Spreading the message of Kerbala – avoiding the pitfalls

Mohamedarif M Suleman

(Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)

Whereas the community has taken a rather long time to realise its responsibility of spreading the message of Islam and Kerbala in particular, now that it has, we must ready ourselves for the next challenge – stagnant and monotonous advertising.

I remember way back in the early 2000s, when as a part of the team that created Aftab (Africa Federation Tabligh Board), we used to make regular recommendations about how propagation of these messages should be scaled up and money should be spent on billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising, the general reaction was that of the shrug of a shoulder, a grin, and at worse a complete shoot down of the idea itself.

Some of our readers may remember that those were the days when internal conflict among our tabligh institutuions, as well as the outlawing of any institution which was not sponsored or organised by official bodies were prevalent.  Thanks to the efforts of the team at Aftab at the time with the cooperation of forward-looking leaders in different positions, this hurdle was overcome and the result as we now see today is the emergence of multiple organisations, each promoting aspects of the madh-hab in their own way.

Several things that were contained in a report that I remember co-authoring at the time as part of our recommendations, and it is indeed extremely gratifying now to see that these recommendations are finally being implemented at a world-wide level.

Two things remain dominant in my mind – are we doing this with full consciousness of the dynamism of the societies we live around and secondly, are we as the propagators of this message, ourselves adopting the message that appears on hoardings.  rather tough questions, perhaps bordering on the cynical side of things.  However, the objective of any exercise of tabligh and daáwa must be to make the message inherently strong and supported by the right pillars, otherwise money can keep flowing down the drain, with no effect whatsoever.

By this morning, the streets of our cities have come to life with the messages of Imam Hussain (AS)’s mission at Kerbala.  In light of changes happening around the world, and in presence of a universal perception of how Muslims are savage and blood thirsty, and Islam is a religion that teaches violence, I think our messages should at this stage now progress from the actual physical action of martyrdom towards the spreading of much more value-based messages that Imam (AS) and his caravan demonstrated.  Unless if we are looking at cost saving and therefore recycling of banners on an annual basis, which I suspect may not be the issue, constantly surrounding Hussain’s name with blood and martyrdom alone, may not pass the message we otherwise intend to pass.  Being in marketing for the last 17 years, I feel rather deflated by an apparent lack of creativity as far as our outdoor banners are concerned.  My thinking would be to make the message more applicable to people’s lives today and to appeal to them with messages of serenity and peace which the Holy Imam symbolised, despite the circumstances.

On the other hand, that report succinctly reminded the community not to neglect internal institutions of tabligh such as madaaris and majalis.  Again, we can see monumental changes that have taken place in the last decade or so with our own new line up of sterling speakers around the world projecting some marvellous ways and forms of teaching from the pulpit.  This is indeed a major attainment considering majalis are the only other avenues for faithfuls to receive knowledge from.  Yet, we still do not see the same changes taking place within us – the members ourselves.  In fact, whereas the episode of Kerbala, amongst many other messages, speaks of self discipline and appropriate guidance to the young, our community seems to be demonstrating something totally different.

On the day of Aáshura, mosques will be jam packed by adherents such that getting space will be a challenge.  The love of Ahlul Bayt (AS) and the emotional aura of the sacrifice of this great Imam, will pervade all over the centres, as we gather to listen to the narrators recalling the last moments of Imam’s life as he fulfills his promise to Allah (SWT).  The message is loaded with an overcharge of sorrow and grief, but the congregation perhaps drowned in our own sorrow, have decided to quit our roles as parents on that day, as we let our young, but rather independent and rude children, loose on the rest of society.  Children, who flock together without the company of their fathers, chat and chirp spreading an environment of a festival rather than that of sorrow.

When the Jamaat pleads to members to become more involved in guiding the young, the situation on the ground is that even if a member does that, it is at a great peril of being ganged up and growled upon by these young boys.  At the end, both the Jamaat and the members are helpless as our social values continue spiraling downstream.

Top on my thoughts today is whether as propagators of this message, we are affected by its gravity even in the slightest manner or is all this a ritual for us, because I have also heard people bragging about how our community is powerful and popular that we can even put banners all across the city.  It is not for us to rejoice – this month of Muharram, rather for us to contemplate the changes we ought to bring in our lives and thereafter appear in that form to the world.

If we keep getting this equation wrong all the time, and if it takes us decades to pay attention to the obvious, we may perhaps just be playing hide and seek with the message.  Let us not forget the generation that lives in our homes can’t breathe without the social network.  For them, their birthdays are very important so even on days like these, they expect to be greeted happy birthday by the rest of mankind.  The media teaches them to be individualistic and selfish and self centred.  Parents who provide the gadgets to their children without guidance or a built up trust, will cause the rest of society to be branded in negative light.  The question is, how must our campaign for our own community be developed so as to address some key behavioural problems, using the message of Kerbala.

I earnestly hope and pray that the people in leadership read this, and not wait till it is too late, while spending most of their time in building assets for the community to own.

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About the author

Mohamedarif is a marketing professional and educationalist with a penchant for writing as a hobby since childhood. As he experimented writing about sporting events at first and then current affairs, he quickly developed a skill for observation of his environment and began to write on reform topics, especially in connection with the community. To further feed his pursuit of writing, he founded several newsletters and bulletins at his school and at the Husayni Madrasah in the 1980's, all the time learning from others already in the field not just about writing, but also about pre-press and production processes. He was also the editor-in-chief of the Knowledge Magazine in 1995–1996. A decade later, importing a flurry of ideas into his new home, Nairobi, he first founded a two page community newspaper then became a regular writer of the Friday Faculty before establishing the Community on Friday, a fully fledged Madrasah magazine in 1996. And while his writing at the community continued, he simultaneously started writing for a business weekly, pairing in with his newfound role as a marketing professional. During his time in Nairobi, he wrote several speeches for sitting chairmen and presidents while also giving some himself, developing his concurrent role as a public speaker and trainer.

With changing times and a decrease in advertising sponsorship, as well as a fall in overall readership, Mohamedarif transformed this publication into an electronic blog. Thus was born the Community on Friday in its present format.

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