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EXISTENTIAL SIGNIFICANCE OF HUSAYN’S CHOICE

  • DR. SHAHZAD QAISER
  • Nov, 2017
  • 294
  • History

His courage indicated concrete action and decision, reflecting commitment to God. It also indicated the universal self-affirmation of his being

Karbala is the existential symbol of Islam. It reflects the authentic choice of Husayn. It is an Either/Or. One is reminded of Kierkegaard (1813-1855) who named one of his books on existential metaphysics as Either/Or. He differentiat­ed between the aesthetical and ethical mode of existence.

The aesthetical mode of existence is that of the romantic hedonist who fails to commit himself decisively, thus forfeiting the possibility of achieving existence and selfhood. It leads to boredom, melancholy and despair. The aesthete flirts with life and is more or less an adventurist. In the existential sense, the self is not yet born. Yazid symbolises the aesthetical mode of existence.

Choice is born at the ethical stage. It is by dint of choice that authentic selfhood is attained. It is by virtue of decision and commitment that the self reaches the ethical stage. Through the dialectics of choice, the self becomes centralised, unified and authentic. The ethical man is qualified and characterised by inwardness, passion and commitment. Husayn symbolises the ethical mode of existence.

The thought of Kierkegaard is, unfortunately, deeply rooted in Western tradition. In spite of his rebellion against the system of Hegel, he ultimately surrenders to finitude. Even the way he discusses the existential stages reflects this tragic limitation. However, there are some universal aspects of his thought, and whenever we agree with him partially or in total, it is only in reference to this universal dimension and not to the Western tradition to which he stands committed.

It is the tragedy of human existence that most people live at the aesthetical level throughout their lives and it is for such people that the Qur’an says that Allah made them forget their own souls. Man possesses the directive energy of God. This energy, which may be called existential conscience, keeps man remembering his true vocation. But when he ceases to respond to this call, this fallen state is symbolically explained by the Qur’an as the hardening of hearts.

Husayn’s stage was primarily ethical. He was grounded in a tradition which left no room for romantic hedonism. He took the responsibility of concrete, personal decision which remains opaque for the aesthete. The ethical stage is the stage of decision and resolute commitment. Choice liberates the self from the phenomenon of immediacy and paves the way for the discovery of genuine selfhood. The ethical expresses an inner history, whereas the aesthete is experimental and non-­historical and lacks continuity. Against Yazid, Husayn had inner and outer continuity which reflected the constancy and stability of the tradition he was committed to. In this sense, Husayn stood for the continuity of the tradition whereas with Yazid, Caliphate meant a break with it. The latter’s experimen­tal and non-historical act was perpetrated in an existential vacuum.

The aesthete’s life is in the present, abstracted from existence. For him the present is an instantaneous now embodying full reality. The past dwindles into existential insignificance and the future is never really faced. Each moment dies into past, bereft of existential reality. Repetition, as such, does not exist for him. For the ethical, his past, future and present are unified in existence. Time and history are the basic dimensions of his mode of existence. Though ethical stage exists as a possibility for the aesthete, yet the failure to exercise authentic choice may lead to its destruction. However, at Karbala, Hurr seized this existential possibility and made an authentic choice.

According to Kierkegaard, the self, achieves its unity and integrity through choice made in inwardness, passion and earnestness. The accent falls on the way the subject chooses rather than on what is chosen. The moral content of choice is not abstracted as a what; otherwise it loses its ethical significance. Only that self is ethical whose action emerges from the depths of inwardness. Seen from this perspective, Husayn’s choice since ages has been interpreted in the realm of ‘what,’ but a very basic dimension of his choice ‘how,’ has been lost. Kierkegaard is right to the extent that all stress on ‘what’ of the choice deprives it of its moral content. When we study the inwardness, earnestness, and pathos of ‘how,’ Husayn exercised his choice, an entirely new world opens before us. Many questions which remain an enigma at the ‘what’ stage are understood at the ‘how’ level. The ‘how’ of Husayn’s choice is deeply reflected in human existence. It is perhaps the most unique event in human histo...

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