I’m Sunni and I went to the 10th Muharram procession in Melbourne!

Published: November 7, 2014
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People from all nationalities and races transcended their nationalistic differences and came together for a single cause – the cause of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom.

People from all nationalities and races transcended their nationalistic differences and came together for a single cause – the cause of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom. People from all nationalities and races transcended their nationalistic differences and came together for a single cause – the cause of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom.

Pakistan, home to 180 million people, saw another deadly Muharram this year when 57 people were killed in a suicide bombing in Lahore. Each time, short term administrative solutions are followed to bandage the plague of ideological intolerance that has infected us for years.

Cities are put under curfew, statements of condemnation floated, promises of fool-proof security made and cellular services blocked for as long the government deems fit. Nothing much has changed since last year, when Raja Bazar in Rawalpindi was gripped by sectarian violence.

This religious intolerance and administrative failure is in stark contrast to what I recently experienced in a foreign land. I come from a Sunni background, but this year, I took part in a 10th Muharram procession organised in Melbourne. This was to show solidarity with my brothers in faith back home.

Australia is known for its racism. Hence, I expected at least a few condescending glances as thousands of people from the world over wore black and walked the city’s street as a unified force.

Mourners walk on LaTrobe Street. Photo: Sabeer Lodhi

Participants pass through LaTrobe Street towards Carlton Gardens. Photo: Sabeer Lodhi

Nohas were played on loudspeakers and participants thumped their chests in grief. Information leaflets were also distributed which explained the reasons behind this procession and who Imam Hussain (RA) is.

Participants perform ‘matam’ at Carlton Garden. Photo: Sabeer Lodhi

Participants perform ‘matam’ at Carlton Garden. Photo: Sabeer Lodhi

People from all nationalities and races transcended their nationalistic differences and came together for a single cause – the cause of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom.

Family is distributed information leaflet to explain who Hussain was. Photo: Sabeer Lodhi

The procession was taken out right before the Melbourne Cup was to take place a few blocks away. It is a popular horse race that allows people to bet on their favourite horse and drink in celebration. Just that fact was enough proof of the plurality and tolerance of divergent views. We walked further on towards Carlton Gardens where a wedding was taking places only a few minutes earlier.

Tram with Melbourne Cup Carnival poster running parallel to the Muharram procession. Photo: Sabeer Lodhi

Bridesmaids getting their picture taken seconds before the procession reached. Photo: Sabeer Lodhi

Following that, Zuhr prayers were offered and the participants dispersed to peacefully go home.

Zuhr prayers being offered in Carlton Garden. Photo: Sabeer Lodhi

Man carrying flag with religious scripture printed on it. Photo: Sabeer Lodhi

How unfortunate that this proof of coexistence was blatant in a ‘gora land’ and not in my own country that boasts of 98% Muslim population and was founded on secular, pluralistic principles. There was no threat of violence or fear of being attacked. There was no hint of racism in a country known for it. The government didn’t have to put security on high alert neither did it jam cell phone services.

Security personnel leading the rally to stop traffic. Photo: Sabeer Lodhi

Participants pass through LaTrobe Street. Photo: Sabeer Lodhi

Women congregate as the procession reaches its end at Carlton Gardens. Photo: Sabeer Lodhi

Will we ever be able to fight the ideological extremism prevalent in Pakistan and allow space for such peaceful coexistence of different beliefs and values?

Will we ever see a day when the government doesn’t have to enforce shallow administrative actions to fight the larger battle against extremist mindsets and a lack of plural values?

Let’s hope so.

Sabeer.Lodhi

Sabeer Lodhi

The author is studying at Monash University, Melbourne. He is a student and supporter of human rights with a focus on gender equality, minority rights and feminism. He tweets as @sabeerlodhi (twitter.com/sabeerlodhi)

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

  • Ali

    Million likes for your write-up… and thank you for standing with your brothers in faith …. I sincerely hope that the same plurality may come to Pakistan some day …Recommend

  • Shariq

    Australia is known as a racist country? Mr Lodhi, aren’t you contradicting yourself when you say that you participated in a 10th Muharram procession and every thing went well? Shouldn’t your article mention that Australia was incorrectly publicised as a racist country on tribune blogs?Recommend

  • Striver

    I must remind people that there are intermarriages between Shias and Sunnis etc across the whole Muslim world including Pakistan. So, many Sunnis will have Shia relatives. Therefore, Muslims of all denominations will find the title of this article as unrepresentative of the faith of the ordinary.

    It would be unthinkable for either sect therefore to murder one-another.

    History of Shias and Sunnis is the same. We started from the same spot, a small divergence is not religion-based but philosophical/political. We must remember that.

    When we write about Shias and Sunnis there is always an element missing that would put things into proper perspective. An element that points to the fact that millions are living peacefully with one-another, Shias Sunnis Whahabis etc even in Pakistan.Recommend

  • http://www.thetrueperspective.com/ Hamza

    I think he what he meant was that Australia is perceived as a racist country. Which it is, what with their anti immigrant laws, their inhumane treatment of minorities and their nationalistic passion of denying the existence of Aborigines.Recommend

  • Critical

    Yup a racist non-muslim country where Shia Muslims can peacefully march on Moharram while the Holy Land Saudi Arabia with 99% Muslims killed 12 Shias who wanted to march on MoharramRecommend

  • Abbas khan

    Good article but you just labelled an entire country racist for just one incident. That’s that like saying all Pakistanis are religious fanatics who will kill a Christian at every chance they get. Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Australia is racist
    Shiites hold muharram procession in Australia
    Contradiction level over 9000 my good friend.Recommend

  • Raj – USA

    Both in India and in Pakistan, hindus also participate in Muharram processions in large numbers.Recommend

  • Dajjal

    Wow, You’re a Sunni and went to a Muharram Procession!!! That is truly unheard of… Whats next? An Urdu speaking guy blogging about wearing a cap on Sindhi topi day???Recommend

  • نائلہ

    anti immigrant laws- they just want to protect themselves from becoming another Europe. Skilled migrant, student visas and asylum are still open ways of entering the country. Everything has to be legal though.

    inhumane treatment of minorities- where in recent (say 20-30) years?

    nationalistic passion of denying the existence of Aborigines- no one denies their existence. In fact, extra scholarships, jobs and education facilities available and specially set apart places are made for them in each field. They have even made the ATAR required (yr 12 score) lower for Aboriginals who want to do medicine/law! Yes, i know it doesn’t make up for what the white settlement treated them like. But no one is denying their existence. Btw the world “Aborigine” has been shunned now to be racist and only “Aboriginal” is used.Recommend

  • TheAverageMoe

    What does the Wagah border bombing have anything to do with sectarianism?The target was ordinary Pakistanis regardless of sect.

    BTW Pakistan is 96% Muslim not 98%, 2% out of 180 million is a big dealRecommend

  • TheAverageMoe

    He didn’t say Australia was racist, but that it was known in the news for racism -which is quite true.

    However “Shia” is not a race.Recommend

  • Sabeer Lodhi

    think the statement hasn’t been comprehended properly. Australia is considered to be racist yet the experience was quite the opposite. The stereotype of Australia being racist was broken when everyone there showed absolute pluralism and acceptance for diversity. Makes sense now?Recommend

  • Sabeer Lodhi

    In any case, whether Australia is racist or not wasn’t even the context of the other 500 words. That wasn’t even the point. The point was, maybe we can also have the same cultural and religious diversity without killing eachother and other minorities??Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    he did not say it was known for news of racism. he said “Australia is known for its racism.”
    the idiom “known for” means that something is found in abundance in the said locality. e.g France is known for its cheese, meaning that french have good, abundant and a variety of cheese.
    His implication was that a muharram procession was a pleasant surprise because Australia , being a racist country, would be thought to be against Muslims too. Otherwise there is no need to mention that Australia is racist.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    he did not say it was known for news of racism. he said “Australia is known for its racism.”
    the idiom “known for” means that something is found in abundance in the said locality. e.g France is known for its cheese, meaning that french have good, abundant and a variety of cheese.
    His implication was that a muharram procession was a pleasant surprise because Australia , being a racist country, would be thought to be against Muslims too. Otherwise there is no need to mention that Australia is racist.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Then why are Muharram processions bombed each year,and Shias killed regularly by Sunnis.?Your perception of unthinkable doesn’t jive well with the reality.Recommend

  • siesmann

    One incident?Do you read your newspapers,and watch TV news?Recommend

  • siesmann

    Australia might have been racist but isn’t anymore. Pakistan can claim otherwise,but definitely is.It is the attitude of people like Abbas Khan above that makes it so.He thinks racism is nothing short of extermination.Recommend

  • Hira Kamal

    Australia is racist. Hispanic/Caucasian/African American is a race. Shia is not a race, even Islam is not a race! He wrote a good article, don’t bombard him with what you consider grammar lessons!

    Australia is known for judging people by their appearance i.e if you’re brown/wheatish (yellow people). All Pakistani Muslims (at least) have the same basic features!

    Just one thing: the Wagah incident may have occurred in Muharram, but it did not target Muharram processions per se. Tragic obviously, but out of line with your topic!Recommend

  • Mehdi

    Pretty soon most shias will immigrate to western countries to avoid persecution at the hands of beloved orthodox sunni brethren. Even in Australia in the last few days a Shia was shot by an enthusiastic IS supporter. He was fulfilling the Sunna of his beloved amirul momineen holed up in mosul who have legalized rape and beheading to be part of good bidah Recommend

  • vinsin

    The how come minorities are increasing in Australia. All Islamic state are bottom of diversity, why? How Hindus are down from 22% to 1%?Recommend

  • vinsin

    Well if not they try to force convert.Recommend

  • nishantsirohi123

    compared that with hindus of pakistan refused the day of diwali as holidayRecommend

  • nishantsirohi123

    btw who are the native urdu speakers in paksitan
    i think it is the muhajirs, who are settled mostly in sindh and not punjabRecommend

  • nishantsirohi123

    so if a pakistani is discrimiated will that be anti-arab or anti-muslim or anti-indian sentimentRecommend

  • Striver

    It is the reality that you do not want to see either because you do not want to think or have have no capacity to do so.
    out of 180,000,000 people 5000 have singed up with anti-shia taliban that is not the population is it.

    How old are you?Recommend

  • siesmann

    well,all I see is shias,hazaaras being killed daily;nobody needs to think when the proof is obvious.In Iraq and Syria,and the Arab world,it is not Taliban who are doing it.My age has nothing to do with it.Recommend

  • Sabeer Lodhi

    Dear readers,

    Shia may not be a race, agreed. But a country (Australia) known for its racism was tolerant not just on races when Shias from all over the world and different ‘races’ took out the procession, but also tolerant of divergent faiths, hence breaking the stereotype against it. There is something called reading between the lines.. But maybe that didn’t work here :).Recommend

  • ajeet

    Now that Muslims are migrating there, it will change in few decades.Recommend

  • ajeet

    Then why are brown, wheatish people jumping into boats from pakistan to migrate there?Recommend

  • Fatima

    You can go to a Muharram procession in Pakistan too. Whats the big deal????Recommend

  • loyalindian

    I doubt if the Sunni woman who was hanged in Iran for getting raped would have very good words about Shia-majority Iran. Better if you dont cite theoratical regimes to and use Sunni and Muslim and Shia and Muslim words interchangeably.Recommend

  • http://www.thetrueperspective.com/ Hamza

    Are you honestly going to sit behind your screen and defend Australia’s anti immigrant policies? How about the full page adverts that th Australian govt took out in all major newspapers in Pakistan? Or the fact that they’ve opened detention centers in Indonesia and the Philippines?

    Australia’s perception is that of a racist country. Just like Pakistan’s perception is that of a terrorist country. Doesn’t make either right, but to run away from facts isn’t going to help either you or the Australian cause. Recommend

  • http://www.thetrueperspective.com/ Hamza

    Why do people like you assume that if someone calls A wrong, that person means that B is right? Did I say that Pakistan is perfect? Pakistan has its own issues. Doesn’t mean that Australia has none, or that because Pakistan has issues, it excuses Australia’s issues. Recommend

  • L.

    Should they then allow ANYONE to enter the country?! They need people with viable reasons to apply and they are surely accepted. Whether you call that racist or not. Recommend

  • Mohsin Khan

    what i fail to understand so far is that why do we mourn on ashura when we clearly know and believe that those who are martyred are not dead, and that Allah feeds them well. That in turn means that Imam Hussain, and everyone who has ever been martyred, is not even dead… then why mourn over someone who is not dead in the first place?

    yes, i have heard the explanation that we mourn because of the brutalities that they were subjected to… agreed, but give me the name of one martyr who is martyred without any pain or suffering? so then why dont we mourn every day, many times a day, for the many hundreds and thousands of martyrs who were persecuted at one point in time or the other…

    why dont we dedicate ourselves, our lives to mourning, in an attempt to show solidarity and respect to all the martyrs so far in the recorded human history…

    and more importantly, why do we stop mourning after muharram? why can’t the event of karbala stay with us 365 days a year in the same manner as it does on 9-10th muharram? no one stops us from beating our chests everyday, just as no one does on 9-10th muharram…

    and a clarification: i am not a sunni. just a plain, regular muslim – no sect – no fiqah – just muslim. in search of a rational answer, not an emotional answer wrapped in religious sentiments.Recommend

  • Hira Kamal

    Technically I was just stating a fact. I could just say that them being racist doesn’t bother those ‘jumping into boats from Pakistan to migrate there’ and be done with it, because I never tried to justify either. Just wanted to point out where the author was wrong:)Recommend

  • Hira Kamal

    Anti-Pakistani maybe? don’t know why we need to go around getting butthurt about everything. Recommend

  • Hira Kamal

    The comment above actually. My bad. It’s been a while so I forgot who I was disagreeing with!Recommend