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As the bloodshed continues in the Holy Land, and the Israeli government says that what we have seen so far is the “first stage,” I am reminded of the Prophet Muhammad’s saying: “If you see something evil, try to change it with your hands. If you are unable to do so, then speak out against it. If you are unable to do so, then hate what is happening with your heart. That is the weakest level of faith.”

I am speaking out against the horrific violence that we have witnesses in the Holy Land. I am speaking out against rockets fired on innocent civilians. I am speaking out against bombs and missiles hitting crowded population centers. I am speaking out of the indifference of political leaders and “religious leaders” at the enormous toll of human suffering that the world is witnessing in the Holy Land right now.

I also am praying for the safety, security, of all who are in the Holy Land, and I ask the Precious Beloved to stop the violence. Blood is blood; an Israeli life is as precious as a Palestinian life. The tears of a Palestinian mother sting just as much as that of an Israeli mother.

Why can’t more people see this?

Usually, nothing coming out of Saudi Arabia surprises me. Yet, this story shocked me to the core. According to a report by CNN, a Saudi judge recently refused to annul the marriage of an “eight-year-old girl to a 47-year-old man.” The annulment petition was brought by the girl’s mother, and the judge dismissed it because, she “is not the legal guardian of the girl,” according to the mother’s lawyer Abdullah al-Jutaili.

The girl’s father arranged the marriage in order to settle his debts with the man. Bu–let us all breathe a sigh of relief here–the judge asked for a pledge from the husband that he would not consummate the marriage until after she reached puberty. After she reaches puberty, the judge ruled, the girl will have the right to request a divorce. But until then, it seems, she
is property of a man almost six times her age.

(guest post by Hussein Rashid)

A thanks to Aziz for opening the doors to his house to me. I shall endeavor to put everything back where I found it, and replace the juice.

It seems appropriate to talk about Ashura, since that’s the reason I am house sitting. Ashura, the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram, marks the day that the Prophet’s grandson, Husayn, was slaughtered on the field of Karbala. This moment is often considered critical in the formation of a Shi’ah identity within the Islamic tradition. In my synopsis of Shi’ah history, I relate some historical problems with this approach. There is strong historical evidence that Shi’ism had a theological genesis during the lifetime of the Prophet, with questions of succession adding more obvious political overtones to the support of Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law. It is arguably the death of the Prophet that crystallizes Shi’ah identity, not the death of his grandson.

The death of Imam Husayn clearly adds a sense of persecution to Shi’ah identity, but again, I believe it is important to place it in an historical context. After the death of the Prophet the two communities that form are the Shi’ah Ali and everyone else. As an organized community the Shi’ah were the largest because there was no cohesive alternative. What we consider Sunni Islam emerges centuries later. It is impossible to have a sense of systematic persecution from minority groups. The political dispossession that lead to the martyrdom of Imam Husayn was very real, but the massacre of the Prophet’s family was considered reprehensible by the majority of Muslims, except for the ruling elite. It is a contributing factor to the overthrow of the Umayyad dynasty by the more Shi’ah sympathetic Abbasid dynasty.

If the Battle of Karbala was such a formative event, I believe we would have seen commemoration of the event very early on in history. Aside from the family of the Prophet, and a specific group of people known as the tawwabun (penitents) who were to come to the aid of Imam Husayn and did not, we do not see any systematic level of memorialization until centuries later. However, the events that do emerge, locally, and eventually on the large-scale, tended to be intra-confessional, i.e. not limited to the Shi’ah Ali only. One can still see this dynamic in play in the Hosay celebrations in the Caribbean.

Muharram observances are a way to help mark and clarify identity. One can be non-Shi’ah and still recognize how horrible the death of the Prophet’s grandson is. However, only the Shi’ah have access to certain rituals. Amongst ideologues, rejection of the idea that killing the Prophet’s family is a “bad idea,” is another way to define identity.

Amongst the Shi’ah, the way Muharram is marked also delineates the different communities. As a Nizari Ismaili Muslim (cf. Aziz who is a Mustali Ismaili Muslim), I acknowledge the death of Imam Husayn, and mark this time as a period of mourning. However, we do not have special rituals associated with this time. We are the only Imami community with a present, living Imam, and at least three generations ago our special ritual practices ended. It remains a time for us to remember the sacrifices the Imams have made on our behalf, and is still an opportunity to recall the great, meritorious, and virtuous acts of the ahl al-bayt, the original salaf.

With the coming of Ashura, let us reflect of the horrors of war and violence, death and destruction. Those of who strayed from the model of the Prophet killed his beloved grandson. This loss was physical, and would have greatly saddened the Prophet. Generations later, the error is being repeated. There are those who stray from the model of the Prophet, and although the damage is now not directed to the Prophet’s family, it is to the teachings we were given. Will we say in years to come we are the new tawwabun, or will we meet the challenge now?

Hussein Rashid is a proud Muslim and native New Yorker. He blogs at Islamicate and The Devil’s Advocate and recently at Talk Islam. You can find out more about him at husseinrashid.com.

This Saturday, I will be leaving for Mombasa, Kenya with my wife and kids for a couple of weeks. We are headed there to observe the occasion of Ashara, the annual commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Husain AS on the plains of Karbala, Iraq almost 1400 years ago. Each year, the spiritual leader of the Dawoodi Bohra muslim community, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin TUS, chooses a different venue for the sermons, and then Bohras from all over the world flock there.

Last year I traveled to Colombo for Ashara and managed to post a few pictures to my other blog. This year I hope to do the same, but in my absence there will be some guest voices around here. Filling in for regular blogging duties will be my friend Willow Wilson, a writer and essayist who spent years living in Cairo, and Hesham Hassaballa, who is a regular columnist here at Beliefnet and at altmuslim. In addition to their posts, there will be a few surprise guest posts by various Islamsphere notables, some you may not have heard of, and others you certainly have. So, settle in and enjoy the ride, and I hope that there’s still room for me when I get back!

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