An Open Letter to the IEC Board on the Purpose of Muharram Processions
 
 ashura
 
Bismillahir Ramanir Rahim
Asalaamu Alaykum
My name is Agha Mohamed Hussain, grandfather-in-law of Brad Rajek.  I wanted to share the following information as a follow-up to Brad’s open letter to the IEC Board.
The most popular speaker in Hyderabad during my school days was the late Askry Jaffery, the Mayor of Hyderabad, and the first to translate Nahjul Balaga into English.  His discourses were a combination of the past and the present.  He once quoted a German scholar whose Ph.D. was written on Muharram.  The German scholar wrote in his thesis “Had the Christians such a powerful institute of the congregations of Muharram (Majalis) they would have converted the entire world to Christianity.” Please reflect on this statement.  Please reflect on how to not reduce the applicability of Husayn’s message and the message of the martyrs of Karbala to the small Urdu speaking Shia population of the world. The giant height of our Husayn’s image and message is as tall as standing on the earth with his head touching the skies to be visible and heard by every creature on the earth. But alas we keep this great Husayn within the closed doors of our Masajid and within our native tongue and culture.
It was during the 1990’s that I was blessed by Imam Husayn to recite the discourses for the first ten days of Muharram in Toronto, Canada.  On the 6thday my host informed me about a local Member of the Canadian Parliament who wanted to address our community.  I saw this respected Member of Parliament walk in the middle of the Majlis dressed in a black suit and comfortably sat on the floor as if he was one of us.  He was welcomed to address us soon after the discourse. He stood in front of the microphone like a giant with a grim face as if he is was upset, sad and angry. He did not care how we reacted to his in-depth expression and he spared no time to attack us.  He stated, “Why do you hide this great Imam? Why? Why don’t you let us know him?  I just do not understand why.  He should be introduced in our Parliament for us as an example of courage in the establishment of truth and justice.  I am very disappointed and upset that such a great divine leader is kept hidden from us.”
So we perform processions to let the message of our Husayn spread.  It was during the 1980’s that I was filming the procession on the 10th of Muharram in Madras, India from the terrace of a building. There were over 100 Sunni and Hindu onlookers watching the procession from this terrace.I overheard a Hindu asking a Sunni the reason for our beating the chest with the blade. The Sunni said, “Their ancestors killed the grandson of the Prophet.  It was a great sin and these people punish themselves seeking forgiveness from God for their ancestors.”  The innocent Hindu said, “I see.”
Trust me, by Allah, this and many other similar, damaging and false messages were received by the onlookers of that procession. I do not know how much Imam Husayn is hurt when he finds his great message being shattered when his own followers create a shameful image of Shias in the mindsof onlookers who are not provided with the right information by us except our voice of Urdu Nohas in the language with which the Hindus nor the Christians understand.
But I am also lucky to have witnessed the very same procession of Madras during my school days. The procession stopped at every crossroad and one of our outstanding Shia orators would speak in excellent English holding the attention of the hundreds of Sunnis and the non-Muslims. There were two popular advocates, one a Member of Parliament and the other a resident Moulana with great command of the English language. Their presentations were to let the message of Husayn “Amarbir Mayaroof and Nahianal Munkir” pierce the hearts of the non-Shias.  We were the admired community of those days because the right message reached the public with perfect reasoning.    
Of course I was lucky again during early 2000’s to participate in a procession on the 10th of Muharram in Dallas, TX.  About 300 believers assembled at an open space in Downtown and three Moulanas addressed the crowd in English. There were about twenty passersby who stood and listened.  Five or so of them interacted with us for more information. We had a pamphlet conveying the message of Husayn and we gave it to them. Later we, 300 Momineen all dressed in black, silently walked through the Downtown holding signs and giving away the pamphlets to the general public. Holding of signs by children and ladies, distribution of the pamphlets and our slow and gentle movements in full black left a noble impact as if we were the prey of injustice.
It was this very same year that the headlines on the BBC, and most of the national newspapers, were about the Shias of Kabul donating unbelievable quantities of blood to the hospitals on the 10th of Muharram, in the name of Imam Husayn.  In other words, Imam Husayn was an international news story, followed with a few lines about his martyrdom and his message. I felt so proud and so energetic physically, mentally and spiritually on that day that my beloved Imam’s message was flashed by the Shias of Dallas through simple speeches and pamphlets and in Kabul by donating blood. Further, every year The World Federation of Khojas display banners in London for the entire month of Muharram and also donate blood in London on every 10th of Muharram, which is well covered by the media.
May Allah bless Brad Rajek, a Shia by choice, unlike me a Shia by chance.  Since I personally know the standard of his faith (Eman) and his wisdom to maintain his earlier name I could translate the meaning of his name Brad Rajek as Baqir Raza.
May Allah provide us more of such Momineen who are just and noble in performing “Amarbir Mayaroof and Nahianal Munkir.” He knows about the tradition (Hadith) by the Prophet who warned that the community which does not practice  “Amr bil Ma’ruf and Nahi anil Munkar ” trails behind others.
Lastly, how should we plan to spread the message of Husayn?  The Prophet said, “We the Prophets are asked by Allah to communicate with people in the level of their intellect.” It perhaps means that our presentation should be within the reach of their understanding and of course in their language.
Alhamdullah, I am blessed with interactions with many non-Muslims and their places of worship in North American.  I carry a truck load of observations to be shared to help us plan successful conveyance of our message and to help get them closer to our fold if not within our fold of Shia Islam.
With Duas to Brad and the IEC Board Members,
Agha Mohamed Hussain 
Open Letter to IEC’s Board
I begin in the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.  I feel compelled to draft an open letter to IEC’s Board of Directors after observing the Arbaeen Procession held in Downtown Houston on 1/1/13.  Please note that my intentions in writing this letter are sincere and that I simply want to explain my view of the procession as well as offer suggestions for future events.  Also, please note that the thoughts expressed below are not held solely by me.  After the event I spoke with multiple individuals, including very respected members of the community, who hold the same views expressed below.
I attended the Arbaeen procession with an open mind.  Having never attended such a gathering I didn’t know what to expect.  However, I assumed there would be speeches about ridding the world of oppression and that there would be “general” speeches regarding Imam Husayn’s struggle / courage / bravery / sacrifice as an example for the entire world.  What I found was nothing of the sort.  The speeches were very specific, in such that only a person with a deep understanding of the events of Karbala would understand the content.  There were Urdu nohas being recited and matam (completely foreign concepts to the general American public).  Any casual passerby of the procession would have no idea what was going on, especially when a foreign language is being recited very loudly and a bunch of men are beating their chests.  I have no doubt that the average American would look at this event and think these people are from another planet.  No amount of literature that is handed out to people walking by the event would or could dissolve this sentiment.  This does not even address those individuals passing in their cars that wouldn’t have the benefit of reading explanatory literature or talking to attendees.  Additionally, this does not even mention / address the hands, fake coffins with blood splatter, etc. that were present at the event.  The procession, as it exists, seems like it was pulled directly out of India or Pakistan, and as such, it would be perfectly relevant if we were living there.  But we aren’t.

As I was not part of the planning process, I don’t know the true intent of the procession.  If it was to display / teach the general public about standing up to oppression it missed the mark by a long shot.  To be completely honest, as an “outsider” to the event I was embarrassed, as were others who attended, by what we witnessed.  This is not the Shia Islam I embraced 7+ years ago and I would discourage my family from attending similar events in the future.  I brought my 4 year old son to observe the processesion.  Afterwards I came to the conclusion that and I would never want him to commemorate Ashura in way that is so irrelevant to the culture we are living in and likely does more harm than good to the image of Islam.
On the other hand, if the intent of the procession was to have an intra-faith gathering, for only native Urdu speakers, it was probably seen as a success.  HoweverI have to ask, why then was it not held in the IEC parking lot or in private?  Why have a public event that does nothing to truly speak to the public-at-large and which probably caused greater confusion and distrust towards Islam by the American public?  It seems like there is a large disconnect between intention and execution.

I also have to ask: What did Imam Husayn die for?  Did he die to stand-up to oppression and injustice in the world or did he die to display a fake bloody coffin in public (which again I was embarrassed by)?  Did he die to save “true” Islam or did he die so that men could recite poetry in Urdu in an English speaking country so that no passerby would have any idea what is going on?  There is no doubt that he died to protect the former.  We are better than this!  We need to act in Imam Husayn’s memory and carry out his message.  We need to stand-up to oppression and injustice and make the world a better place.  We do not need to have a haphazard, confusing, cultural event that is of no benefit to anyone but ourselves.

For next year’s event, I suggest that we organize groups to volunteer at places like Habitat for Humanity, the Houston Food Bank, or any other organization that works to aid the oppressed people of this world.  We should have individuals hand out bottles of water in Downtown with a pamphlet explaining the events of Karbala.  We should handout flowers or roses explaining what “true” Islam is all about.  We need to stop talking about what Imam Husayn stands for and act!  We need to do something more, and with all of our resources I would expect more.

Again, if this letter offended anybody I truly apologize, it is not my intention.  Every once and a while it is important to step-back and evaluate what we are doing and assess if it’s truly effective.  I also think it’s important to be self-critical and to constantly improve.  I am happy to discuss this issue further.  I ask that you take my concerns seriously.  These are not only concerns held solely by me but are held by many in the broader Shia community, especially the youth who will be the leaders for generations to come.

Your Brother in Faith,
Brad Rajek