After walking out of a shop in London’s Regents Street, what I saw amazed me. Moments earlier the street had been congested with tourists, buses and cars. Now a black river had taken over, meandering its way through the busy streets of the capital starting from speakers’ corner, through Oxford Street, now in Regents Street and headed for Westminster. Shoppers, bystanders and workers were watching this spectacle with wonder. I heard questions like who are they? What do they want?
We were observing Muslim women covered from head to toe in black, chanting “labbayka ya Husayn”, carrying slogans of love, other slogans promoting peace, slogans that emphasised the difference between Islam and commonly held stereotypes.
As I stood there I pondered about that tragic day when Imam Husayn was no longer there to protect his family. What must have the women and children felt, with soldiers raiding from different directions attacking the camp of Husayn, the family of Muhammad(s) and the banner of ‘La illaha ill Allah? The terror would make even grown men flee, armies cave in but one lady stood strong. Standing in Regents Street, one can literally feel the spirit, compassion and pain of Lady Zainab.Young and old, the women looked strong together, powerful as a unit. You felt a sense of universal sisterhood. I thought to myself that if those who are fighting for the rights of women saw the power and unity of these women they would have no qualms about joining their cause.
I personally have never seen anything like it even though I’m a Shia Muslim. I didn’t know the power of this march. I wanted to join in but naturally, I couldn’t fit in, so I asked one of the organisers, “Where is the brothers section?” They said, “If you walk fast enough you can catch them up front.” Coming closer to the men’s section, I heard the beating of chests to the sound of drums resonating the legacy of Imam Husayn, the men chanting in Arabic “…ya Abbas”.
I looked at the passers-by to see what their reactions might be. It seems like they all knew this march was something different, something special. I’m not sure how the people stuck in traffic must have felt but the drivers at the front who could see what was going on were just as amazed as everyone else.
I felt at peace, most of my worries had disappeared because I was united with the rest around me, under the umbrella of Husayn. The sense of ‘I’ disappeared; it was just ‘we’ human beings together. Why can’t we be like this every day? Isn’t there a saying “Every day is Ashura and every land is Karbala?” Why are we not united because we all do live for the greater good?
It is sad to think that as soon as Ashura is over, the body of people that made such a profound statement, will get back into their cars, buses and trains to head back home and get on with life. I hope this event has not just become a part of culture, something we do every year because the message itself is a symbol of rebirth and hope of a better tomorrow.
If we look at the animal kingdom the bees work together to build a hive, protect from intrusion and gather food. They have a hierarchy, a language and are well organised.
In the Antarctic, one of the only animals that can survive the long bitterly cold winters is the Emperor penguin. They huddle together and follow a complex pattern so no penguin is left too long on the outside. In other words, they take turns being on the outermost circumference and gradually work their way towards the centre where it is warmer. If they didn’t follow a system and a few of them decided not to leave the centre then that would affect the rest, which could potentially lead to all of them freezing.
Lions work together in packs to bring down a prey. Even their prey has a hierarchical system, some keep a lookout while the others graze, and even work together with other species around them to warn one another of any dangers.
Man on the other hand with all the tools, knowhow and technology finds it hard to follow simple systems. How many times in history from different civilisations have we seen a break in the ranks and the whole system toppling? Of course, when the people in communities and nations stick together they become stronger after these challenges.
The Shi‘a sect is a minority group in Islam. There were many minority groups in the past that no longer exist today. What are the reasons why Shi‘a Islam is going strong today? After the Imams, there was always a succession of top scholars, to whom people go for religious rulings, advice and guidance. If it is not possible to reach these top scholars then one of their representatives, who themselves are qualified, are put in place to deal with the religious duties, challenges and public enquiries.
The people, in general, have lived by this code, which is one of the reasons why this minority group still has an influence on the world stage. Even today we face many challenges from outside and within, so if we look to our leaders for support and work for unity, nothing can stop us from progressing. United we stand, divided we fall. Just like a healthy plant, strong from roots to tip, no pebble or weed is able to stunt its growth.
Going back to the Akhlaq question, what is more important, action or quality? We make many mistakes in life, take the wrong turning here, make a false judgment there, follow the wrong crowds and such. Sometimes we have to work hard with our actions to turn them into permanent qualities. Other times it just takes one good action to transform everything, like Hurr repenting and joining Imam Husayn’s camp. So in general, qualities are better to have because they shape our character in this life and stay with us after death, but sometimes actions take precedence. Therefore we have to be wise in our decisions, especially the youth.
“The heart of youth is like an uncultivated piece of land, it shall accept whatever is planted on it.”– Imam Ali(a)
by Ezra Hashme