Ashura in America Celebrating a Muslim holiday in Michigan – by Stephen Schwartz


Editors note: While this article presents some aspects of Azadari, the commemoration of Imam Hussain by the Bektashi Sufi order, it does so in a manner that disparages other forms of commemoration. The idea of legislating the emotions of Azadars is itself an elitest notion that stems from insecurity. As long as people are following the Law, it is no one’s business to disparage a diverse and multicultural commemoration. While the intention of the author is aboveboard, he should have contextualized the issue to show that Azdari is not a fixed ritual, but a societal-temporal expression of a universal passion of sacrifice as symbloized by the Imam.

The Muslim holiday known as Ashura, the 10th of Muharrem in the Islamic calendar, fell on January 7 this year. Ashura is an especially sacred occasion for Shia Muslims. It commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Muhammad, at the battle of Karbala in Iraq in 680, when Hussein and his supporters were defeated in a rebellion for justice against the tyrant Yezid.

The Shia drama of Ashura and Karbala is known to the non-Muslim world mainly from startling images sent around the world by television, for as Shias mourn the death of Hussein, they often wail loudly, their eyes streaming with tears, and may beat themselves with their fists or flog themselves in contrition. Sometimes this flagellation is carried out with knotted whips, even during parades in New York; sometimes with chains, in Beirut or Tehran; and in the past the participants commonly drew their own blood by cutting their scalps with swords. Although in recent years voluntary bloodletting has been forbidden by Shia clerics, it tends to be revived when Shias find themselves in extremis.

In Iraq, Saddam Hussein had suppressed Shia observances, and after U.S.-led forces liberated the tomb of Imam Hussein in Karbala in 2003, millions of Shias flocked to the site for Ashura. In contrast with the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, which typically produces fires, stampedes, and resulting deaths, the first free convocation of Shias in Karbala in many years was carried out without fatal accidents, disorders, or even serious inconvenience.

Since then, Ashura in Iraq has typically been accompanied by anti-Shia violence, as al Qaeda and other Wahhabi extremists incited from neighboring Saudi Arabia have attacked the Shias. This year two million devotees traveled to Karbala. Iraqi authorities mobilized 30,000 soldiers to protect them, and reported various terrorist attacks aiming to disrupt the occasion. Such incidents included the slaying of 38 people and injury of 70 when a male suicide bomber dressed as a woman entered the Imam Musa Kazim Shia shrine in Baghdad on January 4. The shrine was then closed to women. A real female was arrested on January 7 when, with bombs strapped on beneath her garments, she joined a Shia parade marching to Karbala. In Pakistan, authorities reinforced local security for the Shia minority, which has been repeatedly slaughtered in their mosques and on the streets.

I spent the weekend of January 10-12 in Detroit at the annual Ashura tribute held at the large meeting hall of the Bektashi Sufis, an Albanian mystical order. Outside the building, snow was piled high, but the roads were clear. Inside, there was no weeping, shouting, or flogging, and with hundreds of men and women in attendance, not a veil or heavy female covering was to be seen. Many images of Hussein and his father Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad, were, however, on display, along with the American flag. The Ashura ceremony among the Bektashis included a speech by a Catholic priest, Father Anton Kqira of St. Paul’s Church in Rochester Hills, Michigan. He addressed the Sufi audience as his “brothers,” and was followed by a warm greeting by a local Sunni cleric, Imam Shuaip.The Sufis were represented by their local leader, the venerable Baba Arshi Babai of Albania, and Baba Edmond Brahimaj, who has led Sufi resistance against Saudi-financed Islamist aggression in Macedonia. The main local community figure was Ekrem Bardha, a successful businessman who supports many public efforts for the common good in America.

When the Bektashi Sufis established themselves in Michigan in 1954, the founder of their center, Baba Rexheb Beqiri, wrote on their first Ashura in the United States that Imam Hussein was persecuted and slain at Karbala because he defended a constitutional attitude toward religious rule, liberty, and the welfare of the people. Hussein, according to Baba Rexheb, “kept alive the flag of liberty, the prestige of religious democracy.

” The people rebelled against the injustices of their rulers, but evil usurpers replied with “terroristic actions.” This anticipation by a Balkan Sufi exile in America of the key questions in the relations between Islam and the West a half-century afterward is more than remarkable. The principle of “religious democracy”–meaning democracy within religion, not a political system based on religion–comprises a great challenge to Sharia-driven conformity in Islam, and the description of Muslim tyrants maintaining their position by terror could be taken from the pages of any newspaper in the world today.

The Balkan Shias who gathered in snow-covered Michigan to observe Ashura demonstrated that an American Islam–as American as it is Muslim–exists. It is a bulwark of civilization against extremism, standing for peace and mutual respect between faiths, and appreciative of the opportunity to mourn a Muslim hero in safety and freedom.

Acknowledgement: Weekly Standard:

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وینا ملک کا ٹویٹر اکاؤنٹ ہیک ہوگیا –

اگر محترمہ کے شوہر نے وینا ملک پہ کوئی مضبوط پاس ورڈ نہ لگایا تو وینا ملک بھی ہیک ہو سکتی ہیں



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