SHAFAQNA – Leila Husayn is a member of Shia community of Algeria. In an interview with Shafaqna she explains about the culture of Ashura in her community.
Shafaqna: How well are Imam Hussein and the event of Ashura known to your people, Muslims or non-Muslims?
Leila: Algeria, located in North Africa, was under the reign of Islam from 720 AD and is part of the Great Arab Maghreb. The state religion is Maliki Islam; the Arabic language is the official language.
Because of this dual affiliation, to the Muslim community and to the Arab world, the belief of Algerians is naturally permeated by a veneration of the Noble Family of the Prophet Muhammad Sall Allah Alayh Wa Aleh (SAAWA), and the names of the members of the Noble family of the prophet (SAAWA) are widespread in society.
A sociological study conducted by the French authorities in 1958 revealed that after the name of Muhammad (SAAWA), the names that come up most often among Algerians are: Ali, Hassan, and Hussein for male names and Fatima Zahra for female names. It is very common to see families assign the names “Hassan and Hussein” in the birth of twins.
The veneration of Imam Hussein Aleyh Assalam (AS) exists among believers.
Shafaqna: How are Muharram mourning ceremonies held in your country and other African states?
Leila: In Algeria, the day of Ashura has a great feature, and it is officially declared a public holiday.
Ashura is celebrated in Algeria with a religious principle and background. It is a day when fasting is widely observed among people. It is also associated with one of the five pillars of Islam which is Zakat. On this day, people are reminded to complete the payment of accrued zakat; the rates are announced on this occasion.
According to the Sunni belief, based on the hadith, Ashura commemorates the penitence of Adam and Hawa AS, after they came to Earth, and the docking of the ark of the Prophet Nuh AS, the salvation of the Prophet Ibrahim AS saved from the fire of Nimrod, the salvation of the prophet Yûnus AS, saved from the entrails of the whale, and other prophetic facts occurring on that day.
One can distinguish a wide variety of festivities held throughout the Algerian territory. Some celebrations seem to carry a religious background, but others carry an aspect of celebration and joy, whose origin remains difficult to identify.
This distinction could be explained by the diversity of political flows that have affected the Great Maghreb in past centuries. Indeed, the reign of Islam was established as early as 720 AD. Then, the Fatimid dynasty was established during the Great Maghreb 909 – 973. The migration of different origins has also established to the Maghreb. Then the French colonialism that prevailed in Algeria for 132 years, this has caused the cancellation of many original traditions of the population before colonialism.
This is the reason why we can notice today a mix in the way of celebrating Ashura. Some festivities are like happy holidays, and others are more like an aspect of the Fatimid Shia rule.
The celebrations that seem to be related to the Fatimid reign are expressed, in particular, by the visit and the veneration of the mausoleums of the Saints, whose descendants returned to Fatima Zahra daughter of the Prophet Mohammad (SAAWA).
In Kabylia, to name one example, the celebration of Ashura is devoted to visiting the Mausoleums in a sign of homage to the saints of the region.
On this day, the visits of Mausoleums are to be retained, they are accompanied by offerings of traditional dishes (the couscous with vegetables and meat), distributed to the crowds of pilgrims in an atmosphere of solidarity and generosity.
Pilgrims come from far away to implore the Saints to ask them to intercede with Allah for the fulfillment of their vows. In these places, we avoid manifesting festive aspects; the celebration is done with great restraint. The crowds of pilgrims flock to the Saints Mausoleums with offerings of all kinds to implore their (الشفاعة) intercession.
The mausoleums of the region become centers of intense prayer. The pilgrims are there to ask for solutions to problems, heal illness, having children, and pray to the saints to intervene in their favor.
Others come back today to thank Allah for raising their vows, bringing back the promised offerings.
There are thousands of Saints mausoleums on the Algerian territory, where pilgrims flock to their visit on the day of Ashura, with more or less variable manifestations, and with Dikr Madih recitations of praise to Allah.
These celebrations are sometimes similar in the Maghreb. However, due to the diversity of religions and customs of African countries, it is difficult to summarize the celebration of Ashura in these countries.
Shafaqna: Have you ever held any interfaith dialog over the issue of Ashura and Imam Hussein?
Leila: Imam Hussein May salvation be upon him, by the exceptional sacrifice he has made to offer in obedience to Allah, and for the fulfillment of the divine will “شاء الله ان يراني قتيلا” of Allah (Soubhanah Wa Taâla), will remain forever the most enriching, profound and bright topic of dialogue.
This sacrifice was not presented in a specific way to Shia followers, but to all humanity, to all generations of all time, and every enthusiast truth. The Imam Hussein’s Martyrdom, the salvation be upon him, will remain “the landmark of the absolute truth, of the journey towards the worship of Allah”.
Personally, I have not held an interfaith dialogue in an official way, about Ashura and Imam Hussain AS.
Shafaqna: What influence has the message of Ashura on your personal and social life?
Leila: From my experience, I summarize that knowing Islam is one question, but knowing the truth and grace of Islam, is another question. The truth of Islam can never be achieved by excluding the Noble Family of the Prophet, Ahl El Bayt alayhem Es salem. Imam Hussein AS, in this issue, is a torch that illuminates the darkness to indicate to the faithful, the shortest path to the truth of Islam.
Imam Sadiq AS said “We (Ahl El Bayt) are All Rescue Ships, but Imam Hussein’s Ship is wider and faster. “كلنا سفن النجاة إلا أن سفينة الحسين أوسع وأسرع.
Imam Hussein is compared to a ship that has the capacity to hold all the faithful through all time, to save them from an inevitable capsizes. Ashura is an exceptional spiritual happening.
His divine influence has the power to change spontaneously and radically the spiritual life of every human being, regardless of his or her membership and origin.
As for social life, it is not always possible for followers of Ehl El Bayt and Imam Hussain AS the result of changes in society, which adapt to his way of thinking his belief. This should not disrupt the way to stick to righteousness. Confession requires everyone working in depth; this is the priority that must not be lost out of sight.
Shafaqna: How could the Imam Hussein teachings and Culture of Ashura help modern-day people?
Leila: Unlike all the historical events, the occurrence of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein AS, for almost fourteen (14) centuries could never make this event ancient or overtaken by time.
There is no surprise in this. Indeed, Ashura is an exceptional event, designed by Imam Hussein’s Exceptional Character That Salvation Be upon Him, on a note and a recommendation from His Great Father and Prophet Mohammad (SAAWA).
The day of Ashura, Imam Hussein AS came out with the slogan “إنما خرجت لطلب الإصلاح في أمة جدي”, “I went out to claim reform in the Nation of my grandfather, and Prophet Muhammad SAAW”. By this divine message, it is understood that the martyr of Ashura came to perpetuate Islam in all its grandeur and at all times.
The secret and perpetuity of Ashura lies in this slogan that carries a deep and eternal message.
Therefore, the teachings of Ashura have the strength to ever meet the expectations of all thirsting for the truth through all time. Civilization and modernity, in the sense used today, cannot be placed above the truth taught by Ashura.
Ashura will remain the richest teaching of all time, where everyone will draw the answer to their own questions. Ashura is the peak of civilization and modernity in the real sense.