SHAFAQNA- Mrs. Masuma Assad de Paz is the President of the Union of Argentine Muslim Women (UMMA). In an interview with Shafaqna, she explains about the culture of Ashura in her community.
Shafaqna: How much Imam Husayn (A.S) and the event of Karbala are known among the people of Argentina, Muslims and non-Muslim?
Masuma Assad: Argentina is a country with a Christian majority. Muslims are a minority. In general, there is insufficient knowledge of Islam and often a negative image is pictured of Islam. Specifically, on the theme of Imam Husayn epic, attempts have been made to hide its true meaning through spreading the flagellations that certain groups perform, although these are not a widespread practice among Muslims and it is also prohibited according to some experts. Faced with this situation, the true Muslims have done a lot of works and great efforts are made to present the true face of Islam and to demystify the negative and fictitious images.
Shafaqna: For how long have the mourning ceremonies for Imam Husayn been held in your country and in the rest of Latin America?
Masuma Assad: The Muslim population has been present in Argentina for more than a century. The arrival of the month of Muharram coincides with the Muslim New Year and many Muslims celebrate the New Year on the first day of the month of Muharram. However, Shia Muslims, since they have been in Argentina, have considered Muharram’s first day as the beginning of the events of Karbala, considered “the ten black days” of Islam, representing mourning, as opposed to the white days of the months of Rajab, Sh’ban and Ramadan. That is why out of respect for the battle of Imam Husayn, Shia Muslims abstain from buying clothes and new things during those ten days, as a symbol of no concern in worldly things.
Since my childhood, I remember attending meetings for honoring the martyrdom of Imam Husayn in which religious people and adults of the community offered their home for reading the “Maqtal” (account of the events of Karbala day by day for ten days). Reading and recitation was done in Arabic language, although the younger generation did not understand the language, the very expression of the recitation and the wailing and crying and feelings with which they performed these acts, they were able to convey the meaning and so generated a love for Imam Husayn, although we did not know in detail all his history.
Later, in the 80’s, after the Islamic Revolution, ceremonies were more crowded and active due to several factors. First, Imam Khomeini (God be pleased with him) in the first words of his will says that this revolution was inspired by the revolution of Imam Husayn (peace be upon him). Thus, the Islamic revolution was a light whose sparkles reached the farthest corners and with them the expansion of true Islam, the “Muhammadi Islam”, revolutionary and Husaini. Thus, among the first things that were added to the ceremony was the translation of the stories in a more complete way that, at first, was oral and then in written form. All accompanied by chants and cries of people. The important thing about these days of mourning was the participation of all sectors of the community to commemorate this event. While previously it was organized by adults, then the organization was made in cooperation between adults, youth, children, and women. Each contributing something: from the translation of texts, reciting them, preparing chants and wails and the food served for the blessing of Imam Husayn (peace be upon him).
It was a tradition in our community, to serve wheat boiled with water and sugar for the first nine days, which was called “ameh” and grains of boiled chickpea with salt. On the tenth day the food of the seven grains, called “ehbuh” used to be made in the houses and also that day someone sacrificed a lamb, representing the sacrifice. Today the food is served in the name of Imam Husayn but not anymore, in this traditional way.
At present, we also commemorate the forty days of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, which was not known before. Not only it is commemorated, but for a few years, Argentinian Muslims, with much yearning, emotion, and sacrifice attend the procession that takes place forty days after Karbala, and year after year there are many people who are joining.
The history of Imam Husayn is very recurrent in different areas, although in a general and non-specific way. There is no discourse of resistance and explanation of Shiism and the persecution of Shias in which there is no talk of Imam Husayn and his legacy. The Muslims attend the Ashura ceremonies, but it is not exclusive. It is interesting to know the opinion of different non-Muslim intellectuals about the Imam Husayn and the exaltation they make of him on the day of Ashura (tenth day of Muharram).
In the “UMMA” acronym for “Argentinian Muslim Women Union”, we have made translation of these phrases. We have also conducted interviews with Christians and translated them, where not only they have an opinion, but also they have done great research on Imam Husayn’s personality, and compared the events of Karbala with the sacrifice of Jesus (peace be upon him). Such is the case of Antuan Bara, a Lebanese Christian writer who wrote a book about Imam Husayn, not as an orientalist, but as a Christian and from the spiritual point of view. There are many converts to Islam who also recognize the Imam Husayn a strong influence on their conversion, as they consider Imam Husayn’s sacrifice even higher in value and significance than that of Jesus.
In Argentina, on the other hand, the dissemination of Ashura has reached such dimension that it is recognized by the Ministry of Worship of the Government of the City of Buenos Aires, who last year issued a message of condolences for this occasion.
Shafaqna: What effects has the message of Ashura had on your personal and social life?
Masuma Assad: Socially, the effects are fascinating, because when we present its history to students, politicians, and intellectuals, they see Islam as a religion committed to the social issues and not just by using words and speeches. Today in the Islamic world, Shia is at the forefront of all resistance, and all these resistances followed in the footsteps of the Islamic Revolution, which in turn was inspired by Imam Husayn (peace be upon him). All non-Islamic resistance movements recognize that imperialism has put its boot on Islamic countries, they do not adhere to the philosophical school of thought, but they recognize in these an example to follow.
The message of Ashura, by itself, has represented a very definite guide. I have learned the true message of Ashura and its whole philosophy in adolescence and it has helped me a lot to define my personality. People who live in the West do not find their way forward, there may be resistance, but their claims do not go beyond the economic. The message of Ashura is most essential, and from it, all resistances and claims are derived. It is a message full of reflection and goes beyond support, alliances and strength relations.
Soon we will be editing the book “Words of Imam Husayn Ibn ‘Ali, from Medina to Karbala” in which he makes a journey to the history of these events, starting on his departure from Medina to his martyrdom in Karbala. This tale is not just the story of “Maqtal” but the author makes reflections on the reason for each of Imam Husayn’s decisions and reflects not only the words of the Imam but also introduces us to the people whom he meets and his advice to them.
Shafaqna: How can Ashura culture help modern people?
Masuma Assad: The culture of Ashura is the memory that the Muslim has of his own history and that he must recognize today, in each country, in each situation. Ashura is a message of resistance whose roots are found in spirituality in its deepest sense, and this fact is what gives it meaning and makes this movement grow through the centuries.
The enemies of Islam claim to detract from the Shias by arguing that they are a minority in Islam, when in reality, what bothers them is their growth and strength, their logic and philosophy, their adherents, their friends, their proclamation against all injustice and oppression. Hence they need to feed the Salafist movements to attack Shia Muslims. Knowing the rise of Imam Husayn and its foundation will allow the world to improve its own resistance, as it is a culture that is demonstrating its noble values and search for justice.
Shafaqna: Please describe the love and affection Muslims have towards Imam Husayn (A.S).
Masuma Assad: The love that Muslims have for Imam Husayn (peace be upon him and his offspring) is a very deep love, since Imam Husayn is a moral example in the life of every Muslim, in the most intimate. The objectives he carried out in his fight, his behavior, and conduct, his surroundings, his family, all this makes the Muslim in the face of any misfortune in his life, see it insignificant compared to the sufferings of the Imam, his companions, and family.
I live in Iran and every year I see how the processions pass one after another in honor of Imam Husayn. It is more than forty days where people attend more than one mourning meeting and also the television dresses in mourning and the taxis listen to songs for Imam Husayn.
In the Arbaeen (the forty days of the martyrdom of Imam Husain) people from different countries and crowds attend the shrine of Imam Husayn in Karbala, Iraq. The spirit of altruism, solidarity, unity, and spirituality that exist in Arbaeen cannot be transmitted with mere words, only a person who has had this experience can feel it.
What is most exemplifying of Ashura is that for two countries that have been at war for more than eight years – the war imposed by imperialism to stop the advance of the Islamic revolution – today they are united thanks to Imam Husayn. Iran has helped building the shrine of Imam Husayn, and Iraq opens its doors every year to pilgrims, offering them accommodations, food and all kinds of help.
The procession lasts three days and the pilgrims are millions. It doesn’t matter what conditions the country is in, it doesn’t matter how much it costs to get to the sanctuary, nor the fatigue that it implies. Everything is love, everything is a memory, and everything is evocation and honor to Imam Husayn, to martyrdom, to fighting, to the martyrs of today, to the fighters of today. It is the cry of justice against all kinds of oppression; it is not limited to Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Muslims together pay homage to Imam Husayn, the voice of justice and, in the words of the Christian Antuan Bara: the precious jewel of all religions.
Allahumma ssalli ‘ala Muhammad va ali Muhammad.
Read more from Shafaqna: