Questioning the wisdom behind Ashura processions
| Friday, 12.19.2014, 01:07 AM

The Arbaeen march at Ford Woods park in Dearborn.
The local Shi'a have been commemorating Ashura increasingly and more visibly each year. Last weekend about 6,000 people marched from the Karbala center in Warrendale to Ford Woods Park in Dearborn to mark the Arbaeen, the 40th day after the death of Imam Hussain.

Ashura is a grand occasion in Islamic history. Its significance to Shi'a faith is undisputed. Imam Hussain symbolizes battling injustice and making sacrifices to achieve reforms. 

We are in no religious scholarly position to comment on the occasion theologically. However, we must question if commemorating Ashura in such an unprecedented fashion benefits our community and the occasion itself. 

Yazid, the sixth Caliph in Islam, killed Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Mohamad, for refusing to pledge allegiance to him in 860. Shi'a, who believe the prophet's descendants are the legitimate Caliphs after Mohamad's death, allocate the first 10 days of the Islamic lunar calendar to mourn and pay tribute to Imam Hussain's sacrifice. In recent years, commemorating the 40th day after Imam Hussain's death has become a more prominent tradition.

Imam Hussain was killed in the battle of Karbala on the 10th of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic year. Karbala is a town on the Euphrates River in what is now Iraq.

Shi'a believe that Hussain's death, which led to a series of rebellions that eventually overthrew Yazid's Umayyad Dynasty, preserved Islam.

The First Amendment of the Constitution grants the practice of religion without interference from the government and we respects people's right to engage in any acts of worship. But the wellbeing of the community is a priority to us as a newspaper.

While commemorating Ashura, Shi’a should engage in more efforts to educate people and explain the occasion and its rituals.

Non-Muslims, including some Christian Arab Americans, have been wondering about the black Ashura flags around Dearborn.

"Are those ISIS flags?" a friend of one of our reporters once asked.

Of course they are not. Far from it. ISIS is an organization based on terror and injustice. Imam Hussain rebelled to fight unfairness. His small army included at least one Christian. ISIS actually persecutes Shi'a, who celebrate Ashura.

We and most of our readers know that. 

But to the average American who does not read Arabic and knows little about Islam, the black flags all over Dearborn might look awfully similar to the signs held by extremists overseas. 

Sources at City Hall told The Arab American News that concerned residents have been calling the Dearborn Administrative Center and contacting council members inquiring about ISIS flags. 

The image of our community is affected badly by this recent phenomenon that is relatively foreign to our traditions as Arab and Muslim Americans. 

Reinforcing false stereotypes about ourselves hurts every aspects of our lives, especially our businesses. The Arab American News has learned that prominent businesses in the community are declining, at a time when the state and the country are recovering. 

Nobody should be scared of Dearborn. Our city is peaceful and our people are nice, helpful and welcoming. However, perceptions often matter more than reality. We do not want our fellow Americans to perceive us as hostile or extreme. 

We know that matters of worship are not grounds for compromise. But Ashura, whose tragic events took place about 50 years after the death of the Prophet Mohammad, is a cultural commemoration of Hussain's legacy. Its rituals differ in various countries. It is not observed the same way in Karbala, Iraq as it is in Dahiyeh, Lebanon. Hence, we do not need to replicate the traditions in the Arab World, which could come into conflict with our local interests. 

Imam Jaafar al-Sadek, a descendent and successor of Imam Hussain, says, "Our followers are those who do as we do." Let us do as Imam Hussain did to express our appreciation to his sacrifice. Let us stand for justice and support the oppressed, whether in Gaza, Mosul or Ferguson. 

During the past months, activists and organizations called for protests in support of Gazans when they were being slaughtered by the criminal Israeli war machine and to condemn the terrorist abuses of ISIS. Such demonstrations garnered minimal turnouts. 

Less than 50 people gathered at a protest denouncing ISIS executions in front of Dearborn City Hall last October. More than 6,000 people participated in the Arbaeen procession. Is this indicative of doing as Hussain did? 

Ashura is not a divisive occasion. However, there is no denying that it is mostly observed by Shi'a Muslims. Excessively commemorating Ashura alienates Sunnis and Arab Christians and could lead to further divisions in our community.  

The polarization and radicalization of the Arab American community along sectarian line is dangerous. Our youths should learn unity away from the conflicts in the Middle East. One only needs to see the news coming from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen to find out perils of sectarianism.

"I learned from Hussain how to be wronged and be a winner; I learnt from Hussain how to attain victory while being oppressed," Mahatma Gandhi once said.

In memory of Imam Hussain, let us relate to his struggle. Let us distribute his quotes, donate to the poor in his name, engage in community service to commemorate his sacrifice. 

Roaming the streets with black flags does Imam Hussain's followers no good and harms the image of our community. 

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