My elder cousin, who is about fifteen years older than I am often narrates how Muharram was observed during the late 80’s and 90’s in Pakistan. Unlike the isolation in which Shais observe this month today, back in the day, I am told, Sunnis would participate in the observance of Ashura in endearing ways like setting-up sabeels, cooking and serving food to their mourning nighbours and even transporting the elderly and children in their neighbourhoods to and from Imam Bargahs.
Unfortunately, the world that I have grown up in is diametrically different from the one that my cousin talks about. Sunnis and Shias live increasingly in their own silos, often rigid in their understanding of religion and inevitably suspicious of each other. The sectarian violence that has aggravated over the last decade or so is then a scary reminder of how we have allowed two sects of the same religion to drift apart.
This division is all the more perplexing given that Hazrat Imam Hussain (R.A) is just as revered by Sunnis as he is by the Shias. His sacrifice at Qarbala is a tale of valour and steadfastness in faith that is one of the most important chapters in Muslim history. And yet, while there are no two opinions about the immense love and respect that Hazrat Imam Hussain (R.A) commands across the Muslim world, we choose to denounce each other for the “sects” in which we were born.
Utterly frustrated with this unnecessary dichotomy among our ranks, as a Sunni I took it upon myself to revive the lost sense of togetherness that my brother recalls every Muharram. I did this by doing three simple acts this holy month.
I Shared Food
Early today I woke up to begin preparing large quantities of food. While quite a few of my Shia friends are fasting, I thought it would be helpful to prepare food for the children and for the elders that they could consume at iftar time.
I Became Our Neighbourhood’s Designated Driver
At the beginning of Muharram, I offered my services to our neighbours, offering anyone who required help, especially the elderly to and from the Imam Bargah.
My phone has been by my side all day to ensure that I do not miss any requests for transportation.
As many Sunnis do, I too am fasting today and will be fasting again tomorrow. But I am not just fasting this year to gain sawab for myself. This year I am leveraging my status as a rozaydaar to have this one prayer granted: the return of love and respect among the two sects.
As a Muslim I believe that prayers hold the key to change destinies. So more than anything else this Ashura, with every waking moment that I have at my disposal, I am praying for the sectarian divide to vanish on its own and I dearly wish you too will join me in my prayer.