Silent No More
Since I have always been so strongly rooted in the Khoja community & most of our mosques function similarly (just like Wal-Mart!), it was weird not knowing my way around the mosque or what to expect. The two mosques I ended up going to were South Asian and it was the first time I was the minority within the broader Shia community: the traditions at Idara Jafaria in Maryland was pretty similar to what I am accustomed to but the Mohammadia Center in Virginia was just fascinating. Firstly, since this community is in the process of building a permanent center, the majalises were held at a “Chutney Banquet Hall” which I found pretty amusing. The one thing that was intriguing for me is how the members of this community would place a huge variety of South Asian sweets & desserts by the alams & replicas of the shrines and then pass it around for everyone to taste. And whenever I refused for the fear of gaining weight during the 12 days, the ladies would disapprove because it was seen as refusing “blessed food.”
Although I did gain new information at the lectures in both mosques, I was disappointed by the content most of the time. Unfortunately, I have given up the hope of expecting to be inspired by speakers at any of the mosques I attend – it seems to me that most of them are completely disconnected from political or social reality and the issues affecting the community. What also bothers me is how the role of women in Kerbala is not emphasized enough. For instance, it irks me when lecturers stress that Bibi Zainab’s (AS) courage came from her father Imam Ali (AS) & her grandfather Prophet Muhammad (SAW) while ignoring the fact that her resilience was also due to her amazing mother Bibi Fatema (AS) & grandmother Bibi Khadija (AS).
This Muharram, my friends & I also discussed the role of traditional azadari (mourning) such as matam & zanjir in today’s society. We debated whether it was relevant & helped convey Imam Husayn’s message to the rest of the world. I grew up in a very traditional azadari-oriented community & it has always been a huge part of my life. I’ve always wondered whether my non-Shia friends & colleagues would cringe at the red marks on my chest caused by my engagement in matam or self-flagellation – would they consider it “barbaric”? After all it is not a normal reaction to grief – it is a learned behavior that I cannot explain but is truly an expression of raw grief that I feel when I remember the tragedy in Karbala.