These days, in Tehran, you see people from all walks of life taking part in mourning ceremonies in one way or another. You see young people wearing jeans and/or other types of western gear and brands listening to MP3 or MP4 playing “nohe.” “Nohe” is a type of mourning music, melancholic but also influenced by pop and rap tones. Poems concerning the events in Ashura are read individually or collectively, and the rhythm is usually inspiring and motivating.
The inspiration however stems from the spirit of Ashura. This is an event which occurred about 60 years after the Hejira, in Karbala (a region currently in Iraq). Hussein the son of Ali, the grandson of the Prophet was asked to submit to the ruling establishment of the time. Muavieh and Yazid his son ruled in the name of Islam and gave themselves the title of the Leader of the Believers. In reality, however, their policies and practices were in total contradiction to the egalitarian moral and ethical standards that the Prophet of Islam had advocated. The despotic and cruel rulers were intent on preserving their control and propagating their deviant version of the religion. Their hypocrisy was deceiving ordinary people. In reality, although they proclaimed their system to be abiding by Islam, they used the religion as a shield for their base and selfish ambitions. It became evident that this would be a point of deviation from authentic teachings of the Religion which brought the final Message, a message for all times and a message of dignity and salvation for humanity. Imam Hussein could have comfortably given in and submitted to Yazid, thereby allowing a distorted version of the Religion and a rule of tyranny and oppression to dominate. He, however, chose to resist and stand for truthfulness, for the dignity and freedom of mankind, to set an example for generations to come. How is it that more than 14 centuries later the legacy of Imam Hussein inspires millions of Muslims to follow his example and to contemplate his heroic struggle for justice and dignity?
The Islamic Revolution in Iran was profoundly inspired by the campaign of Imam Hussein and today the Palestinian people find inspiration in his struggle.
In reality Ashura is a message for all, regardless of their religion or nationality, to stand up for the truth, to set aside selfish and egoist desires, to relinquish a passive and carefree attitude and react to oppression and injustices.
How relevant is the concept and legacy of Imam Hussein for us today?
In our current world today, the aggression against Palestine is the greatest symbol of injustice, a standing defiance of international law. Today, Gaza is a test for all — can we remain indifferent and believe that these injustices and crimes will not affect our lives?
As long as there is injustice in a world dominated by double standards:
Every day is Ashura and every land is Karbala.
Massoumeh Ebtekar, born in Tehran in 1960, is a professor of immunology at Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran. A founding member of the Islamic Iran Participation Party (the dominant party within the 2nd of Khordad Front), she became the first female Vice President of Iran, was the head of the Environment Protection Organization of Iran during the Mohammad Khatami administration, and is currently a Tehran city councilmember. This is the 6 January 2009 entry in her English-language blog Persian Paradox, and it is reproduced here for educational purposes. Cf. Ted Swedenburg, “Imagined Youths” (Middle East Report 245, Winter 2007).