WASHINGTON, November 5, 2013 — An international campaign is garnering attention with an effort centered around the slogan “Who is Hussain?” The question is directing focus to the historical (7th century CE) Imam Hussain, the grandson of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Muslims around the world focus their attention on Imam Hussain during this time of the year, which corresponds to the Islamic calendar month of “Muharram.”
Imam Hussain is particularly known for his stand against the Umayyad Empire, whom he strongly protested for engaging in extremism and for violating precepts of Islamic belief.
In response, armies of the Empire brutally slaughtered Imam Hussain and dozens of members of Prophet Muhammad’s family in the city of Karbala (located in modern day Iraq). Muslims today see the event as a turning point in Islamic history, and it is often cited by experts as the “line in the sand” between Muslims who are firmly anti-extremist, and those that utilize violence to accomplish their goals.
The question of “Who is Hussain?” itself has been tangentially present in the media, as it is the well-publicized middle name of President Obama, who uses the alternative spelling “Hussein.”
The campaign also capitalizes on the worldwide attention on the beliefs and practices of Shiite Muslims, who particularly venerate Imam Hussain as one of the successors to Prophet Muhammad, and leader of the worldwide Muslim community. Shiites, during Muharram, typically hold a series of Majlis (Arabic for “gatherings”) in which poetry and lectures are recited in devotion to Hussain.
The word “Imam” in this context is given a unique meaning. Typically, in the Arabic language, the word can refer to any person who is in a religious leadership position, such as a person who is leading prayers, or the head of a mosque or Muslim community.
In the case of Imam Hussain, and the remainder of the 12 Imams of the Shiites, “Imam” means that the person is a divinely ordained leader, and the title is unique to these individuals. Despite this, Shiite Muslims use the word in both ways, clarifying their meaning by whom they are referring to, on a case by case basis.
The Who Is Hussain campaign is also utilizing social media to advertise the campaign, such as the trending Twitter hashtag #WhoIsHussain.
Additionally, the group is sponsoring an international blood drive campaign, as well as efforts to distribute tens of thousands of bottles of water to the needy all in an effort to draw attention to the question “Who Is Hussain?” Various ads can be seen on billboards, metro stations, and even on buses.
The DC based Islamic Information Center (IIC) attempts to put Hussain in the context of the modern world.
It says “For the past several decades, the name ‘Husain’ has been ever prevalent in the Western media. Various kings, presidents, politicians, and other leaders around the world have ‘Husain’ (or some alternate spelling) as part of their name.
“In the Muslim world, the 5 most common names are Muhammad, Ali, Fatima, Hasan, and Husain. Why are these names so important? Who were these people? On average, most people have heard of the name ‘Muhammad’, but the other names remain generally unknown.
“The history of who Husain was, what he did, and why he did it are key components to Islamic history, and have lasting repercussions throughout the world, including modern day Iraq.”
IIC refers to the burial place of Imam Hussain in the city of Karbala, modern day Iraq. The shrines of Imam Hussain, and his brother Abbas, are a top holy site for Shiite Muslims, where millions of adherents flock to each year.
Karbala is a major target of extremists as well, and attacks against the city have been prevalent since the war on Iraq began in 2003, extending to several attacks this year.
IIC continues to explain the history of Imam Hussain, “On the tenth day of Muharram, also referred to as ‘Ashura”’ [the Umayyad Empire’s] forces, numbering in the thousands cornered and killed Husain and the majority of his male family members, including Husain’s infant child, leaving only women and some children. The surviving women and children were then shackled and imprisoned. Several of the children later died under the harsh conditions.”
Shiites are often brutally attacked by extremists or like-minded governments during Muharram commemorations. Pakistan has seen annual bomb attacks on the day of Ashura, as has war torn Iraq.
The government of Bahrain took the unusual step this year of purchasing more tear gas canisters than its entire populationm in what is widely seen as preparation to prevent religious commemorations of the event by the country’s majority population of Shiite Muslims.
Disclaimer: The author of this article has volunteered with the groups mentioned in this article.
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