Date :Thursday, September 20th, 2018 | Time : 08:25 |ID: 71343 | Print

Muharram in Afghanistan: an occasion to remember the tragedies of Hazāra community

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SHAFAQNA: Most Afghans are Sunni Muslims, but a sizable minority are Shiites, mostly part of the Hazāra ethnic group, whose Asiatic features denote their Mongolian roots and set them apart from other Afghans. So the great majority of Shiʿites in Afghanistan are Ha-zāras.

The commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Ḥosayn, the Prophet’s grandson through his daughter Fāṭema and his cousin ʿAli, is the most important event in the religious calendar for the Hazāra Shiʿites.

The commemoration of the martyrdom of Ḥosayn ebn ʿAli (q.v.; see also ĀŠURĀ) is an event of central importance for all Shiʿites in the world. While it seems to have not been of major relevance among the Hazāras until the last decades of the 20th century, it has become increasingly significant since then. This is because it has become part of a larger process of politicization, serving as an occasion to remember the injustice and violence that the Hazāra community too have suffered, as they see their own painful history reflected in the tragic fate of Imam Ḥosayn.

Repressed under the Taliban regime, the most spectacular expressions of the commemoration of Mo-ḥarram are found in urban centers (Kabul and Mazār-e Šarif in Afghanistan, and Quetta in Pakistan), rather than the Hazārajāt. At the beginning of the month of Moḥarram, flags (ʿalam) are put up on each side of the entrance of the religious centers, signaling a period of sorrow for the whole community, during which, for instance, no wedding is celebrated.

Men wear black or green shirts and white pants as a sign of mourning, and women avoid dressing in elegant clothes. All music is forbidden during this period except for dirges (nawḥa). Other activities are now suspended, as if time has stopped for the sake of the events organized to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Ḥosayn. If they have the means, many families take advantage of this period to organize meritorious meals for the needy and the pious (naḏr, or more specifically naḏr-e emām osayn), and every evening people gather to pray.

Specialists (āker) invoke the name of God and narrate, day by day, the detailed unfolding of the events as they are reported by tradition, until reaching the paroxysm on the tenth day of the month of Moḥarram, the ʿĀšurā (q.v.), which is the anniversary of Ḥosayn’s death. Groups of penitents (dasta) form a procession, some flagellating themselves with razor blades and chains. After three, seven, and fourteen days following the ʿĀšurā the Hazāras again commemorate Ḥosayn’s death but in a less spectacular and public way, and forty days later a new mourning ceremony takes place, the čelom (čehelom, lit. the “fortieth”).

The commemoration of Moḥarram can be seen to function as a kind of outlet for tensions and frustrations accumulated during the year; and, within the sermons (rawża), the sufferings endured by the Hazāras are constantly compared with those endured by Ḥosayn and his family. For instance, the thirst which tortured the Imam’s companions when they were prevented from getting water from the Euphrates is compared with the blockade of the Hazārajāt by the Taliban between the summer of 1997 and the fall of 1998, and the profanation of Ḥosayn’s body is compared with the tragic end of ʿAbd-al-ʿAli Mazāri, the Hazāra leader captured and killed by the Taliban in March 1995.

More generally, the fate of the victims of Karbala is compared to the past and recent massacres suffered by the Hazāras (e.g., the slaughter of several hundred civilians in Afšār Minā, a district of Kabul, by troops allied to Aḥmad-Šāh Masʿud in January 1993, and the mass executions by the Taliban in Mazār-e Šarif in August 1998).

The Hazāras identify strongly with the suffering of Imam Ḥosayn, and also declare that they are ready to fight for him and for a return to justice. By mortifying themselves, they hope to expiate their sins and accelerate the coming of an era of justice. Sadness and mourning thus open a more positive perspective on the basis of the conviction that a better future will follow.

The ʿĀšurā, is thus not only the occasion to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Ḥosayn but also to declare oneself ready to seek revenge. In the conception that many Hazāras have of the end of time, there is a pronounced emphasis on revenge. The Hidden Imam will come back then to punish the guilty and redress injustices. The world is corrupted, and the faithful must remain attentive to the sign of its destruction.

Source: Iranica

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