by Mohamedarif Suleman,
Every year, momineen all over the world go through painstaking efforts to organize a Julus on the Day of Ashura. The entire resident Shia population of that particular Jamaat participates with full dedication and without reservation. Parading barefooted, and clad in black to commemorate Imam Husain (AS)’s martyrdom, the procession aims at showing the members of society of the state of our grief and the reason behind our propagation.
Many critics have earlier pointed out that the nature of our processions no longer serves the purpose for which they were first intended. Yet die-hards of the community whose belief in an age-old practice us at times so rigid have compelled various leaders to take the third way. In taking this way, processions would be arranged, and a bit of compromise would be made in say, reducing the number of shabeehs. A quick look at the gathering will indicate that banners are usually well hidden from the general public, covered by hue alams and julaa. As a result, the interpretation of what we are demonstrating remains open to the wild imagination of the passing public, giving us little opportunity to explicate the message of Imam (AS).
This is a sorry state of affairs that even after years of talk, talk, and talk, leaders have shown tremendous reluctance to reverse the trend. For one moment, each one of us should question whether this is a mere ritual or an affair of propagation and if it is indeed the latter, what achievements if any are made annually.
A group of boys this year led a mini-survey of bystander Enroute our procession in Nairobi this year. This was by no means the first time such a survey was carried out. Past results have revealed highly derogatory remarks from the general public, results that would cause Imam (AS) to wonder about our true commitment to Islam. Anyway, so this year there were various responses. Some felt that since we had just tarmacked the El Molo Drive, this was an opening ceremony of the same. Others responded saying this was one of the Hindu processions and we were supposedly mourning the death of one of our gods. These are replies that are reminiscent of a previous survey some years back in which the Hindu comparison is repeatedly mentioned. One may be quick to retort that the people usually attach those properties to unknown events that they are familiar with, and express them in terms of those words that are known to them. And since Nairobi is a predominantly Hindu stronghold within the Asian Community, the general public identifies us thus. But a valuable point conceded in making this argument is that we would have to be similar to Hindu processions for is to be affiliated by them.
But Nairobi processions are held during daylight. If one were to participate in a Julus in Dar es Salaam, for instance, where lots of fanfare goes into the making of a huge gathering, one would be sheerly bemused. While on one hand, we express sorrow at the loss if a Great Leader, the procession is comprised of nothing but shine and sheen. There is glitter all over, magnificent lighting, and intricately woven symbols that only we can understand.
We are either too naive to understand that this entire exercise is meaningless if the aspect of communication is ignored in its entirety, or our Hindu origins are finally catching up with us again. For Indians and Pakistanis, our Julus are perfectly fine because the practice in the Indian subcontinent matches our practice here. But again their audience is different, it is predominantly Asian. For us, it is different. It is time we stopped vilifying those who are seeking a scholastic approach to a systematic termination of absolutely partisan rituals. Islam is a religion of logic and reason, not emotion and fanaticism. It is surprising that while we dig out for reason in all other aspects, we repeatedly fail in our duties to the Imam (AS) year after year due to an intense lack of the same attribute.
In the end, we shall have to answer to Allah (SWT) as to why we knowingly indulged in an affair that was of no meritorious consequence to His Message.