10 Moharram – Ashura

Posted on January 19, 2008
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Religion, Society
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Adil Najam

NOTE: In some parts of the world (e.g., Europe) today is the 10th of Muharram. Ashura. In other parts (e.g., Pakistan) Ashura will be tomorrow. We reproduce today the post we had done on Ashura last year. My sentiments today are the same as they were last year. Given the events of the year, only much more profound. The lessons of Ashura for all of us are even more poignant and more urgent today than they were a year ago.

Ashura 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.

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.

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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.

(Ashura post and comments from last year).

15 responses to “10 Moharram – Ashura”

  1. Anwar says:

    There is another important message that never gets attention and that is weak leadership. Root of this crisis lies in the weak leadership of Caliph Othman – he sowed the seeds of nepotism and dynastic attitudes through Muawia…

  2. Abid says:

    For me the lessons of Karbala: STRIVE towards the change of the status quo; REVOLT against tyranny; UNITE as one force (Ummatic concept) against arrogant domination of corrupt elites.

    To do that: we need to REFORM our internal conditions and establish the principles of CONSULTATION and choosing the leaders.

    “And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of Allah, and do not separate

  3. Adil Bhai,

    For me the message must live on, it is a MUST!

    We are the captains of this ship as Muslims as Pakistanis as Human Beings as South Asians and so on. It us alone through our joint acts of ommission and commission that can make it sink or swim.

    Ashura and its message is timeless, let us learn from it.



  4. Thank you for your commentary. I just found your site through Andrew Sullivan’s blog, and I’ve spent the last hour reading your and your commenters fascinating and insightful observations on Islam. I wish the American media would call someone like you when they “need a comment about a Muslim issue”. Were it so, it would go far to facilitate a better understanding of Islam in America.

  5. Viqar Minai says:

    The Imam must have realized the price to be paid for standing up for what is right in the face of the tyranny and its determination to stop at nothing to achieve its ends.

    The only thing that exceeded the determination of the butchers, was the determination of the beloved grandson of the blessed prophet(SAW) to, forever, light up the beacon of guidance for the believers with his own blood.

    To never yield to the intoxicated forces of injustice and brutality, no matter what the cost, is to honor that ultimate example in courage and sacrifice set by Imam Hussain (RA), at Karabala on that fateful date, for all times.

    aye dil bagIr dAman-e sultAn-e auliyA
    yAni Hussain ibn-e Ali shAn-e auliyA

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