Ashura’s message: Looking away, being indifferent is not an option

Published: November 15, 2013

What’s more important, actually, is the stuff we all agree upon; the stature of those who were martyred that day, what they stood for and how we can draw lessons from that fateful day for our present day. PHOTO: REUTERS

There are days when one just wants to give up and look the other way. Become indifferent. The inner argument is,

“What difference can I make, realistically?”

I recall feeling that way so many times. Like when I see “small” things like bribes being taken and given in front of me. That gnawing feeling, when people in your area steal water through suction pumps and you are the idiot who doesn’t do it because you think it’s wrong.

Worse still, is the feeling you get if you stay quiet when you see a close relative scolding a small child, working as domestic help, and holding back his salary as a form of reprimand. When someone in a position of power refuses to get their baggage scanned at the airport and breaks the queue conveniently, while the labourer going to Dubai in his chappals is met with dismissive glances and extraordinary checks.

Killers and goons go scot-free. The weak relent, simply because there is no option. The mightier becomes stronger. The system supports it — the jungle raaj, where might is still the biggest right.

An initially reluctant and then habitual silence follows. We don’t say anything to anyone. Not even politely. The world looks on. Or looks away.

Imam Hussain (ra) could have looked the other way, but he didn’t.

He could not.

Brought up in the lap of the Prophet (pbuh), indifference was never an option. Imam Hussain (ra)’s grandfather taught people to help both the oppressed and the oppressor – the oppressed by taking up their cause and the oppressor by trying to stop him/her from being unjust.

And so Imam Hussain (ra) chose the tougher path. The road less travelled. The 9th and 10th of Muharram, year after year, reminds me of exactly this.

It is irrelevant whether I am Sunni or Shia. I say this because that is what people quizzically ask me whenever I express love for the Prophet’s (pbuh) family or talk about lessons from Muharram.

But I digress.

Coming back to what today means to me, what I do know is what I need to know. I learn this from what happened at Karbala, among countless other lessons, that the grandson of Allah’s beloved (pbuh) stood firm on his ground and chose to be martyred rather than live a life where one makes the choice of brushing injustice under the carpet and pretending it never happened.

There is a story I remember reading in context of the explanation of a part of the Quran. It is the story of a people who disobeyed God in a crucial matter and consequently faced punishment. The story tells us that in that town, there were three groups of people; those who defiantly sinned, those who did not sin but remained silent and, those who did not sin and also tried to persuade the disobedient ones to stop.

In the end, God only forgave the third group.

For us as individuals and as a nation, speaking out against structural violence, systematic injustice and oppression has never been so important. Our related apathy and indifference has never been a bigger offence. When silence becomes habit, submission becomes the norm and indifference reigns. Consequently, injustice and tyranny rules to the detriment of a nation.

What’s important, however, is how we make our voice heard. A lot of tact, wisdom and sincerity is required, as is empathy.

As I entered work today, I overheard at least three different conversations on different tables where small groups animatedly talked about what actually happened at Karbala; the how, the why and the many versions of history were spoken about.

What’s more important, actually, is the stuff we all agree upon. The stature of those who were martyred that day, what they stood for and how we can draw lessons from that fateful day for our present day. We channelise energies arguing, debating and proving that we are right and the other is wrong, instead of focusing on what Karbala teaches us all:

Looking away is simply not an option.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of marketing and corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets on @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    I am not being facetious when I say……..and then you go and write a blog or make a smart comment and feel satisfied that you have done your bit, because that is exactly what we ( including me ) will do. How to convert good thoughts into practical good deeds has eluded us and sadly we seem content.
    Very thought provoking write up ……at least you have stirred me up.Recommend

  • Haq

    Your argument is valid, but our people are not always indifferent when they perceive evil. Case in point the rising level of extremism and intolerance of other people’s beliefs. If only we could be more concerned with being better human beings than being holier than thou.Recommend

  • 123xyz

    its funny to see a country like pakistan which is made for muslims have to constantly be apologetic towards its treatment of shia minority.
    i see many people struggle to explain how one sect of mulsims are not safe from other sects in pakistan.

    isnt it strange??Recommend

  • Raptor 221

    The punch line is as u said ” A lot of tact, wisdom and sincerity is required, as is empathy”. We are at times not indifferent, but tactless, lack wisdom and go to extremes on petty issues.Recommend

  • Faiza Hussain

    Very well put Farah. While majority of people including shias get focussed on historic or ritualistIc details they overlook the fact that Hussain a.s.’s message is universal and not merely for muslims and how relevant it is to our everyday situations

  • goggi (Lahore)

    From the gigantic snow-covered Himalaya flow the lifeline rivers for billions of humans, be it Indus, Ganges or Brahmaputra.

    From that Himalaya flowed as well, the eternal peaceful wisdom which has spread in all the world like the intoxicating fragrance of summer morning Motia flowers.
    The moment I became aware of my ancestral roots, I woke up from a dreadful nightmare.
    Thus this is the eternal law of nature, that nothing happens incidentally in our existence. Neither I am a random product of our subcontinental ecology nor are for instance our sweet mangos, we have together a thousands and thousands of years natural love affair with each other. Neither the mother nature would ever grow a Khajoor on a mango tree and nor she expects that I should unnaturally evolve as an Arab, Irani, Chinese or something else.Recommend

  • Pappu

    “The stature of those who were martyred that day, what they stood for and how we can draw lessons from that fateful day for our present day.”
    How can you say this for small children who were killed in this conflict? Why they were put into this dangerous situation? They could not even understand what the conflict is?Recommend

  • nassi

    “….. In the end, God only forgave the third group.”

    Likes of mullah Fazlullah and many violent religious extremist in our country would most certainly perceive themselves as belonging to this third group. Do you realise what this story could actually be promoting?

    We need to wean ourselves off these bronze age stories and face the painful realties with explanations drawn from hard evidence and would work effectively not only on paper but also in practice.Recommend

  • Ghulam Kherati

    Islam as a faith was completed as per the Muslim Prophet Mohd,s last sermon and the rest is history and not a part of faith. For shiates its a part for the others, an absolute majority, its a part of political history. Relations seeking power and if they succeed, its victory for truth and if a failure, its martyrdom.Recommend