Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Paradox of Ashara & Pursuit of Happiness

Khuda Taala mumineen ne KHUSH o khurram raakhe. Hussain na GHAM siwa koi gham na dekhaawe

Mumineen erupt in matam and are engulfed in tears even before Moula finishes the dua above. Yet this dua is pregnant with meaning and invites one to ponder over the seemingly inexplicable contradiction inherent in it.

Traditionally we think of Ashara as a time to remember the sacrifices of Imam Hussain. We endeavour to expend our utmost in matam and strive to shed countless tears so that some infinitesimal fraction of our gratitude to him can be repaid. But is that it? Do we just go back to our daily grind as soon as Ashura is over? Or does something change? What is Ashara really about?

I like to think of Ashara as the pursuit of happiness. Ask any mumin, young, old, man, woman or child, what they feel after crying and doing matam and they will say “Sukoon” or “Khush” or words to that effect. It is a deep seated elation which isn’t quite summed up by the word ‘happiness’. The act of shedding a tear is cathartic, a purging of the body and soul of their ills. Through these salty drops of warm water, we quite literally, flush our systems of all their excesses.

The zikr of Imam Hussain is an epic tale of sacrifice and commitment, of unparalleled courage and perseverance in the face of unimaginable adversity. Yet, Ashara goes far, far beyond just a congregation responding emotionally and expressing their sorrow when recounting the fate of 72 at the hands of thousands of Yazidi soldiers. It is the constitution of life.

When Moula does the above dua, it does not necessarily mean that mishap or misfortune will not befall a mumin. The operative word in this dua is ‘dekhaawe’; in other words, it is about ‘seeing’ the gham of Imam Hussain and ‘not seeing’ any other gham. Life is about perception and, how we perceive the world around us, is precisely what dictates whether or not we are happy. People talk of ‘finding’ happiness; what we don’t realise is that happiness is not something lost that can be found, but rather it is intrinsically intertwined with our own existence. It lies within.

We all ‘see’ our surrounding world through different lenses. The same circumstance, the same situation, can be viewed entirely different by two different people. There is no such thing as a ‘good’ day or a ‘bad’ day – we just choose to see it that way. Some define ‘natural’ happiness as getting what we expect. But some choose to be happy even if they don’t get what they expect. If we change the lens, we acquire the power to change every outcome in our entire lives and consequently choose to be happy. The gham of Imam Hussain is therefore the lens with which we view the world that shapes our reality. It changes our short-sightedness into foresight.

But we need to understand what happiness really is before we can understand how this gham is that lens. Many mistake pleasure for happiness. Take the instance of food. The ‘joy’ experienced by consuming a feast laden with tantalising dishes is really the symptomatic relief from ailments which plague all humans, in this case, hunger. Once satiated, even the most sumptuous meal will sicken us. Amirul Jamea once explained that happiness, true happiness is found in that which is ‘perpetual, unchanging and eternal’. It is not dependent on variables. It permeates regardless. If there is any change, it is only within.

The mumin, whose heart weeps for Imam Hussain, comes to possess something that converts poverty into riches, adversity to prosperity. Fortune can play any card it wants, yet a mumin remains unscathed. He has, what some psychologists term – to use their jargon – a ‘psychological immune system’. We have often heard Moula say that the buka and matam of Imam Hussain is a baktar, a piece of armour, a defence mechanism which fends off the onslaught of post-Enlightenment ideologies, of misconstrued scientific enquiry, of regressive social trends and unethical consumerist economics. Crucially, it doesn’t get rid of it;  the onslaught will continuously evolve and adapt with each decade, but a mumin, through remembering Imam Hussain is empowered and emboldened to remain intact and not be obliterated by it.

He discovers that true joy is in the acceptance of what Allah has decided for him. When Imam Hussain asked Jibrail “Khuda ni mardhi su che?” it was a call to every mumin, which will resonate till the end of time, to accept and be happy with what Allah has given us and consequently, he will be truly happy. Referring to the earlier definition of natural happiness, we can choose to be happy by not getting what we expect but accepting what Allah expects from us. Amongst the countless invaluable lessons drawn from the events of Karbala, perhaps this is the most pertinent to our time.

In the last few months, Mufaddal Moula, being the catalyst of change that he is, has called mumineen around the world to reconsider what their priorities are. Instead of slaving away single-mindedly in acquiring wealth, he’s shown how one should spend each day. That schedule is based on understanding that happiness is being happy with and being content with, what has already been divinely dispensed with. Hence, focus on your family, yours and their betterment, your hereafter, your ibadat and in doing that, true peace and calm can be found.

So, as a mumin hears and crucially, sees, his Moula, retelling the Shahadat of Imam Hussain, something transformative is happening within him. He undergoes a transition from worldly to spiritual. In his heart, he starts to make sense of the apparently senseless slaughtering of Rasulullah’s loved ones.

WHY was Imam Hussain, his family and his companions deprived of even a sip of water or a morsel of food for three days?

WHY did a brother, as he saw his brother make the ultimate sacrifice with severed limbs, the contents of his vessel spilling over into the sand, have to steady himself from the torrent of emotion which overcame him?
WHY did a father have to lend his parched tongue to quench the burning thirst of his young son and then lay his hand over the gaping wound in his chest to stem the blood as he gasped his final breath?

WHY was a father made to witness the blood of his six month old son gushing into his hands and then laying him to rest after digging a small grave with the sheath of his sword?

WHY were Zainab, Umme Kulsum and the rest of the Haram forced to ride unsaddled camels across the fiery sands of Iraq all the while having to bear the sight of Imam Hussain’s Ras Mubarak atop a bloodied spear?

WHY did our Moula Hussain sheath his sword the moment Jibrail conveyed Allah’s will to him and allow himself to be beheaded as he offered his last dua for the salvation of every mumin?

As the answer to all these ‘why’s’ come to him, a tidal wave of emotion hits him and he weeps inconsolably, because he understands that every moment in Karbala was a sacrifice for his happiness. For every drop of blood shed by Imam Hussain, Ahle Bait and Ashaab, an infinite number of sorrow filled tears were spared for every mumin. They experienced the worst of this earthly realm and its inhabitants, so that we wouldn’t have to.

That is the paradox of Ashara – the metamorphosis of mourning, where we exponentially become happier with every tear we shed, realising the power of Moula’s dua Mubarak: “Khuda tamne KHUSH o khuram raakhe, Hussain na GHAM siwa koi GHAM na dikhaawe”. A mumin is truly happy in remembering Imam Hussain. May this dua be answered in every mumin today, tomorrow and forever. 

Dua ma khaas yaad......
Abde Syedna wa Mansoosehi TUS
Adnan Abidali
Jamea Nairobi