Muharram, Yom-e-Ashura and Indias communal relationships

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India’s pluralistic ethos are to be admired, even though Muslims, particularly Shia Muslims are a tiny minority, Yom-e- Ashura is a public holiday in India and it is a public event. The world can learn from us, that we the people of India value every belief system and tradition, and honor every which way one worships the creator.

We do have our own problems with the community relationships, but we are committed to working them through, and my focus of this essay is to rebuild positive communal relationships to function cohesively.

As a process, I will be writing regularly at SaddaHaq on Pluralism, a cherished value of India’s heritage and building a cohesive India.

Muharram signifies the battle between good and evil fought 1334 years ago that we face collectively now
Imam Hussein (ra) stood up against the wicked king Yazid, and refused to endorse him as the spiritual leader, also known as “Caliph” of the growing Muslim community.

Imam Hussein was martyred in the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD by Yazid’s men along with most of his family and companions. The annual memorial for him, his family, children and his associates is called Yom-e-Ashura that is commemoration on the tenth day of the month of Muharram and is a day of mourning for Muslims.
Imam Hussein (ra) is the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and son of Hazrat Ali and Fatima (ra). Hazrat Ali is Prophet’s cousin and Hazrat Fatima is Prophet’s daughter.

On this day, Indians will witness processions, along with floats made of paper, and hand symbols made of brass called “Punjay”. Muslims will be passionately reciting the names of Hussein, Hassan and Hazrat Ali. They will also be inflicting injuries upon themselves to understand the sacrifice of Hussein.
Here are some of the statements from our National leaders:

Mahatma Gandhi, “My admiration for the noble sacrifice of Imam Hussein (a.s) as a martyr abounds, because he accepted death and the torture of thrust for himself, for his sons, and for his whole family, but did not submit to unjust authorities.” “I learnt from Hussain how to achieve victory while being oppressed.”

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, “There is a universal appeal in his martyrdom. Hazrat Imam Hussein (a.s) sacrificed his all, but he refused to submit to a tyrannical government. He never gave any weight to the fact that his material force was far less in comparison with that of an enemy; the power of faith to his greatest force, which regards all material force as nothing. This sacrifice is a beacon light of guidance for every community and every nation “and, “Imam Hussain’s sacrifice is for all groups and communities, an example of the path of righteousness.”
Rabindra Nath Tagore, “”In order to keep alive justice and truth, instead of an army or weapons, success can be achieved by sacrificing lives, exactly what Imam Hussain did.

“Dr. Rajendra Prasad, “The sacrifice of Imam Hussain is not limited to one country, or nation, but it is the hereditary state of the brotherhood of all mankind.

“Sarojini Naidu, “I congratulate Muslims that from among them, Hussain, a great human being was born who is revered and honored totally by all communities.”

I am sure our New Leader Narendra Modi will share his own understanding of the Muharram.
Mr. Narendra Modi is one of the most powerful prime Ministers of India, and I have come to admire his inclusive language, indeed, the more inclusive his language and actions are, the more people will follow and respect him, with the right language, he can change India for good. On the membership kick off drive for his party, he made a profound statement, “A poor and illiterate person living in a slum should think, ‘Yes, there is a flower for me in this bouquet’ – pointing to the large flower bouquet. Indeed, every Indian should feel included no matter who it is.

Collectively as Indians, we are Adivasis, Atheists, Bahá’ís, Bos, Buddhists,Christians, Dalits, Hindus, Jains, Jewish, Muslim, Sikhs, Tribals, Zoroastriansand every possible grouping and no one should feel alienated. I pray the Prime Minister to develop that language followed by action.

I hope Indians from every group will drop their divisive attitudes and focus on thinking of one India, indivisible India and for all. His dream of sab ka saath and sab ka vikas can be achieved in his first term.

sab ka saath and sab ka vikas

    I hope the following statement resonates with the Prime Minister and perhaps, he can address the nation regularly with these words, “You are an Indian and that is all it matters to me, as your Prime Minster, I am here to make sure, you have equal access to justice, employment, schooling, loans, housing, transportation, health care, food, places of worship and retirement.”

Once upon a time, we had a beautiful parampara of celebrating and commemorating each other’s festivities and mourning’s. It certainly is a way to know each other, and together we celebrated Diwali, Ramnvami, Janmashtami, Ramadan, Muharram, Christmas and Paryushan. My neighbor’s joy was my Joy and my friends’ sorrow was mine as well.

We can blame the partition all we can, but we all have to live, live without apprehensions and fear of the other, so we can all achieve Vikas together and for all of us. It is a part of the idea of Vasudhaiva Kutumbukum – meaning the entire world is one family.

I wish the Moderate Hindus call on the extremists Hindus to focus on the beautiful values of Hinduism.
Moderate Muslims on the other hand call on the extremist Muslims to focus on the same beautiful values described in Quran but differently that we all were made into different tribes, communities and groups from the same couple.

It was God’s choice for us to be different and the best citizens among us, or the best Indians among us would be those who will take the time to learn about each other, the knowledge leads to understanding and understanding to appreciation and acceptance of the differences and respect for the otherness of others. That is our pluralistic ethos and heritage.

There is a myth out there that only Shia Muslims commemorate the Martyrdom. That is not entirely true, most Muslims do, the differential is in the rituals

The Shia Muslims of course express their grief in a variety of ways, including holding daily gatherings called Majlis and narrating the events that led to Martyrdom – Shahadat.

I am a tough guy, but when you hear what happened to Abbas and the baby Asghar, and you’ll cry, it is a moving story of humanity, and I have cried every time.

They also carry floats and hand symbols made of brass as a part of the commemoration.

On the night of Ashura, the pain threshold rises for the believers, and the participants passionately bear the self inflicted hurt and pain with chains and ropes, which is insignificant compared to what Imam Hussein had endured

It is feeling the pain and developing empathy and respect for the Imam, one of the Islamic heroes for leaving a legacy of righteousness.

    The Sunni Muslims on the other hand observe a day of fasting on Ashura, and pray for the martyrs, some participate in the Shia proceedings.

    The Ahmadiyya Muslims offer special Darood (ode to prophet and his progeny) and Duwa (supplications) throughout the month of Muharram.

This Martyrdom, “Shahadat” as we call it is commemorated by almost all Muslim denominations including Shia, Sunni, Ahmadiyya, Sufi and others.

Please note that the Salafi/Wahhabi and Deobandi traditions do not subscribe to celebrating Prophet’s birthday, or commemorating the Shahadat of Imam Hussein. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as it is a part of the culture and not religion. Shia Muslims believe that Islamic faith was fully wrapped up at Ghadir Khumm believing that Prophet assigned Hazrat Ali to be his successor to carry the faith forward.

However the Sunnis believe that the faith was indeed completed, but no passing the mantle of faith was mentioned by the Prophet. We have to learn to respect the otherness of others and live with our differences, rather than force conformities. No one can compel the others to believe what one believes.

Last year, I wrote about the Centrality of Imam Hussein at Huffington post


The Battle is not between Hindus and Muslims, it is between Good and the bad, good is represented by minding your own faith as Quran advocates or as Bhagvad Gita suggests it’s your own Karma that will determine your outcomes; there is no compulsion in faith, whereas, the evil is represented by hurting others for differences in belief.

The good is represented by a belief that God is greater than all of us, and we worship him in a variety of ways from bowing, and kneeling to prostrating, whereas the bad in us is represented by evil arrogance that my way is right and yours is wrong.

The good in us believes that God makes all decisions, even a blade of Grass does not move without God’s permission, says the Bhagvad Gita. while Muslims are told that God alone knows what is in one’s heart and we cannot judge the other, it is only God who can judge what is in our hearts.

Both traditions believe in a life after, but differently, one believes that if our bad deeds outweigh the good, we will be reincarnated with lesser value in the next life, while the other believes that we will be punished for our bad deeds in the life hereafter.

The bottom line is behave! Choose to be born again as a good human or earn the rewards from God in your eternal life.

The problems we see in the Middle East were exacerbated by Bush invasion of Iraq, otherwise Middle East was a stable region, giving jobs to the people from all over the world including Indians.

Before Russia invaded Afghanistan, it was stable country with good relations with her neighbors, we the Americans propped up Talibans as check mates, we left when Soviets were chased away, but Talibans had nothing to do and they resorted to wrong doing, and we have a mess today.

Middle East was stable prior to Bush invasion except the conflict between Israel and Palestine, now we have genocides going on in Syria, the evil ISIS is growing, and the Shia Sunni conflict is raging. We cannot blame others, we have to figure out a way out to live in peace again.

The battle is between evil and good and someone has to take a stand to stop this hatred for each other.
God says the best ones among us are those who care for fellow beings, and who take time to learn about each other.

If we can learn to respect the otherness of others, and accept the God given uniqueness of each one of us, (Quran 49:13) then conflicts fade and solutions emerge.

Please don’t forget, God does not talk about Muslims exclusively, he talks about entire humanity from the very first verse of Quran to the very last chapter

Neither Bhagvad Gita is assigned to Hindus exclusively the message is for all humanity in both the holy books. Take time to learn and rebuild the nation through removing conflicts between any groups of people.
Dr. Anwar adds, “The real significance of Karbala is that one has to stand up for something in this life for which one is willing to sacrifice all material possessions.”|

Let this Muharram pave the way for peace and justice for one and all. Let Imam Hussein’s sacrifice stir us up to stand for justice for all humanity.

I pray that the Shahadat of Imam Hussain become the catalyst for us to remove our differences and come together for peace, security and prosperity of Muslims and every human being. Amen!

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Mike Ghouse is a public speaker, thinker, writer and a commentator on Pluralism at work place, politics, religion, society, gender, race, culture, ethnicity, food and foreign policy. He is commentator on Fox News and syndicated Talk Radio shows and a writer at major news papers including Dallas Morning News and Huffington Post.  All about him is listed in several links at www.MikeGhouse.netand his writings are at and 10 other blogs. He is committed to building cohesive societies and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. 

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