Studying and contemplating history is a duty upon Muslims so that they can derive fruitful lessons and make use of them in changing their status quo. The revolution that Imam Al-Hussein made was a revolution against aggressive tyranny rather than against a certain ruler. Muslims today, with their Sunni and Shiite groups, need to unite as one force against all forms of arrogance, domination and injustice.
Moreover, it is not enough to stand against arrogance and injustice but Muslims should also exert great efforts to reform their internal conditions and establish the principles of consultation and choosing the leaders, as Almighty Allah has ordered, so that they can play their role in guiding humanity to the right path.
Responding to the question, Sheikh Faysal Mawlawi, deputy chairman of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, issued the following fatwa on 29/2/2004:
The revolution that Imam Al-Hussein made was not a rebellion against a legal ruler; it was a revolution against a tyrant dictator, Yazid Ibn Mu`awiyah, who deprived the Ummah of its right to choose its rulers [by succeeding his father to the caliphate]. Besides, he was notorious for being corrupt and dissolute. The majority of the Sunni scholars and others agreed to that, and Ibn Hajar mentioned so in his book As-Sawa`iq Al-Muhriqah. By his revolution, Imam Al-Hussein's aim was not at all to support the Shiites, though the tragedy of Karbala’ (the place where Imam Al-Hussein was martyred) was a turning point in the history of the Shiites, for since then they were no longer a mere political group supporting the People of the House (Prophet Muhammad's descendents), but rather they became an independent school that had its own beliefs, jurisprudents, social organizations and system of rule.
The aim of Imam Al-Hussein behind such a revolution, as he declared it, was: "To reform the nation of my grandfather (Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him).” This would imply putting an end to all kinds of corruption and deviation from the right path so that the nation could be united again. Uniting the nation would not be achieved in the existence of corruption; Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him), is reported to have said: "My Ummah would not unite in supporting corruption."
Al-Hassan (Al-Hussein's brother) was eager to regain the unity of the Muslim Ummah, so he made conciliation with Mu`awiyah and conceded the caliphate to him for that purpose. Al-Hussein did seek the same aim but in a different way, for the circumstances (under which he made the revolution) were different.
Here, I would like to refer to the fact that Muslims at that time were not divided into Sunnis and Shiites in the way it is known nowadays. Anyway, all Muslims then believed that transferring the caliphate from Mu`awiyah to his son Yazid by means of inheritance was unlawful and that Al-Hussein, being a pious, honest and courageous person, was worthier of being the caliph then. However, they did not go to fight with him against Yazid's army. Besides, those who sent for Al-Hussein and urged him to go to war against Yazid let him down and did not fight with him. The senior Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) advised Al-Hussein not to go to war, but Allah's Will was that he would go and the tragedy of his martyrdom would take place to remain a disgraceful stain on our glorious history.
We have to review the objective reasons for the revolution of Al-Hussein, (may Allah be pleased with him). We can sum up such reasons into two:
First, he refused Yazid to assume the caliphate without consulting the nation. Second, he refused the corruption and absolutism practiced by Yazid.
The two reasons have to do with the Imamate (the caliphate or leadership). This was the first and most important subject on which controversy rose among the Muslims. It was because of that subject that fighting took place between Muslims. Throughout history, the controversy over that subject has focused on two theories.
According to the first one, the Imam is to be appointed by Almighty Allah; this theory has been adopted by the Shiites. The second theory is that of the Sunni and the majority of the Muslims; it states that Imams or leaders are to be chosen after consulting the Muslims in that regard.
I see that the two theories lack clear mechanism. The first theory has been controversial among the Shiites themselves. One sect of the Shiites, the Twelvers, are of the opinion that Imams are to be twelve persons of the People of the House. But many other Shiites believe that the Imamate is not confined to those persons. Besides, of those twelve persons, only two became Imams: `Ali Ibn Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) and his son Al-Hassan, who assumed the caliphate for few months before conciliating with Mu`awiyah. The rest of the twelve persons have been held to be Imams in the sense that they have been eminent knowledgeable scholars and jurisprudents. The Sunnis agree with the Shiites in that regard except on two points: the infallibility of those twelve persons and the authenticity of the narrations reported to have been said by them.
As for the theory of choosing the rulers after consulting Muslims, it was applied in a certain way on choosing Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him). `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said in that respect: "Pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr was an unprecedented step through which Allah spared the Ummah sedition." The second Rightly-Guided Caliph, `Umar, was chosen in another way. Then, before his death, `Umar devised a new way for choosing the caliph that was to succeed him.
Accordingly, `Umar’s successor was to be chosen from among six persons, those who had been given the glad tidings of entering Paradise. Thus, `Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) was chosen to be the third Rightly-Guided Caliph. After the assassination of `Uthman, `Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) was chosen by the Muhajirun and the Ansar to be the fourth Rightly-Guided Caliph. After that, choosing the caliphs democratically came to an end; and since then, the hereditary ruling started in the Muslim Ummah and continued until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early decades of the twentieth century.
The supporters of the theory that there are twelve Imams for the Muslim Ummah believe that the twelfth Imam will be Al-Mahdi. They have been waiting for his emergence for more than twelve hundred years now. We do not know when Al-Mahdi may appear. Should the Muslims, depending on the possibility of his emergence, remain passive towards the absolutism and dictatorship practiced against them ?! The eminent Shiite scholars have reviewed the question of the Imamate, and the majority of them have agreed that it is up to the Muslim Ummah to choose who can rule it by Allah's Law.
This coupled with the Sunni belief that the Muslims are to choose their rulers imply that all Muslims (with their different schools of thought) at the present time have come to agree on one thing in that regard. Hence, we need a proper mechanism to help us all establish Allah's Law and save the Muslim Ummah from its tyrant rulers. We will not be punished by Allah for the historical mistakes that others have committed. Rather, we will be punished if we repeat such mistakes and contribute further to the disintegration of our Ummah, while it is facing the most dangerous enemy that makes every effort to dominate it.
The American enemy looks at us contemptuously, for it has succeeded in disintegrating the Muslim Ummah and subjugating it. It seeks to dominate our Muslim Ummah altogether; hence, it has launched a fierce war against Islam and the Muslims in the name of combating terrorism and extremism. It has launched such a war against Afghanistan, and it is launching it now against Iraq. It has launched it also against Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, Libya, Iran, Sudan, Bosnia, Kosovo, et cetera.
The aims behind the American invasion of Iraq were far beyond destroying a tyrant regime. Such invasion is the first step towards dominating the whole Muslim Ummah, with its religion, territories and wealth. America wants to occupy Iraq in order to press on Syria and Lebanon, so that they end their support to the Palestinian-Lebanese Islamic Resistance. This will be in the favor of the American-Zionist aggression launched against the Palestinian people. It also seeks to dominate the Gulf region wholly, though the Gulf states already present it what it wants.
America wants a complete surrender on the part of all the Arab states, even to the extent that it can review the religious curricula taught to our children in schools.
By occupying Iraq, America also seeks to press on Turkey and Iran by threatening to establish a Kurdish state that may lead to the disintegration of Turkey and Iraq and be a preliminary step towards dividing Saudi Arabia. In that way, it could redraw the map of the region as it wants.
All of us know that the Iraqi regime was tyrant and corrupt and that no Muslim would defend it. But America has taken the corruptness of such a regime as a pretext to strike Iraq, target its people, and destroy it altogether. It does all that in order to put an end to Islam and dominate the whole world.
Hence, we should take a decisive attitude and declare our clear-cut refusal to the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. Our religion requires us to do so and our Muslim Ummah needs this.
Al-Hussein was an Imam for all the Muslims, Sunnis and Shiites. It is true that only a minority defended him while the majority of the Muslims, including the Shiites, who had urged him to confront Yazid, did not go to fight with him.
But a fair look at what happened thereafter shows that the Muslims became united. They did so in supporting Ibn Az-Zubayr in his revolution against Yazid. The Companions and their true followers remained in their houses in Madinah, refusing to pledge allegiance to Yazid, and Muslims took rejected Yazid's violating the sanctity of Madinah and its people. The Muslims also showed unity in supporting Imam Abu Hanifah and Imam Malik in their ordeals because of their love for the People of the House and their support of those among them who revolted against the tyrant rulers.
The Muslims expressed their support of the people of the House. For example, Imam Ash-Shafi`i said, "If loving the People of Prophet Muhammad's House would be regarded a rebellion, then, let humankind and jinn bear witness that I am a rebel."
The call for Muslim unity today is not a motto; it is a duty that Allah has ordained on us and a necessary requirement to confront our enemy, whose sole aim is to uproot Islam and Muslims. Our enemy makes every effort in that regard.
Thus, we need an initiative to be taken by all movements and scholars in uniting our Muslim Ummah and establishing Allah's Law, so that we can confront our enemy.
We are one Ummah that testifies that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger. So, let our actions and efforts be an expression of the unity in that regard; let our guiding principle be, (And hold fast, all of you together, to the cable of Allah, and do not separate …) (Aal-`Imran 3: 103)