Editor’s note: The following are excerpts from “The Lives of the Twelve: A Look at the Social and Political Lives of the Twelve Infallible Imāms (ʿa)” which was written by Shaykh Mahdī Pīshvāʾī and translated by Sayyid Ali Musawi. This is the first book in a three-part book series covering the lives of Imām ʿAlī (ʿa), Imām Ḥasan (ʿa), and Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa). 

The slogan of ‘commanding the good and forbidding evil’ was Imām Ḥusayn’s (ʿa) most fundamental message from the very first day of his departure from Medina. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that since Yazīd was pressuring him for his pledge of allegiance, then (and only then) Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) found it necessary to rise up against him. Even if Yazīd had not forced him into such a position, and even if the people of Kūfa had not invited him, still it would have been necessary for Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) to rise up against the tyrant Yazīd. 

The logic of Imām Ḥusayn’s (ʿa) movement was one of protest and rebellion against the corrupt and un-Islamic government of Yazīd. This was a government which had covered the Islamic world in social, political, and economic corruption; it was therefore the responsibility of Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) to rise up against Yazīd. 

Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) launched his movement under the overall plan of reforming many key aspects of the Islamic society. Among them was a proliferation of religious innovations, the effacement of the prophetic way of life, and an increase in corruption and sin.

During this time, the government and the wealth of the Muslim nation had fallen into the hands of the Umayyid dynasty. The Umayyids had been one of the strongest opponents of Islam and the Prophet (ṣ) from the earliest days. They had continued fighting against the Muslims until the conquest of Mecca, when it became impossible to continue their fight openly. They were one of the last families to accept Islam, and even then, they did so only due to the fact that no other options were open to them. In doing so, they became known as hypocrites and slowly began a struggle to gain dominance and power in the newly structured society and government. Over time, they took over the more important roles in the government until the martyrdom of Imām ʿAlī (ʿa) when Muʿāwiyah took over the caliphate of the Muslim nation.

When this took place, the clan hid their evil intentions against the Muslims and tried to conceal the fact that they were replacing the Muslim government with one based on concepts from the ‘Age of Ignorance’, before the coming of Islam. However, as time passed, they couldn’t conceal their true nature and it ended up manifesting itself in a significant way. At times, their words spoken in private gatherings would be leaked where people would begin to realize who and what they were. In this way, Karbala was inevitable and was necessary for the Muslim ummah to return to its purified foundations established by the Prophet (ṣ). With this objective in mind, Imām Ḥusayn’s (ʿa) movement quickly gained momentum and came to fruition in Karbala. 

Before leaving the holy city of Medina, Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) wrote his will and delivered it to his brother Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥanafiyyah. In it, he explained his reasons for rising as the reformation of the Muslim community, ‘commanding the good and forbidding the evil’, and reviving the way of life of his grandfather, the Prophet (ṣ), as well as his father, Imām ʿAlī (ʿa).  In his will, Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) first explained his beliefs in regards to the oneness of God, prophethood, and resurrection, and then he wrote the following: “I am not leaving Medina from selfishness or caprice. Nor am I leaving it to create corruption and oppression. My goal in this movement is to reform the corruption which has taken place in this nation. I aim to command the good and forbid the evil, and to advance the way of life of my grandfather, the Prophet (ṣ), and my father, ʿAlī Ibn Abī Ṭālib (ʿa). Whoever follows me in this path… should know that I am about to depart, until the day that God judges between me and these people, for He is the best of judges….”

In this will, Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) announces his four main motives. These are as follows:

1- Reforming the Muslim nation

2- Commanding the good

3- Forbidding the evil

4- Following and reviving the religious creed of his grandfather and father

It is interesting to note that most revolutions and movements are composed of two main components: there is ‘blood’ and then there is the ‘message’. What is meant by blood is an armed uprising for the sake of the movement at hand. What is meant by the message is the delivery and conveyance of the revolutionary message and goals of the movement to the masses.

In the success of a revolution or a movement, the second point isn’t less important than the first. If the goals of the movement are not propagated and explained to the masses, then the movement will be bereft of any backing or support. Furthermore, whatever the movement’s goals happen to be, the opposition (which usually holds the power and the reins of the mass media) will distort and twist the truth and convey an alternative image and message to the public.

Both of these aspects were present in Imām Ḥusayn’s (ʿa) movement. The first component, which was that of armed uprising and revolution, was present up to the point of ʿĀshūrāʾ when the fighters were killed. After the fighters were killed, the second part was initiated by some of the survivors such as Imām Zayn ul-ʿĀbidīn (ʿa) and Lady Zaynab (ʿa). Through their powerful and timely sermons, they delivered the message of the movement to the masses. When the masses began to hear the truth of what had happened, the government’s reputation and their claims of legitimacy were dealt a deadly blow.

For many years, the Umayyad government had been busy with a widespread and extensive campaign of slander and lies against the family of the Prophet (ṣ). This propaganda campaign had been particularly effective in Syria due to various political and social reasons. If the survivors of Imām Ḥusayn’s (ʿa) movement had not engaged in awakening the masses and in spreading the true message of the movement, it is without a doubt that the truth would have been altered in the pages of history and shown in a greatly distorted form, not just to the people of that era but to the people who were to come later, as well.