Ashura is past

There has got to be something wrong about a War on Terror where we find ourselves congratulating each other that nobody has been killed on Ashura. There has got to be something askew when the people against whom the USA is busy fighting the War, of course with help of our gallant armed forces, who have died in their thousands in this War, seem more intent on killing their co-religionists, though they have branded them nonbelievers. Perhaps Ashura emphasises this, but have you noticed how we love to label one another nonbelievers? I wonder if this is a way of making ourselves believers. Obviously, only a believer can declare someone else a nonbeliever. So if you dont do any of the things done by a believer, the best way of establishing your believing status is by declaring someone a nonbeliever. I assume there must be some pleasure to be had from declaring another school outside the pale of Islam, and then to declare that the followers of that school will have their marriages cancelled (for some reason, this point is emphasised) and their funerals not to be attended, while their rights of inheritance stand cancelled. Ashura has moved from a commemoration of the Imam and his sacrifice to a hope that terrorists will not get up to new tricks. And every year that they leave us alone, we are happy, and if, like last year, they strike, as they did in Karachi, we are left to blame the sectarians. You know, one of the victories that the sectarians win is regarding Ashura as a sectarian occasion, even though it is very much a Muslim one. Anyhow, whether an all-Muslim occasion or a sectarian, it was certainly not meant to mean just an extended weekend as it has meant for those of our friends who have taken the Saturday off, making for four holidays, with the working week ending on Wednesday, and work again only on the Monday. What do we need these holidays for, now that there are to be no weddings? Ashura may not mean much else, but it does mean a lot of haleem being cooked and eaten. But weddings are off. What with the weather continuing so rainless, what with the dragging on, unseasonally, of flus and colds and such causes of sniffles, there was already a load of misery in our lives when Ashura came along. Ashura didnt come without any fanfare. Richard Holbrooke also passed away in these days, and those who mourned his passing, thus had something solid to mourn. Yet these are also the days in which WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange got off his buffalo theftsorry, Swedish sexcase. Come to think of it, Sweden is a pretty dead-and-alive sort of country, with no Ashura or buffaloes. Apart from all those Americans mourning Holbrooke, the Chinese Prime Minister also turned up in Islamabad for Ashura. Apart from signing MoUs and deals worth vast amounts, would it be too much to presume that he had come to do a little mourning on the side? Especially since he came to visit a PM who, though not as much a true believer as his President, would make full use of the holiday, and that too as it was intended. Of course, when the Chinese PM was busy doing whatever is done on this occasion, the delegation he had brought along was probably bored to distraction, but did the hosts pay any attention? Not if they could promise something in cold hard foreign exchange to You-know-who. Meanwhile, the WikiLeaks have finally made revelations showing that Indians know about what is happening in Kashmir, and that even Rahul Gandhi has been speaking against Indian extremists. Even though the knowledge is now out in the open, all that will happen is that Assange has guaranteed himself a buffalo-theft case, though this time it will be registered against him in India, where policemen are loyal servants of the state, as in Pakistan, and will do what it takes, as they have been doing in Kashmir for decades. It must not be forgotten that they have as deep an affinity for buffaloes as their Pakistani counterparts, with the addition that Indian policemen, who are invariably high caste (or will become so by the end of their service; caste boundaries are rigid, but less rigid than we think, and allow for social mobility), dont eat the buffalo, which the Pakistani copper is known to do. Of course, since Ashura is not marked in this fashion by Shias in the rest of the Muslim World, the suspicion arises that the rituals associated with it are linked to the Court of the Kingdom of Oudh at Lucknow. The King of Oudh, recognised as such by the British, belonged to the dynasty of Nawab Saadat Khan, the Mughal-appointed Subedar of Oudh who declared his independence. The Kingdom of Oudh, like that of Delhi, came to an end with the Mutiny. As the King of Oudh, apart from the Shah of Iran, was the worlds only Shia monarch, the Ashura commemoration was also meant to validate the dynasty, not just mark its religious fervour. As a result, we have got all of those customs which have attracted the Chinese PM. Well, when all is said and done, Ashura is over this year, and 1432 AH has started. 2010 will end, with Christmas/Quaid-e-Azam Day next week, and the end of the year the week after that. At the moment, the Hijri and Christian years are in some sort of tandem, but the Hijri year will soon slip behind. I mean, next year, Ashura will be at the beginning of December. And before you know it, it will be in the summer.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of The Nation.

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