Karachi Tales - A look back on the Moharram experience

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Rashida Inayat and family on their journey to Karachi

November 10th, 2017

40 days after Aashura we look back at the experience of Ashara Mubarak 1439AH with SyednaTUS in Karachi through the eyes of some of those who made the trip.

The Reporter’s Tale - Amatulla Ghadiali, 'Getting to Ashara'

Umme Hani Ismail is a lawyer in Houston, USA. She is also a mother to two children, one is 3 and the other is 10. Her husband Huzeifa, works long hours on his start up in the oil and gas industry. By any standards, they are a busy couple yet, for years, they have juggled both their own schedules and those of their children to make time for the trip for Ashara Mubaraka – the commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam HusainAS, the historical event that shaped and defined Islam forever.

“Ashara is about taking the trouble,” Umme Hani says. “It’s about putting yourself out there, even if you get sick, even if you have the kids with you, it’s about still making it. You go for Ashara, you make that connection again, you get perspective on life, get your priorities in order, make the personal sacrifices that are needed.”

She’s not alone in how she feels. This year, 30,000 Bohras made their way to Karachi, Pakistan, to join the 30,000 who live in Pakistan to commemorate Ashara with Syedna. Many of the travellers came from India, and for many of them their journey was an arduous one - involving crossing a politically fraught border by foot. Meanwhile, those that could not make it to Karachi, still took time off from school and work and life and gathered in their local masjids around the world, joining Syedna in spirit if not in person.

This huge gathering is an expression of love that Bohras, and all Muslims commemorating Karbala, make every year to recall the debt they owe to the one who stood up for good and saved them all, every commemoration motivated by love. For Bohras, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin is the living embodiment of that love and travelling to do Ashara with him is a pilgrimage in its own right.

“I always try and go to Ashara, wherever it is, whatever my own situation is, because the feeling of doing ashara with Maula, makes me complete,” says Yusuf Ghadiali, a SOAS student from Mumbai. “Ashara with Maula is like Karbala – you feel as though your prayers have been heard. I come back with peace of mind. I know that now I have nothing to worry about, that everything that will now happen will be for the best. My misdeeds have been forgiven, there is no price left to pay. My prayers have been heard, there is nothing left to ask.”

It is also an opportunity to deepen their relationship with Syedna himself. Farida Ghadiali runs a nursery in Surat, India. Her husband Murtaza, was not going to Karachi, he was going to another Indian town, Akola, to do the Ashara waaz there. Farida would have to travel north with her three girls by herself, her youngest just five, border crossing and all. She plucked up the courage and made the trip.

“It's many things that I want to experience, witness, feel but mainly it's to know him (Syedna),” Farida says. “It's the strengthening of my relationship, it's listening to the waaz to know what Syedna is thinking, what he wants, what he likes…as it unfolds, my love deepens too. And – after all - what is religion, but love?”

‘There is no religion without love’ is something Bohras learn as a basic tenet. Love, as we all know, takes years to build. It begins on our mother’s laps, when they teach their babies to say “Ya Husain,” and when they’re a little older, how to trace the letters with their fingers. We weep for Imam Husain at Ashara, and the first seeds of that love are planted at home. They are nourished slowly, like every relationship, one interaction at a time, we learn more details as we grow. We hear of the Prophet’s love for his daughter, Maulatena FatemaAS, her husband, Moulana AliAS, their sons Imam HasanAS and Imam HusainAS. We hear the stories of Imam HusainAS in his childhood, how beloved he was, carried by Prophet MohammedSA on his shoulders, always protected from harm. We learn grace and character and how to love, and as the Imams grow older, we learn about courage and duty and sacrifice.

The final stories of Imam HusainAS are from the battlefield in Karbala, and they are still stories of family, his patience and bravery and grief as he loses one son and then another, his tender exchanges with his sister Maulatena ZainabAS that continue into his final moments as he watches her look for him from the tent. Our hearts break throughout, and we weep and try to learn from their examples of how life is to be lived, and what love and generosity can look like.

All of it takes so much – physically, emotionally, spiritually that at the end like it or not, we have given our all. Then we emerge like after having finished a marathon, or anything else that took everything, with the same exhilaration and triumph. We are surrounded by all the people we see on Ashara every year – old friends, new friends, Ashara friends, family in distant countries we would never see otherwise.

The Working Housewife's Tale - Rashida Inayat Hassanali

Rashida Inayat Hassanali and her 3 grown-up children made their first visit together to attend the Ashara sermons with Syedna this year in Karachi. From the green hills and dales and often cold chills of Nottingham, England, to Pakistan’s commercial capital is a far cry but for the effervescent Mrs Hassanali – who, in her youth, backpacked across New Zealand – there was no sense that it would be in any way daunting.

Rashida is very much a daughter of the English Midlands growing up in Leicester, working and living for many years in Sheffield and now well and truly settled in Nottingham. Her husband Inayat has worked for many years in the IT industry connected to oil exploration and her two daughters and son are all pursuing higher education. While Inayat stayed behind to care for their parents, for three of the family this was their first Ashara with SyednaTUS.

For Rashida and her family the trip will be remembered for the support and family feeling they felt everywhere. “I wanted the children to know that wherever they go they will be cared for within our community.”

This was to be seen from the outset of their trip. Rashida had put in a request on the community’s ITS web portal to be accommodated in a fellow Bohra’s home (rather than a hotel) in Karachi. “Whilst we awaited an answer we had no idea until the day before our flight, where we would be staying when we reached Karachi. What transpired was that - through a friend on the other side of the world in Australia - a connection was made and we were invited by a generous host family to stay in the most loving and hospitable of homes in Karachi.”

So, to the main event. From the time of our arrival, our sole focus initially was to get our first glimpse of Syedna, then to drink in the thirst quenching spiritual drops of wisdom gleaned daily from his waaz (sermons), and to be part of the great waves of emotion and communal maatam for Imam HusainAS. Ashara is always an important time but at home the sometimes crass tedium of everyday life unfortunately creeps in and dilutes the experience. For me, Ashara with Maula was a concentrated experience, a single-minded and sole focus for making the journey. I simply wasn't interested in anything else, and even bouts of sickness could not detract from the sense of spirituality and gratitude we felt for this wonderful opportunity.

I wanted my children to become more confident of attending Ashara, as two of them were attending for the first time. Ashara is THE best way, bar none, to travel the world, experience different communities and cultures. It is an incredible chance to meet people from all over the world, and for me Ashara 1439 was also a reunion with friends not met for decades!

Syedna’s sermons were a reminder of the essential elements of life. The various etiquettes of worldly matters such as eating a meal, the importance of namaaz and reading the Qur'an. Since returning from Karachi, I have tried to attend daily ladies majlis where we recite elegies, read excerpts from the sermons and recount the martyrdom of Imam HusainAS. At the moment I struggle to read these excerpts by myself (which are in Lisan ul-Dawat), and have promised myself that by next Ashara, I will be able to recite the shahadat and read the iqtebaasat myself instead of relying on my daughters and nieces to do so for me!

I am a great believer in lifelong learning, having spent many years encouraging adult learners to face their demons and learn English, Maths or ICT and recently fulfilled my own lifelong ambition to qualify with a PGCE as an English teacher. This Ashara has sown the seeds of my latest learning goal; to become proficient in reading Arabic and Lisan ul-Dawat and, insha'Allah also to fulfill Syedna’s desire by learning more of the surahs in the 30th chapter of the Quran by heart. This is another step in the right direction for me, as I strive to be a better person in accordance with Syedna’s guidance, our teacher and guide in all things.

The University Student's Tale - Umme Salama Inayat Hassanali

I really wanted to come back for the Birmingham masjid inauguration but the tickets were expensive and I decided to come home as normal after the inauguration thus saving the money to attend Ashara wherever it was held.

Ashara with Maula was something I could never have imagined. The atmosphere and culture that we surrounded ourselves with was amazing and completely different to Ashara back home. The whole day revolved around remembering Imam HusainAS and going to the masjid which meant you didn't have time to think about school or uni or anything else - it was quite refreshing!

I found having to take time off from uni quite daunting as I'm on a fairly intense course and was going to miss a lot of work and clinical time. In the end my uni didn't authorise my leave, so I had to take 2 weeks of unauthorised leave which meant I had to have a few meetings once I got back and talk about my attendance etc. Fortunately everything worked out fine and I'm just working harder to catch up on everything I've missed!

The Karachi Jamaat and locals were so welcoming, we felt very looked after and at home throughout, despite getting sick halfway through!

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and would love to attend Ashara with Maula in the years to come!

The Young Man's Tale - Aadil Aashik Bolyawala

Aadil is 25, single and working in London. Born and raised in London with Pakistani heritage, to listen to him is to listen to any other London born youngster with the clear-cut British accent. By his own admission the community language of Lisan-ul-Dawat remains somewhat alien since the household languages tend to be primarily English with a smattering of Urdu. He had attended the London madrasah during his childhood and his masjid attendance is fairly regular especially in Ramadan and Ashara but his acquaintanceship with his community language remains fleeting.

This was his first Ashara experience with Syedna and, given the language obstacles he candidly owns up to, it was remarkable that he had no compunction in sitting through the two and half hour sermons each day. The fact that his phone was impervious to any signal throughout his stay in Karachi was a plus, “I had no distractions!” he says. “I don’t know if it’s changed me as a person or my outlook on religion, but it has opened my eyes to the power of our community, the strength of our brotherhood.”

When asked about any new resolutions? “May be not yet,” he replies before expressing a strong desire for more religious knowledge to be conveyed through English. That spark and desire to learn - somehow or another - shone through.

“We decided to go for many reasons, my nana (maternal grandfather) is unwell with stage 4 cancer. That was a reason to visit as well as the obvious religious reasons.” (Since then, we are pleased to report, Aadil’s nana’s cancer has gone into remission to stage 1).

“Of course Muharram would normally be spent In Northolt masjid but Karachi was extra special as it's the city my mum was brought up in. The pull of meeting family, extended family and to be part of a special religious experience all turned into a no-brainer. Work and financial constraints were not a hindrance this time and enabled my mother and I to travel to Pakistan for 2 weeks.

We arrived on the day of the 2nd waaz when we visited the local relay centre in Husami Masjid (Hyderi). It was quite special watching on a huge LED screen as if Syedna was right there in the room at the time. The crowd, drawn in together as one like a magnet pulling things towards it, pin drop silence and the ultimate due respect was something to witness.

The guards and helpers right from landing at the airport to the final day leaving were very helpful and showed utmost generosity in their endeavour to assist fellow members of the community. Considering that they had just 2-3 weeks to officially plan and sync their operations everything was done to a T.

Even in Saddar, the Taheri masjid and KPI ground set up blew me away, from a person who Is used to attending football matches with crowds of 60,000 people I can honestly say I never felt more comfortable walking around the masjid, to and from the grounds and around the vicinity of the masjid areas. All the guards and guides knew their roles and had the answers to any questions we had. Going to masjid with disabled or frail family members wasn't an issue either with plenty of seated areas and rickshaws provided a shuttle service for the elderly and infirm to and from areas that required a lot of walking.

Overall I was honestly blown away with the whole organization. A person like me, who visits Pakistan quite often, was cautious and apprehensive about how things would be done and it just goes to show how generalising shouldn't be done and how our community really pulled out all the stops. From fresh tea at the airport, a local sim card being provided to the provision of meals, fans and plentiful mineral water etc, there was no hindrance to attending or experiencing waaz and maatam majlis.

The only negatives I experienced was in the that not everyone managed a chance to be in the masjid. I think the allocation of masjid passes could be more even. Also if disabled and frail members could be allowed +1s on their passes it would make life easier for them I feel.

As helpful as guards and guides are, it can be hard locating each other when you are on your own or finding a meeting place as in most areas people were moved along to stop congestion. Food though, was fine, I never got ill or a stomach bug, but I took mineral water with me to all majlis, I didn't want to take risks!

What stays with me from the waaz are the narratives of the sacrifices of Imam HusainAS. They make you aware of the serenity and the state of mind they had. Not weakness but strength in knowing they were going through with Allah’s will. That always rings true and stays with me.”

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