Thursday, 8 December 2016

Mourning for Morning

Understanding Mourning, Muharram and Kashmir 2016.

Abiding value in Shia approach to culture, politics and religion – that resists sharp critical scrutiny of Sunnis and secular historiography and  anthropology – consists of, among other things:

  • Importance of resistance  against the status quoists of all hues, in every clime, against those who assert that justice has been done and we can complacently wait and see (a thesis brilliantly defended by Hamid Dabashi in Resisting the Empire). Heroes of resistance are martyrs who are so special people that we can’t even imagine their glory. They don’t die, asserts the Quran. Imagine if special method for defying death by science were discovered and who wouldn’t sell everything for getting it! How could they die as, being consumed in witnessing Truth, they are no longer themselves – egos – whom death could touch.  There is a station that is better than heaven that is available for mortals here on earth. That is the station of witnessing of martyrs. But how difficult it is to stand defenceless against the Truth and become a mirror in which God witnesses His own glory. A man without ideology, without hatred, without attachments to anything save the Real. Rare indeed are martyrs and more rare is an understanding of their station and one can only lament casual use of the term in news bulletins at the time of conflict or war. Shia legacy consists in honouring the memory of martyrs in a special way.
  • Significance of mourning as a gateway to the morning, a dawn in another dimension and we all know how life offers its consolation – and gift – of tears when we are terribly in pain. In fact weeping is a shortcut to heaven that is available to all except the proud.  Weeping dissolves ego and if we could maintain that state later without physically weeping we would be enjoying what saints enjoy – certain participation in heavenly state here and now.
  • Building an Islamic theology of redemption through suffering if we grant its possibility by understanding redemption as redeeming us of consequences of the Fall, curing alienation or ignorance or conquering what resists evil in us and certain evil dispositions that hold us hostage and must be transmuted/transcended. The traditional doctrine of Shifaeyt which envisages special role of martyrs and many traditions often recounted in Muharrram that underscore significance of interiorizing the sorrow of martyrs have been subject of much misunderstanding because of little understood  theology of suffering and logic of grace/fazl.
  • Exploring the deeper philosophical content – metaphysical flights and existential and esoteric meanings/grounding – of Islamic Intellectual and spiritual tradition. Without philosophers, poets, artists, writers, mystics, scientists  of the first order that Shia world has patronized,  the world  would be a much poorer world. In any list of ten greatest figures – scientists, philosophers, poets – that Islamicate world has produced, more than half would be Shia and one must appreciate openness towards philosophy and poetry – or we can say Hikmah and art – that characterizes Iranian culture to this date.
  • Noble idealism of Jains, Gandhi etc. and their newer admirers besides animal rights activists notwithstanding, recognizing the indispensability of “violence” (as an element of self flagellation in voluntary suffering, in hadood/tazeerat and jihad and animal sacrifice)  for solving human problems (one recalls  Walter Benjamin who has argued that it is impossible to totally exclude violence in principle in any conceivable solution  to human problems) – though this doesn’t imply its desirability but a concession to human condition as it is far from some hypothesized ideal that negates the very definition of life as an appropriation as Nietzsche defined it). There is a martyrdom of voluntary suffering – one dies every moment there is a temptation and one says no.

      Outright dismissals of Shia practices as mourning processions and communal weeping  betrays enormous ignorance of anthropology and history of religions that underscore the importance of voluntary suffering (faqr, self discipline imply it), sacrifice and mourning rituals. When all ratiocinations cease and one can’t invoke any worldly support and one sees justice being trampled and goodness mocked and terrible reality of death of a dear one, one weeps and even self flagellates by beating the chest and head. Waiy waiy that one utters in pain helps because it is a divine name – so notes and then explicates the Greatest Master on the basis of traditional understanding of Doctrine of Divine Names. The Prophet wept when occasion demanded. All that is human is not alien to Islam and what is alien is what contradicts human dignity which is sometimes noticed when we excessively flagellate ourselves or make of mourning procession a spectacle.

Lessons for post- Burhan Kashmir
Granting there are many perspectives to approach Burhan and post-Burhan uprising, what we can safely and authentically assert is that somehow Kahmiris have found a hero who can’t cease inspiring and haunting them, especially the new generation. Defeat itself can be celebrated where victory pales in significance and inspires only passing moment in lives of cultures but defeat, victimhood and baptism of suffering permanently lifts the whole community to heights.  Defeat and sacrifice are great cultural capital for a living culture and great poets. Shahnama and elegiac literature on Karbala demonstrate this. There is no dishonour in trying to negotiate even with forces of Yazid some peaceful settlement. There is no dishonour in relinquishing power the way Hassan(AS) did or Hussain(AS) chose till the last moment when the war was, in a way, forced on him. There is no dishonour in replacing stones with other modes of resistance that hit on target without giving the other an excuse for greater violence. Hussain asked his aides to leave under the cover of night and didn’t force martyrdom on anyone. And here it seems martyrdom has been rather trivialized as has been resistance whose particular style invented on streets by small children may be resisted by otherwise resistant people. Hussain didn’t believe in numbers. All he did was to protest and then choose to die with dignity and the whole world had to take notice and  seems to cry “ours is Hussain.” Mourning for Burhan, mourning for heroes from 1931 till date, mourning for those who have been maimed, needs sacralisation and human touch at every point  to turn this into a beautiful morning for Kashmir one day. Otherwise or it becomes mere political gesture and more wicked politics finds it easy to discredit it.

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