THE BLOG

Hussain: A Tale of Honour and Sacrifice

06/01/2015 10:36 GMT | Updated 07/03/2015 10:59 GMT

We live in an era of 24/7 advertising. If you dared to count the number of times a product or brand is thrust at you this week - or even today alone - the tally would be staggeringly high. Being constantly bombared with companies trying to inveigle you into their various commercial traps can be a little suffocating.

But nothing - absolutely nothing - gets me quite as riled up as the reprehensible sin of brazen product placement. I vividly recall Roger Ebert's typically astute review of Adam Sandler's 2002 'comedy' Mr Deeds. In it, Longfellow Deeds (Sandler) scales the side of a building to rescue a resident's cats from a blazing fire. Everything in the apartment is burnt to a cinder - that is, everything except for a pristine box of Special-K cereal. It was utterly shameless.

Yet ever so occassionally, something catches your attention. Something different, something unique, which is worthy of consideration.

So for thousands of commuting Londoners this winter it was refreshing to see, squeezed between an advert for a high street clothes retailer and an alcoholic beverage, a poster on the London Underground for an organisation named 'Who is Hussain?'.

"Hussain's epic legacy continues to inspire millions of people around the world to give back", the poster read.

"Who is Hussain - and why has this question been all over London?," I hear you ask. I sat down with one of the campaign's spokesmen to find out some more information about the organisation.

Who is Hussain?

"It really is a shame more people don't know who Hussain ibn Ali was. Hussain was a political and spiritual leader who alone stood against the oppression of 7th century rulers. He - and 72 companions - fell fighting an army of thousands, fighting for what they believed in, but Hussain's legacy of selflessness and honour lives on. That's why we started this campaign - to ensure everyone knows about his story."

Who is Hussain?, it transpires, was initiated in 2012 by a group of young people from London. Their vision is "to see a world inspired by the unique personality of Hussain: his actions and his compassion for those around him. "To us Hussain is a role model, a guiding light - we want others to be able to enjoy that same level of inspiration we do."

But 1400 years on, what relevance can one man's death - albeit heroic - have on us? Who is Hussain? argue there are many contemporary lessons we can derive from Hussain's life. The then Caliph, Yazid, a vicious and oppressive ruler, was keen to assert his power over Arabia: the best way to do this was to obtain the allegiance of Hussain, who was widely respected. Hussain refused - he said he could never give his support to a tyrant. But he was unaffected by his impending doom: "Death with dignity is better than a life of humiliation," he said. It is for this reason Hussain is commonly referenced by the moniker "Father of the Free".

"Some actions are so extraordinary that they must not be solely confined to the history books," Who is Hussain? reflect. "Take Hussain. He stood in front of 30,000 soldiers with no chance of success for himself. But he said 'enough's enough - I won't sacrifice my principles and take the easy way out.' That's courage. That's a stand worth remembering. How many of the world's problems would be solved if we just said 'that's not right, we won't tolerate that?"

There's no denying Who is Hussain? is a smooth and well-executed campaign. The website is clean and crisp, the message - clear and concinnous, the tube posters - eye-catching and memorable. So one wonders - what's the catch? I knew that Hussain was the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad - so is it a religious or political movement? I put this question to the organisation:

"We try to be very clear on one thing: the organisation has no political or religious undertones. All we seek to do is share, through the website, a man's steadfast dedication to serving others and improving the society around him, an idea he died for."

In the two years since its inception Who is Hussain? has well and truly taken off. The organisation now has global reach, with 74 representatives in cities spanning five continents. These representatives serve twofold purpose - firstly the promotion of Who is Hussain? through local advertising, and secondly putting on goodwill and charitable events in honour of and 'inspired by' Hussain ibn Ali. In London, for example, volunteers raised money at a sponsored sleep-out for the homeless in conjunction with St. Mungo's and collected winter coats for the elderly. Other branches have put on blood donation drives, regular food handouts and cross-community relief initiatives.

"We knew the pristine message of Hussain would be really appealing. It's been incredible to see the connection and level of appreciation people have with his story. They recognise that his message has significance even today - whether it's battling poverty, injustice or inequality. But we couldn't have dreamt it would have taken off as quickly as it has all over the world. With every passing day love and appreciation for Hussain seems to grow."

Certainly we have become very good at discerning the advertising we see: separating the wheat from the chaff is almost second nature now. But be warned: filter too much and you may miss out excellent campaigns - Who is Hussain? is a good example of that.