10 Moharram – Ashura

Posted on January 30, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Religion, Society
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Adil Najam

Today is the 10th of Muharram. Ashura.

It commemorates a struggle that is steeped in deep spiritual meaning, not only for Islamic history but for all humanity. It is a struggle between good and evil, between just and unjust, between weak and powerful, between immediate and the eternal, between principle and ambition. The power of Ashura is not only in the epic events that it commemorates, it is in the narrative of those events, in the symbolisms that we construct. Ultimately, it is in the meanings that we derive from those events.

Muharram is, of course, of special significance to Shias. But the events and meaning of Ashura is of significance and relevance to all Muslims, and I would suggest, to all humans everywhere.


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Like so many others growing up in a Sunni household I grew up observing ehteram-i-Muharram and am always drawn in the days leading up to Ashura towards thinking about the meaning of religion and of faith. To me these have always been days of deep spiritual reflection; especially of intellectual enquiry into the meaning of justice (the concept of ‘adl’ holds a deep significance to me given the name I was given at birth and therefore I have always interpreted Ashura particularly as a time to reflect on what justice is).

Growing up in Pakistan, the night of Ashura was always defined for me by the Majlis i Shaam i Gharibaan (often by Allama Naseer ul Ijtihaadi) on PTV on the night of dasveen Muharram, which was followed immediately – and at right about midnight – by Syed Nasir Jahan’s soulful recitation of Salam-i-Akhir.

Bachay to aglay baras hum hain aur yeh gham phir hai
Jo chal basay tou yeh appna salam-i-akhir hai

His soulful voice, so pregnant with a deep and heartfelt pain, always echoes in my head when I read of continuing sectarian violence and the instigation of sectarian hatred.

Also echoing in my head are memories of the eloquent narratives of those PTV Shaam i Gharibaan’s. What I took from my yearly ritual of sitting glued to the screen was that the message of Ashura, of Karbala, is a universal and humanist messages. Justice is a universal message. Courage is a universal message. Conviction is a universal message. Sacrifice is a universal message.

It is the universality of the messages of Ashura that I hope we will all reflect upon. Every one of these messages is literally torn asunder each Muharram when the merchants of sectarianism highjack these commemorations with their vitriolic politics of fear, of difference, of hatred.

While these are universal messages, they are also – as they must be – messages of Pakistaniat. Yasser Hamdani sent me this quote from Mohammad Ali Jinnah published in a souvenir commemorating the 1300th anniversay of Imam Hussain’s shahadat.

There cannot be a better and more illustrious example than that of Husein who was the greatest embodiment of courage, conviction and sacrifice and every Mussalman in particular should take the great example of his life and service and follow it.

Jinnah was right. He would probably be pained to see how not only his own message, but that of Imam Hussain’s life -and death – have been so very lost on so many of his countrymen today.

86 responses to “10 Moharram – Ashura”

  1. 10th of muharram is a the power of Ashura is not only in the epic events that it commemorates, it is in the narrative of those events, in the symbolisms that we construct. Ultimately, it is in the meanings that we derive from those events.

  2. saima nasir says:

    ” Examine the ahl al-bayt of your Prophet and follow their character and footsteps and they will never lead you astray. They will never make you return to destruction; if they lie down, then you lie down, and if they arise, then you arise. Do not precede them otherwise you will go astray. Do not lag behind them as you will be ruined”.

    These are the words of Imam ‘Ali (A.S.), especially regarding the purified household from whom Allah has removed all filth and purified thoroughly.(Nahj al-Balagha, 1/190)

    We are the close ones and the companions, the treasures and the doors. Houses are not entered except by their doors; whosoever enters them in any other way is called a thief”. Then he mentioned the ahl al-bayt and said: “Within them is the nobility of the Qur’an, and they are the treasures of the Merciful one. When they speak they utter the truth, and when they are silent, none should speak before they do”.

    “They are the life of knowledge and death of ignorance; their forbearance tells you of their knowledge and their silence the wisdom of their speaking. They do not go against the truth nor do they differ about it. They are the pillars of Islam and the asylums of protection. Through them the truth has returned to its rightful position, falsehood has vanished and it’s tongue severed from it’s root. They have understood religion attentively and carefully, not from hearsay or from relaters, because the relaters of knowledge are many, but few observe it.

    His progeny is the best of progenies and his family the best of families. His tree is the best of trees, grown in sanctity and excelled in generosity, for them are long branches and fruits that cannot be reached.

    (Nahj al-Balagha p.283,314,330,2/213)

  3. saima nasir says:

    YLH,
    I totally appreciate the fact that you analysed Muawiyah and his politics from a secular point of view….. the prefix of SAYEDANA and blessings(ra)for Muawiyah were mising from your post…..in fact you used the term ARAB for him instead of…… you are true to your lineage, no matter how much you try blood is thicker than water…..and your comparison of Muawiyah to Musharaf….hats off to you …wonder how many hearts were broken with that one.

  4. Tahir says:

    Dear YLH you presented a nice secular point of view. It was really secular because as you said that you are from a predominantly shiite dominated household never thought like that .but you tried well.In beginning you wrote that The great sacrifice and courage of Hazrat Imam Hussain (AS) is without question and the tragedy of Karbala is undoubtedly the only reason Islam is still alive today.My dear it was not a secular wording if you saw his event with the same eye of secular point of view you must be find that it was not the reason of Islam live. You presented the same doctrine of Christian that Jesus hanged against mankind sins. What type of Islam you thought that became alive.(1)The dynasty of Rasool Allah alived after Shahadat of Hazrat Hussain?. (2) Peoples turned against Yazeed?(3) Islam refreshed and New caliphat had established? I am sure you have no answer but Shitte got so called origin with that myth was created by themselves.
    Once again I request to not touch the event or curse true Muslims. Otherwise student of history can turn the page of history. Why Hazrat Ali (R.A) not punished who Killed Hazrat Usman(R.A).Why Governors of many Islamic proninces left Hazrat Ali and joined Muayiwa.Why no one helped Hazrat Hussain against Hazrat Yazeed.Were Kufis more muslim than Makka,s and Madina’s muslims.Where were the Shitte when Hazrat Hussain march towards Karbala.To whom he left to Kufa. What was the part of Hazrat Ali(R.A) among the glorious victories of Muslims.
    You can give all answers but after a secular study of history.I know we all have love of Islam if we both are writing on this topic is the prove of our devotion .We should study the all aspect of history We have no authority to say that anyone was not Muslims. We have no measurement to check the heart of any one. All our ancestors were not only muslim but true Muslim. In the presence of Allah no myth like that can be acceptable. Every muslim is respectable specially

  5. YLH says:

    Sign the Petition for THE RESTORATION OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS OF AHMADIS

    http://www.petitiononline.com/Greywolf/petition.ht ml

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