officially tell the government, "I am a revolutionary who is opposed to your regime, who is not prepared to pledge allegiance to you, and I want to leave the country and join a revolutionary organization, they have invited me to lead a revolution against you and I am now leaving the country to take over the revolution's leadership and this is why I want to leave the country, and I would like a visa to leave the country," it is obvious that they would not give it to him. Rather, they would arrest him and execute him.
... But this is just what Husain did! He declared to the government, to its might and its military and all the ruling powers and all the people, officially and publicly, resolutely and clearly, "I will not pledge allegiance and am leaving to migrate to Death."
... If the people were to suddenly wake up one morning and see that there is no more Husain, if Husain had left town secretly and alone and reached a certain tribe, if he had migrated just like the Prophet who migrated from Mecca to Medina, but from Medina to Kufa, in secret, and then the central government suddenly saw him in Kufa, among the revolutionaries, it would have been obvious that Husain had gone into action to rise up against the government. But the way he set off by caravan, the way he chose to go, show that Husain had set off for something else, neither flight nor isolation nor surrender nor abandoning the political struggle to start an intellectual or scholarly or legal or moral or philanthropic struggle, nor a military uprising!

There follows a lengthy digression on the dilemma before Imam Husain--he cannot but he must! "He had to fight, but he didn't have the weapons to fight."114 Whereas the author raises the Koranic injunction against suicide115 as an argument against launching what he calls an aggressive revolutionary movement, Shari`ati places this verse in the mouths of those who advised him not to undertake his march to Iraq, misunderstanding his mission:116 "It is a jihad whose fate is certain death and defeat, it is suicide, it is in the interest of the infidel and the oppressor," i.e., Imam Husain's enemies outside and inside the Islamic community.117 He more directly takes up the point made in Shahid-e Javid in a footnote:118

The thesis which says that "the Imam launched an official armed uprising to bring down the Ummayid regime and take the reins of government and imamate and that he ultimately suffered defeat because of the people's betrayal119 and the enemy's scheming and the coup d'etat in Kufa120 and a shortage of forces, i.e. that he rose up to defeat the enemy and not to be killed,121 in order to confirm its logic enters into a second thesis, which says that "If the Imam really left Medina to be killed, it is fitting to raise the criticism of this decision, that it was a fruitless mission and the Imam had himself killed for nothing. It would have been better for him to have sat in a mosque and at least relate the sayings of the Prophet. Today, seeing that no hadiths reach us from Imam Husain, as opposed to the other Imams, it is because he had himself killed, and if he had survived, he could at least have been useful at least in this regard; but he wasn't.122

Again, he declares,123

... Some have doubts about the effects of Husain's martyrdom! They call it a failed uprising!
... Amazing! What jihad, what war was so victorious that the scope of its victory on the level of society, on depths of thought and feeling, and throughout the ages of history could be so widespread and deep and fruitful?

Shari`ati continues, explaining the mechanism of Imam Husain's victory in his own peculiar way. It

... condemned the regime and dissolved its grand scheme in blood forever and exposed... everything. It flung aside every mask, lifted the cloak from deceit.... Martyrdom is not a weapon, it is a message.... It cannot destroy treason, but it is a shining light in the general darkness which illuminates space and exposes treason!124

Despite the abstract tone and the borrowings from ideas about the responsibility of the individual then in fashion in Paris, his conclusions are in line with ancient Shi`ite traditions:125

See Husain, he leaves his city and abandons his life and rises up to be killed! For he has no other weapon for his struggle, to disgrace the enemy and to tear away these veils of deceit..., for if he was unable to kill the enemy, he could at least disgrace him, if he could not overcome the ruling power, he could condemn it. In order to nourish the dead body of this generation, the second generation of Muhammad's revolution, with the fresh blood of life and jihad, he, a single unarmed and impotent human being who was yet obliged to undertake a jihad, had as his only weapon, his only option, to die and to choose his own red death.

And again, "[T]his 'death' for a man guarantees 'life' for a people. His martyrdom was a means to keeping belief alive."126

On the other hand, Shari`ati condemns the "vulgar" idea (expressed by nobody in particular) which says that "Husain rose up to be killed and not to struggle with the government, so that he might atone for the community of believers...." In contrast to this,127

In this sense, Shahid-e Javid's thesis, in which the mission of ... `Ashura is interpreted as an uprising and a jihad to eliminate the Yazidite system, is more positive and progressive than that Sufi-Safavid-Christian martyrdom which is the greatest "friendly" conspiracy against Ashura and Imam Husain, for this thesis considers Husain's uprising to be a defeated jihad, like that of Uhud lead by the Prophet128 or the battle against Mu`awiyya led by Imam Hasan.
... But my thesis is better, more progressive, and more acceptable than the thesis that Husain had been defeated, because martyrdom, in its precise meaning, is a commandment after jihad, and the martyr enters the battle field precisely when the mujahid [i.e., he who wages a jihad] has been defeated.129

`Ali Shari`ati responded to Shahid-e Javid by solidarizing with the author's open-mindedness and his vision of a proactive Imam Husain, but when it came down to the details, he found the traditional picture more politically useful.

Revolution and Tradition II: The Mojahedin and Shahid-e Javid

We next compare the author's view of Imam Husain's uprising with that of the Organization of Iranian Peoples Mojahedin's An Analysis of the Husainite Movement.130 It was, according to a historian of the Mojahedin, "written mostly under the supervision of [founding Mojahed Central Cadres Mas`ud] Rajavi and Ahmad Reza’i" and was "probably the first book in Persian to interpret systematically early Shiism as a protest movement against class exploitation and state oppression." It was "circulated in handwritten xeroxed editions in the late 1960s" and was the Organization's "most important" piece of literature.131 However, after the Islamic Revolution, with the consolidation of Rajavi's control over the Organization, the book fell from favor132 and so came to represent an ideological "road not taken."

While the authors consider "Imam Husain's uprising" [rastakhiz] as "distinguishing us [sic] from other revolutions,"133 it is unclear what this was to mean in practice. The "revolutionary martyrdom" of author Ahmad Reza'i, who died in a confrontation with the Shah's police, is described as "a victory for the counter-revolution" which, however, "is a guide which illuminates the way for the revolution, too. Ahmad was our first martyr but not our last. Ahmad's martyrdom fills our heart with hatred for the counter-revolution and loyalty to the revolution. The worthiness with which he acquitted himself increases our certainty in the victory of our just revolution." There is nothing particularly Husainite about this; it is an ordinary revolutionary epitaph.

On the theoretical level, the pamphlet is more concerned with providing a dialectical materialist presentation of the struggles of the first three Shi`ite Imams than with the mysticism of martyrdom, leaning on the Egyptian rationalist Taha Husain's telling of the story of the fall of the third caliph, `Uthman, al-Fitnat ul-Kubra,134 and reaching for Lenin or Fanon when a political point needed to be made. The history of the first three caliphs is related along the lines of secular scholarship, although favorable opinions about them are suppressed and criticisms of Imam `Ali are objected to. Abu Bakr relied on brute force to keep the newly-Islamicized tribes in line.135 `Umar... was severe in applying the law but followed economic policies which permitted the accumulation of wealth in a few hands.136 `Uthman's reign is characterized by further concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few; his mistreatment of Abu Zarr and the misrule of Iraq137 as well as his economic policies receiving .138

Difficulties for revolutionaries posed by the collaboration of the first three Imams with these usurping caliphs are brushed aside with quotes from Lenin on ultra-leftism and the need for "revolutionary patience."139

With the story of the first two Imams as preface, the authors then turn to the third. Imam Husain's relations with Mu`awiyya are described as strained, with the Caliph maintaining a hands-off policy while the Imam fearlessly criticizes him. Upon Yazid's assumption of the caliphate, he is summoned to the Ummayid governor of Medina. There, ''His Holiness mingled with different circles to survey the situation in Medina and the state of public opinion''140 When he met Marwan, who advised him to swear allegiance to the Caliph, Imam Husain expressed no concern for his personal safety, but for the well-being of Islam and the Muslims.141

The authors accept the tradition that Imam Husain spent an unspecified number of nights meditating at his grandfather's grave, where he beseeches his advise. The authors are too materialist to have the Prophet respond, but do note that the Imam came away determined that war was necessary, ''a battle to eliminate the obstacles to God's way. The chariot of the dialectic [takamol; can also be translated as development to perfection] of this movement had by now reached the point that it would not advance without a 'sacrifice'. From now on, nothing but a determined uprising... would suffice.''142 The textual evidence for this is not easily discovered; it consists of Imam Husain's famous farewell letter to his half-brother, Muhammad Hanafiyya. The latter had advised him to escape to a province where he could hide from the Caliph's ire. Imam Husain replied that he was obliged to "command the proper and forbid the improper," that he was not out to make trouble [fitna], and that if the people would not accept what he had to say, he would be patient and let God judge between himself and the people.143 From this, the Mojahedin argue that Imam Husain must have meant the exact opposite, ''rebelling against and tearing down the ruling system,'' since the people obviously could not be reformed by sermons and sage counsel, but needed to go through the experience of revolution to be born again.144

A discussion of an encounter with `Umar b. `Ali, who warned Imam Husain that he would be killed if he pursued the course he was on, allows the authors to unfold a materialist view of the Imam's occult knowledge. `Umar's knowledge only went as far as foreseeing the Imam's death.145 The Imam's predicting his own death is explained as follows:

But the Imam had learned in the school of the Koran to see from the infinite past to the infinite future and seek out his role from the creation to the resurrection, basing himself throughout this affair on "We are from God and unto Him do we return."146 In such a dictionary, `Umar's concern for the consequences could have no meaning. Moreover, the Imam understood the expression "the balance of forces" in the Koran's dictionary in a different way; there it says that in the end, "How many small groups there are which are victorious over large ones."147 This was a more detailed and loftier calculation than the... principles which governed `Umar b. `Ali's mind.... And so the Imam replied, relying on his knowledge ['ilm; the authors' translation] replied, "Do you imagine that what you know I do not and that God has never taught me His Faith?"
The Imam could not bear to accept the oppressor's government and knew what the consequences of that refusal had to be.... He made a final visit to his grandfather's grave and told him, "If I agree [to pledge allegiance to the Caliph], I will have become an infidel; if I refuse, I will be punished with the sword."148 The authors comment,
Husain, contrary to the opinion of those who burdened him with their enthusiastic advice, was well aware of the nature of the task which he was on the way to accomplishing. For they were extrapolating onto the road which the Imam had chosen from the contents of their own subjectivity, which was nothing but the darkness arising from the gloom and suffering which characterized the outer world of the time. But he knew what they knew and he knew what they did not know, and strode forth in light.

That he was fully aware that this road was to end in his death is made clear throughout this book. "That the Imam was sure to be martyred was obvious to [even] the simple observer in those days, and the Imam himself knew down which road he was marching."149 Again, commenting on advice given the Imam by a well-wisher, the authors exclaim, "Amazing! `Abdallah b. `Umar could not drive the idea from his head that the Imam was fighting with Yazid over the office of the caliphate and the leadership, while it was apparent that the Imam and his comrades were out to greet nothing but death."150

This establishes that, in the Mojahedin's understanding, the Imam was aware that he was going to his death from the outset of his mission. But how did they understand the nature of this mission? This the authors explain as follows:

In the age of injustice and repression in which no cry but the roar of the brute and the lust-filled cackling of the oppressor was permitted and words could only be seen in the lightless cold of the eyes of the oppressed, nothing could be loftier and more inspiring than the courage which fearlessly rent this darkness asunder and boldly shattered this repression....
...[T]his choice was the first firm humiliating fist to the mouth of that government....
... This was a great lesson for the people who lived in such terror of the Ummayid regime, to know that in the face of divine judgement, [the unbreechable law of dialectics], all powers are as nothing.

From this, we see that, for the Mojahedin, Imam Husain's aim was not to seize power and establish an Islamic government, but to rise up and, by his example, break the silence and show that once could stand up to the Ummayids.

It is clear that Husain's goal went against the advise of all who offered it, saying, ''O Husain, don't throw yourself into sedition [fitna].'' Husain did not flee from sedition.151
Husain considered troubles [ibtila] to be the starting point on the way of the dialectic, and his intention was to throw into troubles and sedition a people from whom the lengthy rule of `Uthman, Mu`awiyya, and now Yazid had taken away honor and manliness and human sense [hiss-i mardumi] and had enmeshed their revolutionary Islamic spirit in a web of bribery and intimidation....

His goal in this was to forge ''a new man'' and, ultimately, to bring the system down.

This self-sacrifice is seen as the essence of Islam. The authors draw the following conclusion from Imam Husain's decision to curtail his observance of the Haj:152

He left Mecca during the days when the people were coming there from all directions to perform their religious functions, although he was an Imam who would have been the most fitting man to circumambulate the Ka`ba, and launched an uprising to revive religious feelings. This was the most powerful and, at the same time, the most sobering blow to all the drowsing minds which, under the weight of years of distortion, had lost their Koranic vision and had been corrupted by conciliationist excuses....
... In leaving the Ka`ba, the Imam and his true comrades did not have the opportunity to touch the walls of the Ka`ba like the others on the appropriate day. But soon, an inspiring fate on a hot plain would confirm that they had passed beyond the [Ka`ba's] walls and sought out the heart of the way. [Their advisors] had not seen what was at the heart of the Ka`ba! What indeed lay at the heart of the Ka`ba?
What, but the sacrifice which the prophet Ibrahim, the first who surrendered [to God]153 and became Islam's first promoter and who laid the foundation of that Muslim house. On his way out of Mecca, he ran into the poet Farazdaq and told him he was leaving Mecca "because they will seize me if I don't hurry." The authors cannot understand this in the plain sense, since they had declared that he Imam Husain was not (contrary to the plain meaning) in fear of his life;154 rather, the authors explain that Imam Husain "who was headed towards his death" was concerned that if he was caught, he would not be able to fulfil his mission. On the other hand, the authors are not interested in forcing the reading in a supernatural direction; the historical story that would indicate that the Imam was unaware that Muslim's mission to Kufa had ended in disaster is given in its plain sense.155

The Imam's interception by the Caliph's forces also presents difficulties; the histories record a tradition to the effect that the former had offered to retreat.156 The authors plead,

It is clear that if the Imam intended to retreat just like that, he would not have set out with such firmness; similarly, he would not have later preferred his martyrdom and that of his comrades to defeat.... Rather, the Imam... wanted to win over the other side and alert it to the obscenity of its actions.

Indeed, Imam Husain's duty is described throughout this section as that of exposing the truth of the situation to his enemies (what traditional scholars call itmam al-hujja), who had been blinded by years of propaganda into thinking that the present caliphate represented true Islam.157 This mission even took precedence over the military conflict facing him.158 This becomes clear in the attention given to the campaign by the captive Zainab, Imam Husain's sister, in denouncing the Caliph's crimes, a campaign that is given much more space than the fighting at Kerbala. The dignity of the captives despite their wretched appearance,159 their forbearance in the face of the Syrians' misguided taunts,160 and the courage with which they challenged the Caliph are described at length.161

As the article closes, the authors draw conclusions from the events described. Studying these events was important to clear them of the dust of centuries of rawzakhani162 and zikr.163 Through such a study, one "might decide if [Imam Husain] was victorious or defeated."164 The authors note that there are different opinions on the matter. For example, Ibn Khaldun considered the event a misguided adventure. In response, they offer an interesting analogy---Andre Malreaux, a French Communist Party intellectual, is made to stand in for Ibn Khaldun, while Che Guevara is made to stand in for Imam Husain.165

The Mojahedin's verdict on Imam Husain's uprising was that it was a victory. The "victory in imprisonment" of the Kerbala massacre's survivors continued the task of exposing the caliphate's true nature.166 Even in Damascus, the seat of the enemy caliphate, "the exposures and explanations, which in their most elementary form, based on the events of `Ashura, weakened the government's foundations," as the Husainite message was carried from Zainab and Imam `Ali b. Husain to Islam's farthest reaches, "so that in a short while, the movement's rousing spirit filled the air of the Islamic lands. It would not be long before Mecca and Medina... ignited as well."167 The hapless governor of Iraq, b. Ziyad, saw "what bitter fruit that surging blood which he had shed with his own hands on that dry land brought forth" when Zainab declared to him, "You have skinned yourself and torn off your own flesh!"168 This prophecy would come true, as future events would show169 and these prisoners turned the governor’s apparent victory into a real defeat.170

The book concludes with the affirmation that the message of Kerbala is for all humanity and that it had a universal impact.171

From then on, we have been faced with many revolutionary men and women throughout the lands of Islam who all prefer death to shame. It is a pity that in this brief space, there is no room to describe the proud struggles of these self-sacrificing heroes.... Doubtless, without such descriptions, the importance of `Ashura's impact in its interaction with other liberation movements around the world can be little understood. This is particularly true for those who, far from the hardships of the road to perfection, with all its ups and downs, including the protracted and gradual task of consciously extracting the human from the bog of bestiality, rush after the victory of perfection and esteem and pursue only those movements which can completely drive the enemy from the field in a limited amount of time.
Such people see that, even after `Ashura, the despotic caliphates survived, not to mention class oppression in general. The authors argue that the progress the liberation movements of their time were experiencing was a direct result of the sacrifices of these heroes, starting with those who were martyred at Kerbala. The Caliph did not understand that "diffracting [shikastan; can also mean "defeating"] the light will only redouble it."172

It remains to mention that a common note is sounded by both `Ali Shari`ati's and the Mojahedin's view of Imam Husain's uprising in common with Shi`ite tradition. Shi'ite tradition viewed the Imams as pure beings who were sensitive to the corruption around them in a way the common people were too bribed or terrorized from being. Shari`ati translated this into an expression of the loneliness of the committed intellectual. The Mojahedin, who were faced with an Iranian people who were similarly bought off or intimidated, translated this into the Guevarist-Fanonist idiom of the responsibility of the revolutionary to forge the “New Man” in struggle. This required explaining their apathy on materialist grounds. The Kufites' proverbial treachery is one obvious case in point. Their betrayal of Imam `Ali was explained in terms of their general exhaustion.173 Their betrayal of Imam Husain is lain at the feet of the Kufite aristocracy and the common people are exonerated; on the same page, the exonerated people are excused for their betrayal of Imam Husain on the grounds that they were ignorant and oppressed,174 which allowed them to be convinced by their new governor, Ibn Ziyad, that Imam Husain was a heretic,175 a policy backed up by repression.176The Syrians' loyalty to the caliphate receives similar treatment; it is excused on the grounds of ignorance,177 the proper response to which is revolutionary forbearance.178

In general, the people are viewed as discontent with their lot, but undeveloped179 or as corrupted and disoriented by decades of Ummayid rule. When he is warned by a friend not to go to Kufa because "the governors are like Pharoahs and the people are themselves slaves to gold," Imam Husain does not object, but only replies cryptically, "I am bound to go to Iraq."180 Again, the authors comment that Imam Husain's main difficulty was a shortage of "willful, enthusiastic people."181

One element missing from these events is the clergy. Unlike `Ali Shari`ati, who is actively anticlerical, the Mojahedin may be called passively anticlerical. When the word 'ulama makes its rare appearance, it is glossed over as "the conscious element."182

We see here that the People's Mojahedin ideologues were able to use elements of the received tradition rejected by the author for its revolutionary political agenda.

Revolution and Tradition III: Khomaini and Shahid-e Javid

Khomaini's understanding of Imam Husain's mission does not deviate from the traditional account. Although we have no systematic treatise by him on the subject, we do have many statements offered on different occasions.

In one of his earliest political statements, delivered just after the March 1963 massacre at the Faiziya Seminary in Qom, in which religious students were mowed down and religious sanctuaries were desecrated by the Shah's troops, Khomaini clearly implied that, like the martyrdoms suffered by Imam Husain, "the ruling regime, by committing this crime, has disgraced itself. By perpetrating this catastrophe, it made its downfall and destruction certain. We have won."183 He made a similar declaration when he called on the people to rise up against the Shah's planned celebration of 2500 years of Iranian monarchy: They were to imitate the example of Imam Husain and rise up against the monarchy, despite their small forces, and disgrace it.184 After the killings of demonstrators by the Shah's troops in the Muharram of winter 1978, he declared that Imam Husain "by his uprising against taghut [idolatry] has given humanity a constructive and crushing lesson: He believed that the way to eliminate oppression was through giving martyrs and being martyred."185 On his return to Iran, he said, addressing clergymen and seminary students in Qom, that, "The Lord of Martyrs [Imam Husain] was killed, but his doctrine was preserved; indeed, he revived his doctrine.He revived his doctrine by being killed."186 Again, "His Holiness the Lord of Martyrs' martyrdom revived the doctrine. He was martyred and the doctrine of Islam was revived and the taghut regimes of Mu`awiyya and his son were buried." When Imam Husain saw how Islam was being destroyed by the caliphate, he "knew his duty, to go and be killed and wipe out the traces of Mu`awiyya and his son. And so the Lord of Martyr's martyrdom was nothing that did harm to Islam. It was good for Islam. It revived Islam. If we, too, in this movement of ours... are all killed, there would be no problem. It would make Islam more alive."187 "In Kerbala, the oppressors' palaces were smashed to pieces by [the martyrs'] blood."188 "With these same tears, we will unleash a flood which will smash to pieces the obstacles standing before Islam."189 Thus, Imam Khomaini repeatedly and at key moments of his career declared his belief not only that Imam Husain's apparent defeat was actually a victory, but that his conscious strategy was to be martyred in order to defeat the Umayyid foe.

Nor did Khomaini scorn traditional rawzakhani, the lugubrious recitation of the sufferings of the House of `Ali. Rather, he declared it "this nation's life."190 "Any doctrine not based on breast-beating, as long as it is not based on making people weep, as long as it is not based on beating one's head and breast, will not survive."191 Again, "[T]hat same breastbeating, those same dirges [nohakhani], these very things were the secret of our victory" because they served to unify the nation.192 In addition, these rituals brings out a sense of sympathy for the downtrodden.193

We note that Salehi-Najafabadi claimed that Khomaini supported his position since he had said that Imam Husain "sent Muslim b. `Aqil to call on the people to pledge allegiance to him to form an Islamic government and destroy that corrupt government."194 But this was said in the context of answering Muslims who advocated political passivity and called for the clergy to stick to their studies. The issue was one of activism versus passivity. Indeed, no one would argue that Imam Husain had dispatched Muslim to Kufa and told him to summon the people to set up a government based on his vision of Islamic justice. What set Salehi-Najafabadi's thesis apart from mainstream Shi`ism was the issue of what Imam Husain had in mind when he did this.

On the other hand, Khomaini refused to be drawn into the polemics around Shahid-e Javid. "All [the Muslims'] strength was consumed over the book Shahid-e Javid and the differences over it," he declared. For several years, all your strength was squandered on this."195 Elsewhere, he described the commotion over this book as "vain" [puch]. "If [Shahid-e Javid] is Islamic, what is it to me? If it is not Islamic, what is it to you? Once, they raised Shahid-e Javid and from one side or the other during all of Muharram and Safar and beyond, the pulpits were all used to go on about Shahid-e Javid. There was a plot afoot and the ones who set it up neither believe in Islam nor the clergy nor anything else. They are materialists and would have the Muslims go at each other's throats so that they can plunder them."196

An Anti-Political Husainology

Both Golgpayegani and the author struggled over who was presenting the most worthy picture of Imam Husain the revolutionary martyr. A different view is presented in Sayyid Ahmad Zanjani's Salar-i Shahidan (Commander of the Martyrs),197 which is for the most part an answer to Shahid-e Javid, as well as others who sought to politicize Imam Husain's martyrdom. Here, we have a full-fledged mystical view of Imam Husain's martyrdom.198 This author openly ridicules the idea that the reason for Imam Husain's martyrdom can be understood as a struggle against injustice or on any other rational grounds,199 arguing that the ten other imams (before the tweflth, vanished Imam) advocated a strictly quietist policy towards both the Ummayid and the `Abbasid caliphates. He stressed that the Imams were all of the same character200 and that the only reason the other imams did not get involved with armed uprisings against an enthroned caliph was that only Yazid had sought a public oath of allegiance from an imam.201

But in even this anti-political view of Imam Husain's uprising, the author asks, in answer to Salehi-Najafabadi,202

... Cannot one follow this deed of Imam [Husain] ... and make use of it? Is no one able to study it? Is recalling its history only good for achieving merit or weeping or causing others to weep?
If this were so, from whom might one learn a lesson in self-sacrifice for the sake of the Faith and courage and valliance? Whom might one follow [to learn about] obedience to the commands of the True One and passionate [`ashiqane] resistance?
... To what are the scales of discernment in thrall that the clergy and the religious scholars are not able to measure the Imam's deeds on them and are compelled to say that the Imam's deeds are a secret known only to him?
...In that case, wouldn't the wise have only the option of surrender to another criterion?
... Would it destroy the true value of this movement to make a sacrifice and perishing for the sake of the True One's will a mark of pride and a sign of worthiness for God's prophets, particularly such a one as earned Husain the title Commander of Martyrs?

Whatever this is, it is not "the passive image of Husain that the rawzakhans preferred."203

One of the things Zanjani brings to the debate is the author's interpretation of the bloody events of 60 AH. We have already seen how he objected to the author's claims that the people were politically sophisticated enough to see through the caliph. He also takes issue with such sonorous politicisms as "justice-seeking Muslims who were on the verge of death after twenty years under the boots of Mu`awiyya’s absolutism" and "the pleas for help from the liberals of Kufa" and so on.204 Indeed, the reader is struck by the anachronisms that abound in Shahid-e Javid. Yazid's enemies are referred to throughout as the niruhaye melli (=popular forces; particularly in the second edition; in the first edition, the reference is to artesh-e melli, or people's army) or the mardom azadikhah (the people demanding liberty).205 They object to the destruction of "individual freedoms"206 and their patriotic feelings (?; ehsasat-e melli) are violated by the rulers. The government Imam Husain was allegedly fighting for would uphold the separation of the executive, judiciary, and legislative branches of government, freedom of the press207 and freedom of expression, honest dealings with the government budget, and so forth.208


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