I have never claimed expert knowledge of Islam or any religion, but I do think I have a fair idea about how faith affects worshippers and vice versa.
Having stated several times that in my family different versions of Islam are practised even within nuclear groups, my experience of Muharram is the tenth day of Ashura, the first month of the Islamic calendar.
What I remember as a child is that in one particular lane they would take out the Tazia. We would go to Maama’s (my mother’s maternal uncle) house. It was an elaborate procession, and I recall the colours of silver and green. There would be dancing. The Tazia became an object of worship and, although I have not witnessed it, I am told that in some parts of the world they also put up petitions on these tableaux.
I have only one question: Does Islam, as practised today (if you forget the paganism of the early Arabs), believe in idol worship? Does this not amount to such idolatry, and this issue has been raised in the Quran: "Worship ye that which ye have (yourselves) carved?" (Quran: Saffat, 3)
This topic has become of some added interest to me these past few days because I hear that a Hindu on a website wished some people “Happy Muharram”; someone also talked about “celebrating Muharram”. This was considered unpalatable. It is another matter that during this solemn period some Muslims were using foul language and addressing people as “Haramzaadon (bastards)” and “achhoot (untouchable)” and far worse. This is the language being used to defend religion. I think Islam can do without it. Anger when it arises out of genuine hurt (as in someone posting pictures of the Quran being flushed down the loo) has a reason.
But do those who are berating ‘outsiders’ for ignorance not realise that their own do in fact celebrate Muharram, and it is considered a “celebration of martyrdom”. Just as Christ’s death on the Cross is a period of mourning, but it returns as a celebration on Easter.
Does one imagine that today, in January of 2008, people are weeping real tears for the martyrdom of Imam Husain, grandson of Prophet Muhammad, who was killed during the battle of Karbala? Mourning is catharsis, and in that it does serve a purpose. Though, it is often that the mourners too become glorified. A young relative would join in the maatam (ritual mourning, often violent) and beat himself with zanjeers (chains). I know him well, and many young men like him had wanted to become a part of something larger. It is a question of identity.
I would say every version of Islam or any religion has a right to exist and how ‘true’ it is is not for believers to decide because belief too is personal. I have said critical things about Hindu gods, as in questioned the role of say Lord Rama versus Sita, and it was done as a purely academic exercise and to question how the faithful could use what happened years ago to justify the aggressiveness of today. By the same token, I do not understand how someone referring to Muharram as a celebration makes it a topic to discuss the “Hindu bhindi”, which isn’t okra but a derogatory reference to a more intimate part of the male anatomy. What Islam are these people talking about? What Muharram? What mourning?
If one needs to fight someone who has hurt your religion, then fight her/him with facts. And there are facts, which may be disputed, but they do have some currency.
Before pointing fingers at others, Muslims need to look at their own brothers and sisters. Were the Shia Iranians not fighting the Sunni Iraqis with the slogan, “Every day is Ashura, every place is
At that time there was turmoil and they felt they could relate to events that took place centuries ago.
Muslims who are always critical about polytheists end up doing things that are prohibited in Islam, including how they embellish graves…and this is true in Islamic societies too. No walls are supposed to enclose the grave, no cement or concrete over it, no marble or decorative material, no inscriptions, even from the Quran, no flowers…
How many Muslims adhere to these?
And have not many made the Prophet into a god-like figure? Let me end with the Prophet’s own words:
"Do not utter such exaggerated words of praise for me as the Christians do for the Prophet Jesus, the son of Mary. I am nothing more than a servant of Allah and His Apostle. So, call me only that."