OK so I thought I’d write about something religious for a change and since its Moharram I thought I’d write about Karbala (although everyone knows the significance of this greatest sacrifice of all times and for all times). So we were at a get together with friends and I bought up the topic and to my amazement….no actually, to my utter shock and dismay I heard of wretched stories and atrocious myths that just blew my mind and I wanted to kill myself (no actually the people who in fact thought these repulsive tales were true). So then I decided I’d write about exactly what happens in a majlis so that these misconceptions are resolved to some extent if not completely clarified.
So what is a majlis in its literal terms? Majlis is an Arabic term meaning “a place of sitting”, used in the context of “council”, to describe various types of special gatherings among common interest groups be it administrative, social or religious in countries with linguistic or cultural connections to Islamic countries. The first Ashra majlises are those that happen on the first 10 days of Moharram, and are in Imam Bargahs of different regions like Dha, Gulberg, Cantt, etc.
What happens in a Majlis
- These majlises have bigger audiences as they have open invitations, everybody and anybody can attend, no discrimination between rich and poor and Shia and Sunni whatsoever. Everybody is treated with respect and love and is welcomed inside.
- There is checking at the gates for security purposes, if it’s a ladies majlis no gents are allowed and if it’s the gents majlis no ladies are allowed.
- Cameras aren’t allowed inside because of security purposes and because of be-pardigi as these pictures could be used for other wicked purposes.
When the majlis is concluded nobody leaves without being given tabarruk (niyyaz given in the name of Our Prophet and his Ahle-Bait.). It varies from the famous haleem naan to biryani to zarda and many more things, it is an unlimited list. And there are juices and snacks for the kids as it is encouraged to bring children so that they understand their deen from early years.Everybody comes in and meets one another as it’s a close community and people know each other and we become accustomed to each other for meeting now and then.As everybody is seated and as the majlis begins the milieu changes and sorrow takes over the place, it is contagious. A few ladies seated in the front of the hall start with duas and fateha and hadees-e-kissa for the Prophet and his Ahle-bait especially the Shaheed of Karbala and the women and children.
Then the ladies say a short hymn called qaseeda narrating the incidents that happened in Karbala and the anguish in the qaseeda makes one weep even if you have a heart of stone. After that the zakira or zakir depending which gender majlis it is, is seated on a chair from where he/she can start the sermon. The sermon itself is divided into three segments in which the Ulema starts with a hadees from the Quran and explains it, giving references and citations. It starts with the oneness of Allah and His greatness as Tauheed is the most important aspect of our religion. Then the emphasis is brought towards the man Allah loves the most our Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.). He is the greatest personality for all mankind and the utterance of his every word is the word of Allah. After the importance of these two pillars (Tauheed and Rissalat) are explained only then can one begin to understand the importance and love of the Ahle-bait the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) and Allah have. And then it is elucidated how the near and dear ones of the Prophet (P.B.U.H) were forced to leave their homes and end up at Karbala and forced to fight the mighty army of yazeed. What a contrast it must’ve been, the honorable flesh and blood of the Prophet on one side with only 72 members as his army including his 6 month old son Hazrat Ali Asghar and his sisters and wives and children while on the other side there were 30,000 of them standing prepared to annihilate the family of the person they once treasured and revered. I fail to believe it was ever love but deception and falseness from the beginning. If somebody proclaims to love an individual he would never think of carrying out the atrocities that were carried out in Karbala. Each day the approximately 45 minute sermons are dedicated to one of the Shaheeds and their life is elaborated. After which the taboot(symbolic coffin), alams(flags of the Imam and his army) and zuljana (symbolic horse of the Imam) are brought out to be respected and venerated. The chants of Ya Hussain can be heard from all around and you can’t help but lose yourself to the beat of the matam and the nohas are sang which translate painful peoms of the tragedy that touch your heart and soul.
At the end a fateha is said for the Shaheeds once again and a dua is said for peace and tranquility and slowly the crowd disperses in queues towards the exits and the tabarruk is distributed.
The illogical myths about Majalis
Ok so I told you what exactly happens in a majlis be it anywhere and any gender however there are a few myths(absolutely horrendous ones) that I would like to clear which I’ve heard from a few people regarding majlises and Shab-e-ashoor. So here is what nonsense I’ve heard:
- That if a sunni or any other sect’s individual comes to a majlis he/she is immediately thrown out of the majlis! NO! this is not true from any angle, in fact everybody is welcomed and even more so a person who is not shia is encouraged and treated with more love so he/she is inclined towards coming back again. I have more friends from different sects and they love to attend majlises and they love the tabarruk too. So myth number one FALSE!
- I’ve also heard that in the tabarruk that’s distributed, shias put the spit or blood (for heaven’s sake) of the zuljana(horse) in it. NO this is also a false rumor and not true to any extent as the food is prepared with hygiene and love and reverence because of the fact that its suppose to be distributed as tabarruk. It’s actually more carefully made with pure things and nothing else.
- I’ve also heard that all shias have to do kumma ka matam(the slit on the head with a knife) and zanjeer zanni(beating with knifes) which is not true in fact it is not encouraged at all and is actually disheartened by many scholars. It’s more like a cultural practice rather than a religious one and is derived from a more emotional approach. It is a very personal initiative and in this time and age most people think of it as too extreme and superseded. However nobody is forced into it and it’s all about personal choices.
- Ive also heard that people believe that shias had done this to Imam hussain and now they cry and beat themselves out of guilt. Again a big no,this is not true. The yazeedis were the people who did this and they have nothing to do with the shias, infact they are the complete opposites of each other. Shias cry in the love of Imam Hussain and pain and agony he and his family had to go through alone. The tragedy which melts even the coldest of hearts.
- The most ridiculous myth I’ve heard by far and I was in a state of shock when I heard it, was about 10th Moharram itself, Shab-e-Ashoor a night where we all mourn the death of Imam Hussain and the grief of the women of the Ahle-bait who were left alone without any veils and no man was left alive to protect them except the very ill Imam Zain-ul-Abideen. And the fact that the women of his house were being disrespected and little girls were being beaten in front of him is just appalling and horrendous. But the myth is that when the lights are dimmed some sort of sexual activity is started among the men and women. This is beyond repulsive and downright sordid to begin with. Not a fraction of this is true be it any majlis anywhere. It’s absolutely WRONG on all levels of comprehension. Please do not think any of this as true. It is a holy month and nothing like this has ever happened. And in a ladies majlis no men are allowed and vice versa.
This month is only for the grieving of our Imam and his family who were brutally killed and tortured and the women and children were locked away in dungeons for days on end. When you realize the purity of this purpose and the sanctity of the place you realize one day you will have to meet your Creator and His beloved Prophet (P.B.U.H) and He will smile at you for shedding a tear and feeling remorse at the tragic death of His family and for sharing His pain then you leave the majlis a little more pious ,a little more closer to Allah, a little more spiritual and a little more content.
I hope all the misconceptions have been cleared to some extent however I am more than happy to answer any queries and questions to be asked. For now let’s focus on uniting under the banner of Islam as Imam Hussain(a.s.) does not only pertain to shiaism but is a symbol of Haq and Islam for all of mankind. Lets become one instead of increasing this sectarianism by believing fallacious rumors. It is a universal grief that connects us all, year after year. We weep for the sadness of parents losing children, for sisters losing their brothers and for brothers losing their brothers. In that grief,Imam Hussain is a balm, because he went through it all and is an anchor in our pain and suffering. And Imam Hussain’s sacrifice is proof that when you stand up for what you believe in, come what may, you will be victorious.