Speak truth to power – 4 role models remembered on Ashura
Alhamdulillah, we are in the season of Ashura which refers to the 10th day of this first month of the new Islamic year, Muharram. Ibn ʿAbbās (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) , said: “I never saw the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) so keen to fast any day and give it priority over any other than this day, the day of ʿĀshūra, and this month (meaning Ramaḍān).” [Bukhari]
“The Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) came to Madīnah and observed that the Jews were fasting on the day of ʿĀshūra. He asked: ‘What is this?’ They replied: ‘This is a righteous day; it is the day when Allāh saved the Children of Israel from their enemies, so Mūsa fasted on this day.’ He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) replied: ‘We have more right to Mūsa than you’, so he fasted on that day and commanded the Muslims to do likewise.” [Bukhari]
Another narration states, “This is a great day, on which Allāh saved Mūsa and his people, and drowned Pharaoh and his people.”[Muslim] The true significance of ʿĀshūra is to benefit from the lessons of our great Prophet, Mūsa (ʿalayhi al-Salām). This day in particular marks the Exodus of Bani Isra’eel, when Allah(SWT) saved Musa (AS) and his people from Pharaoh.
Ashura is a stark reminder of our true religious identity. Although we mark the year 1442 After Hijra (AH), our belief and practices are not 1400 years old, rather we ascribe to the one true faith spanning human history. We worship and prostrate to the Ever-Living and Eternal God – Allah – that the righteous have always served.
Ashura, or the day of the Exodus, is a day to remember how God saves his believers from wickedness and tyranny, and how God sent Prophets to emancipate the souls of mankind and guide them to the ways of truth and uprightness.
It’s a day to remember that victory is in the hands of the one who responds to the command of His Creator. In the case of Musa(AS), he was victorious because he lived and obeyed His Lord by facing a tyrant. Just as the grandson of the Prophet (AS), Hussain (RA), the leader of the youth of Jannah and who was also martyred on this same day of Ashura – again, he was victorious because Allah does not judge victory or defeat by the worldly outcome. Rather, his standing with courage and sincerity, in spite of the betrayal of many around him, was his victory. Just the people of Surah al-Burooj, who were killed for saying la ilaha illallah and yet Allah(SWT) guarantees “Indeed, those who have believed and done righteous deeds will have gardens beneath which rivers flow. That is the great attainment. [Surah al-Buruj 85:11]
Tariq ibn Shihab reported: A man asked the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, “What is the best jihad?” The Prophet said, “A word of truth in front of a tyrannical ruler.” Source: Musnad Aḥmad 18449
This is an encouragement to each of us to speak the word of truth and to seek the approval of no one but Allah. Fear not the consequences of the tyrant, or their power. Don’t seek social media likes or or recognition. Nor seek any self-gratification in being brave, rather try to speak truth purely for Allah(SWT).
Allah(SWT) reminds us in Surah Al-Ahzab: Aayaat 69-71
Sometimes, this word of truth sways the tyrant from their tyranny without the bloodshed that usually comes in the process of trying to repel it and other times it’s a word of protest which falls on deaf ears.
A tyrant is not a subjective opinion so don’t start applying this to anyone who challenges you – parents, boss, authorities. Rather a tyrant should be someone who is objectively considered to be oppressing and denying human rights. Tyrants cannot handle being challenged and are often intoxicated by their power.
As well as the example of Musa(AS), we have 2 other standout models of this ultimate form of jihad – the first of which is the wife of Firawn – Aasiyah bint Mazaahim. The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “The best of the women of Paradise are Khadeejah bint Khuwaylid, Faatimah bint Muhammad, Aasiyah bint Mazaahim the wife of Pharaoh, and Maryam bint ‘Imraan – may Allaah be pleased with them.” [Ahmad, 2663]
al-Haafiz ibn Hajar said in Fath al-Baari, 6/448 “Among the virtues of Aasiyah the wife of Pharaoh is that she chose death over royal privilege and torment in this world over the luxury in which she was living. And her insight concerning Moosa (peace be upon him) was correct when she said “A comfort of the eye for me” [al-Qasas 28:9 – interpretation of the meaning].
Aasiyah was a queen – the wife of one of the most powerful men to walk the earth. She lived a life of unparalleled wealth and luxury. And yet, she knew that there was something missing. Her palace was the most beautiful on earth and her jewels are the most precious. However, she would often ask ‘Until when will this pleasure last?’ Through the blessing of adopting Musa(AS) as a baby into her palace, she saw him develop and witnessed undeniable miracles and the capitulation of the greatest magicians in the world, all of which cemented her heart upon belief in Allah(SWT), the Creator of all things. She expressed her faith to the outrage of Fir’own and she was forced to give up all her jewels and adornments. Nonetheless, she found neither sadness nor fear in her heart. They tied her, dragged her on the floor, fettered her, dragged her on stones and flogged her. Nevertheless, they could never break her!
When they beat her, tied her and tortured her until her skin was removed from the beating, Fir‘awn ordered them to ask her if she chose him, for her would be love and dignity, or her fate would be death! They asked, ‘How do we kill her?’
He ordered, ‘Take a rock, bigger than her in size, and then ask her. If she declines to give up her stance, then crush her with the rock.’ They asked her, ‘Do you want to give up your stance?’ With all firmness and steadfastness, she said, ‘I choose the Lord of the heavens and the earth.’ She believed in the Lord of Moosa (Moses) and Haaroon (Aaron), may Allah exalt their mention.
Allah (SWT) recorded her final words before death! And Allah presents an example of those who believed: the wife of Pharaoh, when she said, “My Lord, build for me near You a house in Paradise and save me from Pharaoh and his deeds and save me from the wrongdoing people.” [At-Tahrim: 11]
She said, “My Lord, Build for me near You…” She chose her neighbour first – Allah(SWT), the One most important to her, and then she said, “A house in Paradise.” Commenting on the verse, Ibn ‘Abbaas, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “Allah revealed to her the unseen and commanded that screens should be removed for her. Thereupon, she saw a palace whose bricks were one of gold and another of silver. Rivers run out from beneath it and it was surrounded by angels. So, she smiled and then her soul was taken before the rock smashed her skull and bones and made her body the same level of the ground.
There are many lessons for us from this but of the most profound is to recognise that she managed to perfect her faith though she was married to the worst human being to walk the face of the earth. That means there’s absolutely no excuse for you to say that I can’t find Iman or I can’t find faith because you know my parents aren’t that religious, or its so hard in the West. You are not a victim of your circumstance. You have been chosen to be in your position and you need to take this opportunity, like Asiyah, to choose your path.
The other thing to note is that sin hardens the heart so the one person that Fir’own did have feelings for who he was married to for many years, even those were crushed as he continued to kill and oppress.
The third example also related to Musa(AS) was the hairdresser of the daughter of Pharaoh. It was narrated that Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “On the night on which I was taken on the Night Journey (Isra’), a beautiful fragrance came to me. I said: O Jibreel, what is this beautiful fragrance?” Recognising where he was, it could perhaps be the fragrance of one of the great Prophets but subhanAllah, in fact, Jibreel (AS) responded “This is the fragrance of the hairdresser of Pharaoh’s daughter and her children. I said: What is their story? He said: Whilst she was combing the hair of Pharaoh’s daughter one day, the iron comb fell from her hand and she said, ‘Bismillaah (in the name of Allaah).’ The daughter of Pharaoh said: ‘My father?’ She said: ‘No. My Lord and the Lord of your father is Allaah.’ She said: ‘I will tell him about that.’ She said: ‘Yes.’ So she told him and he summoned her and said: ‘O So and so, do you have a Lord other than me?’ She said: ‘Yes, my Lord and your Lord is Allaah.’ He ordered that a baqarah (lit. “cow”, a large vessel) made of copper be heated up, then he ordered that she and her children be thrown into it. She said: ‘I have a request to make of you.’ He said: ‘What is your request?’ She said: ‘I would like my bones and my children’s bones to be gathered together in one cloth and buried.’ He said: ‘This will be done for you.’ He ordered that her children be thrown into it in front of her, one by one, until they came to the last one who was an infant boy who was still being breastfed. It was as if she wavered because of him, but he said: ‘O mother, go ahead, for the punishment of this world is easier to bear than the punishment of the hereafter.’ So she went ahead.” Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: Four infants spoke: ‘Eesa ibn Maryam (peace be upon him), the companion of Jurayj, the witness of Yoosuf and the son of the hairdresser of Pharaoh’s daughter. [Narrated by Imam Ahmad in al-Musnad (1/309), al-Tabaraani (12280), Ibn Hibbaan (2903) and al-Haakim (2/496). ]
And this tradition of speaking the truth has been upheld by righteous scholars through our history. Imam Abu Hanifah was to take the post of Chief Judge, but he refused to accept the position saying he did not think he was fit for the role. He did not want to be part of the corrupt regime as history has seen that rulers often use scholars to issue edicts to justify their misdeeds. Taking this refusal as a challenge to his authority, Al Mansur had him arrested, thrown into prison and tortured. He continued to teach in prison until he passed away.
The governor of Madinah forced people to take the oath of allegiance to Al Mansur, Imam Malik (May Allah have mercy on him) issued a Fatwa that such an oath was not binding because it was forced. Imam Malik was also arrested, found guilty of defiance and publicly flogged.
Imam Ash-Shafi’i (rh) was arrested and taken in chains to Baghdad on false charges of supporting rebels in Yemen. When the khalif of the time Harun Al Rashid met him, he was impressed with his learning and eloquence and released him from prison.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (rh) refused to accept authority of the rulers of Mu’tazili doctrine who stated that the Qur’an was created rather than the uncreated speech of Allah led to his imprisonment in Baghdad during the reign of Abbasid leader Al Mamun. During the rule of Al Mu’tasim, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal was flogged until he became unconscious and this continued through the reign of four different rulers. He was eventually released by Al Mutawakkil.
Sadly, this practise of silencing truth continues today with scholars languishing in prisons not because they say anything that’s controversial but because they refuse to sing the praises and anasheed for dictators and tyrants.
Muslims at no point should retire and stop feeling the need to raise their voice in the sight of clear tyranny. Whether it’s the Zionists murderous campaign and resettlement of Muslims in Gaza, the butcher of Gujarat who has orchestrated Indian atrocities being meted out to the minorities in general and Kashmiris in particular, the Chinese governments construction of concentration camps where they torture Uighur Muslims, force Uighur women to get abortions and be sterilized and conduct a public genocide. In April 2020, the Guardian published an article with the leading statement – “Mass internment camps did not begin or end with the Nazis – today they are everywhere from China to Europe to the US.” It was only in January 2020, after 3 years of atrocities that the UN’s top court ordered the Buddhist-majority country to take measures to protect members of its Rohingya community from genocide.
In conclusion, this is a reminder for myself first and then for each who hear this message. Take inspiration from the examples of those who are remembered on Ashura – those who stood against the Fir’owns of their time – Musa(AS), Asiyah, the hairdresser, Husayn (RA). Consider what this means for you in your engagements with those who wrong others, whether that’s discrimination against communities, harming others in the community through the use of knives, guns, drugs, gambling and debt.
Don’t underestimate the power of your voice in the court of Allah(SWT) – our victory will be on the Day we stand before him inshaAllah, not necessarily through accolades and recognition now.
And of course, consult with others to ensure you have understand the situation correctly and seek the wisest means to prevent harm.
On the authority of Abu Sa’id (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “Let not any one of you belittle himself. They said: O Messenger of Allah, how can any one of us belittle himself? He said: He finds a matter concerning Allah about which he should say something, and he does not say [it], so Allah (mighty and sublime be He) says to him on the Day of Resurrection: What prevented you from saying something about such-and-such and such-and-such? He say: [It was] out of fear of people. Then He says: Rather it is I whom you should more properly fear.” [Ibn Majah]