In the Media

02/09/06: Metro Detroit Muslims celebrate perseverance on holy day

Detroit News- February 9, 2006

Metro Detroit Muslims celebrate perseverance on holy day

Gregg Krupa / The Detroit News

DEARBORN -- Many Muslims throughout Metro Detroit will commemorate an Islamic holy day today with thoughts of struggling against injustice and oppression.

Ashura, which falls on Feb. 9 this year, always occurs on the 10th day of the month of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar year, which this year began Jan. 31.

Some Muslims will remember God saving Musa, or Moses, from the Egyptian pharaoh. Others will mourn the massacre of Hussain, a grandson of Muhammad, after Hussain struggled against a corrupt leader.

Despite the different purposes, there is a common message for the day, and one that even transcends religious beliefs, local Muslims say.

"There's real universality to the struggle against injustice, and it's especially important for American Muslims, who are under extreme pressure and facing prejudice in this post-9-11 society," said Dawud Walid of the Council on American Islamic Relations. "The stories of Ashura are empowering for Muslims because these righteous people who came before us had to struggle and face their tests to reach their goal of trying to obtain freedom, justice and equality."

For Sunni Muslims, that story is of Moses leading his people out of slavery under the pharaoh. But Sunni Muslims, who include most of the South Asian and African-American Muslims, in Metro Detroit also believe that Ashura marks the day Nuh, or Noah, left the ark, as the flood waters began to subside.

Shiite Muslims use Ashura to commemorate the martyrdom of Hussain and other immediate descendants of the Prophet.

The Shiites will gather in mosques, especially this morning, to participate in prayer and mourning rituals.

"It's a very spiritual day and a very emotional day," said Imam Muhammad Ali Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights. "There is a warmth and deep love in the hearts of Muslims for the struggle of Hussain that never stops. It was used as motivation in the struggle against Saddam Hussein."

Muslims, of which there are an estimated 125,000 to 200,000 in Metro Detroit, believe that Hussain's struggle against corruption is symbolic of personal struggles in their own lives, not unlike Christians believing that the willingness of Jesus Christ to suffer is inspiration for them to withstand the suffering of life, Imam Elahi said.

Many Westerners have a skewed view of the solemn day for the Shiite, remembering television news reports of the believers whipping and even cutting themselves with small knives.

The practice of flagellation was intended to commemorate the suffering of Hussain.

These days, however, the practice is discouraged, if not discredited.

But the symbolic meaning of Hussain and his followers shedding their blood for a purer life is often commemorated by blood donations to the American Red Cross, Elahi said.

"In fact, we have so many people lined up to give blood that the Red Cross does not always have the resources to accommodate us," he said.