SHAFAQNA – Catherine Shakdam is a political analyst and commentator for the Middle East with Shafaqna. A convert to Islam she shared with us her understanding of Ashura and what it means to her as a Muslim woman.
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 (community). 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?
CATHERINE SHAKDAM – There is a great degree of ignorance and misplaced bigotry among Muslims when it comes to Ashura. I think my perspective here is a bit different from everybody else’s as I wasn’t born a Muslim. When I came to Islam my objectivity was not tarnished by any bias or misconceptions and so I was able to decide and see for myself.
I don’t think Ashura belongs to just Islam – not in the sense that only Muslims should mark this event. Ashura as our Prophet taught us belongs to all believers and all three Abrahamic faiths are linked to Ashura.
It was on Ashura that Moses escaped the grip of Pharaoh, it was on Ashura that Prophet Ayub was restored to health and of course on Ashura that our Imam Husayn sacrificed his life to defend the Word of God.
And though Ashura remains an important date, a sacred date for all Shia Muslims, Ashura should be the one day all faiths come together to remember God’s mercy and His message to all nations.
Imam Husayn’s sacrifice was for Islam and Islam has been God’s religion from the beginning of time and though people and communities have learned to label faith, I think such reduction, such branding is what is preventing us to see the message behind the deeds – it is preventing us to see the lessons in the acts of devotion.
God says in the Quran that he left us signs, that there are signs all around us if we want to see.
Ashura for me is one of those signs – the most brilliant of signs actually, as Imam Husayn gave everything to his people and God. For he refused to bow to evil, for he knew that Muslims would look to him for guidance he willingly marched to his death.
Imam Husayn, Imam Hasan and Imam Ali were men of God, they lived and breathed Islam and they carved a path for us to follow. Everything they ever done and everything they ever were was in the service of God – we should all be humbled by their character: the dedication, the love and absolute righteousness of their person. They were a blessing and a light and of course we should remember. How can we not honor and remember the best of all of us?
The best we can do, the best we can ever hope is to remember and walk this path our Imams light for us.
SHAFAQNA -What do you think are the hidden lessons of Ashura and how do they resonate today?
CATHERINE SHAKDAM – Courage, Faith and Steadfastness! Imam Hasan showed humanity how peace is carved and how leaders should behave in the service of those they are responsible for. Imam Hasan, like his father before, Imam Ali were selfless and just leader. They has the ability to see beyond petty ambitions and greed – they embodied fairness, mercy and compassion.
Imam Husayn showed us what true courage in the face of evil is. He taught us that there can never be a compromise with the forces of evil, that an evil should always be challenged and God’s command always uphold.
There is no real victory when victory implies renouncing the laws of God.
In Karbala it is the entire bloodline of God’s prophets which bled … In our Imams, flow the blood of Ibrahim, the father of all nations. And so when Imam Husayn and his brave men fought on Karbala, it was really Islam’s Prophets who stood with him in defiance of absolute treachery and evil.
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?
CATHERINE SHAKDAM – Lady Zaynab was a great lady, a model really for all women. Like her mother, Lady Fatemah, she understood that her role was one of guidance – she was a mother to us all and a compassionate teacher in piety. The courage and patience she demonstrated throughout her life, the love she gave her people are invaluable lessons to women everywhere.
A lady of letters, a mother, a sister and a daughter, Lady Zaynab was a leader in her own right, an accomplished lady of Islam and again, a mercy onto us.
When women today are so violently oppressed by radicals, how can we not look to lady Zaynab and remember what role women have always played in Islam. It was Zaynab who stood in Yezid’s court and denounced his evil, when most men would have cowered. She was strength and knowledge and grace.
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?
CATHERINE SHAKDAM – Absolutely. Ali’s Shia long ago pledge their love and allegiance to Imam Ali … their allegiance was given for it was Prophet Muhammad command and God’s wishes.
And though our path will never be an easy one, Shia Islam will remain true to its pledge. It is really difficult for me to comprehend those label: Shia, Sunni, Sufi people and communities have given themselves. For me there is only one true path and our Prophet was abundantly clear about it.
And even if he hadn’t, even if he had left Muslims decide for themselves, can our heart deny that Imam Ali was always who we called to?
I know that for me, even before I found out about the different sects in Islam there was never a moment of doubt. My heart knew before my mind could make sense of it. How can not love and follow those our prophet loved most of all?
As far as I’m concerned there can never be any argument, any doubt or question. Imam Ali was always our appointed Imam and leader, he is the custodian of Islam and his sons after him.
SHAFAQNA – “Every day is Ashura and every land is Karbala” – How do you interpret those words?
CATHERINE SHAKDAM – That every day and for every generation we should fight evil with the same dedication Imam Husayn demonstrated. Evil did not die with Yezid … there will always be another darkness, another monster to deny good and silence piety.
Today this evil is Wahhabism, this radicalism we saw rise in Saudi Arabia.
But evil does not need to be fought in the battlefield to be destroyed … today’s evil is embedded in ignorance and so we should strive to educate our youth and offer them knowledge as a shield.
Those are the lessons of Ashura for me.