Thought Archive

Friday, January 18, 2008

Two Dark Days

There is a certain feeling that makes Ashura a special day here – black flags, atmosphere of subdued conversation and lack of shallow entertainment on TV. This year in Azerbaijan, Ashura takes on another meaning as it coincides with a recent tragendy – Baku massacres of 1990.

Kerbela and the martyrdom of Imam Hussein posesses a great power in the psyche of some Muslims- the Shia community, specifically. The death of Prophet's grandson takes an almost cosmic significance of an eternal struggle of Good and Evil, which takes place everyday inside and outside of any human soul. In a way – as Shia say - the whole World is Kerbela and everyday is Ashura – which is not taken to mean literally that everyday is a day of mourning, but only that everyday this eternal struggle is being waged. A struggle between Day and Night, Ahuramazda and Ahriman, God and Satan.

Some consider Ashura - an eternal mourning for a person who died 1300 years ago - a meaningless event and threatening in a very barbaric way. But in reality it is very static; despite an opportunity to mobilize crowds and take them towards revenge on Yazid, and - like in modern Iran - to relate it to yodays conflicts waged against Muslims in Palestine and beyond, Ashura stays strangely apolitical. Ashura mourners are passively resigned to the fate of eternal defeat and of perpetual injustice, which had been dealt on them and would stay this way until the day of Reckoning. They weep instead, madly, hysterically - just like they danced on a wedding a month before. What starts from a passion play moves to float in a river of tears, to culminate in chest-beating, ululations and self-mutilation amongst most fanatical (though strictly prohibited). Some of these events are frenzied outpourings of uncontrollable emotion which is beautiful to watch. No acid, drink or drugs – just people letting themselves reach an emotional crescendo of humility and self-effacement.

Mourning is usually a time for a reflection and to see how a thousand years of it can affect a nation. Our Shia psyche elevated what most certainly was a grave tragedy of Black January (I still remember blood on the streets and Russian soldiers taking people to be shot) into a cosmic nation-defining catastrophe. A sort of secular Ashura, with Armenians and Russians being our Yazids. We have to mourn twice this week.


NoolaBeulah said...

"a cosmic nation-defining catastrophe" - You're right. Events like this, when they occur in the right circumstances, can become mythic. And they're usually defeats. For Australians, the great event was Gallipoli, where, as in Black January, people are united by loss, and they clearly define themselves against the rest.

I've heard people define Sh'ia Islam, like Christianity, as a weeping religion; ie one based on sacrifice and mourning.

Riri said...

"A struggle between Day and Night, Ahuramazda and Ahriman, God and Satan."

I've always "struggled" with this vision of events and life in general. A lot of religious people believe that this life is a constant struggle between God and Satan, Good and Evil. This permeates all spheres of consciousness it seems, most movies, novels, legends, politics center around this mythical struggle and vision of heroism.

I think it is ridiculous and laughable. For me God is above any struggle, certainly not a struggle against Satan. Day and Night are not in a struggle, they complement each other, it is us who tend to perceive differences as threats to be annuled. Certainly, group identity and psychology has a huge part to play in our "struggles".

Hazar Nesimi said...

I never call Shia Islam a religion - no complex theology involved- it is more like a state of mind. There are some parallels with Catholicism, especially in veneration of saints and iconography, which is remarkably similar, if more subdued.

Veneration of martyrs is as old as the World and it continues - case in point where now Kerbela reminds us of recent wounds we are still licking, and Iranians use it to remind Muslims of Palestine. It may look ridiculous and laughable to us but to other people it is what defines their very being. Some people think that non-religious ideas can not cause in people same level of fervor - but it does, as I observe now, here and there: there is a cult of massacres, genocides, pillages and and other rememembrances, it takes hold on human psyche. They serve to remind oneself of a group he is in, and gather people together for sorrowful self-reflection. Tomorrow we continue our sorrows on a different, more recent plane. Armenians and Jews have their Genocides, Australians their Gallipolli, and Algerians their 1960.

There is an Azeri saying there are only two types of events in life - Wedding and a Funeral. One is Joy and the other is Sorrow.

Riri said...

I just want to make clear that by "ridiculous and laughable" I certainly did not mean Shia Islam or any religious ideology. My point was about the more encompassing idea of bad versus evil as illustrated by God versus Satan in the mind of religious folk. My point is that nothing in existence would dare to claim they're in struggle with God, not even Satan. Only human are capable of profering such profanities and still think they're worshipping God. By giving God an opposite, you are limiting Him and in a way defining Him. That is not the way I understand the religious message. I think this is also why religion has been used to incite people to do all sorts of evil for the sake of God would you believe it?! This interpretaion of Life and the thereafter as a mere Good versus Evil, God versus Satan struggle is too simplistic and practically begs for religion to be used the atrocious way it has been to control the masses by remote control. We need to wake up and realise that good and evil are us, the struggle is among ourselves and within ourselves.

NoolaBeulah said...

A digression from Good and Evil (BTW, I think Riri's right, but stories are better with Goodies and Baddies)

This sentence concluded a review of a book about Russia and Azerbaijan, which was linked to in your sidebar.

"Falling within the Russian Federation, they have not been freed as the other Muslims living in new republics." What do you think of that? How have other Muslims been "freed"?

Hazar Nesimi said...

All in all fair assessment from a nuetral Pakistani point of view. -would never expect this from Iranians. I actually do not understand last sentence - I is it taken to mean that we have not been physically freed. Other republics - what new republics? Pakistan? Also "I Hasan Beg Zardabi, HZA Taghiev, Nariman Narimanov and Ali Mardan Topchibashov led literary and social movements that finally joined the larger Soviet revolutionary stream in later times" - this is gross generalization, for soviet bolshevik stream was opposed to national democratic one from the very beginning. Bolsheviks, unlike national-democrats, emphasized brotherhood of nations, triumph of lower classes and erasure of local identity. National democrats (to which probably majority of Azeri intellegentsia belonged) emphasized national right to self-determination, "modernism" and Islamic identity (as opposed to Sharia rule). Majority of Muslim (some prominent exceptions) middle classes never joined bolsheviks for these reasons, wheras Russian, Jewish and Armenian intellegentsia did. My grand-grand father had nothing to do with Bolsheviks and criticized them for their anti-religious stance, of which I have correspondence to prove.

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