Shi’i Remembrance of Husayn

Muharram is the first month of the Muslim lunar calendar. For Shi’iThe Shi’at ‘Ali (the party of ‘Ali, for which Shi’ah is an abbreviation and from which the adjective Shi’i comes) believed that the Prophet Muhammad designated his son-in-law ‘Ali and his descendants to be leader (Imam) of the ummah after his ... Muslims, it begins with a time of mourning to commemorate the death of Husayn, grandson of the ProphetA prophet is one who communicates a divine message or vision, sometimes calling people to repentance or awakening, sometimes predicting future events. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all look to Hebrew prophets, including Abraham and Moses. Muslims believe ..., and his infant son on the battlefield at Karbala in Iraq in the year 680 CE. This event has assumed great significance for the Shi’i community in times of persecution and oppression, as Husayn’s martyrdom provides an example of selfless sacrifice in the cause of God’sGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality. justice in the face of human injustice.

At Muhammad’sThe Prophet Muhammad, known as “the Seal of the Prophets,” was born in the city of Makkah on the Arabian peninsula in 570 C.E. At 40, he began to receive a series of revelations from God through the angel Gabriel. His small group of followers met with... death, the majority of his followers elected Abu Bakr as the first caliphThe word “caliph,” from the Arabic Khalifah, means “successor” to the Prophet Muhammad. It was used as the title for the highest politico-religious leader of the Sunni Muslim community from 632 to 1258 CE. to lead the community. A dissenting group believed that the spiritual and temporal authority of the Prophet rightly belonged only to the descendants of the Prophet, through his daughter Fatima and his son-in-law Ali (b. Abi Talib). This group became known as Shi’at Ali, the “partisans of Ali,” a name later shortened to the Shi’ahThe Shi’at ‘Ali (the party of ‘Ali, for which Shi’ah is an abbreviation and from which the adjective Shi’i comes) believed that the Prophet Muhammad designated his son-in-law ‘Ali and his descendants to be leader (Imam) of the ummah after his .... Ali became the fourth caliph, but his sons were challenged by the Syrian commanders who became the UmayyadThe Umayyad dynasty ruled the early Arab empire from 661-750 CE, and Spain from 756-1031 CE. From their capital in Damascus, the Umayyad caliphs sent Arab Muslim armies to conquer Syria, Egypt, Iraq and parts of Persia, Spain, and India. The Umayyads were... caliphsThe word “caliph,” from the Arabic Khalifah, means “successor” to the Prophet Muhammad. It was used as the title for the highest politico-religious leader of the Sunni Muslim community from 632 to 1258 CE.. After his older brother conceded, supporters of Husayn suggested he come to Iraq, but they failed to provide him with protection. In a battle with the troops of the caliph Yazid, Husayn’s party was cut off and slaughtered.

Shi’i Muslims commemorate this tragic martyrdom by mourning for the first ten days of the month of Muharram, a commemoration culminating in Ashura, the tenth. In Dearborn, Michigan, about a quarter of the population is Arab-American, many of them Shi’i, and most of them now in the second and third generation. More than a dozen masajid in the Detroit area, such as the Islamic Institute of Knowledge on Warren Avenue and the Islamic CenterAn Islamic center will typically include a mosque, school, and area for social and cultural activities. When a new Islamic center is being organized in the United States, attention is paid to community needs, including a weekend or full-time school, indic... of America on Joy Road, are packed with worshippers on the first night of Muharram. Indeed, they may have several services a day during this ten-day period, with video hookups that allow every part of the masjidMasjid (plural masajid) in Arabic means “place of prostration,” or the place where Muslims bow in prayer; in English, this word has become “mosque.” A masjid contains a prayer hall in which there is a mihrab or prayer niche, and a minbar or pulpit... to be utilized for the services. Each service includes Qur’anic reading, a sermon, and prayerPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not.. Worshippers place small circular clay pieces on the ground before them as they pray; these clay discs are made of the soil of Karbala, the sacred place in Iraq where Husayn was martyred.

Distinctive to this period is the taziya, the recitation of the story of the death of Husayn and a ritualized lament for his martyrdom. The hundreds of people gathered in masajid in Dearborn wear black for these services. Adults, teenagers, even infants may have black cloth strips tied about their heads, with the lament “Oh Husayn! Oh Karbala!” written on them. In some masajid, the taziya may be enacted as a “passion play” of the martyrdom. Whether the taziya is enacted or recited, the community participates with a refrain of lamentation, each person striking his or her chest with a fist as a symbolic gesture of mourning.

On the seventh day of Muharram, women from the community gather in one of the masajid to observe what they call the “marriage of Kassem.” Kassem was the son of Husayn, martyred as a child at Karbala. At the head of the procession, which is both a wedding procession and a funeral procession, women wearing black with black headbands bear trays of flowers and candles held high above their heads. At the microphone the dead Kassem’s mother calls to the betrothed bride of Kassem, “Come out, come out, oh Bride, and look around.” It is a haunting refrain. Women join the procession, lamenting, slapping their hands against their chests, weeping for the dead who never had a chance to reach the prime of life.

The collective voice of the community during Muharram is one of mourning, but also of solidarity—wearing black, coming daily to the masjid and often staying late at night, participating day after day in the story of suffering. Sweets, pastries and other special dishes prepared for these days are brought to the masjid, shared, eaten as a blessing, and brought home to those who are bedridden or unable to attend.


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