I was forced to write this article when I read a blog ‘Why Ashura is a ‘Holy-Day’ for all of us and not just you’ (Mahjabeen Khan, Express Tribune, December 6 2011). The blog was supposedly a response to another blog ‘Muharram is your holiday, not mine’ (Sidra Rizvi, Express Tribune, December 2), but in effect, turned out to be an edict excommunicating all the Shia Muslims, and playing down any importance attached to Muharram due to martyrdoms of Imam Hussain (a.s) and other members of the Prophet’s (pbuh) family.
The ostensibly neutral blog (which easily found many waiting vultures as cheerleaders in the ET comments section) was not only factually incorrect, but replete with hate. The whims of a bigot bred and raised on hate speech treacherously injected through the pulpit, Zakir Naik, Dr. Israr, Farhat Hashmi etc, and Salafist TV channels (http://criticalppp.com/archives/64365) shouldn’t have passed the Express Tribune filters in first place. But since it did (not unlike another anti-Shia hate article by Professor Saleem Ali which was subsequently published then retracted by Express Tribune), it asks for a response.
While I do not completely agree with even the previous blog to which this one was a putative response for at times sounding apologetic and defeatist, I should point out that Sidra Rizvi had simply presented her personal feelings and opinion – evident by her frequent usage of the pronoun ‘my’. Nowhere in the blog did she try to prove how virtuous it was to mourn for Imam Hussain (a.s.) or how many hadiths exhort the Muslims to do it. Unlike Mahjabeen Khan who used fabricated traditions and history manufactured in the Banu-Umayyah-Lie-Factory, Sidra didn’t present her opinion in a religious garb. She wasn’t arguing, only complaining, and with all the right reasons.
But it seems the majority of Salafi-inspired Islamists in the land of the pure want to kill Shia Muslims with impunity while expecting the latter to submit to their fate without even complaining. You have to be a Shia (or any other peripheral ethnic or religious group, e.g., Ahmadi Muslim, Christian, Baloch, Pashtun etc) to know how intolerant, bigoted, and pugnacious the ethnic and religious majorities in Pakistan are.
Since it is an arduous task to talk to dunces who build up their thought-edifices on unfounded assumptions, it is necessary to first expose the implicit assumptions and arguments in their speech.
Mahjabeen approaches the topic with several prejudiced and skewed assumptions such as: Shias do not follow Sunnah; there is only one definition and source of Sunnah – the one she has heard of; history of Islam was written by some godly figures who could slaughter the Prophet’s family, but not tamper with traditions; anything that comes your way (and suits your beliefs) in the name of hadith should be accepted without inquiry and be made the basis of sloganeering against others; explain religion and history subjectively when it doesn’t support your case; and religion, or all knowledge for that matter, is simplistic and should be taken literally without taking a recourse to nuanced methods of thorough inquiry.
Having assumed too much and all to her own benefit, Mahjabeen begins her rant by further assuming that ‘Shias and Sunnis fight over the wrong reasons’. She establishes without any argument or fact that Shias and Sunnis are both responsible for what happens in the name of sectarianism and the reasons are always wrong. According to her, expressing one’s beliefs and following one’s faith are reasons good enough to start a fight. Any attempts to maintain a distinct identity too fall in the same category. And if a Shia Muslim does nothing, but is still killed for being a Shia, he is still responsible for what she calls ‘the fight for the wrong reasons’; in that case, a Shia is responsible for being a Shia – the worst of reasons.
The author then tells the readers that Quran and Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) suffice her needs, and she would do what Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) asked ‘Muslims’ to do – and obviously, only she knows what the Prophet (pbuh) had actually said. Having said that, she, wittingly or unwittingly, excludes Shias from what she refers to as ‘Muslims’ and declares as un-Islamic all the mourning rituals carried out during Muharram. While this doesn’t affect the validity of mourning for Imam Hussain (a.s), which according to many Shias and Sunnis (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ss_71Wzm29g), is a Sunnah of Prophet (pbuh) and extremely virtuous in the light of several hadiths, it does reflect the author’s hatred of Shias.
While Mahjabeen has presented only one (Salafist) version of Islam and history, for integrity and inclusion, it is important to attend to other versions of history and arguments. Much has been written by historians and Shia Muslim scholars to prove that the traditions about fasting on Ashura and it being a blessed day are fabricated. Even more has been written to prove that commemorating Muharram and mourning for Imam Hussain (a.s) is not only permissible, but desirable. I will therefore not go into the details of proving these claims through religious texts, rather remain content with referring to a few works already done this regard. But it is necessary that I do comment on two important issues that arise in this situation: the feeling of being a Shia in Pakistan; and justifying bigotry and lies in the name of neutrality, opinion and freedom of opinion.
Going with the second issue first, it is important to explain to the under-educated and over-exposed urban chatterers of Pakistan that not everything can be justified in the name of subjectivity. While it is understandable to employ it in matters where, for example, feelings are concerned, we, or at least those whose words drip of religiosity, cannot approach facts and truths subjectively. Believing in a religion that emphasizes objective grounds for belief, and then seeking refuge in right to opinion in all matters is a sign of sterile ignorance. And since I know my addressees well enough to overestimate them, I will make my message simpler. In the light of what I have said above, and which is undeniable unless one opts out of objective reasoning altogether, the historical process and facts cannot be interpreted in subjective ways; there is good, there is bad (they are objective, not dependent on perceptions); there is Moses (a.s), there is Pharaoh; there is Hussain (a.s), there is Yazid.
I am a vociferous proponent of freedom of expression, and in no way do I mean to imply restriction on either reasoning or expression, but I firmly believe that freedom of opinion requires freedom of mind. Freedom of opinion in a fascist state perpetuated by centuries of religious fascism can only reinforce the fascistic norms further solidifying its hold. The servile slaves of the Ummayad legacy and its disastrous belief system need to earn their right to opinion by freeing their minds first. In this case, they could at least adopt an educated and dispassionate approach to studying history and understanding the historical process.
On the question of being a Shia Muslim in Pakistan, I have previously stated that one ought to be one to know how one is treated. I will deal with the issue by asking of Mahjabeen Khan (and her ilk) a few poignant questions, such as: ever felt how it feels to be forced to study stuff contrary to your beliefs and then regurgitate it in the exams? Ever been at the receiving end of a torrent of questions from people who have self-arrogated themselves the right to constantly ask questions of you? Ever felt that when people don’t ask direct questions of you, they make sure their gazes ask many uncomfortable questions? Even seen your beliefs being mocked and made fun of by groups of people who would otherwise be very cool friends? Ever been told very vulgar and derogatory (and incorrect) stuff about your religion and religious practices that you have never even heard of but are common talks? Ever felt like a religious outsider when people talk about Islam, and then tell you they are not talking about ‘tum log’? Ever seen your views on religion being trashed only because they come from ‘your sect’? Ever experienced the killing discomfort when people do not speak openly in front of you? Ever been questioned about your patriotism for only belonging to ‘your sect’? Ever spent whole days at home waiting for loved ones to return safe? Ever imagined of spending every day of your life like this? Ever held the body of a dead young brother in your hand killed only because he belonged to ‘your sect’? Ever felt how it feels to know from a friend that all people to your sect are bastards? Most of us have heard all this, seen all this, experienced all this, felt all this, and continue to do so. Add this to the list of issues Sidra Rizvi had highlighted and the list would still remain incomplete. Your insensitivity on this issue was chilling and characteristic of your criminal mentality.
To conclude, I will reiterate that any issue subject to objective enquiry cannot be based on perception. Fasting on the day of Ashura is an Ummayad legacy (to cover up for Karbala by diverting attention from the political message in Imam Hussain’s great sacrifice), and mourning for Imam Hussain (a.s) is the Sunnah of Prophet (pbuh) and his family (Ahlul Bayt). Mahjabeen Khan can do whatever she wishes to during Muharram, I will mourn for Imam Hussain (a.s) and use Ashura rituals to spread Imam Hussain’s great message across the world. Mahjabeen or nobody else has a right to term Shia Muslim’s commemoration of Ashura as inconsistent with the teachings of Islam.
Links I stated would deal with the issue through religious texts: