Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mourners of hussain

The Shias have a wonderful tradition in the country, which includes the Hussaini Brahmins, writes Saurabh Kumar Shahi

On a certain day every year, Park Circus and Rajabazaar areas of Calcutta become police camps. Thousands of young men armed with swords and whips slowly move down the street, flagellating themselves furiously, bleeding, and constantly chanting, almost possessed, “Hai Hussain… Hai Hussain”. And then there is the Tazia. Adorned with colourful papers, screens and papier-mâché, these wood and bamboo structure bobs and sways a few metres above the heads in the crowd as the people meander through the road. The day is Azadari, or the day of mourning in the Islamic month of Muharram. The Tazia is basically the replica of the tomb of Imam Hussain, grandson of Prophet Muhammad and the martyr in the battle of Karbala. And the mourning crowd that accompanies these Tazias is that of Shias, or Shiites.

And whether in Park Circus in Calcutta, Hussainabad and Chowk in Lucknow or the Shah-e-Mardan in Delhi’s Lodhi Road area, the scene is the same, year after year. An integral part of Muslim community in India, Shias have seldom figured in the discussions of non-Muslims, news of their conflicts with Sunnis notwithstanding. Shias have a different tradition and beliefs than the majority Sunni sect. Both Shias and the Sunnis equally accept and regard the same book 'The Quran', voiced by the God. Both the sects accept Prophet Mohammad as the last in the incarnation tradition. The Haj (annual pilgrimage to Mecca and Madina), Zakat (alms-giving), Roza (fasting during Ramzan month), prayers five times a day and oneness of God are practiced by both. However, the similarity ends here. Bloody scuffles between the two sects are common across the world.

After the Prophet passed away (632 AD), the Muslims split into two camps. One believed that the baton of the lineage should rightfully belong to his son-in-law Ali. They called themselves Shia. And those rooting for Abu Bakr Siddiq as the Caliph were branded as Sunnis. “Later, Yazid, son of a Sunni Caliph, Muawiah and a tyrant, murdered Hussain and 72 members of his clan at the tragic battle of Karbala (October 10, 680). Since then, the sects don’t see eye to eye,” says Asad Rizvi, a Shia theologian.

In Lucknow, for instance, the two sects have clashed several times over decades, especially during Azadari processions. However, a new thaw in the relationship has emerged due to efforts by reputed theologians from both sects. Last Eid, Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, vice president, Muslim Personal Law Board and a noted Shia cleric, offered namaaz at a Sunni mosque, led by the Naib Imam of Idgah. Sunnis reciprocated, with Padmashri Haji Kalimullah of Malihabad leading a delegation of about 20 to the historical Asifi Mosque to offer namaaz behind young Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawwad. “They (clerics) must promote dialogue and unity. I have read about other sects and have come to the conclusion that while they differ in matters of ritual, at the core many of them share the same spiritual basis. We need to build on that shared spirituality,” Jawwad told TSI.

However, it is anything but easy to remove the scars so easily. Both, Sunnis who adhere to the Wahabi school of thought, as well as fundamentalist Shias scorn such initiatives. Barring the Jamaat-e-Islami and Barelwis, every major Sunni school of thought (maslak) in South Asia considers the Shias as ‘divergent’. Ulemas of these maslaks have penned voluminous treatises that openly brand the Shias as heretics. They draw their ammunition from ideological forebears such as Ibn Taimiyah and Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, who have reserved the choicest invectives for Shias. The problem is, books by these scholars and their progeny are taught in madarsas, which in turn beget similarly bigoted maulanas.

But the times are changing. “In Pakistan, a Deobandi scholar, Maulana Irshad Madani, recently challenged anyone who can justify the denial of the need for Sunni-Shia dialogue. A leading Indian Deobandi scholar, Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani, recently wrote a wonderful article stressing the need for Shia-Sunni unity and dialogue. Things are going to change for good,” stresses Sadiq, while talking to TSI.

And then, there are matters of jurisprudence. In the Jafari Shia school of jurisprudence, Ijtihad or “reconstruction of religious thought” is allowed, while many Sunni ulema argue to the contrary. “However, due to clearly defined roles of Ayatollah and a centralised system of jurisprudence, one seldom finds confusing and contradictory fatwas in Shia Islam. Sadly, the same cannot be said about the Sunni sect,” Tanveer Rizvi, noted expert on Shia-Sunni relations told TSI.

The Ijtihad has helped the Shia community come to terms with changing realities of the world. For example, noted Shia clerics have time and again advocated the use of anti-pregnancy pills and condoms as tools for family planning. Similarly, Shias have done away with triple talaaq system, which has been rampantly misused by the male dominated society. They have also offered the right to ‘Khula’, or divorce to Muslim women, an option given by Holy Quran but discontinued by later day clerics. “It is not possible to have a stagnant jurisprudence (fiqh) for a constantly and rapidly changing world,” Sadiq underscores.

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Source :
IIPM Editorial, 2008
An IIPM and Professor Arindam Chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist) Initiative

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