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  • 2/17/2008

Antoine Bara: Interview on his book regarding The value of

Imam Hussein(P.B.U.H). Part 1

Antoine Bara

As we headed for the meeting, we did not expect it to be an appointment with someone who considers himself Shi’a even though he is Christian! What we know about him is that he is a thinker, scholar, Christian and Syrian who wrote a book titled ‘Imam Hussein in Christian Ideology’ which raised controversy because it confirms that the Christ (Peace be upon him) prophesised the appearance of Imam Hussein.


In a meeting which lasted more than three hours, Antoine Bara never mentioned Imam Hussein without saying peace be upon him after his name. Bara maintains that Imam Hussein is not exclusive to Shi’a or Muslims but belongs to the whole world because he is the “conscience of religions” as Bara puts it. It is interesting that Bara considers that beinga Shi’a is “the highest degree of love forGod”.AccordingtoBara, any one in the world, regardless of his religion, can be a Shi’a depending on his own personal interpretation “due to the greatness of following the pure family (Peace be upon them) in order to preserve the beauty of his religion!"


Bara, however, chastises the Shi’a saying, “You, Shi’a and Muslims, do not knowthe value of ImamHussein. You are supposed to be absolutely honest in conveying his words on the day of Ashura to the world. This mission requires not only narrating the surface meaning of the event but also to coming to grips with aspects and spirit of his revolution."


As Mr Bara uttered these words during the meeting, we remembered how we squandered the heritage of our great Imam and how negligent we are infurthering his cause. This can be revealed today through telling the truth, defending the oppressed and raising the banners of justice and freedom.


Mr Bara spoke of the circumstances which led him get to know the character of ImamHussein (Peace be upon him), starting with his meeting with the Grand religious leader Imam Al-Shirazi in the early seventies who enthused him to write his valuable book, and ending with the troubles, difficulties and fights he faced fromthose who did not like the book. However, he said, “Imam Hussein (Peace be upon him) will show kindness towards me on the day of judgement”. Here is the text of the interview.

Q1: What is the story behind your book “Hussein in Christian Ideology"?


A: In the beginning, I did not know about the brutal incident of Karbala

except some general facts such as ImamAl- Hussein’s (Peace be upon him) revolt against Yazid and his murder in Karbala. This is because during our education, this incident was referred to without any detail. When I met with ImamAl-Shirazi in Kuwait, more than forty years ago, he gave me some books about Imam Hussein (Peace be upon him). I read these books and discovered they containeda unique heroic story. I was also surprised that such a story did not generate much interest from Muslim scholars. A non-Shi’a Muslim speaks about the event as if it were merely a historical one. This is because of the prevalent view of the society in which he lives and in order not to go against his environment and culture. On the other hand, this event has emotional significance for a Shi’a Muslim. As for Orientalists, their writings only present a materialistic outlook which ignores the spiritual and social dimensions of the revolution. All of this motivated me to note down remarks about this revolution and the character of ImamHussein (Peace be upon him).


My point of view is perhaps the most neutral and objective despite all other religious and emotional considerations. I am a Christian writer and researcher who lives in Muslim country and has been exposed to Muslim culture from the same sources, which has caused my cultural and social identity to be a Muslim one even though I am Christian. This has made my awareness and understanding of the cause of Imam Hussein (Peace be upon him) complete. As a matter of fact, I did not have the intention to write about this topic. However, I used to visit Imam Al-Shirazi in Kuwait with my friend Azhar Al Khafagi. While talking one time, I said that due to the nature of my journalistic work I have written down notes on Imam Hussein (Peace be upon him). Imam Al-Shirazi said to me, “why don’t you collect these notes in a book?” “I will think about it”, I said. The idea fermented in my head, so I went to myoffice, collected the notes that I had written, which now seemed a lot, and started to do more research. As you know once a researcher starts research, he never finishes. As I got deeper, the research became more difficult and I found myself caught in a minefield of sensitivities. You might adopt an opinion which pleases some but not others, let alone the fact that as a Christian, I should keep away from research, like this, which belongs to Muslims.


However, I continued my research as I thought we, as Christians, should have a balanced view different to that of Muslims, with regard to the issue of Imam Hussein (Peace be upon him). I reveal no secret by saying that throughout the writing process, I felt a special moral inspiration pushing me to continue researching, editing and writing, however difficult this was due to different considerations. I have tried to cover all aspects through a lot of explanation and analysis of different sides and dimensions.


I have also attempted to answer a lot of questions which relate to the revolution and the character of Imam Hussein (Peace be upon him): why did this battle take place and was it for a worldly purpose? Why did Imam Hussein (Peace be upon him) seek martyrdom? What is the secret behind his words and his screams? Why did he take women and children with him? This has extended the period of writing the book to more than five years, two of which were fully devoted to writing. Eventhough I was not married at the time, it took me that long to write the book. This seemed a long time for me since none of my other works had taken more than two years tocomplete.


As soon as I finished the book,which I had changed and revised time and again, I sent it to ImamAl-Shirazi. He

read the book and liked it and said literally, “Print it immediately”. I told him that I will do so as long as he writes an introduction to the book and he agreed. I talked to Mr Baqir Khureibit, editor of ‘Sawt Al-Khaleej’ magazine which I worked for, who agreed to print the book; hence the book was published.


It is noteworthy here that as soon as the book was published, Imam Al- Shirazi asked me for 20 copies and

wanted to pay for them. I said, “How can I accept your money when it is thanks to you that I have written this

book?” He said: “I want to help you. And if you do not accept the money, I will not take the copies”. Infact I was very embarrassed and due to Imam’s insistence, I had to agree.

Q2: Did your book not provoke counter reactions?


A:Of course it raised many reactions;more than you can imagine. It is true that the Shi’a in particular and Muslims ingeneral accepted the book and I knowmany who consider it the best book written on Imam Hussein

(Peace be upon him), but some Muslims and Christians objectedto it.

For example, they said, “he is Christian, how can he be a supporter of the Prophet’s family? I recall that someone in Beirut published a book containing a response to my book. However, the book’s handling of the case was very poor and superficial. The writer endeavoured to prove that the case of Imam Hussein was only a historic incident related to the struggle for power. On the other hand, a doctorate thesis was written on the book and submitted to one of the Lebanese universities. Also someone from the University of Lahore in Pakistan, named Mushtaq Assad, asked for permission to translate the book intoUrdu. I immediately agreed. He was surprised since I did not ask for a share of the profits. I said “I did not write this book for profit, but because of my belief in Imam Hussein (Peace be uponhim)”.


Also an Iraqi doctor, called Ridha Rasheed, came from Austria, to ask to translate the book into Austrian and

Russian. I also agreed. Thanks be to God, the bookhas beentranslated into seventeen languages. This is only

thanks to the grace of Imam Hussein (Peace be uponhim).

Ten years after the publication of the book, I was surprised to be summoned to Kuwait, where I used towork, to be investigated. I was accused of being against the Muslims’ Caliphs! On appearing at the court, I knew that the case was filed by the Kuwaiti government. They objected to a sentence in the book describing Othman bin Afan’s government policy as corrupt and this policy being the reason behind giving more authority to the Umayyads. I defended the use of the statement in court by explaining that I took it from Muslim books. I also named some of these books which are widely circulated and available in the country’s public central library.


Addressingthe judge I said: “You left more than 499 pages which praise figures of Islam starting with the Prophet, and then Ali, Fatima,Hassan and Hussein (Peace be upon them) and hold on to this one page which you claimis against Othman! In short, the court judged that I pay a fine of fifty Kuwait Dinars and it confiscated and banned the book, even though the book has been approved more than three times for inclusion in the

electronic catalogue of the book fair and, as you know, the book gets read everytime before inclusion.

Q3: Was the writing of the book an interpretation of a special feeling you had or pure scholarly research?


A: It was both. In the beginning, writing the book had a scholarly purpose but as I got deeper and expanded on the historicity of the topic, a feeling of the greatness of Imam Hussein (Peace be upon him) grew in me. This character sacrificed himself for religion and principles and to preserve Muslims from deviating from the path of Islam to ensure the continuity of the message and passing it over from one generation to the other. Had he not

sacrificed himself in this highly emotional way, this strong effect on people, which preserved the religion of Islam, couldnot have been felt. The proof is what happened when the prisoners of war were returned to

Damascus; Sunnis, Shi’a and Christians threw stones at the soldiers because they were emotionally affected. The same also happened in Homs where people beat up the soldiers and deprived them of water because they deprived the pure family of the Prophet (Peace be upon them) ofwater.


Indeed human principles were generated by the Ashura revolution. This is what pushed me to continue writing the book which only gave me fatigue and troubles without anyother personal benefits except for the blessing of Imam Hussein (Peace be upon him). By blessing I mean the fact that the book was printed more than twenty times, only three of them by me. Many bodies have printed the book without my permission but I do not mind because I donot consider the book to be my personal property, on the contrary it belongs to all humanity the same way that Imam Hussein (Peace be upon him) belongs to all humanity.

Other Useful Links:

What renowned persons have said about Imam Husain (P.B.U.H)

Martyrdom of Imam Husayn in the other Muslim and Jewish Calendars

The Excellences of the Imam Husayn in Sunni Hadith Tradition

Imam Hossein(A.S) In other Islamic Sectors

Imam Hussain (as) in the Holy Quran

The Exalted Sacrifices Of Imam Hossein(A.S) And Hazart Abraham

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