During the Shia Holy month of Muharram, it is traditional to hold remembrance meetings (teach-ins) in honor of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, and his family members who were killed in the Iraqi city of Karbala after they declined to pledge allegiance to the then-ruler Yazid bin-Mu’awiya (even then it was a religion of peace). Ususally these events talk about the significance of Imam Hussein’s “martyrdom. But this years events took it even further, they promoted martyrdom to the masses. Folks this isn’t a small group of crazies—this is Mainstream Islam in the UK
At these remembrance meetings, Shia clerics commonly deliver speeches emphasizing the significance of the ‘sacrifices and martyrdom’ of Imam Hussein and his family members. The programs culminate on Yaum-e-Ashura, the 10th day of Muharram. The occasion is also considered important for Sunni Muslims. In the United Kingdom, the population of Shia Muslims is considerably less than that of Sunni Muslims. In the run-up to Yaum-e-Ashura this year (January 20, 2008), a number of Sunni organizations of mostly Pakistani and Indian origin held a series of programs in the U.K. where their leaders preached the significance of Imam Hussein’s ‘martyrdom.’ One of the largest series of remembrance meetings was organized across England and Scotland by a Sunni organization called the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat. This group is also known in popular lexicon as Barelvi Islam, a movement among Sunni Muslims owing their allegiance to Imam Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi, who preached at Bareilly, a town in northern India, during the second half of the 19th century and after. During the run-up to the Yaum-e-Ashura, the clerics of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat fanned across the United Kingdom and delivered lectures emphasizing the significance of “martyrdom.” The following are excerpts from the report that appeared in the London edition of the Urdu-language Pakistani newspaper Roznama Jang (Daily War): “Martyrdom Is One Pious Activity That the Prophet Himself Longed For” “As part of its Ashra [the ten days of commemoration ceremonies] on the subject of ‘Martyrdom Is Pious’ organized in different towns of England and Scotland, the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat has highlighted the works and sacrifices for the sake of Islam by the martyrs of Islam, and expressed gratitude to them. “In Edinburgh, Qazi Abdus Salaam Khurshid said that martyrdom is one pious activity that the Prophet himself longed for. In Glasgow, Maulana Habibur Rahman said that the second Caliph [Umar] wished: ‘O Allah, offer me martyrdom in your path.’ This prayer proves that martyrdom is pious, not a tragedy or difficulty. In Dundee, Qari Noorul Islam said that martyrdom is a great honor. “In Manchester, Maulana Muhammad Iqbal Rangoni said that those who offer sacrifice of lives in the path of truth are fortunate. In Rochdale, Abdul Majeed Anwar lauded the greatness… of Islam’s martyrs. In Ashton-under-Lyne, Maulana Syed Abdul Kareem Shah said that the greatness of a martyr is also mentioned in the Koran. In Oldham, Qari Abdur Rasheed said the [followers of] Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat worldwide believe that the Prophet’s Companions and Members of his Household are two eyes of Islam and love of them is real faith. Maulana Amjad Hussein, Maulana Shamsur Rahman, [and] Mufti Hilal Mahmood also saluted the greatness of Islam’s martyrs. “In Huddersfield, Maulana Muhammad Akram and Jameel Ahmad said that the taste of death by martyrdom is something that is not available in any other thing in the world. In Wakefield, Maulana Islam Ali Shah and Mufti Tariq Shah said that the second Caliph Hazrat Umar and Imam Hazrat Hussain, by sacrificing life during Muharram, taught killing-dying for Islam’s sake to their followers, to be borne until the Day of Judgment. In Bradford, Maulana Muhammad Ibrahim said that the importance of Yaum-e-Ashura was prevalent before the incident of Karbala. “Maulana Abdul Hadi, Maulana Azizul Haq in Burnley, Maulana Asad Mian, Maulana Abdur Rasheed Rabbani in Dewsbury, Maulana Musa Qasmi in Bolton, Maulana Imdadullah Qasmi, Maulana Imdadul Hasan Nomani, Qari Tasawwurul Haq, Maulana Shamsul Haq Mushtaq, Maulana Muhammad Farooq, Maulana Muhammad Qasim, Maulana Ziaul Hasan Tyeb, Maulana Jamal Badshah, Maulana Muhammad Zaman, Maulana Adil Khan and others shed light on the subject of ‘Martyrdom Is Pious’ in Birmingham. “Whereas in Walsall, Maulana Muhammad Salman, Maulana Muhammad Aslam Zahid, Mufti Muhammad Aslam; Qari Abdur Rasheed Rahmani in Crowley, Qari Muhammad Ilyas in Bristol, Qari Ghulam Nabi in Cardiff, Maulana Imran in Swindon, Qari Muhammad Tyeb Abbasi in Southall, Allama Razaul Haq Siakhwi in Nottingham, Qari Ismail and Qari Minhaj in Sheffield, and Mufti Muhammad Abdullah in Gloucester informed the people about the martyrs of Islam [Imam Hussein and his followers].”  “Parents Urged By Clerics to Teach Their Children the Right Path” The Islamic preachers, many of them specially invited from Pakistan and India, stressed to the parents for their children and youth to understand the importance of following in the footsteps of ‘martyrs’ like Imam Hussein. At a conference organized in the Markazi Jamaa Masjid at Victoria Park in the city of Manchester, Allama Zafar Mehmood Frashwi, president of the Markazi Jamaat Ahle Sunnat U.K. & Europe, was the chief guest. According to one media report: “He stressed on the parents to familiarize youth and children with the meaning of the martyrdom of Hussein.”  Other scholars and clerics were also present at the Manchester conference. Some preachers were also invited from Pakistan on the occasion, among them Hafiz Muhammad Akram. Another cleric, Maulana Muhammad Ayub Ashrafi, said: “the sacrifice of the Prophet’s grandson has an exemplary status for the Muslim Ummah.”  Organizing a majlis, or assembly, during the first 10 days of Muharram is a Shia practice to mourn the sacrifice of Imam Hussein and his family members at the battle of Karbala. The audiences inevitably include children and women. At another such congregation in Birmingham, a Shia scholar Syed Muhammad Taqi Naqvi urged British Muslims to follow in the footsteps of Karbala’s ‘martyrs.’ Naqvi told the assembly: “By presenting the sacrifice of his family and dear ones, Imam Hussein proved that assets and wealth, lives and properties, and children do not matter before the happiness of God and his Prophet.”  At another meeting held at the Idara Minhajul Quran in Manchester, Shahjehan Madni of Markazi Jamaat Ahle Sunnat observed: “Had Imam Hussein compromised on principles and not offered the sacrifice of his family, there would have been no one today to follow Islam.”  Similarly, Sunni cleric Ghulam Rabbani Afghani told a gathering at Walthamstow, a Greater London town: “There is no such example in the history of the world that for the sake of truth, [Imam Hussein] offered even the children of his family for sacrifice.”  In Oldham, a function was organized at a religious institution called Idara Darul Irshadul Islam to celebrate the completion of the Koran’s recitation by a young girl. The Idara’s head teacher, Mufti Hilal Mehmood, while describing the ‘martyrdom’ of the second Caliph Hazrat Umar, the third Caliph Usman Ghani, Imam Hussein and other ‘Islamic martyrs’, told the gathering: “The fact that this Koran comprising of 30 parts is available to us safe in its original condition is due to the sacrifices of these martyrs.”  Another meeting was organized in Wolverhampton where a prominent Sunni scholar from Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Maulana Abdur Razzaq Chishti, was a special guest. In the congregation a large number of children and women were present. Maulana Chishti told the gathering: “By sacrificing his great life, Imam Hussein proved that the sacrifice that Prophet Muhammad’s family members could offer, nobody else can offer; nor can someone go to such a killing field and present such an example of sacrifice.”  * Tufail Ahmad is the director of MEMRI’s Urdu-Pashtu Media Project Roznama Jang, London, January 18, 2008.  Roznama Jang, London, January 23, 2008.  Roznama Jang, London, January 23, 2008.  Roznama Jang, London, January 23, 2008.  Roznama Jang, London, January 23, 2008.  Roznama Jang, London, January 21, 2008.  Roznama Ausaf, London, January 22, 2008.  Roznama Ausaf, London, January 24, 2008.