Public demonstrations serve one purpose: to pass messages on to the masses. For decades, millions have marched year on year in the name of one of the most important historical events that has ever occurred — Karbala.
The message of Hussain (as) should always be remembered and the principles applied over the globe, which is why keeping it alive is a worthy and important cause.
While the march in the West is a great achievement and has been successful for a long time, there are several aspects of it that we can improve. As I walked alongside the procession two years ago in London, I encountered several eye opening situations. As a couple rejected my handout but proclaimed “we support you, the cartoons were wrong,” and then rushed off into the tube station, I wondered how clear we were in delivering our message.
As I told a bystander that we must fight injustice as Hussain (as) had, that he fought criminals claiming to be Muslims and that we too must be and are against terrorism, he simply looked towards the red flags, the beating drums, the banners written in Arabic and said “it doesn’t look like it”. And finally, as a mother of two approached me with a high pitched voice and tears in her eyes saying that she just wanted “to get home” I found myself explaining that there was no cause for concern, that we were marching for a message of peace and that she could soon cross after the demonstration went by in a few minutes.
These anecdotes illustrate that this demonstration is not for us. It is not held for the benefit of any Muslim who is already aware of the incident of Ashura. In our mosques and gatherings we remember the story, learn its message of morality and justice and recite poetry. But on the streets we have a duty to pass Hussain’s (as) message to the world in a clear, concise, beautiful manner — just like the message itself.
Few on the streets of London read Arabic, the sound of beating drums signals war to most, and beating chests fail to impress an image of peace and love on the mind. For a more transparent message, we should replace Arabic signs with English ones, leave the lattum (chest beating) for the majalis (religious gatherings) and have fewer instruments of war.
But change does not end here. In the first few processions I attended, I explained the reason behind the demonstration to people and handed out leaflets, to which they would comment “so what?” And I couldn’t blame them — I didn’t expect people to draw the significance of the battle of Karbala so easily. To the average person, they see a one sided battle where a handful of men were mercilessly killed 1,400 years ago — injustice occurs all the time and everywhere, right? What is so special about this incident?
We as Muslims understand why Hussain (as) fought in Karbala, how it changed the course of history and how he brought down an entire empire of injustice. Today we are facing enemies of Islam who again use its name to spread injustice across the world and it is our obligation to speak not only of the story of Karbala but more importantly of the how we can use its lessons to develop societies in the UK and elsewhere which promote the values and principles behind Karbala.
We need a simple clear message — leaflets and posters that cut through the usual lengthy explanation of “1,400 years ago there was a battle…” but that instead present a clear incentive for taking note of Hussain’s (as) sacrifice and how it teaches us to improve ourselves and our communities based on those values. We need to be pro-active; it is up to you, the reader, to take the initiative and start now!