Mankind has experienced a number of human civilisations since the creation of this world. Undeniably, these civilisations have been instrumental in extensively transforming various cultures and communities around the world. However, having failed to impart any lasting ideology to the collective human conscience, most of these civilisations are now just the relics of past after becoming mere an attraction for the archaeological museums or anthropology students. The ancient civilisation of Mesopotamia was one of them which flourished in the area between the river Tigris and Euphrates.

Many centuries after the extinction of Mesopotamian civilisation, this area witnessed another atypical and anomalous civilisation- the civilisation of Karbala. Close to the bank of Euphrates River in present-day Iraq, the desert of Karbala was the cradle of this peculiar civilisation. This civilisation was essentially founded on “Hussainism”; the ideology and practices of Imam Hussain (AS), the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Similarly, Imam Hussain’s family members, close relatives and some loyal companions were the only inhabitants of this civilisation.

There are a number of peculiarities and oddities that distinguish it from any other civilisation in the world. A small cluster of tents was the only physical layout of this civilisation. The tenet-dwellers never tried to erect grandeur or magnificent structures in line with other grand civilisations. Instead, they just stood for a transcendent idealism. This civilisation also didn’t physically last for centuries. Its lifespan was barely 9 days. However, besides influencing the minds of billions of people worldwide in some way, this short-lived civilisation has left indelible imprints on Islamic history and culture.

This civilisation is also known for experiencing the most bizarre asymmetrical war in the world history. The size and strength of belligerents can just be a matter of surprise to the military strategists. Imam Hussain’s army was composed of 72 soldiers only, whose ages range from 6 months to 80 years. They had been denied food and water for 3 days. Nevertheless, in the Battle of Karbala, this small army courageously confronted a detachment of Yazid’s army comprising as many as 30 thousand regular well-equipped soldiers. Not a single soldier of Imam Hussain ever gave in. Thus the battle of Karbala has shown very well that one can defeat individuals but can’t defeat an ideology by means of force.

“Life is nothing but a particular ideology, and a constant endeavour to translate this ideology into a reality,” said Imam Husain (AS). This is what ‘Hussainism’ is all a about. This ideology calls for the strict adherence to a set of absolute principles no matter whatever be the consequences, and whatever it costs. It essentially maintains that it is not the power but principles that always matter and make all the difference. It also represents an unwavering resolve that urges not to submit before the evil forces of the time under any circumstances. At the same time, it also stands for an optimism and hope in the face of utter despondency and darkness.

The civilisation of Karbala, along with its complementary ideology, has somehow become the strongest motivating force in the contemporary world. This force is instrumental in attracting more than 2 million people to Imam Hussain’s shrine in Karbala twice a year. Currently, this gathering is also reckoned as the largest peaceful human gathering on the globe. It has already outnumbered the pilgrims who gather in Mecca to perform Hajj every year. Moreover, on the day of Ashura every year, hundreds of millions of people around the world solemnly commemorate this incident by paying homage to the martyrs of Karbala.

The Red Shi’ism, which is essentially an important aspect of ‘Hussainism’, is generally consider to be the ideology behind the Iranian Revolution. Dr Ali Shariati, the ideologue of the Iranian Revolution, urged to launch a Jihad for achieving the goal of social justice, even to the extent of embracing martyrdom like the Imam Hussain (AS). In this particular context, he maintained, “Every day is Ashura and everyplace is Karbala.” Similarly, this ideology has been a great source of inspiration for the oppressed and suppressed people in the world through the ages.

The Crucifixion of Jesus has great religious significance in the Christian civilisation. Undoubtedly, the prophet Jesus (AS) set a great precedent by sacrificing his life for the sake of truth. However, in some way, the martyrdom of Imam Hussain takes precedence over the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus was offered Last Supper by their Roman persecutors before his crucifixion. But Imam Hussain was absolutely denied food and water for 3 days before his martyrdom. Not only did Imam Hussain sacrificed his own life, but also patiently saw his beloved sons, close relatives and loyal companions being mercilessly slaughtered in front of him. Therefore, keeping in view some fundamental aspects of human psychology and physiology, we can rightly maintain that the supreme sacrifices offered by the great martyrs of Karbala are simply unparalleled in the history of mankind.

The civilisation of Karbala also endeavoured to preserve some fundamental principles which have now become the hallmark of modern democracies. One of the primary reasons for Imam Hussain’s refusal for pledging allegiance to Yazid Ibn Muawiyah was latter’s unjustified and irregular appointment as the Caliph of Muslims. This appointment was made in utter violation of a peace treaty earlier concluded between the Umayyad Caliph Muawiyah Ibn Abu Sufyan and Imam Hassan, the elder brother of Imam Hussain, who had step down in favour of the former. Under this treaty, Muawiyah was supposed not to nominate his successor during his reign, thereby allowing the Muslim community to choose their next Ameer (head of state). However, Muawiyah arbitrarily nominate his prodigal son Yazid as his successor who was a known violator of Islamic injunctions. Therefore, by revolting against the authoritarian rule of Yazid, Imam Hussain apparently tried to preserve certain democratic traditions in the Muslim polity.

Essentially in accordance with the saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBHU) that “the best Jihad is to speak the truth before a tyrant ruler”, the civilization of Karbala has also promoted the true concept of Jihad in Islam. The Battle of Karbala was not merely a typical Muslims-versus-Infidels crusade. In fact, Yazid and his followers were apparently Muslims who had pretended to confess the Islamic faith. On the other hand, besides Muslims, people from diverse ethnicities and religions were also part of Imam Hussain’s army. Despite their Christian background, Imam Hussain’s loyal companions like John Bin Huwai and Wahab al-Kalbi fought shoulder to shoulder with others in the Battle of Karbala.

The Karbala has shown us that it is not the theological dogma but a moral or principled standing that matters when it comes to Jihad. This fact had also already been established in the Battle of Nahrawan in 659 AD where the anarchist Khawarij were perished by the state army under the command of Caliph Hazrat ALI (AS). Today, there visibly exists a considerable degree of confusion vis-a-vis taking any principled position against the extremists and violent none state actors all over the word. Numerous militants from different terrorist outfits like Al-Qaeda, Daish etc. are beheading the Muslims in the name of Islam. Had our Muslim scholars and historians absolutely disowned these Khawarij and the perpetrators of Karbala after outrightly condemning their dark deeds, nobody would ever have dared to exploit the scared name of Islam for their nefarious objectives in the 21st Century.

In a nutshell, Imam Hussain endeavoured to preserve some universal human values. These values have constantly been preached and propagated by all the Messengers of God. The civilisation of Karbala represents the humanism and free thinking. It has actively strived to liberate the humanity, which is currently in countless shackles. Therefore, all human beings, irrespective of colour and creed, should be grateful to Imam Hussain- the greatest benefactor and saviour of humanity.