Reflections on Arba’een

Every year, Muslims gather from across the UK to join a procession down Park Lane in London, raising their voices in cries of Labbaik Ya Hussain, I am here, O Hussain. The procession commemorates the Arba’een pilgrimage from Najaf to Karbala in Iraq. It memorialises the death of Imam Hussein (ra) and the death of many Muslims including members of the Prophet’s family (ahlulbayt) at the battle of Karbala when a corrupt ruler, Yazid, took power. It also keeps alive the memories of events that followed, including the speech from Lady Zainab, Hussein’s sister, who delivered a testimony in the court of Yazid admonishing him and elevating the actions of her brother and his followers.  May Allah be pleased with them all.

For the second time in a row, a group from Inclusive Mosque Initiative (IMI) joined the procession to be part of this monumental community event. We felt the beating heart of the crowd, palpable amid a sea of black clothes marking this day of mourning and remembrance. Huge green, red, and gold flags were raised, emblazoned with the names of the prophet’s progeny. Ya Fatima, Ya Zainab, Ya Abbas. Occasionally someone would swipe a hand over a flag making du’a for the fallen before their hand is run over their face and the chest, praying for their du’a to be heard.

There were so many people. It’s hard to describe how it feels to be amid such an unapologetic public display of Muslimness in the heart of one of the world’s most exploitative capitalist centres. Drums and speakers brought an energy and momentum to the walking, the chanting, the connection between us, our history and Allah swt.

The message of Karbala and the events that followed it centre on the resistance of those fighting for good. Keeping the memory of Karbala with us is also a reminder to continue in the spirit of resistance like the example of Imam Hussein (ra) taught us. Before we joined the Procession, our IMI group held a halaqa (discussion group) exploring the themes of the events.

We talked about the Yazids of the world as concepts and as individuals, reminding ourselves that we have a role in interrupting systems of harm as well as challenging people who do harm. We talked about what a huge responsibility that can feel like. What can we do as individuals or small collectives when oppressive systems are so all-encompassing and when exploitative individuals have so much power? We talked about the hadith of Rasulullah which reminds us we do have power and options. He told us: “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim]. Refusing to normalise injustice and exploitation keeps a flame alive inside ourselves that illuminates harms when they happen rather than minimising them or turning away from them. Harm towards ourselves and others should never become normal to us.

We spoke about the mental health impact of all of this too: Muharram, the month of mourning, the dread we can feel when we know this period is coming, the weight of it and how that impacts us when we already struggling and feeling low. But we also discussed the usefulness of having a marked period of mourning and reflecting so that it can come to an end and the rest of the year can focus on action and the joy needed to keep resistance alive.

There are different approaches to tackling injustice and we talked about the varying approaches of Imam Hassan (ra) and his brother Imam Hussein (ra). Both respected and valued but both different.

We explored the notion of pilgrimage and visiting graves or places where people have died. How we experience pilgrimage can reflect where we are in our lives and who we’re with. It can be shaped by our intentions and the social environment we experience during pilgrimage. The vast majority of us at IMI have experienced explicit rejection from mosques and Muslim communities, of which we are a part. We’ve had to renegotiate our relationship to the Muslims who excluded us and resist the internalised Islamophobia that can fester as a result of mistreatment at the hands of Muslims. We continue to exist in solidarity with all Muslims and we commit to resisting the strategies of division that pit us against each other. We are grateful to the organisers of the Arba’een Procession in London for creating an event that welcomes everyone and that gave us a chance to be part of Muslim communities and reconnect with public displays of our Muslimness.

Big thanks to our volunteers without whom, we wouldn’t have been able to gather and join the procession. If you’d like to help us put on events and gatherings, join our volunteer team.

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