At least be free

Of the countless tragedies that we, as people, have perpetrated against ourselves, none is more sinister than the forgetting of Karbala and its timeless creed. The few who commemorate Karbala and its message, have, for the most part, limited its scope to the first ten days of Muharram. And yet, each time we revisit Karbala and its infallible Imam (A.S.), we are reminded of the universal application that Imam Hussain (A.S.) wields over every aspect of our lives, during, before and after Karbala.
There are numerous and uncontested accounts that Imam Hussain (A.S.) addressed the army of Yazid (L.A.) at several occasions, during the ten days in Karbala, leading up to the final battle. During this time, Hussain Ibn-e-Ali (A.S.), repeatedly invited the army of Yazid (L.A.) to ‘sirat-ul-mustaqeem.’ He (A.S.) reminded them, over and over again, that he was the grandson of the Prophet (S.A.W.W.), and the rightful heir to his theology. That he was the infallible Imam (A.S.), appointed by God. That his obedience was binding on all believers, as ordained by the Quran itself. That obedience to him (ooli ‘l-amr) was, in turn, obedience to God himself, and thus the very bedrock of our religion. That he (A.S.) had not come to fight anyone. That he (A.S.) and his companions (A.S.) did not want war. They (A.S.) did not want bloodshed but that the Imam (A.S.), as the final bastion of the Prophet’s (S.A.W.W.) true religion, could not swear allegiance to Yazid (L.A.).
After several days of famine, unquenchable thirst, heat, tears, women, children, and numerous attempts to avoid conflict, Imam Hussain (A.S.), made one last address to the army of Yazid (L.A.). That address, short and piercing, includes the following statement, “If you do not believe in God and the Hereafter, at least be free in this world.”
Imam Hussain (A.S.), who recognised that the army of Yazid will not trade their worldly gods for submission to him (A.S) or God, makes one final plea, ‘at least be free.’ And so, even with his parting words to the enemies, Imam Hussain (A.S.), also known as Abul Ahrar—the father of the free—imparted a code of life, which divided people into three categories: 1) Those who submit to God, through the Prophet (S.A.W.W.) and Imam (A.S.). 2) hose who are ‘free in this world.’ 3) Those who worship the worldly gods of desire, deceit and delusion. As is clear, if you cannot be in the first category, ‘at least’ be ‘free’ of the third category.
And in this, for all intents and purposes, is a complete code of life. At least be free.
When this code is applied to our brief moment in the span of eternity, it becomes clear that we no longer live in a time when those around us have fully submitted to God. In fact, any dispassionate analysis of the society, in Pakistan, would conclude on the fact that we are surrounded by idols of money, power and greed; idols that we worship knowingly; even those amongst us who adorn the garb of ostentatious piety.
Most of us do not worship these idols under duress. No. In fact, the majority of us cannot wait to worship them. We seek them out. We solicit them. We spend every working hour running after them. We are willing to uphold and defend them, behind soporific veils of expediency and excuses of having to ‘survive’ in this world. We tell ourselves its necessary. That this is the world we live in. It’s just how it is.
At least be free.
And gradually, the things we worship, begin to own us–as a master owns a bondman. We make decisions accordingly. Speak accordingly. Act accordingly. In a manner that doesn’t offend the gods of this world, who have their chains in our flesh. Chains of culture and society. Of friends and foe. Of money and the glitter it brings. Of success and the fortune it endows. Of acceptability and the weight it carries. Till gradually, even as we may be educated and successful, we are not free.
At least be free.
Even in terms of the State, there are idols that we worship, instead of being free. Internally, we continue to submit our democratic structure to the idols of nepotistic dynasties and local power brokers; to the idols of institutional power and their tainted history. To the idols of a law that is not righteous. Of courts that are not just. Of force that is not empathetic. Of allegiances that are not honest. Of consequences that are not permanent.
At least be free.
Externally—as has become apparent over the past few months—we are, of course, not free. We look towards poles of geopolitical power, before making choices that reflect our moral fiber. If America allows, we will look East. If it doesn’t offend China, we will walk West. If it avoids conflict, we will keep mum on international travesties. If it averts worldly disdain, we will look the other way.
At least be free.
And so, from the bloodstained desert of Karbala, Hussain Ibn-e-Ali (A.S.)’s messages of being ‘free’, rings true till today. If only we could be ‘free’ from the worship of this world and all its glitter, can we finally begin to appreciate the truth in Maula Hussain (A.S.)’s message: that only a ‘free’ man can worship and submit to God. That breaking the chains of our individual and collective captivity is the only way for any of us to arrive at the truth our ourselves and of the ultimate reality. And that, even if we cannot, thereafter, submit to the will of God, at the very least, we will not be hostages to the deprecating reality of this world. And that, in itself, would be better than who we are today.
Karbala, and the message of Imam Hussain (A.S.), especially in terms of freedom (hurriyat) cannot be concluded without the mention of Hazrat Hurr (A.S.), who broke free from the worldly gods, to join the caravan of Hussain (A.S.) on the tenth of Muharram. Being among the first from the army of Hussain (A.S.) to enter the battle, Hurr (A.S.) fought with such valor that has now become the subject of countless marsiyahs. Tradition says that, as Hurr (A.S.)’s body lay in desert of Karbala, the Imam (A.S.) wiped away soil and blood from his face, and said, ‘Congratulations Hurr! You are free as your mother named you, free in this life and the next!’.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be contacted at Follow him on Twitter