By Shaykh Muhammed Amin-Evans
Every Islamic New Year is marked by the commemoration of the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Al-Husayn on the day known as Ashura, the tenth of the month of Muharam. The man was not a zealot ready to sacrifice everything without thought but a good friend and loving father faced with the choice of supporting wrongdoers or choosing to fight with honour and certain death. As the day drew near he called the men of his family together with his slaves and released them all from any oaths of allegiance or duties to him. He told them that they were all free men and should go home before the battle started because the enemy would be satisfied with his blood alone. The hundred of them, including those of other faiths among the slaves, refused to abandon him and remained to fight an army of more than ten-thousand.
There is a saying, “Every day is Ashura and every land is Kerbala” that is used to express an ongoing commitment to oppose wrongs and serve just causes. Traditionally, many Shi’a Muslims have marked this day of mourning by shedding their own blood with the use of ‘zanjeer’, sharp blades attached to chains, in ritual self-flagellation. Although the majority of modern religious leaders do not recommend this practice for their followers, it is one way of manifesting deep and painful spiritual emotions and shares similarities with rituals in many faiths. For some people words are not enough to describe their passion and they need to do something to show it.
The marching lines of blood-drenched Shi’a men can be an unpleasant sight and should frighten anyone who wishes harm to humanity. It recalls willingness to sacrifice the comfort, cleanliness and pleasure of this world in the fight against oppression. Yet it comes from a time when there were few other means to send meaningful messages to whole populations or to their leaders. Today the voices that call for freedom and justice are transmitted to every home. The calls for help are heard in every dwelling. Therefore, Shi’a Muslims throughout the world have adopted a new path and a new way of giving their blood to help their neighbours. Instead of spilling their blood upon the floor, marches for the commemoration of holy martyrs now conclude with blood donations.
Throughout the month of Muharam blood donation units are operating at Shi’a religious centres throughout the UK at the start of January (http://www.islamicunitysociety.org.uk/giveblood). But in addition a youth group called The Voice of al-Husayn has organised a blood-doning event starting at 1.30 in Birmingham’s Victoria Square on 23 January. What is unique about it is that they are inviting neighbours and friends of other faiths to join them. It will begin with a series of speeches made by leading figures of these faiths delivered from a stage in the square followed by a procession through the city centre. This is a chance for those of other faiths once more to join Al-Husayn’s cause and serve humanity together.