Remembrance, Muharram, and the Hussaini Heart
Here in Canada, if you venture outside in this increasingly chilly time of the year, you will see people’s jackets and coats adorned with poppies. November is the month of Remembrance for the Commonwealth countries, a way of honouring those who have given their lives in past and contemporary conflict.
This year, the day of Ashura (the tenth of Muharram on the Islamic calendar) and Remembrance Day were just three days apart from each other. In fact, on the day of Ashura (which this year coincided on November 13th), I chaired a Toastmasters meeting for which I had to say few words about the theme of our meeting: Remembrance.
The phrase that is adopted in observance of this month is “Lest We Forget.” It originates from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Recessional.” Kipling wrote it on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s silver jubilee, which coincided with the height of the British empire in the early twentieth century.
As part of the opening remarks for the Toastmasters meeting, I found myself reciting a passage from the poem:
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
Here, Kipling’s invocation is that the empire must not lose themselves in their success. They must remember the sacrifice of, in Christian terms, their Original Saviour.
As I read the passage with the rest of the group, I was struck by how easily this prayer resonated with me. Remembrance of sacrifice and the plea to not lose oneself in frivolity were one of the things that drew me to the Shia frame of thought.
Fortunately, most of the Muslims I meet do not discriminate on the basis of sect. But we share a planet with those who are deeply threatened by Shia Muslims, to the point that they actively seek to obliterate their existence. Whether one chooses to call this “genocide” or not, one thing holds: this practice does not happen without historical trends, which include separation, stigmatization, and a treatment of such minority groups as “the other.”
As the inheritors of the sect that is often represented as the tell-all narrative of Islam, it is up to Sunni Muslims to nip such tendencies at the bud. Part of that effort is recognizing the humanity within ourselves—our Hussaini hearts. There is no shortage of efforts in combing the facts of history and explaining the political nuances behind the battle of Karbala. However, no amount of such analysis can begin to compete with what Hussain’s martyrdom has done for the Muslim imagination. For “red” Shias and mindful Sunnis, ritually mourning the grandson of the Prophet must not be an end in itself, but be a reminder that we all must stand up to oppression in all its forms. It is this red Shi’ism that makes me passionate about protecting and upholding the rights of the vulnerable, particularly animals, children, the elderly, and the disabled. And remembering that no matter where I reach, I must never forget the weak, the underprivileged.
Ya Allah, O, memory of Hussain, remain with us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget.