What is the proper way to approach history?
Many Muslims, mainly Sunnis, seem to try to evade discussions about some past events in Islamic history. On the other hand, there exist some people within Shia Islam which seem to be too attached to the past, that they very much neglect the present.
Three approaches to History :
1. Ignoring the past totally:
The adherents of this idea hold that studying history is just useless. Let’s talk about our present problems and current affairs.
They suggest that it’s always better not to talk in the absence of people who are resting on the bed of history. You will be disturbing them, they say, when speaking of their infamy. Moawia was one of the adherents of this idea. A famous expression is quoted from him: ‘Mention the dead in good’.
Unfortunately many of the Sunni theologians also hold that we are not allowed to criticize the Muslims of early Islam. Of the Western thinkers, Davy Crockett, American folk hero of the 18th century, also held that we are not able to judge on historical events and hence, it’s better to let the dead rest in their eternal place, i.e. their graves. Al-Ghazali, the famous Sunni Ethician, dared to assert that we are not allowed to castigate Yazid nor to curse him, for he was a Mojtahid and had made a mistake!! Or he may have repented!! Worse than him is another one who wrote a book about the so called virtues of Yazid!.
Well, for your information, the majority of Sunni scholars have not a single doubt of the enormity of the crime Yazid has committed, which subsequently proves his Kofr, and hence they have endorsed his cursing to the extent that Jahedh says “he who prohibits the cursing of Yazid must be cursed too.”.
2. Ignoring the present totally:
This approach is opposite to that of the first. The supporters of this concept always concentrate on the past and have totally ignored the current affairs of the contemporary world. Reciting Maqtal (of Imam Husain) with no analysis given is a stereotypical example of this approach. Their task is provoking emotions for the sake of a heavenly blessing. They may seem very religious too. You may find them reciting Ziarat Ashoora every day, cursing Yazid hundreds of times, holding Majalis for Imam Husain (a.s.) beating themselves severely for the Imam. However, when you are chatting with them about current affairs of this world, they are lost. They actually mean it, for this is their purposeful attitude towards politics, for it is their belief that politics corrupts their piety! A pious person in their terminology is one who does not know who the president of America is, doesn’t read the newspapers and is totally ignorant about this world (Addonya)!
3. Being concerned for the past as well as the present:
I believe the above two approaches are overdoing it. We ought to read history, but not ignore the present, or it is nothing more than an amusement. We read history in order to find the roots of current conditions on the one hand, and to be able to deduce general law, to foresee the future and the impacts of the current problems on the other.
*Admin Note: Please also refer to this Q&A for some of the main benefits of studying history: http://www.askthesheikh.com/can-you-please-explain-some-of-the-benefits-of-history-as-a-source-of-knowledge/
: Fadhael Yazid, Ibn Rajab, Tabaqatul-Hanabeleh 1:356
: Rasael Jahedh : 298
Sheikh Mansour Leghaei