Shia Activism in the Age of Unreality – by Alamdar Khadr
For 1400 years we have been written out of history, now a unique confluence of events pushes the partisans of Ali to the fore. How will we respond to the challenge? Post Ghadeer is post-truth Following the UK’s Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in America, the phrase ‘post-truth’ has gained currency. For […]
For 1400 years we have been written out of history, now a unique confluence of events pushes the partisans of Ali to the fore. How will we respond to the challenge?
Post Ghadeer is post-truth
Following the UK’s Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in America, the phrase ‘post-truth’ has gained currency. For the Shia, however, the idea that political power can be used to alter the facts is nothing new. After all, we know that the Prophet (SAWW) stopped the entire congregation that joined him on his last Hajj to proclaim Ali Ibn Abu Talib as his successor and the Mawla of the believers.
Despite thousands of witnesses, our Imam was not appointed to the Caliphate, instead, the Qureshi aristocracy took the back temporal and political power they had enjoyed before the coming of Islam. Their usurpation delegitimized the position of leadership to the point where a man like Muawiyah – considered ungodly even by his supporters – could lay claim to the mantle of our Prophet. After him came Yazid and from then on, the Muslim world has been mired (with a few exceptions) in the chaos and venality that comes from giving earthly rulers divine legitimacy.
But we know, too, that just as Truth has no bearing on political victories and defeats, so political victories and defeats have no bearing on Truth. For despite the machinations of the Quraysh and those that followed them, our concept of Vilaya, the transfer of spiritual essence from the Prophet to Imam Ali, has allowed us to endure. Despite all of Yazid’s earthly power, despite the unbroken line of tyrants that followed him, from Harun and Mamun to Aurangzeb and Ibn Saud, The Truth of the Din and of that one fateful day in 61 AH have not been excised from the history of Islam and of Humankind.
The digitally connected age in which we live has given the Yazids of our time unrivalled power to manipulate fact, distort truth and create whole alternate realities. In such an environment, the Event at Karbala gives the Shia a unique reference point, a moral compass that will not be swayed by the fleeting power of governments, of presidents or of kings. It is up to us now to make use of the treasure we have carried for so long, for our own sake, for the sake of our Sunni brothers and sisters and for the sake of all humankind.
Every time we sip water, we take the name of Hussain
The Event at Karbala exists outside of History; it transcends time and is independent of petty day-to-day concerns. We, the Shia, are blessed to have knowledge of this event, so that every time we return to mourn, indeed every time we take a sip of water, we are reminded of the life beyond this life and of the fact that being right and being powerful are not the same thing.
Karbala teaches us deep lessons about what it means to be human. It tells us that there is no limit to the hypocrisy of which the hearts of human beings are capable; it teaches us that it is in our natures to tear down and destroy the best and most beautiful amongst us instead of celebrating them. It teaches us that tyranny and the abuse of power never cease; that bullies can never be appeased and that there is neither honor nor safety in keeping your head down and hoping that it all goes away.
It will not all just go away. The Iraq invasion and the Syrian civil war have catapulted us into the limelight. The geostrategic struggle unfolding in the Middle East means that for the first time in history, the whole world knows our name.
Instead of diluting our sacred history, our theology and our religious practices in a vain attempt to be accepted by a “mainstream” Islam that includes those who would behead us, we must stand up without shame and assert ourselves as the partisans of Ali and the followers of the Jafari School. Only when we do this will we have the solid footing to engage our Sunni brothers and sisters and to work with them to acknowledge and tackle the cancerous growth of violent extremism that threatens us all.
If we do not, then we will find others speaking for us: the web of Saudi and Qatari funded think tanks; the Neoconservative lobbyists obsessed with attacking Iran even as they fund those that attacked them on 9/11; the American politicians looking for someone to blame for two decades of catastrophic failure in the Middle East. Instead of accepting responsibility for their failures – from the invasion of Iraq to the power vacuum in Libya and the arming of “moderate” Al-Nusra and Al-Qaeda in Syria all these groups will find their scapegoat in us. We must not be their willing tools.
There was no sectarianism in Islam until Shias stopped putting up with it
So what does all this mean? It does not mean that we should seek division – in fact the opposite – but not at the price of denying the identity that others would kill us for possessing, because our denial will not stop them. We must learn again to engage as “Shia Muslims”, as a group in our own right, not as part of a “unity” spectrum that includes those who would have us (and anyone else that does not fit their narrow definition of Muslim) wiped from the face of the earth, or those that provide cover for them.
This article was begun on Holocaust Memorial Day and it is worth remembering that the Jews of Germany did not think of themselves as outsiders, there were many amongst them who were wealthy, who were educated, who held powerful positions in politics, academia, business and public life. Many of them chose quietism in the early days of the Nazi regime, thinking that their integration would protect them, thinking that others would stand up for their rights and their lives.
It did not protect them. Nor will it protect the Shia. Nor will it even protect those who are not Shia but who have married one, or who have a copy of Nahjul Balagha on their shelves. Eventually it will not protect even the Sunni Madhabs that do not capitulate to the Wahabi-Deobandi-Salafi strain. All of us, in the eyes of these Takfiris are or will become Rafidah – rejectionists who are worse than unbelievers.
Our only defence is to show solidarity with each other, and with anyone, anywhere who suffers oppression or arbitrary violence. But all of this can only be done if we embrace our identity as Shia Muslims and are confident in our own traditions and identity. We must mobilise to defend the Hazara in Afghanistan, the Shia of Nigeria, the Alawites of Syria and the Zaydis of Yemen. We must stand up too, in the West, with any movement that seeks to take on the rising tide of intolerance sweeping the so-called liberal democracies of Europe and America.
On a grassroots level, that means interfaith cooperation, finding common projects with Christians and Jews, Hindus and Humanists. It means soup kitchens and volunteering, not just to help our own, but all those in need. At a broader level, it means taking active part in the politics of our towns, counties and states; lobbying lawmakers and finding allies wherever we can. It means allying with the Native Americans of Standing Rock, whose fight for something as simple as clean water should resonate with those who have wept for Hussain. It means building bridges with blue-collar workers who have been taught to hate and fear us. It means giving our time and our skills to make sure that the stories of the dispossessed and the oppressed are heard. All this will build our social capital, our reputations, it will demonstrate more eloquently that mere words who we are.
For 1400 years, we have carried the heavy burden of an alternative history, many of us have suffered and died for it, but the time is soon coming where it will not be enough merely to remember. We will be required to put our minds and our bodies, the ink of our pens, the blood in our veins and the earnings in our wallets on the line for the sake of the principles that our Imams have taught us.
Failure to do so will see us wiped from this earth but, even worse, it means that when we stand before our Lord, we will have to say to Him “We were no better than the people of Kufa, we knew the truth but would not risk our comfort to defend it.”