Discussion on Ashura and Muharram with Dr Naziha Saleh – Exclusive Interview

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SHAFAQNA – As we continue to reflect on the month of Muharram and the sacrifice of Imam Husayn ibn Ali on Ashura, Shafaqna asked Dr Naziha Saleh, a PhD in Sociology and prominent journalist from Lebanon to share her thoughts and expertise.

SHAFAQNA-The month of Muharram and of course most particularly Ashura, have been associated to Shia Islam, and yet Imam Husayn’s sacrifice was for all of the Muslim Ummah. Why do you think that is and don’t you think that Imam Husayn, like his brother before him and father before him, essentially sacrificed everything for the unity of the Islamic community?

Dr Naziha Saleh – Imam Ali, the father of Imam Hussein and Imam Hassan was the access door to the prophet Mohammed’s city of the knowledge, they know what is the benefit of Islam, what is right to do for the continuity of the message; and of course the unity of the Islamic community is the major point in the message of prophet Mohammad. Therefore, their major concern was the whole of the Islamic community, and of course not only the Shiite sect, since at that particular time, when the incident of Karbala occurred, there was no Shiite or Sunni sects, there were followers of the prophet Mohammad, and there were the disbelievers.

SHAFAQNA – What do you think are the hidden lessons of Ashura and how do they resonate today?

Dr Naziha Saleh – Scarifying oneself for the sake of Islam as an Ashoura symbolic is a main Lesson to keep the meaning of having the pure love for Allah. When Imam Hussein did not vote for Yazid as a Khalifa at that time, he knew he will be killed, yet he did not hesitate to call on people and tell them not to choose the wrong person to be the Caliph, because it is our responsibility to differentiate between what’s right and wrong. This had a great importance for Allah to accept our prayers and deed as Muslims, when we support the right side. This is exactly what we experience today in politics when people follow the wrong person and elected him for presidency despite the fact that he oppresses his people, while if the right person is elected, as president for example, then the people will live in equality in everything. Ashura is a stance against the persons who appoint themselves as leaders but have no characteristic of leadership whatsoever, as Yazid was.

SHAFAQNA – Lady Zaynab is oftentimes forgotten when we speak of Ashura and the tragedy of Karbala. And yet she stood a fortress of piety and courage in the face of absolute cruelty and betrayal. What does Lady Zaynab teaches us, and women in particular?

Dr Naziha Saleh – Sayyida Zeinab is considered one of the most prominent figures in Karbala, she is dubbed “The heroine of Karbala”. Her role was very important in the continuity and survival of the Hussein path. She has a renowned stance in her speech in front of Yazid, using deep rhetoric before which Yazid stood silent. This was after he asked her: “How do you view what Allah has done with you?” She answered him: “I have not seen but everything Good” – “O Yazid, conspire against us all you want and make all the attempts you wish to erase our name. By Allah! You shall never eradicate our path and remembrance. Our revelation shall be everlasting!” She also used to organize elegies each year to remind people of what happened in Karbala. It was she who protected the legacy of Imam Hussein, and confronted an illegitimate rule in the transitional period between Imam Hussein’s martyrdom, and when Imam Zein al-Abidin took over the Imamate. She looked over the children and women, and managed their livelihoods, so she would be able to continue the path of Imam Hussein’s mission with great responsibility.

SHAFAQNA – Every epoch, every generation has had its evil to face … Would you say that Shia Islam, the path of Ahlul Bayt is best defined by our aptitude to behave before oppression and repression. Ultimately isn’t Islam a lesson in steadfastness and submission to God’s command and will?

Dr Naziha Saleh – Ever since the Shiites supported Imam Ali being the Caliph, they have been suffering everywhere. They paid the price of their support to Imam Ali throughout the line of all Imams. Imam Zein al-Abidi had stated, “Death to us is a norm, and martyrdom is our dignity from Allah”, he meant here that martyrdom and death in the same of Allah is the least of the faithful Muslims’ concerns, especially those who seek a world without injustice and oppression, and filled with justice and safety, since this is what makes Allah content with us. This is one of the teachings of Ahlul Bayt that focuses on doing anything in life, with the mere goal, who is Allah and paradise.

SHAFAQNA – “Every day is Ashura and every land is Karbala” – How do you interpret those words?

Dr Naziha Saleh – Every land is Karbala means that it could be any battlefield or ground against falsehood and injustice, and it is not geographically contained in one city in Iraq called Karbala. It is rather the battle of the free people in the entire globe and in Karbala, which stood as a lesson and model. It is a land whose people are revolting against injustice, corruption and arrogance. Every day is Ashura is also not limited in date to the 60th year of Hijra, when Imam Hussein was martyred with his family and companions, it is rather a Jihad, struggle operation against the suppressing injustice in every era of history. Ashoura and Karbala are not limited to any time or place, they are a continuous phenomenon, which continue to eternity. This meaning is strong only to those who understand the meaning of dignity and pride, and refuse injustice and arrogance.

SHAFAQNA – Would you agree with the idea that in Karbala it was really the line of all of God’s prophets which came to denounce Evil and teach humanity a lesson in faith? In the bloodline of the Prophet Muhammad and his progeny are the bloodlines of Lady Maryam and Prophet Ibrahim. Ahlul Bayt is the House of Islam and all 3 monotheists faiths in more ways than one. In which case Ahlul Bayt is the  God’s religion purified, no?

Dr Naziha Saleh – As any other prophet and messenger who has followers and students and people who support him in his mission, Prophet Mohammad had his household and companions to help him in his revelation. And since prophet Mohammad is the end to the line of Prophets, from where he also descends, and him being the last messenger, Allah made this platform the end of his direct messages to his human messengers, and his last revelation was the Quranic Verse number 3 from al-Maeda “This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed my favor on you and chosen for you Islam as a religion”. After Prophet Mohammad died, his household, Ahlul-Bayt were the tools to explain the Quran and the Islamic religion, and prove how its sole goal and concern is the benefit of humankind.

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