by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 11, Muharram, 1432)
Even as US-Zionist agents were attacking ‘Ashura ceremonies in Pakistan and Iran, in Turkey something remarkable was taking place. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appearance at an ‘Ashura commemoration ceremony of Imam Husayn’s martyrdom sent a powerful message of Muslim unity.
Even as US-Zionist agents were attacking ‘Ashura ceremonies in Pakistan and Iran, in Turkey something remarkable was taking place. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appearance at an ‘Ashura commemoration ceremony of Imam Husayn’s martyrdom sent a powerful message of Muslim unity. Erdogan is the first Prime Minister of Turkey to attend such a ceremony organized to commemorate the tragedy at Karbala.
The martyrdom of Imam Husayn more than 1,300 years ago has been reduced to something of a sectarian issue when in fact, it relates to the very core of Islamic teachings: the issue of justice and legitimacy. The Qur’an is very clear on the issue justice; there are numerous ayat exhorting Muslims to be just, fair and balanced. How much greater is this responsibility when it involves the family of the noble Messenger of Allah (pbuh)?
A careful study of Islamic history shows that Imam Husayn is revered just as much by those Muslims calling themselves “Sunnis” as those that call themselves “Shi‘is”. One need not go too far back into Islamic history. Even recent scholars have dealt with the martyrdom of Imam Husayn in a remarkably moving way. One can cite the stirring poetry of Dr. Muhammad Iqbal (also referred to as Allama Iqbal in Pakistan and Iqbal Lahori in Iran), the writings of Syed Qutb Shahid and also those of Maulana Abul Ala Maududi. Even among Indian Muslim scholars of the recent past, Imam Husayn’s martyrdom is treated with great respect and almost all scholars look upon Yazid with disdain and contempt.
So what has caused the misunderstandings? Under official patronage, a body of opinion has been deliberately cultivated to gloss over the events of Karbala, to treat them merely as unfortunate and to suggest it is better not to discuss these because it reflects badly on Muslims. It is not difficult to see who benefits from such thinking: the illegitimate rulers in the Muslim world that have usurped power, like Yazid, and are unwilling to return to the principles of shura and bay‘ah. These illegitimate rulers and their court ulama have assiduously peddled the line that “Sunnis” should have nothing to do with commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Husayn otherwise it would only create disappointment among Muslims. They have also promoted the argument that Imam Husayn’s martyrdom is of concern only to the “Shi‘is”. Regrettably, some Shi‘is have also helped promote this misunderstanding by passion plays and some of their zakirs indulging in vilification of the Sahaba.
Gradually, more mature thinking is taking hold. We recall the fatwa issued by the Rahbar, Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei at the beginning of October declaring vilification of the Sahaba and the wives of the noble Messenger (pbuh) as haram. This is a giant step forward and was welcomed by most leading scholars in the Muslim world. Regrettably, media outlets, especially those affiliated with or influenced by the Saudis did not give much coverage to this historic fatwa.
At the political front, however, some very important developments have taken place. One of these is the participation of Prime Minister Erdogan in the ‘Ashura ceremonies in Turkey. This is a great step forward for Muslim Unity. Interestingly, in many communities across the Muslim world, including Toronto, many commemoration ceremonies, organized by Shi‘is and Sunnis alike have been held on the occasion of ‘Ashura. This tradition is especially strong among the Sufis that have great respect for the Ahlul Bayt and narrate the events of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn with great reverence and respect. At the official level, however, Prime Minister Erdogan seems to have established a truly remarkable standard.
During his twenty-three minute speech at the recent ‘Ashura ceremony, Prime Minister Erdogan underlined the importance of the events of Karbala to Muslim unity and the struggle for justice. The connection made by Erdogan between the current situation in the Muslim world and events in Karbala showed that Sunni and Shi‘i Muslims think within the same framework and concepts. Erdogan’s scholarly and contemporary analysis of the tragedy at Karbala demolished the decades-long work of the takfiri palace clergy of Arabia. Attempts to portray the events in Karbala as merely a “Shi‘i tradition” was challenged in a powerful way by Erdogan in his speech that will go down in history as a major step towards rebuilding trust and Muslim unity.
Since the AKP was voted into power in 2002, Western imperialist forces have attempted to create discord between Islamic Iran and Turkey by playing the Sunni-Shi‘i card. However, Erdogan’s acknowledgement of the fact that Shi‘i Muslims, just like all other minorities in Turkey are part of the Turkish fabric, dismantled an environment of sectarianism the West so eagerly wanted to integrate into the Turkish state apparatus. Western pundits will still talk about the “historic Sunni-Shi‘i” rivalry in Turkish-Iranian relations, but contemporary reality is showing that this rivalry is now history. The presence of former Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Velayati who is currently an advisor on International Affairs to the Rahbar, Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei at the ‘Ashura ceremony attended by Erdogan, shows that the Iranians, like their Turkish brothers, understand the urgent need for unity.
The fact that Muslim unity is gaining momentum even after the US-instigated internal Muslim violence in Iraq is a clear sign that it will ultimately be achieved. Ten years ago it would have been unthinkable to see a Turkish Prime Minister at a religious ceremony, much less one building bridges of Muslim unity. The Muslim world is slowly emerging from its artificially created divisive past. This will deal a blow to those who sow discord among Muslims to serve US-Zionist interests.