by Mohamedarif Suleman (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)
The heart breaking narrations of the event of Kerbala have been around us since most of us were born, the ordeals that the Holy Imam (AS) and his caravan endured have been sources for relief to our own pain and loss, almost always. Indeed, Kerbala presents the undeniable pinnacle of trial and sacrifice, and it would probably take a stone-hearted person, not to be moved by history’s most significant event especially in its profound ability to turn an apparent war debacle into an eternal triumph.
This bloodshed, this readiness to die for a higher cause, this ability to bear pain, loss and humiliation, as well as the entire gamut of realities that occurred on the burning sands of Nainawa, were not meant to be remembered simply for their tragic nature, and even if overcome by grief, we get overly emotional about it, such predisposition must never be the end of Kerbala for us, for it was meant to be the beginning in an important historical turning point.
It is probably too late in the day to start pointing fingers and investigating why after decades of listening to this magnificent dhikr, the very result that it seems to promise, is absent. Whether we should blame the pulpit for using their dominant position to aggressively label any contrarian argument or to concede our own imperfections in accepting and reflecting upon the message, only Allah (SWT) can be the judge. But two things remain certain, that we shift gears of our emotions and conduct with ease and clearly aligned with the changing months, meaning that we are quite oblivious of this message for the rest of the year, and secondly that the inability to comprehend how it is now significant to alter some of our observances so that they remain relevant in a globalised world, is a gloomy reality.
At a time when every finger (hand) has become a ‘writer’, distinguishing authentic messages from a sea of forwards and shares if unknown sources, the challenge of keeping the message pure from amalgamation, becomes increasingly greater. Like toys given to children, the world is busy challenging the very core of knowledge whereby today searching for knowledge is replaced by a million religious groups each of which proclaim authenticity. As the overload of religious talk sets in, its ineffectiveness will manifest in our passivity towards religious principles and for some the adherence to extremist beliefs. Part of the reason of this waning spirit in theocracy is that we have begun trivialising our actions in the name of memories, using our toy technologies. We donate blood, our pictures go viral, we perform azaadari, shares and forwards with chants of subhanallah are everywhere. We visit the holy mausoleums, and we pose for pictures instantly dispatching them to millions across the world. Consequently, various interpretations emerge, all of which significantly dilute the effect of our real actions. And the more it happens, the more it becomes weaker in its potential strength. It is also fashionable for us to talk in the air, and just like every other mood swing that we publicise to the whole wide world, we have now started forwarding our feelings on the day of a shahada, such that in totality we have made Kerbala a message to show others we are just grieving, whereas the essence of Kerbala is in reforming ourselves by inner reflection, not by outwad demonstration.
Similarly, while Juloos is a very strong tool to pass the information to others, despite regular appeals by Jamaats, participants appear to be just strolling in the procession showing least character that radiates sorrow. Equally, an important factor – whether through banners or placards or audible announcements, we consistently fail to announce to the world the real reason Kerbala happened – for its moral and ethical value, because we almost always end up focussing on the hurt that we have, meaning outsiders would not understand us and at best would take it to be an internal issue, such as a minority rights group.
As we reduce religion and Kerbala in particular to a show of strength amongst each other, in terms of how many times we have visited AbaaAbdillah, without once reflecting whether this will slowly lead to religious tourism, and unperturbed by the local financial and spiritual needs of our own city, our own neighbourhood, our own family, Kerbala has now been turned into a contest of who amongst us loves the Ahlul Bayt more. By Allah, it is tragic to ead comments made by zawwaar from the sacred lands to announce to the world their love for Hussain (AS). If indeed it is our love, why do we need to advertise it? Why is it important for others to know you are a zawwaar? The truth is that we are failing to move beyond things and material substance. We are failing to fly into the realm of spiritual self actualisation which nearness to the Holy infallibles promise. And perhaps this is the result of our having separated our daily lives from Islam, except when we head to the mosque, or spend all our lives worrying about petty things in our lives, and hence not being able to understand why Kerbala and why were we given this remarkable gift.
A pertinent question to ask is why despite our familiarity to the narration of this event, we are becoming encumberant to the needs of our time and of those around us, to our responsibilities in furthering this message not just in Muharram, but round the year. To start with, is their sufficient reform in our conduct (Akhlaak)? Are we still compartmentalising religion to a nook where our mosques are, while outwardly we behave like others do? We cry profusely on the test that befell young Qassim, and the circumstances of his martyrdom, paying deserved homage to his mother for his immaculate disposition to the mission at hand, but does that lead us to emulating the parenting traits of his mother, or the sorrow itself is where it ends? The reversal of Hur was in fact a demonstration of how difficult decisions are taken in the face of injustice, but beyond applauding for his sincerity, do we allow such morally excellent actions to be a part of our own lives? And the list goes on.
Tomorrow is a day when it is highly recommended to be sombre. Have we taught and guided our children not to be playful at the mosque? After the commemorations are over, why does everything return to normal so soon? One can hear laughter and mundane talk all over again. It looks like we have conditioned ourselves that as soon as we get into the mosque, our social lives begin. What about Imam Husain’s message of character and discipline? Are we ever going to embrace that?
Remember what Mark Twain said “whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).”
We can each judge ourselves and think about reform, we can each detach ourselves from our comfort zones, and seek out to acquiring the moral characters of the people of Kerbala, for that is the beginning not the end, and weeping on their suffering ought to be our strength to change things around us. As long as we treat that as an end, our points of debate and argument will remain shallow around contentious issues such as shabeeh and azaadari, we will be aggressive and emotional when rationalising these significant tools of symbolism of our allegiance to the cause but as they become our final goal, our mission will stagnate. All I am thinking right now, is it is time to move to the next level, where we try to emulate the lowest and farthest of the shuhada and see if we can become Husaini for real. Life is too short, and this is our great opportunity to walk on the footsteps of this great personality history has ever produced.