Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ashura , The Nexus of Love and Faith

There is a large tent now for several years during Ashura (the tenth of Moharram,the first month in the lunar calendar) , in the proximity of The Church of Mary , in central Tehran. This tent belongs to Iranian Armenians who have a vow to take part in the ceremonies of Ashura.
Ashura is the commemoration of a great calamity which befalls the Muslim society after the Prophet Muhammad . According to many historians, it is by far the most moving and captivating narration in the history of human civilization.

It is also the most misunderstood event of Islamic history. Opportunists have used the mourning ceremonies in countries like Iran and Pakistan to depict a dark and reactionary picture of Islam in the media. Supporters have, many times, gone to the extremes thus tainting the true portrait of Ashura.
Some consider this as a ceremony to mourn neglected human values which are forgotten today, values like forgiveness, compassion, truthfulness,and altruism. The message of Ashura seems to transcend time and geography, creed and nationality. Ashura tells us to open our eyes and hearts, to shed the darkness that prevents us from grasping the truth beyond our selfish ego.

The mourning ceremonies of Ashura are memorable. They are considered to be a spiritual feast, but also in literal terms. In Iran each year, millions eat from one table , the table of Imam Hussein. One can literally say that since many make a vow for Imam, there are grand cooking ceremonies alongside the mourning programs. Millions are guests of one single host sometimes for two or three days. Who is Imam Hussein, who is this man that captures the minds and hearts of millions?

It is difficult to describe this event, as it is difficult to speak about love. Islam is not only about edicts and prescriptions but it is also about love for beauty . After the advent of Islam, the life-giving message of the Quran and the life and sayings of Prophet Muhammad, gradually spread among societies in the East and beyond the Arabian Peninsula. The issue of leadership among Muslims was always a key issue since Islam proved to be a multidimensional religion and the issue of governance and the future of the people was never irrelevant.

When the Prophet passed away rivalry for key positions and leadership began. Worldly temptations led certain figures to deny the evident knowledge and capabilities of a certain few, particularly among the household of the Prophet, and to step forward to take power into their hands. Gradually, as the religion spread , the central Khalifat became more powerful and wealthier, signs of aristocracy, greed and corruption gradually emerged indicating a clear divergence from the original teachings and practices of the religion. Ordinary people were suppressed and robbed of their wealth to the benefit of rulers who only carried the title of believers and were no longer practicing Muslims. It became usual practice to preach ideas and practices that belonged to tribal traditions and were linked to certain personal interests as the core of religious thought.

Deviation from the genuine and original teachings of divine religions could happen later at the hands of opportunists who interpret the religion to suit their interests. Christianity and Judaism had experienced a similar threat. 63 years after the flourishing of Islam out of Mecca and the "Migration" of the Muslims which marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar, Yazid the Khalifat or ruler located then in Damascus, took a serious turn in his despotic and cruel policies in suppressing his opponents , who criticised his unIslamic demeanor .
Following the invitation of the people of Kufa, a city in Iraq today, Hussein the grandson of the Prophet commences his fateful journey as a sign of protest against the policies of the hypocrites who ruled in the name of Islam. Along with his companions and his family, Imam Hussein starts on a journey to purge Islam from the wrong traditions and practices attributed to this divine religion. He is confronted with the armies of Yazid and ordered to surrender.

Imam questions the legitimacy of the Khalifat and proclaims his preparedness to withstand for the sake of justice , truthfulness and all the forgotten human values. Imam is a reformist at heart he hopes to convince the rulers to change course without bloodshed. Yazid, however threatens the Imam with war and Imam tells his companions that they are free to return, but that he will resist and fight for the sake of righteousness. The companions all stay and they face an unequal and deadly battle, but their heroic resistance, faithfulness and bravery remains as an epic for humanity.

The martyrdom of Imam Hussein is an inspiration for humanity. It brings direction and meaning to the lost generation of today. Time has strengthened the message of Ashura so that that living for sublime values becomes just as important as dying for those values.

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