SHAFAQNA – The Roots of Conflict (ROC) – new organization based in Seattle, Washington whose aim is to facilitate tolerance, pluralism, and freedom of religion and whose mission is to denounce exclusionism in all its forms – whether it stems from a certain political ideology or hyper religiosity, held its second annual conference in Seattle on March 18th.
Under the slogan:“Heritage of Colonialism in the Arabian Peninsula,” speakers attempted to expose and denounce the rise of hatred, violence, prejudice and extremism as expressed by Wahhabi-inspired groups that claim to speak on behalf of the religion of Islam and to address foreign policy issues and assess on-the-ground dynamics in the Middle East.
Following in the transcript of Catherine Shakdam’s (Director of the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies) opening statement at the conference.
I’d like very quickly to pay tribute to Zahra Abidi for her tenacity, drive and awe-inspiring energy. Women like her have paved the way for change since the beginning of time and I feel privileged to call her sister. Today I would like for all of you to consider the role women have played in shaping revolutions, inspiring change and brokering peace.
Just as intolerance is rising from among our ranks – all of our ranks we owe ourselves some introspection. I don’t think today that we should be as arrogant as to believe that we are immune from this disease most have labelled “radicalism” when they should refer to “exclusionism”.
Exclusionism: whether political, ethnic, social, economic or religious has become a dangerous default setting. Exclusionism sadly has really come to define how we relate to one another and interact with one another … but enough with that.
Today I’d like to discuss a very special lady … a Lady of Islam whose name, mention and memory have inspired millions upon millions across the century to stand in the face of abject tyranny and speak words of truth. And while I appreciate that not all of you adhere to Islam, you will find that the stand of Lady Zaynab bint Ali at the Court of Yezid over 14 centuries ago echoes of those very principles we all share and believe in:
justice, freedom, dignity, courage before hardship, grace of character and above all compassion.
Beyond that I’d like to think that she set a precedent for both resistance and conflict resolution in that she offered a way forward – not against, and she taught History so that past mistakes, and those sacrifices that were made in the battlefield would be remembered never to be repeated. One would hope anyway!
Allow me here to quote from Lady Zaynab herself when she stood in shackles before her brother’s murderer: “Although you have done what you wanted to do and have pulled out the roots of piety and virtue! You have shed the blood of the sons of the Holy Prophet and have hidden the brilliant stars on the earth from amongst the descendants of Abdul Muttalib under the clouds of oppression and injustice.”
I’m assuming you caught the mention to “roots” and how very pertinent this one quote remains today. I guess some truths transcend time.
Allow me one more quote: “O Yazid! Do you think that we have become humble and despicable owing to the martyrdom of our people and our own captivity? As you have blocked all the paths for us, and we have been made captives and are being taken from one place to another, do you think that Allah has taken away his blessings from us? Do you think that by killing the godly persons you have become great and respectable and the Almighty looks at you with special grace and kindness?”
Why is this relevant to us today?
For one Islam finds itself yet again in the middle of a furious storm. Not only that but Islam, and its people have been denied their voices, and their traditions so that others could claim sanctity over History, and redact the Scriptures to their own agenda.
There have been many Yazid across the centuries, and at every corner there have been a Zaynab to remind communities that Truth is more powerful than the sword, and that courage is not measured in victory but in resistance against evil.
I believe you will all agree with me when I say that today Yazid has returned under a Black Banner, cloaked by an ideology that claims itself Islamic when in truth it stands in negation of Islam and its people.
Just like Yazid argued “legitimacy and righteousness” to murder those who were appointed to carry Islam’s traditions: the household of the Prophet Muhammad, so has Wahhabism against Islam and all Muslims.
Islam I’m afraid, should not been looked at through the lens of Wahhabism … nor should it be judged through Muslims’ actions. More often than not, Muslims have failed to live up to those principles which are found in the Quran.
And yes, many of my critics will argue that a faith is only as good as its followers, but then again religious principles exist to inspire – their validity cannot therefore be measured by individuals’ ability to comply with its tenets but rather the truth they offer.
If Islam is perfect in its own rights – and by that I mean that it needs not to exist in negation, or criticism of other faiths, its people are not.
When discussing Islam and Muslims it would be useful to draw a clear line of demarcation in between faith and culture, religion and habits. If we were to judge Islam solely on the text, all would recognise that the Quran echoes of the very Message expressed in Judaism and Christianity – but that would be the subject matter of another article.
But back to women … It fell upon a woman, Zaynab bint Ali to carry the sacrifice of her brother upon her back and speak his movement to life throughout the Islamic world. If Imam Hussain shed his blood in the defence of the Word, his sister spent of all tears and all of her courage in rising a society worthy of such remembrance.
Zaynab was, and still is the Revolution of her brothers … both her brothers: Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain. A daughter of Islam she towers still over History.
I’d like to think that her example will offer guidance today! Why? Because History is being repeated … actually it would be more accurate to say that History is being obliterated so that none would remember what evil Wahhabism is rooted in.
You must recognise the same nefarious seed in both the actions of Yazid and that of Wahhabism today. Both are an extension, and an expression of one another. Both have claimed themselves holy when they only speak of exclusion and genocide.
Islam spoke Justice to the world and its sons and daughters have been persecuted for it.
And still one Lady “saw nothing but beauty” in the sacrifice of her kin for she understood that Victory lies with those who stand against Tyranny.