Mshenzi – Uncivilized
Mjeenga – Illiterate
I’ve just finished my early morning exercise routine and am looking forward to a robust cup of Tanzanian coffee and skin-still-on roasted cashews – khorosho (closest taste to this probably after death. In janna?) when my cellphone rudely farts. It’s one more maddening WhatsApp video forwards of the rites many Shias perform in our love for Imam Hussein (a) and his lot who were unjustly aggrieved and slain in Karbala for upholding the truth and standing for justice. This one is from Kabul, Afghanistan, where mourners stand in line to flagellate their backs with metal chains in tune with a eulogy reciter and the thumping of a drumbeat. It’s a gory sight, with the chains ripping open skin to spurting blood at times. My coffee and khorosho lose some of their flavors fasta-fasta. Astonishingly, the mourners are provided security by machinegun-toting members of the Taliban, the very group who have the blood of thousands of Hazara’s tainting their hands.
These video clips have been incessant, on WhatsApp and Facebook social media, since the month of Muharram set in. To a non-Shia, and particularly a non-Muslim, the people in these images would rightly look like barbarians on the loose, and send a chill through their spines, especially to an unworldly Western individual. Everything else that is wonderful and heavenly and just and progressive and soopa-divine that (Shia) Islam stands for, and what Imam Hussein (a) sacrificed so much for, is diluted away with these gory, painful images. The principle of Imam Hussein’s message, that of living a life of dignity and honor, to protect and preserve his grandfather’s religion, becomes secondary or non-existent with these images.
I’ve always wondered about the logic behind the rites we follow every year and never grasped it, apart from following a herd mentality of my elders and community at large and my indoctrination since childhood. So, I ended up blaming the weak imaan within me or lack of proper education for questioning these matters and the unease in practicing the rituals. So, I shut my trap and endured the frustrations that overwhelmed me all the years. I’ve never been convinced that Imam Hussein (a) would want us to relegate his supreme sacrifices to all the tamasha I now witness in his name.
I’ve always maintained that Islam is a religion of complete logic and must walk in tandem with science and time. It has to be so; otherwise, it cannot be Allah’s doing. What differentiates humans from animals is the rationale; says the Quran, no? Our actions and reactions must be logical, always, not open to our interpretations. It is my constant refrain – let us focus and emulate the actions of all the Imams that came after the events of Karbala, a total of nine of them (a). If anyone had the probable cause to enact these rituals, it would be them. However, they chose to spend their lives in piety, educating and practicing moral and upright actions and ideals; being models of the Prophet (s). Most important, they grieved their grandfather’s murder and torture in steadfast and uncompromising self-respecting dignity.
Two examples of the illogical extremes some mourners show their grief augment my argument:
I overhear a zaakerah the other day when going through some lectures online. She claims that our 6th Imam (a), the most educated and advanced human of his time, said that we will be performing the azaa of Imam Hussein (a) in heaven, in janna. That we will shun all the wonderful stuff Allah has promised us (in total disregard to what the Quran says) and spend our time weeping and whipping ourselves there. I’m sure the zaakerah means well, but honestly, how daft is that claim? How can anyone attribute something so dumb to Imam Sadiq (a)? If I chose to be a zaakir by profession, I’d throw this weak absurdity out of my mind immediately. Logic would demand I do this. If (it’s a huge if) I was to make it to janna, I’m going to have one continuous party of feast and frolic, ma’am, no tears or pain for me. I’m going to be rewarded with hoories of unimaginable beauties, so no time for sorrow, no? No ma’am, not for me! Sure, it’ll be wonderful to meet my aeemas (a), of course, and greet them in person, but the days of tears and sorrow will not even be a distant memory. For me. Logical, sio?
I remember watching, in aghast, a clip that showed several men and women, hands and feet tied snug, painfully crawling, on their front torso, from the haram of Maula Abbas (a) to that of Imam Hussein (a). They made it eventually, all bloodied and in tatters, including their dignity. Why? To show their love and devotion to the two beloved idols of Karbala. Seriously? I don’t question their zeal and intense adorations for these beloved bloodlines of the Prophet (s) but honestly, did this action make any cotton-picking common sense? To any of us? Did it achieve an ounce of good to the religion of Allah? To humanity at large? Did this act advance peace, unity, tolerance, justice, or love; all so lacking in these current times?
Lectures in Muharram/Safar highlighting the history of Karbala and the plight and treatment of Ahlebeyt (a) is an immense opportunity to cleanse a lost, lonesome, wandering, or corrupted soul. It is an annual emotional endorsement to our religion via the holy blood that guaranteed its survival and made it possible for it to thrive. It is a gem of an opportunity for us to be part of the mission of Imam Hussein (a) and Sayyeda Zainab (a). It is a lifelong university that can educate how to live a dignified, liberating existence IF used correctly, as intended. Yet we squander it in awful senseless rites that give us scant, if any, benefits. Rather, we regress in petty rituals that are embarrassing at best. I wish there was a way we could deny the pulpit to anyone lacking the ability to rational thinking. A minimum of a secular university or college education followed by a formal hawza schooling? No such luck anytime soon, I suppose.
It is my earnest hope and prayer that we will reform and spend valuable time in being progressive azadars of Imam Hussein (a) et al. Let us portray our pain of his mission in absolute dignity that attracts, not repel the unaware. Let us, in his name, be part of communities that help feed the poor (I mean to communities beyond those benefiting from our niyaaz), console and comfort the lonely elderly, and engage in social welfare. If we must have a juloos, let us be disciplined, solemn, and dignified about it. Parading festooned horses or uncontrollable icons or loud eulogization in native languages in the streets of New York, London, Toronto, Dar es Salaam, et al, is an irrational homage and a disservice to our beloved Imam (a).
The tragedy is that our pulpit-screaming ulemas, some, bless them, who can be decisive in stopping these mirch-masala rituals, are divided on the general subject of bloodletting and other forms of azaa that individuals dream up of and invent, so it is free for all to add their versions. These different activities then are easily adapted as an acceptable ritual or behavior. Sadly, shockingly, these learned men contradict each other often, for whatever reason. I understand and appreciate their reluctance in opining on such emotional and acrimonious matters but they are the ulemaas for a reason. To stop me from being a mchenzi. Or a mjeenga. Or both.
Allah knows best.