Al-Husayn refusal of allegiance to Yazid was not that he was jockeying to be the khalifah though he had more right to hold such a trust; his refusal was a direct lesson that truth should never give allegiance to falsehood, that the just should be diametrically opposed to the unjust.
During the current siege in Gaza, historical events related to Muharram should serve as a spiritual lesson of how truth can never surrender to falsehood.
There are traditions connected with prophets related to Muharram such as it being the month in which Ibrahim was rescued from the fire to it being the month in which Allah saved the Children of Israel and drowned the hosts of Pharaoh in the Red Sea. However, I would like to focus on the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Al-Husayn bin Ali and his helpers , which took place approximately 1,300 years ago during Muharram. And to understand the importance of the event of Al-Husayn's martyrdom, it is important to first mention his relationship to our Prophet Muhammad .
The Qur'an makes reference to the Prophet's Ahl al-Bayt or household in which Al-Husayn is directly attached:
Say [Oh Muhammad]! Let us call upon our children and your children, our ladies and your ladies, ourselves and yourselves, then we pray so that Allah's wrath be upon those who are false. Quran 3:61
Allah desires but to remove filth from you Oh Ahl al-Bayt and purify you thoroughly. Quran 33:33
Say [Oh Muhammad]! I ask you of no reward except that you love my close kin. Quran 42:23
Prophet Muhammad also mentioned that "Al-Husayn is from me, and I am from Al-Husayn." When the Prophet mentioned that Al-Husayn was from him, it meant more than just blood ties but a spiritual tie, a spiritual inheritance. Blood ties in Islam are not an automatic precursor for piety as mentioned in the Qur'an regarding the son of Nuh who drowned after disobeying the instruction of his father to board the Ark.
And Nuh called upon his Lord and said 'Oh my Lord! Surely my son is from my family, Your promise is true, and You are the best judge of those who judge.' And He [Allah] replied, 'Oh Nuh! Surely he was not of your family. Surely his work was not righteous.'
Al-Husayn's displayed knowledge of his spiritual inheritance when he refused to give allegiance to an unjust ruler named Yazid bin Mu'awiyah. Yazid was a wine drinker, did not guard the 5 daily prayers and usurped the wealth of the Muslim community. Al-Husayn refusal of allegiance to Yazid was not that he was jockeying to be the khalifah though he had more right to hold such a trust; his refusal was a direct lesson that truth should never give allegiance to falsehood, that the just should be diametrically opposed to the unjust. And it was for this principle that 72 Muslims on the Day of Ashura including Al-Husayn , several grandsons and great-grandsons of the Prophet , wear decapitated, choosing martyrdom over subservience to falsehood and oppression.
Al-Husayn's stand was not a new stand but a spiritual principle that extended back to the father of our way (Millah), Ibrahim when he refused the path of his idol worshipping kin and resisted Nimrod. This inheritance was continued in action when Musa resisted Pharaoh, when Dawud challenged Goliath, when Danyal showed firmness with Nebuchadnezzar, to when Prophet Muhammad confronted the idolatry and injustices within Makkah.
As we pray for relief for the people of Gaza during Muharram, remembering the principle that Muslims must always stand for the truth and justice and resist falsehood and oppression even when committed by Muslims is a major component to the key of our success in this world and in the latter-life. If Al-Husayn were alive today, I believe that he would not only pray and speak out against the current injustices in Gaza, but also against the injustices perpetrated by leaders in Muslim lands. Al-Husayn would cry for the approximately 300,000 Muslims killed by other Muslims in Darfur, he would weep for the approximate deaths of 3 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who are 10% Muslim, within the past decade, and he would be upset with too many American Muslims, who live in the land of abundance and have large amounts of monetary resources, that turn a blind eye to the suffering of the poor and oppressed in many urban areas such as Detroit.
Dawud Walid is currently the Executive Director of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He is frequently quoted in the media regarding civil and human rights issues facing Muslims and has penned articles that have appeared in various publications.