The writer, Mohamed Jawad Khaki (Seattle, USA) is an entrepreneur, investor, technologist, and a community volunteer
This article forms part of the series ‘ A Call to Return’ – an initiative to inform and define the message behind the events of Kerbala, its relevance, and connection to life today, for both Shi’a Muslims and the rest of the global population. It is an effort by the writers to cast an apt perspective to a very commonly misunderstood message
hia Ithnaasheri communities around the world devote significant time and resources to Muharram commemorative events.
Whilst these commemorative events continue to play a significant role in shaping community futures, a question arises if these commemorations can be made more impactful. Can these programs better address present-day burning issues that communities face and in the process become more relevant to our daily lives?
Muharram commemorations present a great opportunity for followers of the Ahl al Bayt to draw inspiration from the sacrifice of Imam Hussain A.S. and his valiant followers and energize themselves to face modern-day challenges.
For example, our North American community faces several challenges a few of which are discussed below.
The present-day majlis reciter competes with new forms of engagement/entertainment which continue to have billions poured into them.
The volume and variety of addictive gaming and entertainment available (which is increasingly social) on connected smart devices is one emerging and pervasive example.
The present-day majlis attendee (young or old) finds it more enticing to interactively stick to their connected smart device than listen to a 60-minute monologue that often is not relevant to the issues of the present.
Weekly new releases of Hollywood and Bollywood also continue to captivate the imagination of people.
Needless to mention professional sports and the glitz/glamour surrounding these professions that conquer many minds.
How do we counter such and other similar phenomena?
For our religious gatherings to continue to be of significance in people’s lives, our faith communities need to be current on topics of social need and/or interest.
We need to also evolve the mode of engagement by offering exciting new ways to engage on spiritually/socially relevant topics of our time.
We need to ask what the purpose of our gatherings:
- Spiritual development
- Social development
- Social connection
- Relive ritual tradition
- Nourishment with food and beverage
For each of these, we need to understand more specific needs/requirements and prioritize
Having established the needs of the community (and or an era), an appropriate mode of engagement needs to be devised. This might take a form different than a traditional 60-minute monologue.
We need to engage with learned scholars from many disciplines, including religious seminaries, to help identify and address our present-day needs.
We have had our fair supply of geo-politicians and polemics.
We now need more spiritual guides, community developers that employ modern tools for spiritual and communal development.
Whilst the longer-term solutions may take time to develop, as a start in the short term can we transform the Weekly/Ramadhan/Muharram/Wafat/Wiladat 60 minute monologues into an engaging 20-minute expert presentation with an interactive Q&A on burning topics of interest.
There is a significant and urgent need for resource investment and innovation for our religious gatherings to be more relevant in peoples’ lives.