There are personal experiences that shapes our instincts. I have a special soft corner for commemoration of month of Muharram and this soft corner has roots in my personal experience and this personal experience tells me that, whatever are the reactions and whatever are their levels, they serve one thing very clearly, and that is, an increase in levels of awareness (and in some, a level of commitment to the society they belong specifically, and to humanity in general). Let me give an account of this experience (on how a journey of awareness starts and how commemorating this month is so special for me),
I am not claiming that my study areas are really vast but I consider myself a voracious reader. I forget most of what I read, except the parts that are directly linked to my personal experiences and observations. In other words, reading gives me fresh eyes for my experiences and observation or make them coherent enough to become something meaningful. What is the link of this introduction to the month of Muharram? For me, the most basic link to Muharram is:
If I had not experienced the commemorations of the events of Karbala each year, I may had a very shallow and bookish concept of justice, individualism, relation of individual to society, social trends and movements. The months of Muharram and knowledge of event of Karbala forces me to think deeper about current events and analyze them comparatively. Here, I would like to share one of the conclusions that I reached through month of Muharram:
In my early teenage, everyday, I had to bike from home to school forth and back. One thing that was getting my attention frequently was the stickers and screen prints of this handsome bearded guy, with long hairs, wearing a military beret that had a star on it, and was looking up, on the back of bicycles, motorcycles, rickshaws, cars and even walls. First I thought, he must be a local guy and wanted to have a sticker on back my bicycle too. Later, I learned that he was a revolutionary figure from Latin America known as Che . I had had to read about him to know, why he is popular in our part of world? Why people affiliate themselves with his pictures while they are mostly, either know very little or know nothing at all about him? When I learned that he was actually a doctor from Argentina, led the communist revolution in the Cuba, fought in Africa and was killed in Bolivia, then I realized, why a communist leader from Latin America is so popular in a traditional and tribal city such as Quetta (Where ethnicity, language, culture and religion are the cornerstone of identities). There were other communist leaders like Lenin, Mao and Fidel then why only Che is so popular among non-communist populations? I have a personal answer to this and I got this answer from my analysis that is coming from events in Karbala. The popularity of Che was because he was a master-revolutionary.
What do I mean by a master-revolutionary?
I borrowed the term master from fine art to elaborate an answer to one of MY BIG QUESTIONS that I have gotten from commemorating events of Karbala:
There have been countless rebellions but only very few have grown to become a revolution and majority had/have reduced into mere terrorist movements and campaigns. So, my biggest question to myself was, what directs a rebellion into a revolution and what reduces them to terrorism? I have crossed over prospects of ideology and religion a long time ago, as one can find terrorists affiliated with all sorts of ideologies (if you need references, let me know. I am avoiding them here just to keep this knol short and relevant). My conclusion is that, a rebellion led long enough by a master-revolutionary (ies) to mature, grows into revolution. Otherwise, they tend to be soon reduced to terrorism.
In art, you here the terms, old-masters and new-masters. Old masters were those renaissance artists who showed their unmatched skills in visualizing human experiences through their artwork. The new-masters on other hand are those artists who begin in footsteps of old masters and show their unmatched skills but then do not want to become just footnotes of old masters and break the rules of old masters to introduce a whole new art (that might not be pleasing but still are considered master-arts). In short, in order to become a master artist (both old and new) one must qualify to be a master artists, particularly for new masters, they have to show they qualify to break the rules (otherwise breaking lines doesn't mean anything).
Although, the actual battle of Karbala lasted only half a day, far away from any populated area, with 73 men (one survivor) at one camp and thousands of soldiers in other camp, still after 14 centuries later, people commemorate every detail of the events took place there. In a sense, it was a tiny rebellion but that rebellion never ceased to grow and it is still growing. It is growing because it was led by a person who was qualified from every perspective. Imam Hussein' grandfather (Prophet Muhammad P.B.U.H) was a revolutionary man who founded Islam. His father was an Imam and Caliph and so His elder brother. He was educated by His grandfather, father and brother and actively participated in events that shaped establish this newly introduced religion into a whole system of governance. Though His rebellion was very brief but because earlier He had proved Himself in shaping this system of governance along with His father and elder brother, He was the most qualified person to led this rebellion against the system that was going in a wrong direction. In short, if a rebellion is led by a qualified person (by a master), even if it is very brief like the day of Ashura, it still has the potential to grow.
In an age that is plagued with terrorism, my personal interpretation is that the rebellions that had reduced to terrorism, might have good reasons and even just causes but because they were/are led by people who did/do not qualify to led a rebellion, reduced them to terror campaigns, narrowed interests and policy of exclusions. Che didn't qualify because he was a trained physician but because after successful rebellion in Cuba, he didn't stick to power. He left power to take his rebellion into Africa and Latin America to liberate people there. We can disagree with his ideology but we can't ignore his qualifications that he earned by his actions.
In conclusion, the journey of awareness starts from personal experiences and study takes them into a next level of consciousness. Readings that do not have roots into personal experiences and observation end up into dustbins of unconsciousness and forgetfulness. I favor actual commemoration of events in Karbala as it provides basic experiences for those who really want to understand basic social, political and psychological events around them.
I am not just walking on clouds when I talk about the qualifications needed to lead a rebellion. I have observed/seen the conscious efforts of promoting some personalities to make them appear into having such qualifications. If you remember the first time Obama, as first black American, with a slogan of "change" won US presidential election. The half red, half blue icon of Obama was an effort to make him appear a new revolutionary master (a new Che, if you like) and at the beginning he made efforts to outreach Muslim world. He was even awarded Nobel peace prize but by passage of time, he was consumed by politics at home and couldn't qualify to become a new master. The same happened to Ahmadinejad of Iran. His poor background, higher education, simple living and long service made him a good candidate to be promoted as a new master (against imperialism). Again he couldn't qualify as he was consumed by politics and deteriorating economy at home. A recent example is that of Mala. She is promoted by awards, a memoir and Malala day. These things are good at promoting a person but in order to qualify as a female master, she has yet to walk a long road of actual activism. I can only wish her best of luck (though my instincts do not tell me that she has an ecosystem to let her grow into a qualified person, still, let's hope for the best).
I deliberately avoided psychological and cultural aspects of month of Muharram to keep it as earthly and neutral as I could do. The commemoration of this month has helped me to look at things beyond Platonic dialogues, to the events and collective consciousness of my own time. To me, it doesn't matter much, what are the reactions as long as they are non-violent and I do think that, these reactions do contribute to deepening and diversifying of awareness and that is in itself a great service to the relevant societies.