Saturday, 17 November 2012

Stumbling Through Muharram!

Muharram crept up on me this year, by surprise, unannounced, without
warning. It captured me when I was unarmed: I'd not forgotten about
it, though every effort had been made! Let me be honest and say, I was
scared of it. Muharram for me has always been a solitary act; It is a
time of painful tears, cried out in the dark, cold depths of the
night. It is a time of praying, searching, discovering the beauty of
solitude in trauma in darkness; so that when all the tears have been
cried out, I emerge stronger, with a new sense of faith and direction.
I don't know if it has to be that way, but that's where my soul takes
me; I've never been able to cry in the presence of others, Muharram is
about my Imam and me, my creator and I developing new levels of
connection and intimacy, and that's just how I adore it! I was afraid,
because this is the first Muharram I'd spend with my husband. He has
reached a stage I pray I never reach, a place where he is almost
indifferent to Muharram; and indeed Islam. For him, it is enough that
he prays, fasts and eats halal. Muharram is something he is
desensitised to, or something which possibly the Iranian regime has
forever destroyed for him. Whatever the case is, observing it in our
too small flat feels rather like walking on egg shells, like stepping
fearfully around a sceptic or a non-Muslim, no more solitude, no more
space for my imam and I alone!

Before Muharram, I had begun reading Joseph Anton, the compelling
autobiography of Salman Rushdi. Initially I felt guilty to find such a
book in my hands as Muharram dawned, but then, I started to see the
parallels. It seemed Ironic and fascinating to me that I was honouring
the life of one who selflessly sacrificed his existence, while reading
about one who was almost butchered by a so-called leader who claimed
to be a custodian of the message of he who sacrificed! Perhaps
contrary to most Muslims, I've never seen Rushdi as the enemy within,
and rather find his ability to question and his innate fascination
with Islam deeply moving. His pain over that Fatwa and journey less
ordinary runs so deep Joseph Anton is written entirely from the
distance of the third person, something which also strikes chords with
this month. I wonder if my husband lives there too, or, if we are
truly honest with ourselves, were we to look deeply in to the mirror
of Muharram, would we really recognise the tear stained face blinking
back at us? Solitude, majliss and ritual; is it really an opportunity
to heighten our experiences, or is it that Muharram has simply become
too comfortable!

Right now, my life feels too chaotic for Muharram, yet more struggles
in the world of employment, a new marriage and house renovations going
on around me; there feels like a chronic lack of time and space! Yet
despite the challenges, I'm beginning to see an opportunity to
discover this month in a new way, and it seems I'm not the only one!
My own city, Glasgow has embraced the month in a new way; where once
English lectures were a thing of the future, now each masjid has some
level of English output! There are film nights, blood donation drives
and strategically written educational banners to take on Muharram
processions. Some of the leading shia scholars of our time are in the
UK this year, Sayed Ammar Nakshawani and Sayed Mahdi Mahderesi, so
that England feels like a melting pot for change and contemporary
learning/debate. Leicester Jamat have put together a 'Who is Hussain
campaign, complete with website, free water donations and a huge
exhibition and interactive procession on ashura day, aimed more at
non-Muslims than the traditional rituals one would normally observe on
that day!

When I look beyond the frustration of not spending this month how I'd
like to, I start to see Muharram as a shifting, dynamic reality, which
demands us to move with it, rather than attempt to drag it back in to
a past which constricts it. Perhaps facing the challenges of central
heating installation is all part of the package; because I have to
admit, the elements of team working are having beneficial affects on
my marriage!
I do think that Reza and I will occupy very different spaces this
Muharram, especially when Ashura and then Arbaeen are upon us, but
Imam Hussain (A.S) didn't set out to win hearts and minds, his mission
pivoted upon honouring the truth, on doing what simply had to be done;
so I have to do the same; and maybe difference isn't that bad?
A few weeks ago, I was asked to deliver a series of Lectures on the
return of the Imam of our time (ATF). The focus for the majority of my
talks was to encourage attendees to cultivate a personal relationship
with the Imam, in order that they might prepare with love, relevance
and sincerity. On the way home, Reza said "what did you mean by a
relationship with the Imam? How can you relate to one who is not here?
Who you can't see? We can pray to the Imam or to Allah, but a
relationship?". No matter how much I attempted to contextualise this
concept, it simply didn't register! I don't believe this is simply
that he is switched off to Islam, it has more to do with packaging and
perception. Being a solitary soul, I might still be bent on
seeing/living it my way! but maybe my own connections, if converted in
to communal ones can open his heart, maybe he too can teach me some
sceptical objectivity, (which only pushes one to delve deeper in the
end), and the ability to function affectively through Muharram, rather
than seeing it as an excuse to close the door. Ultimately, I pray it
is a chance to grow stronger in my faith, not to lose my Muharram,
but, Insha Allah to discover it a new, and that I'm forgiven for not
being thrilled that it isn't how I planned it, especially when there
are 2 too many heating engineers crowding my prayer room!