When we hear the word “politics,” images of unjust, greedy and corrupt rulers may spring to mind. Even at a more personal level, the word is considered negative when associated with issues in the family, community, workplace,or even the local Islamic centre. There is certainly a misconception about politics and its function, and if it even has any compatibility with Islam. The general definition of politics refers to activities associated with the governance of a country or activities aimed at improving someone’s status or power within an organisation. However, an even more general understanding of politics would be that it covers all of our interactions with others. In this sense, each individual is a politician and someone who is involved in politics during his or her daily life. To clarify, take the example of a friend who gives you a present and how you respond when asked if you like it. Indeed, our answers may be quite diplomatic; hence, politics is all about how we interact with others.
As in all other areas of life, the AhlulBayt(a) can properly guide us in each facet of our life. This issue is elucidated further by Imam Hasan(a). When someone asked him to define politics, he said, “Politics means observing the rights of God, the rights of the living, and the rights of the dead. The rights of God are that you should obey His orders and avoid what He forbids. The rights of the living are that you should observe your duty to your brothers and not tarry in serving your people. You should be faithful to the one in authority among you as long as he is faithful to his people. You should speak up in his face should he deviate from the right path. The rights of the dead are that you should remember their good deeds and overlook their bad ones. They have a Lord who shall ask them about whatever they did.”
Hence, the Imam breaks down politics into three categories: the rights of God, the rights of the living and the rights of the dead. Most of us probably had not thought that the rights of God and the rights of the dead would apply to politics. As in all actions of our life, politics should also always consider what God has commanded and prohibited. Indeed, that is what piety is all about. In the Islamic perspective, as explained by our Imams, politics and piety are inseparable. Such politics would then indeed be compatible with Islam and its teachings.
Regarding the living, Imam Hasan explains that we should always fulfil our duties, we should not hesitate to perform community service, we should be faithful to those in authority as long as they serve the people, and that we should not be afraid to speak up if they have done wrong. Regarding the deceased, we should remember the good deeds and services they had done. These are indeed great words of wisdom from the Imam whose actions and politics were not understood in his time and, sadly, are even misunderstood today.
It is important to realise that each Imam made decisions based on his circumstances. If faced with different circumstances, they would make the choices made by the other respective Imams. Prophet Muhammad(s) states, “al-Hasan and al-Husayn are Imams whether standing or sitting,” referring to their different political strategies. It is not just rhetoric or exaggeration to say that Imam Hasan was the first martyr of Karbala, for his sacrifices laid the foundations for Karbala. It is exactly for these reasons that much propaganda was spread about him. The peace treaty of Imam Hasan was his Karbala, his way of defending the religion.
To understand Imam Hasan’s position one should examine Imam Ali’s interactions and politics during and before his caliphate. Regarding his politics, Imam Ali(a) states, “If it were not for piety, I would be able to use tricks better than all deceitful Arabs,” and “I swear to God that Mu’awiyah is not cleverer than me.” The political and insightful decisions of Imam Ali, Imam Hasan, and indeed all the Imams, were based on piety as well as wisdom. Prophet Muhammad(s) said, “If intellect could be represented in human form, it would be al-Hasan.”
When people addressed him in derogatory terms because he had made the peace treaty, Imam Hasan explained the wisdom behind his peace treaty in his tolerant manner. He said that they did not have the ability or patience to understand what he had done for his people, which was better than all the things that the sun rises and sets upon. Then Imam referred to the actions of Prophet Khidr, such as when he made a hole in the boat. Although Prophet Khidr’s actions were according to the Wisdom of God, Prophet Musa could not remain patient because he was unaware of the wisdom behind the actions. The reason Khidr put a hole in the boat was that an oppressive king was taking all the boats; therefore, if a boat was made defective he would not take it. Imam Hasan thus explained that he was forced to make the treaty because he did not have the support to fight Mu’awiyah. Islam would have been finished if it faced an internal war at that time.
Nevertheless, in such circumstances, Imam Hasan(a) not only revealed Mu’awiyah’s deception, but also protected Islam and the believers, especially Imam Husayn, with his decision. On the 15th of Ramadan when we celebrate the birth of the first beloved grandson of Prophet Muhammad, we pray that we gain a better understanding of his life and strive to implement his teachings in our own lives and communities.