Faith Trumps Fear

Ayza AfridiAugust 21, 2023CourageInterfaith Connections

Artwork by Iryna Tsisaruk, age 15

Most major religions teach that faith and courage have a direct link, that those with deep faith in their religion can typically summon the most courage, hence the term ‘leap of faith.’

While there are many stories and lessons about courage in Islam, there are two that have influenced me the most, and molded my perspective on life.

At the end of June, Muslims around the world celebrated Eid-Ul-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) at the end of Hajj (annual pilgrimage to the holy site of Kaaba in Mecca). This festival commemorates an event in the life of Abraham. Abraham was chosen by God to share the word of the Unity of God. He had a single son, Ishmael. The Quran tells the story of how Abraham was commanded by God to take his son, Ishmael, to the mountaintop and sacrifice him to Allah. Allah wanted Abraham to prove that he truly was obedient. Ibrahim took his son to the mountain with a heavy heart. He built a fire and bound Ishmael. As he was about to kill his son, Allah sent Gabriel, a messenger angel, to stop him and replaced Ishmael with a lamb for sacrifice. He brought the message that by being obedient, Ibrahim had truly made a sacrifice. He had shown that his love for his Lord superseded all others, that he would lay down his own life or the lives of those dear to him to submit to God.

While most Muslims focus on the lesson of Sacrifice, for me Abraham showed immense courage by offering to kill his son. There are several accounts of Abraham spending sleepless nights leading to his decision. Ultimately, he put his faith in God and proceeded… the ultimate Leap of Faith which paid off. In contrast, as a teenager, my sleepless nights are triggered by tough exams, or developing an extra-curricular; remembering this ultimate act of courage helps me put my own ‘tests’ in perspective.

While Abraham’s story of courage had a happy conclusion, the story of Karbala is tragic yet equally inspirational for my approach to courage. The battle of Karbala was a brief military engagement in which the Caliph Yazid’s army brutally killed and defeated the family and supporters of Imam Hussain (grandson of the Prophet Mohammad). However, the real significance of Karbala lies in the story of courage by this band in marching towards certain death to oppose the unjust rule/oppression of the Caliph and to uphold the sanctity of the teachings of Islam. I am especially inspired by the role women of all ages played in this historic encounter, with Imam Hussain’s sister playing a key role. Imam Hussain’s 70 odd person contingent, unwaveringly facing thousands, stayed willingly on the path of martyrdom, even on the night of Ashura (day of martyrdom) when Imam Hussain blew out all the candles in his tent and invited his companions to leave since the morning was going to bring certain death and destruction. No one left - a collective act of courage commemorated annually, over the centuries by millions.

On Ashura the beloved family, except women and an ill grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, was physically and tragically decimated; with the commander of Yazid’s army abandoning the convention of one-on-one combat and attacking with 30,000 men. Caliph Yazid won the battle but lost the moral war. Bibi Zainab (imam Hussain’s sister) an emblem of courage, knowledge and oration showed her character and bravery in the court of Yazid. She showed that Karbala was to live on, and that Hussain was martyred to keep the lesson of Allah’s Quran alive as transmitted to the Prophet Mohammad’s family and to all Muslims. And indeed, the lesson lives on. Yazid and his vile ways found almost no sympathizer centuries later.

I have often wondered why Imam Hussain would sacrifice his entire family including his six-month-old child for no immediate gain- it was clear that the ruling Caliph did not intend to step down or change his oppressive ways. The answer lies in the lesson that this act of courage teaches each generation about standing up against tyranny and fighting for just causes, small or big. Nelson Mandela explained the relevance of Karbala centuries later; he is quoted to have once said: “I have spent more than 20 years in prison, then one night I thought of surrendering by signing all the terms and conditions of the government. But suddenly I thought of Imam Hussain and the Karbala movement."

From my more modest vantage, there have been instances in classrooms and social settings where I have shied away from debate or dissent when clearly unjust arguments have been put forth. As I reflect on Karbala, it gives me the courage to participate, be heard and be counted.

While the story of Abraham and Karbala are far removed in timeline and outcomes, they both depict the power and reinforcing relationship between faith and courage. The combination of these two attributes can lead to extraordinary results either immediately or eventually but the lesson of ‘leap of faith’ remains constant.

Ayza Afridi is turning 16 and entering grade 11 at Karachi Grammar School in Pakistan. Ayza is interested in psychology and would potentially like to pursue a career in this field. Ayza is a strong advocate for children’s right to childhood, ensuring that every child has a right and opportunity to play in appropriate surroundings rather than be forced into child labor.