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book review

Misrepresentations and Distortions

food for thought

Towards Re-building Truth:
Deconstructing Dominant
Portrayals of Islam

contemporary issues
Allaying Misconceptions of
Shia Muslims
Our Response to Media Reports

intra faith issues

Ayatollah Khamenei’s Fatwa on
Cursing of the Companions

The Significance of the
Massacre of Karbala
Pro f. S y e d Fa r i d A l a t a s
Jan 2011
muharram special
N u rna z ly na M o h d B a h t iaraffandi

muharram special
Norhayati Samad 2 Muharram:
Siti Hajar Esa A Soulful Reflection
by Nurnazlyna Mohd Bahtiaraffandi

Nadim Ali Kapadia
Mohamad Latiff Rahim
Nur Innayah Rosnan
4 Action & Reaction
Guest Contributor
Prof. Syed Farid Alatas
by Mohamad Latiff Bin Rahim
A Soulful Reflection
book review Impossible
Tauqir Karim 6 Ashura - Would I, this wretched being, be able
Syadza Annisa Salsabil Misrepresentations and Distortions To choose among them – all incredible?
Nurnazlyna Mohd Bahtiaraffandi by Nur Innayah Rosnan

Layout Designer Could I Ever

Ihsan Habib Albaity food for thought Wear their unfaltering fervour
8 Towards Re-building Truth: To perform the Commands of the Best Lover?
Deconstructing Dominant
Portrayals of Islam Is it
by Siti Hajar Esa Smiling as the three-headed arrow salvaged
Attained the Kawthar at such an age;
iconic inspirations Would I be that neck that was fated
Or could I be that affectionate hand which submitted?
10 Sukaynah
by Syadza Annisa Salsabil
Is it
11 Bibi Rubab
b y Ta u q i r K a r i m
Coming to The Land upon nuptial
Embraced The Deen within a second;
feature Would I be as firm in moments so crucial
Or could I be that grieving martyr, by only a second?
12 The Significance of the
Massacre of Karbala Is it
Pr o f. S ye d Fa r i d A l a t a s
Fetching water for the thirsty throats
contemporary issues Wrapped with Iman as a defensive coat;
Would I be as valiant to surrender my limbs
20 15 Allaying Misconceptions of
Shia Muslims
Or could I be as prepared for my sweet death dreams?

Our Response to Media Reports Is it

16 Jeopardizing The Shift Rising against tyrants and falsehood
Towards Multiculturalism Both in the battlefield and the courts;
by Nadim Ali Kapadia
Would I be that holy voice which reminded the crude
Or could I be those eyes which saw divine beauty of sorts?
intra faith issues
18 Taking a Different Approach to Preference to me is never an option;
Shia-Sunni dialogue What, am I ready to be questioned,
by Nadim Ali Kapadia
On that day when souls assemble
20 Ayatollah Khamenei’s Fatwa Could I explain or would I tremble?
on Cursing of the Companions
by Nadim Ali Kapadia al itrah Jan 2011 | 3
Y azeed the son of Muawiyah the son of
Abu Sufyan died at the ripe age of 38. Some
accounts narrated that he died of horrible diseases
M o h amad Lat iff B in R a h im
“I learned from Husayn how to be wronged
while others told of his being devoured by wild and be a winner, I learned from Husayn
beasts while he was on a hunting party. What little how to attain victory while being oppressed”
he suffered in this world as a consequence of his
Mahatma Gandhi
vile actions is but a drop in the ocean compared
to the chastisement prepared for him by the Just
Master of the Day of Reckoning, Allah SWT.

Although many of the murderers responsible

for the massacre in Karbala were punished in
their lifetimes, this does not free them from their
punishments in the hereafter.

According to the so-called scholars of the enemies

of Ahlul Bayt (AS), those whom the Imams term as
the Nasibi’s, Imam Husayn (AS) and his party are
rebels against a legitimate authority (or so they
claim about the accursed Yazeed) and hence their
fate of being massacred in Karbala was justified.

They quote Prophetic traditions (hadeeth) of

questionable narratives, decontextualizing them
to justify their views. An example is the common
misuse of this statement, “Those who break away Even the true Shiahs who in this day strive their and devotion of these martyrs for Allah SWT, the flame of Imam Husayn (AS) would have died out, yet,
from the General Community, deserve to be best to emulate the lives of our Imams (AS) and apparently, this is not so.
slaughtered”. live the message of Imam Husayn (AS) in resisting
oppression, tyranny, persecution and injustice in Rasulullah (SAWA) said, “Indeed in the hearts of every believer the flame of Imam Husayn (AS) burns
Imam Ali Ibn Musa Ar-Redha (AS) said that for such this modern age, deserve the same rewards. eternally bright and will never diminish”.
people, even if they were born centuries after the
events of Karbala, yet still agreed or were pleased Courageous Muslims from all walks of life who Gandhi said, “I learned from Husayn how to be wronged and be a winner, I learned from Husayn how to
with the actions of Yazeed and his party against know the story of Imam Husayn (AS) use it as an attain victory while being oppressed”. Gandhi, despite being a non-Muslim, truly understood the message
Imam Husayn (AS), shall be counted by Allah SWT example in their lives in resisting the illegitimate of Imam Husayn (AS), and as a consequence, he successfully gained independence for India without even
as being involved in the same massacre and hence and foreign occupation of their lands, campaigning leading a military revolt against the British Empire.
deserve the curse and punishment of Allah SWT on against corruption in their communities, and
the Day of Judgement. fighting genocide and extremism. As Shiahs, we do not necessarily have to think far when it comes to deciding that we want to be on the
side of Imam Husayn (AS). Allah tests us according to our own personal capacities. Although we may not
May Allah distance us from such people and guide Despite numerous suicide bombings of Ashura be required to sacrifice our lives like the companions of Imam Husayn (AS), we too have to make our own
us to be the true lovers of Imam Husayn (AS). processions either in Karbala itself or other parts sacrifices in order to truly live the message of Imam Husayn (AS).
of the world such as Pakistan, perpetrated by the
What about those who truly loved Imam Husayn Shiah-hating Nasibi terrorists (such as the Sipah-e- And if we are sincere in making sacrifices to earn the love of Imam Husayn (AS), we would see the effects
(AS) and sacrificed their wealth, lives and family Sahaba and Al-Qaeda), lovers of Imam Husayn (AS) either immediately or eventually in our lives.
members for him? bravely continue the Azadari and Matam rituals to
eternalise and internalise his message. Conversely, if we make decisions in our lives that contravene the message of Imam Husayn (AS) and make
The loyal family and companions of Imam Husayn us lose the love of him, we would similarly face the consequences either immediately or eventually.
(AS) who gave themselves for his cause are These manifestations of true courage are the after
undisputedly in Paradise, enjoying the company of effects of the sacrifice of Imam Husayn (AS) and his May Allah guide us to make the right decisions keeping in mind that our actions have consequences both
Rasulullah (SAWA) and the Ahlul Bayt (AS), drinking loyal companions and family members. If it were in this life and in the hereafter. May the events befalling the people involved in Karbala, whether they were
from the blessed fount of Al-Kauthar. not for the depth and intensity of the sincerity on the side of Imam Husayn (AS) or that of Yazeed, be an example for us.

4 | al itrah Jan 2011

book review
N u r I nnaya h R osnan

…But we have disfigured this shining historic event to such an extent and
have committed such a monstrous treachery towards Imam Husayn that if
he were to come and see, Imam Husayn will say,
“You have changed the entire face of the event. I am not the Imam Husayn that you
have sketched out in your own imaginations. The Qasim ibn Hasan that you have
painted in your fancy is not my nephew. The ‘Ali Akbar that you have faked in your
imagination is not my aware and intelligent son. The companions you have carved
out are not my companions.’’ when the words recited are lies and the events they painted never happened?

An example of such a distortion is the fable created on Qasim who is said to have
requested to tie the knot in the plains of Karbala, and the desire of Imam Hussein to
see him married. A Qasim who wishes to get married would not be on the plains of
Karbala. The Qasim in Karbala had asked his uncle,

“Will I be among those who will be killed?”

Of which his uncle, Imam Hussein, replied with a question as to what were his

‘Ashura – Misrepresentations and Distortions’ is

written by a man whose name needs no introduc-
tion. Martyr Mutahhari came from a pure lineage,
realities of Karbala is ever present. This book has
been translated from Persian to English. It is very
well-written and consists of four main sections.
thoughts about death and the idea of him being killed. A young man who wants to
get married would not have said,

his father being Shaikh Muhammad Husain, whom “It is sweeter to me than honey.”
he received his Islamic elementary education on The first one deals with the definition of tahrif, or
Islam from. He continued to learn under the great distortions, and cites examples of tahrif that has There are also some who attempt to associate the death of Imam Hussein with the
banners of Allama Tabatabai, Imam Khumayni and distorted the true account of Ashura. The second crucifixion of Jesus. They state that Imam Hussein had bled and died for them, so they
many other distinguished ulama. Matyr Ayatullah sermon explains the factors that gave rise to the have attained salvation no matter what sins they commit.
Murtada Mutahhari actively worked against the existence of such misconceptions. It is an eye-
idea of communism and how it could corrode opener, realizing that fables have been constructed The third section relates the distortions further and introduces the characteristic of a
islam. When Imam Khumayni was exiled to Turkey, and injected into the recounting of the events sacred movement so that we are aware of the purity of the days of Karbala. The final
Matyr Mutahhari took over his place by handling of Ashura. When it is commonly assumed that section wraps up by highlighting that it is the responsibility of the ulama and the peo-
the Islamic affairs. Matyr Mutahhari was assassinat- these distortions arose from the enemies of Imam ple to combat such distortions. Our religion depends on the movement of Imam Hus-
ed on May 1, 1979. Imam Khumayni shed uncon- Husayn, Matyr Mutahhari exposes the shocking fact sein and we renew our faith by remembering his sacrifices. It is up to us to collectively
trollable tears for this great man at the news of his that some distortions actually stemmed from the work against the forces that seek to taint the pure waters of Imam Hussein and what
demise. In his condolence message, the Imam said: Shias themselves, be it ulamas or the common peo- he stands for. If left unchecked, the distortions done to the message of Imam Hussein
“In him I have lost a dear son. I am mourning the ple. These Shias have forgotten the true meaning of can reach a point whereby it would affect our lives and the future of Shiism.
death of one who was the fruition of my life.” Karbala and Ashura. They think that a high degree
of lamentation needs to be achieved, so any means Let us all help to retain the pure visage of Imam Hussein and his sacred days of Karbala.
In this book, Matyr Mutahhari touches on the idea possible is done to work the masses up into frenzy. Let us all not be among those who desire to paint their own version of Karbala; for
of misconceptions. Misconceptions with regards They went to the extreme of creating fictional tales those who do will sink much deeper into waywardness, while all the time thinking he
to Shia islam is nothing new and distortions of the to induce weeping. What are those tears worth, was right by ‘following’ his own ‘Imam Hussein”.

6 | al itrah Jan 2011

food for thought In response to this enduring dominance and have constantly risen. Attacks have been hurled
S i t i Ha j ar E sa
hegemony of the West over the rest especially at Western values and systems of belief. These
when it concerns the depiction of Islam, a sense counter-attacks however are unfortunately mere
of urgency to retaliate and rejuvenate the image superficial condemnation of the other and far from
of Islam had taken root in the collective Muslim any substantial effort at deconstructing “knowledge”
psyche. A substantial pool of Muslim intellectuals, including dominant images of Islam and redefining
political elites and community leaders have the true spirit of the religion in wider discourse.
risen up to the challenge of initiating calls for Occidentalism or Orientalism in reverse as some
a redefinition or rebuilding of the “knowledge” might term it, is eventually akin to Orientalism itself
constructed on Islam in public discourse. What is as it is based on similar essentialist, reductionist
clear is the growing awareness that “knowledge” and unobjective grounds and presumptions
gained via any medium other than the holy about another society. This critique by no means
Qur’an is not objective nor as universal as some seek to belittle or undermine the need for a
of Western proponents claim it to be. There is reconstruction of knowledge that would free
rising cognizance that what passes as universal knowledge of unstated Eurocentric or Orientalist
knowledge even if based on immutable scientific biases. Knowledge’s intimate linkages to Western
and empirical premises has itself been put power, force and domination is acknowledged,
through the sieve and prism of the Occidental especially when it concerns portrayals of Islam.
eye which invariably frames the world from its What is needed however is a more objective and

own distinct cultural and historical perspective. constructive approach at freeing our subjugated
Behind the negative portrayals of Islam lies a strong minds off the shackles of Orientalism.
demarcation of the Orient and the West, followed

Rebuilding Truth
by the production of a corpus of knowledge about Therefore, ongoing inter-faith dialogue initiatives
the Orient that is a construction and interpretation that seek to rejuvenate discourse on Islam
of the West. An ontological and epistemological and other religions for that matter are very
Deconstructing Dominant Portrayals of Islam divide is presumed, with the West occupying a
superior position in all domains.
much welcomed as a start to deconstructing
popular “knowledge”. This is with the criteria that
such dialogues aim to promote an objective
Global and regional developments in recent decades have stirred further tension between Western With such a demarcation and notion of superiority understanding and appreciation of other religions
and Muslim societies. People are witnessing disconcerting changes throughout the world. Muslims in play, Orientalist knowledge fundamentally and that participants come with an open mind,
and non-Muslims alike have become victims of terror and violence on countless occasions by people essentializes the groups they study. Groups are putting aside any baseless judgements or biased
claiming to act in the name of Islam. Misunderstanding and prejudice seem to have grown on both reduced to particular traits that can either be real preconceived notions they have of others. The
sides especially in this era of communication spurred by the role of media in shaping public opinion and or imagined. A critique along methodological starting point of dialogue initiatives should be
covering realities via their censorship. Like it or not, the media is actively shaping the world and how we lines also emerges as the pivotal absence of social the conviction that regional conflicts must not
see it. The conjuring up of images of Islam and Muslim societies has reached a stage whereby Islam has science concepts in Orientalist scholarship is noted be understood simply as culturally or religiously
been dominantly depicted by the Western media as “fundamentalism”, “extremism” and “radicalism”. The to have led to its erroneous conclusions. Despite motivated. Lack of mutual understanding,
Western powers’ subjugation of the media has ensured that this body of belief about Muslim societies gets grave limitations, Orientalist scholarship however especially that resulting from an over-consumption
ingrained in the young and impressionable worldwide. is buttressed by material interests and institutional of Orientalist-produced “knowledge” must be
networks that facilitate the sustenance of these overcome by dialogue. Strengthening pluralism
Such portrayals are undoubtedly manifestations of a conception of the world through an Orientalist prism. Orientalist ideas and allow for their dissemination within societies and reducing prejudices and foe
On top of geographical, political, economic and cultural divide between the East and the West, a further and use in popular discourse. images of other societies or religions should also
demarcation is created as the West labels the East, especially Muslim societies, as “the other” that is “alien” be part of the vision. Dialogue, therefore, must
to the West. Such “alien other” are deemed as dangerous, if not hostile. Apparently, under the pressure of Reacting to Orientalism and the intellectual and not refrain from controversies and must endure
their sense of danger, whether real or imagined, a deformed image of the “alien society” and its beliefs take epistemological hegemony of the West, there open debates in order to make the complexity of
shape in men’s minds. By misapprehension and misrepresentation, a notion of the ideas and beliefs of the have been attempts at discrediting Orientalist- the issue at stake transparent and enable different
society can pass into the accepted myths of another society, in a form so distorted that its relation to the produced knowledge by diminishing its perceptions while still safeguarding the universal
original facts is sometimes barely discernible1. Doctrines that are the expression of the spiritual outlook of proponents i.e. the entire Western society to a acceptance of human rights and fundamental
the “alien society” are interpreted ungenerously and with prejudice to the extent that facts are modified to mass of soulless, decadent, rootless and unfeeling freedoms.
suit the dominant interpretation2. parasites. Occidental accusations of the West
1 - Norman Daniel, Islam and the West: The Making of an Image, Oxford, England: Oneworld, 2000, p. 12

8 | al itrah Jan 2011 2 - Ibid.

iconic inspirations iconic inspirations
S yad z a A nnisa S a l sabi l ta u q ir K arim

D uring the month of Muharram, people of

various races, ages and backgrounds come
B ibi Rubab, the wife of Imam Hussein (AS) and mother to Bibi Sakina and Ali Asgher, is an important in-
spirational figure to all. She displayed an exceptionally great inner strength in the face of harsh adversity.

together to commemorate the tragedy of Karbala. Being a mother myself, I cannot imagine the pain Bibi Rubab must have felt when she had no food and
It is a unity which allows a group to become kin water to feed her son for three days. The night of Shame Ghariba proved to be one of the greatest chal-
by exhibiting an unequivocal sense of care and lenges she experienced as this was her first night spent without her son, Ali Asgher. How could she sleep
respect towards one another. This emphasizes comfortably when her son was lying alone under the sands of Karbala? The 6 months old baby was merci-
the importance of family and community ties, to lessly martyred on the day of Ashura. In the prison of
which I am reminded of Sukayna, someone whom I Damascus, Bibi Rubab had to witness the death of her
believe epitomized the love between a parent and young daughter, Bibi Sakinah. After Bibi Sakinah (AS)
a child. was buried in prison, Bibi Rubab placed her cheek on
Bibi Sakinah’s grave and cried out, “Speak to me Sakina,
It is a scene which brings sorrow: her young age, Speak to me”!
undeniable thirst and devastating separation from
her beloved father Imam Hussain (A. S.), yet one The loss of a child is the worst tragedy that can befall
that prompts individual reflection. As a daughter a mother. Bibi Rubab however was always patient and
and adolescent, it is easy to simply stray away from never complained. Despite the difficulties she went
the right path and chase romanticized notions through, Bibi Rubab remained thankful to Allah (SWT)
of individualism. Yet it is difficult to sometimes and believed in Him. Bibi Rubab knew that she lost
remember the two people who have given all and both her children for the sake of Islam.
willing to give more for my sake- my parents.
Let us now ask ourselves what have we sacrificed for Is-
Sukayna’s affections towards her parents are lam? It might be far-fetched to think that we can make
most honourable. They exemplify the strength a similar sacrifice as that of Bibi Rubab. But there are
of family bonds, even amidst adversities. What other similarly meaningful things that we can do to
I had learnt from the annual night sermons of serve Islam. It is our responsibility to ensure that our
Karbala is Sukyana’s immeasurable love during children grow up to be good Muslims who perform
an atmosphere of despair. Although narratives their prayers on time, maintain their hijab, have great
focus on the bond between herself and her understanding and love for Ahlulbayt and refrain from
father, I believe it goes beyond cooperation and all acts that would displease Allah (SWT). Even if we are
kindness within a family. It reflects the feeling of not making as huge a sacrifice as that of Bibi Rubab,
togetherness within a group of people with shared we can at least take comfort in the fact that we have
believes and grievances towards the tragedies of brought up children who will contribute to the better-
Karbala. ment of religion and society.

10 | al itrah Jan 2011

feature This problem was discussed in a number of his request for the Imam to join them, he set out for
Prof. Syed Farid Alatas
works including Kita dengan Islam2 and Cita Kufah on 10 Zul Hijjah 60 A.H. with members of his
Prof Syed Farid Alatas
Department of Malay Studies Sempurna Warisan Sejarah3 . In Cita Sempurna family and followers. While on the way to Kufah,
National University of Singapore four types of leadership based on the ideals of he received news that the people of Kufah had
excellence are discussed. The characteristics of withdrawn their support for him, due to pressure
these types of leadership are derived from histori- exerted by Yazid. Meanwhile, the governor of Kufah,
cal personalities such as Sayyidina Ali (karramallah Ubaydillah ibn Ziyad, with instructions from Yazid,
wajhhu), Khalifah Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz and Sultan sent a force of four thousand men under Umar ibn
Salah al-Din Ayyubi. These are contrasted with Sa’ad to intercept and move against the Imam at
the ideals of destruction which are exemplified in Karbala
personalities such as the Caliph Al-Kahir, Sultan
Ghiyasuddin Balban and Muhammad Tughluk. In The sequence of events that make up the massa-
today’s society, there are types of leaders that are cre itself is well-known. Imam Husain and a small
guided by the ideals of excellence as well as those number of his family members and followers faced
that are founded on the trait of jadong4, and are an army of a few thousand men and were simply
guided by the ideals of destruction5. eliminated one by one in a cruel fashion. When it

the Sayyidina Ali bin Ibn Abu Talib k.w. is an example

came to his turn to fight, the Imam first appealed
to the other side to allow his six-month-old baby,

of a leader guided by the ideal of excellence. His dying from thirst, to drink some water. His appeal,
life was an example for others to follow. Leaders however, was met with a deadly poisoned arrow
such as Sayyidina Ali k.w. display various traits that struck the baby’s neck. Finally, Imam Husain
that are crucial for just rule. In their personal lives, himself fought and gave his life in the fashion of a
they never accumulated wealth, abused power, true martyr. The army of Yazid, having killed him,
cut off his head and raised it on a lance7.
of the oppressed the weak or acted arbitrarily. Their

Massacre of Karbala
actions were informed by the ideal of excellence
and the form of their rule was republican, guided A Conflict of Values
by the Qur`an6.
The conflict between Iman Husain r.a. and Yazid

T he slaying of Sayyidina Husain r.a. along with dozens of his family members and followers at Karbala
on 10 Muharram, 61 A.H. (Ashura) is an event that has the greatest of significance for humanity for
several reasons. Here, I would like to highlight the connection between the massacre of Karbala with the
Imam Husain at Karbala

The opposite of the ideal of excellence is the ideal

was an historical manifestation of the conflict
between two value systems, the one based on
the ideal of excellence and the other on the ideal
problem of leadership in the Muslim world today. of destruction that obstructs the ideal of excel- of destruction, with Yazid exemplifying the latter.
lence to grow and thrive. Any examination of the It was impossible for the Imam to give the oath
In the hierarchy of factors that explain the relative underdevelopment and backwardness of many Muslim caliphate of Yazid bin Muawiyah bin Aby Sufyan of allegiance to Yazid, an immoral man who had
and other Third World societies, leadership occupies the top position. What is it that we need to say to our (645-683 A.D.) would reveal that he belonged blatantly violated the teachings of Islam and of
leaders? What are the lessons from our history that we can draw and use to advise our leaders? One of the to that group of leaders guided by the ideals of all religions. Ibn Kathir had said of Yazid that he
first questions that we must ask of our leaders is whether they have the ideals of excellence that deter- destruction. The atrocities committed in the desert was often found drunk, was given to a decadent
mine the value required for just rule. of Karbala on Ashura were instances of the conflict lifestyle, and was also implicated in murders8.
between good and evil. In this conflict, Imam According to Al-Suyuthi, Yazid was responsible for
The values of leadership required for just Islamic rule, in fact, can be understood and derived from many Husain r.a. and his followers displayed their ideals of the Harrah incident in which several companions
of the great personalities of Islam, including the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. himself. In this article, however, excellence founded on religion while the ideals of of the Prophet s.a.w. and their children were killed9.
we focus on the struggle and heroism of the Prophet’s grandson, Sayyidina Husain r.a. destruction were represented by Yazid. For all these reasons it was impossible for Sayyidina
Husain r.a. to give the oath of allegiance to a man
The Ideal of Excellence When Yazid became the caliph upon the death of like Yazid. Had Husain done so, it would be said till
his father, Muawiyah bin Abu Sufyan, the inhabit- today that the grandson of the Prophet caved in
The late Syed Hussein Alatas had discussed the concept of the ideal of excellence in a lecture at a ants of Syria gave their oath of allegiance to him. and pledged allegiance to a corrupt man.
workshop in Singapore in 1978. The ideal of excellence was defined as “the conception of a decent, just But, among the inhabitants of Medina who refused
and dignified life”. It is in contrast to “misery, backwardness, exploitation, ignorance, and disrespect for the to do so were Sayyidina Husain r.a. Upon being The massacre of Karbala is an event that Muslims
dignity of the human individual”.1 promised support by the people of Kufah and their cannot be neutral about. We are either on the

12 | al itrah Jan 2011

contemporary issues
side of universal moral values and align ourselves with Husain and his cause or we take a position that
is not only contrary to the teachings of Islam but all the great religions and humanistic ideologies. Our Allaying
position with regard to Ashura should have nothing to do with the jurisprudential school of thought that
we belong to or the political philosophy that we subscribe to. Both Sunnis and Shias ought to be united

of Shia Muslims:
with regard to the position taken regarding Ashura. There may be differences over how to commemorate
Ashura, but this is a secondary issue.

It should also be pointed out that what is significant about Ashura is not that Imam Husain was from the Our Response to Media Reports
ahl al-bayt but that he sacrificed his life for a noble cause. His sacrifice and martyrdom would have been of
no lesser importance had he been from any other family.

Finally, if we are to make productive use of the history of Ashura, of the shocking and deplorable actions
of those who claim to be Muslims, we should relate them to our present context. We should ask Muslim
politicians and other leaders to seriously think about their ideals of excellence and decide if they wish to
emulate Imam Husain r.a. or the likes of Yazid.

1 - Syed Hussein Alatas, “The Ideal of Excellence”, Paper delivered to the Asian Youth Council 4 th Advanced Youth Leadership Training Workshop,

28 May – 9 June, 1978, Singapore. he Shia Muslim community in Singapore is This basic right to practice one’s faith was suppressed
2 - Alatas, Kita Dengan Islam: Tumbuh tiada Berbuah, Singapore: Pustaka Nasional, 1979, chap. 8.
3 - Syed Hussein Alatas, Cita Sempurna Warisan Sejarah, Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 2000. Syarahan Perdana, saddened by the arrest of 200 Shia Muslims in by the raid in Selangor. It is worth noting that this
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Selangor. An article entitled “200 Shia Muslims may raid occurred while the Shias were commemorating
4 - Alatas coined the term jadong. It is derived from the be charged for following sect” reported on 21st of the death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam
Malay words jahat, bodoh and sombong. December 2010, seemed to have aggravated the is- Husayn, who was killed mercilessly in Karbala, Iraq,
5 - Alatas, Cita Sempurna, p. 46.
6 - Alatas, Cita Sempurna, p. 30. sue by potentially painting a negative light on the 1400 years ago. Through this tragic historical event,
7 - For details see Imam Al-Suyuthi, Tarikh Khulafa`, community and its practices, which could cause fric- messages of peace have been imparted through
Cairo: Dar al-Fajr Lilturath, 1999. tion amongst communities in Singapore. This article the centuries. Great leaders of the modern era such
8 - Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, Beirut: hopes to provide an insight into our perspective as Mahatma Gandhi have been inspired by the ac-
Dar Sadir, vol. 8, pp. 255, 259.
9 - Imam Al-Suyuthi, Tarikh Khulafa`, p. 166. on this issue and to dispel the misconceptions sur- tions of Imam Husayn. He once proclaimed that, “I
rounding Shia Muslims reported in the local press. learned from Husayn how to achieve victory while
being oppressed.” These messages of peace are in
15 January 2011 Prof Syed Farid Alatas Shia Islam, the second largest denomination of Is- stark contrast to a statement made by the director
Sultan Mosque Auditorium
8pm - 10pm KARBALA: lam, has more than 300 million followers worldwide. of JAIS, Mr Muhammad Khusrin Munawi, who said
Registration starts at 8pm The Model of Social Activism -
Free Admission Lessons and Modern Day Applications In Singapore, Shias have been living harmoniously that, “the Shia doctrine is a threat to national security
with their Sunni brethren, and within the wider so- because it permits the killing of Muslims from other
Ustaz Md Rosli Hassan
ciety, for more than a century. The numerous Sin- sects who are regarded as infidels.” It is clear that
karbala and saidina hussain(r.a)
The Pioneer of Islamic Revivalism gaporean family units with Sunnis and Shias living this statement has no foundation in Shia teachings
together are a tribute to this peaceful co-existence. and beliefs.
The Catalysts of Islamic Revivalism
Regrettably, this harmony is not allowed to exist On a final note, it is imperative for the media to act

in Selangor, Malaysia. As the abovementioned ar- responsibly in disseminating news. The miscon-
And if my Sin is Love of the
Family of Muhammad(S.A.W),
“ ticle quotes, the Public Relations officer of JAIS, Ms
Nurhamizah Othman, stated that the group of 200
strued image of Shias carried in local newspaper
reports may inadvertently promote intolerance that
Then that is a Sin which I do not Repent
Imam Syafi’i were arrested for allegedly following an “outlawed can contribute to disunity and division amongst
Shia sect.” This contradicts the agreement endorsed Muslims here in Singapore. The media has a respon-
by the Malaysian government during the Interna- sibility to unearth the truth, instead of relying on re-
tional Islamic Conference held in Amman in 2005. ports from other news agencies, and it is essential
The Amman Message, endorsed by 84 countries, that the media presents a balanced perspective to
For any enquiries, please email unanimously attests that Shia Islam is among the its readers, particularly when quoting messages of
legitimate Islamic schools of thought and allows its hatred from divisive personalities.
followers to practice their faith freely.

14 | al itrah Jan 2011 al itrah Jan 2011 | 15

contemporary issues
N adim A l i K apadia

Jeopardizing The Shift Towards

MulticulturalisM Arrest of Malaysian Shias

Hauzah Ar-Ridha (Selangor, Malaysia)
he Shia world was saddened when news about within Malaysia. Anything that departs from this
the arrests of members of Hauzah Ar-Ridha (Sel- is labeled as a deviation, leading the Shia Mazhab
angor, Malaysia) on the blessed night of Ashura ech- to be officially declared illegal under the dictates
oed out through electronic media, taking many by of the Malaysian National Fatwa Board in 1996. No
surprise and infuriating others. effort was made to amend this clause despite five
Malaysia representatives, including Dr Abdul Hamid
Recent months have seen an escalation of attacks Othman, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, sign- Sunnah Wal-Jamaah, alongside other accusations. He labeled the Shia as hardliners that posed a serious
and claim-downs against the Shia in places such ing the Amman Message at the International Islamic ‘national security threat.’ Despite his many allegations, no concrete evidence or documents were produced,
as Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Conference in 2005. With the heavyweight of Islamic only to expose the weak grounds for the arrest. Moreover, the JAIS has refused to offer an apology or change
with Malaysia adding to the list. The raid in Malaysia, leaders and scholars from 84 countries, the Amman its position, and remains bent on classifying the Shias as “dangerous deviants.”
however, should not come as a big surprise, given Message unequivocally recognizes the Shia Jaafari
the long history of persecution Shias in the pre- Mazhab as a legitimate school of thought within This incident highlights the growing trend of exclusivist and intolerant ideologies that feel threatened by
dominantly Sunni Muslim nation have experienced. Islam. the worldwide movement towards multi-cultural and inclusive societies. Governments should not fall prey
Nonetheless, this recent raid is the country’s largest to such deplorable ideologies but rather, should work alongside thinkers and theologians across the globe
raid on so called “deviated teachings” and highlights With this shameful and deplorable act, Malaysia is to improve relations between different ethnic and religious groups. Religious opportunists will always be
the brazen audacity of the state in taking unpopular only gambling with its good reputation and popu- quick to use actions by the state to justify their actions and promote further strife and hatred. With over
measures to protect its own interpretation of Islam. larity as a moderate voice in the Muslim world. By 20,000 indigenous Malay Shia and 30,000 Iranians living and working in Malaysia, such actions only serve to
allowing historical antagonisms and Wahabbi ultra- add further risk to their security and well-being.
While the Malaysian Constitution proudly declares orthodoxy to dictate state policy, Malaysia is igniting
that it protects the free practice of one’s religion the sectarian card that may push it further down the The Malaysian government is bound by international and national law to protect all religious groups from
and prohibits discrimination on grounds of race path of violence and bloodshed that has plagued any form of discrimination. The Malaysian government will need to take a more serious effort to clam down
or religion, the recent raids only serve to highlight nations such as Iraq and Pakistan. In his statement, on religious edicts in states and provinces that defy this golden principle and not allow its soil to be a
the shameful hypocrisy and inconsistencies of its Dr Mohammad Khusrin Munawi, Director of the Se- springboard and breathing ground for sectarian discrimination. This is a right the government owes to its
legislation. While other religions are tolerated, diver- langor Islamic Department (JAIS) rubbed salt into citizens and the world community and one that should be demanded unconditionally. In the process, ef-
sity within Islam is not tolerated. Ahlul Sunnah Wal- sectarian wounds by accusing the Shia of legitimiz- forts need to be taken to re-educate the JAIS and other ill-informed individuals about the Shia faith and its
Jamaah is regarded as the normative form of Islam ing jihad (holy war) against the followers of Ahlul correct teachings.

16 | al itrah Jan 2011

intra faith issue and dialogue rather than harping on century-old polemics.
N adim A l i K apadia
I would thus like to propose an ‘experiential’ approach to intra-faith discussion. Unlike the polemical ap-
proach, the latter focuses on the spiritual experience of the believer. Excerpts from the life of important

Taking a Different
Islamic role models, religious ceremonies and practices – all of which come together to positively influ-
ence one’s religious identity - are shared and exchanged. This is particularly useful from the Shia standpoint,
where one’s religious identity is strongly shaped by the immense love (mawaddah), obedience and emula-
approach to Shia Sunni dialogue tion towards the Holy Prophet (s) and his Ahlul Bayt.

From personal experience, I have found that my friends from other faith traditions become immediately
attracted and ‘tuned-in’ when I share about the life of the Imams. They feel spiritually energized through the
supplications taught by the Imams, intellectually challenged by their sayings and emotionally touched with
their exemplary lifestyles. This often arouses their attention and makes them more curious to learn about
these individuals so highly venerated, making the transit to doctrinal or theological issues much easier and

While many are quick to attack the so-called ‘extremities’ of the Shia faith (e.g. self-flagellation during Muhar-
ram, temporary marriage and cursing of the companions), few recognize and understand the quintessential
position such personalities play in the everyday experience of a Shia Muslim. Perhaps a good way to start
the conversation then would be to talk about the life of one of the Imams, and how his teachings relate to
one’s spiritual experience. Through this softer approach, a lighter and more germane environment can be
forged for first exchanges and conversations.

I have often reflected on how to better approach

intra-faith dialogue and discussion. Especially as
the call for unity echoes more resonantly among
each side has developed their own interpretation to
certain commonly debated historical facts. Partici-
pants holding different narratives are immediately
our Muslim circles, an effective strategy is impera- thrown into an ‘us versus them’ competition, one
tive to promote healthy dialogue between Muslims that conjures an atmosphere of discomfort and re-
of different sects, one that builds trust and confronts sistance that subconsciously divides the audience.
deep stereotypes and prejudices held of the other. Instead of coalescing the two groups towards a
shared spiritual reality, each side jumps into the task
In my observation, the ‘polemical’ approach has of zealously defending their religious standpoint - a
dominated intra-faith attempts at dialogue and dis- natural human reaction to a challenge on an ideo-
cussions for the most part. This approach emphasiz- logical belief or conviction so deeply held. In the
es the historical narrative, where key doctrinal and process, participants fail at truly internalizing the
theological departures between the two schools of message of the other and the attempt at forging
thought, based on a set of proofs from the Quran unity miserably ends before even starting.
and Hadith literature are established at the very on- While the above account may be a slight exag-
set. While this approach does a good job in identify- geration, my sense is that the ‘polemical’ approach
ing and explaining the core beliefs on both sides, it often constructs fences rather than de-constructs
fails on several accounts. them. Especially in the case of Islam, a religion that
emphasizes orthopraxy (correct practice) as much
The problem with polemics is that it sets one ideol- as orthodoxy (correct belief ), there are many other
ogy against another. Through the course of history, Intra-Faith Dialog
ways to begin a meaningful journey of engagement Imam Bargha (Singapore)

18 | al itrah Jan 2011

intra faith issue
N adim A l i K apadia

“ Muslims are brothers and will not be segregated

by the pseudo-propaganda
sponsored by corrupt elements ”
Imam Khomeini

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Khame-

nei, released a much-welcomed fatwa recently
where he prohibited the insulting of the wives and
It must be understood that through the concept of
tabarra (or dissociation from the enemies of the Ahl-
ul Bayt), Shia Muslims criticize the actions of specific
companions of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (s). individuals known in Islamic history to have contra-
dicted and harmed the message of Islam, and make
In issuing his fatwa, Ayatollah Khamenei mentioned: a solemn pledge to dissociate themselves from
“The enemies of Islam want to create discord among those actions. Being critical of an individual’s actions
Muslims. So unity is the most important need of the and distancing oneself from it after careful study is a
Islamic world in the 21st Century.” Undeniably, the legitimate human right. It is the unscrupulous abuse
issue of cursing certain companions of the Holy and degradation of individuals that stands in clear
Prophet (swt) has remained a thorny issue in intra- contradiction to the spirit of Islamic ethics and is
faith relations. Misunderstandings and ignorance unequivocally forbidden in one’s religious conduct.
have led many to attack and malign the Shi’ite com-
munity. Their actions threaten to psychologically Ayatollah Khamenei’s statement is worthy of praise
isolate and divide the Muslim mind and sow seeds and attention. It should encourage Muslims from all
of friction in the community. Ayatollah Khamenei’s schools of thought to reconcile their differences in
verdict is thus an attempt to forge unity and prohibit meaningful and constructive ways, and establish a
the mindless insulting of symbols held sacred by our strong base for unity as the religion confronts the
Sunni brethren. emerging challenges of this new century.

20 | al itrah Jan 2011