Ashura and Pluralism: The Spirit of Resilience, Valour and Bravery Is Awakened On the Day We Know As Yom-e-Ashura
By Zeeba T Hashmi
March 17, 2015
The subcontinent is unique in its remembrance of Ashura by people of all religions and sects, an example for which cannot be found anywhere else in the world
The spirit of resilience, valour and bravery is awakened on the day we know as Yom-e-Ashura. Hussainiat is a strong phenomenon that the oppressed can identify with. It is inspiring for thousands of Muslims across the world; even non-Muslims and Sunnis are much impressed by it, which elevates the essence of Islam itself. To understand Hussainiat is to understand suffering and to keep the struggle against tyranny alive. That is the day when Imam Hussain, along with his family and his caravan, was massacred by the Yazidi forces, who did not even spare the children. However, the struggle of Imam Hussain carried on until his last breath for the principle he stood for. To this day, the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his family is remembered with much reverence and respect.
Among the Hussaini caravan, it is believed that not only Muslims but also non-Muslims, including Hindus and Christians, fought side by side with Hussain and laid down their lives for his cause. This is something that is not told by historians and the narrators of Marsiya (a commemorative poem). The proof of this can be found in Pune, India where there are descendants of the Hindus who, it is believed, fought alongside Imam Hussain in Karbala, where many got killed. They are known as Brahmin Hussaini, the clan of Dutts, also called Moyal Brahmins, the warrior tribe. It is claimed that they are the descendants of Rahib Datt, a Moyal, who lost his seven sons in the battle of Kufa for which many Mohyals still mark the death anniversary of Rahib Dutt and his sons. These tribes were living somewhere near Baghdad when they came to help Hussain and his clan. Even before Karbala and after that, they were rendered respect and trust from the Arabs. It is believed that in order to save themselves from further persecution from their foes, they moved back to India around 700 AD and settled in Punjab near Sialkot.
However, the Hussaini Brahmins are becoming a dying tribe now, as they have long forsaken the token that their descendants left for them. Many ballads and praises have been sung to honour their ancestors but it is rarely practiced now. One of the main reasons could be that Brahmin Hussainis want to be part of the mainstream Hindu tribes so they do not feel discriminated against for marking the death anniversary of their ancestors. Christians also fought side by side with Hussain at Kufa. Abdullah Ibn Umar was a well-known businessman in Kufa and belonged to the Christian tribe, which opted to come to the rescue of Hussain in his hour of need. We must also not forget John Ibn Jowey, who was given the responsibility of sharpening and preparing the swords for battle. He was a close companion of Hazrat Ali and was in service of Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain. He too was martyred in the battle.
There were many more such incidents, some recorded and some remembered as legends through oral history but the mixture of religions enabled the caravan of Imam Hussain to show that co-existence and loyalty was possible and that his household put everyone together to care for each other. We have lessons to learn from our history, which are unfortunately not told today, rendering their sacrifices oblivious.
The subcontinent is unique in its remembrance of Ashura by people of all religions and sects, an example for which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Ashura here is the beauty of pluralism and the enriched diversity that has been taking place here throughout our history where all the people seem to be sharing the same grief that was felt over 1,300 years ago. It represents the rhythm, the artistic storytelling and powerful poetry by people from all walks of life, who bring the whole incident to life and relive the pain of betrayal and bereavement over and again.
Among the greatest expressions of Ashura, we must not be oblivious to the non-Muslim writers and dramatists who composed the most beautiful scripts recounting the details of Karbala and what happened there, a phenomenon that has been going on for centuries. However, the trend has gradually faded with the rise of religious puritanical and the orthodoxy. The pluralism that the event was marked by is slowly being toned down. Many religious fascist parties, the most potent of which is the Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat, an offshoot of the banned sectarian group Sipah-e-Sahaba spearheaded by Maulana Ludhianvi, who considers Shia Muslims to be Kafirs (infidels) and admonishes their rite of mourning Karbala. Over the years in Pakistan, with the rise of militancy and the jihadist interpretation of Islam here, the tolerance that once all Muslims had for the mourning is now diminishing. This trend of murderous exclusivity has been a deliberate attempt at killing the essence of diversity in Ashura. Any event or incident that brings people of all religions together is sabotaged under the garb of puritanism. That is why we see a campaign against the Sufi mausoleums, which preached love and acceptance of all before the sight of God.
There is a need to revive our history so that people can gain inspiration and conviction in the values of pluralism and secularism, and not just believe that Islam was served only by the Muslims. We must appreciate what we have today; Hazrat Imam and his grandfather (PBUH) never discriminated against non-Muslims. We too must shed our discriminatory policy of making our non-Muslim brethren second-class citizens who are discriminated against, something Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would never do.
Zeeba T Hashmi is a freelance columnist.