The air is thick with the grief of sorrows’ past. Typically, on the first of Muharram (the first month in the Islamic lunar calendar) we begin recounting the journey of Karbala. We begin with the departing of the family of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet, from their home of Madina, leaving behind a restless sick daughter (among others) with a promise of return. The reality of their fate is omnipresent, as we are aware that she will never see so much of her family again.
This year, the sermons are telling a different part of the story. They’re telling the story of the surviving family, stranded in the scorching desert after most of them have been killed. How their tents, their only place of refuge, were burned the same night. How they were then chained and made to walk from Iraq to Syria, alongside the heads of their martyrs on spears. They, children included, were paraded on decorated streets, while all kind of things were flung at them, a war bounty. We are already past martyrdom, even as 4 days remain (they were killed on the 10th day of Muharram, Ashura).
This is, in some part, oratory in action. The past and the future have their ways of mingling. But that isn’t to say our present isn’t affecting it. We, Muslims, are a population that has normalised our persecution, in narrative, at home, in exile. We are awaiting the next blow to our brethren, watching for when it is going to come for us (singular). We have just witnessed an entire state go under siege, be severed, all the while silenced, as another one faces a gross declaration of exclusion. Some of us are vocal in our fear and anger at the attacks on us. We are shouting at the egregious breaches of humanity being done against us all over the country, hoping they will listen and put a stop to it. Some of us are silent, too afraid of waking the sleeping spider with his fangs on our finger (to borrow from the poetry of Kaveh Akbar). We’re not asking why because we know the answer doesn’t save us.
The martyrdom of the grandson of the Prophet and his family means a lot to us, it is why we mourn their death every year. We remember the pain, devastation and the injustice and we mourn. But we also remember why. When faced with giving in to oppression, we are reminded that that is not an option, even if it means a loss of no compare. We must persevere and resist in any way we can. Imam Hussain’s story gives us the courage to never bend in the face of cruelty. We claim our right to live equally and without fear. We belong to this land and we have all the right to live here.