This Ashura, I’m more thankful than ever that I’ve had this lifetime of training, and of understanding to prepare me, to give me a sense of identity, to give me strenght to continue to stand up against injustice and to stand up in solidarity.
I can smell the incense burning, and all around me I hear people warmly greeting each other — you can feel the outpouring of love and community as people stop to say hello and ask how things are going. I sit still in anticipation of the powerful words that I’m about to hear — calls to action to remember that we have to stand up for injustice and strong reminders about why it’s so important to be on the right side of history. As begin to settle in, the group begins to chant familiar words — in fact, just the chant that I was hoping for — it’s secretly my favorite and so I’m always hoping that it gets picked. It’s clear that everyone in this group already knows the words, having gathered here many times before. The chant leaders doing an excellent job feeding lines to a hungry crowd, ready to showcase their energy through chanting back. I know that I belong here, that I am home, that I am safe.
When women’s rights are under attacked, what do we do? Stand up fight back!
Ashura ki roze bapa, hogaya maheshar Karbal mein
It’s January 21st and at this point, I’ve spent at least 17 hours marching through the streets. My hands are tired from holding up signs, my feet hurt from walking and my voice is hoarse from yelling — but there is nowhere else that I can imagine being as I stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters against what I see are injustices that are ready to come out from this new administration.
Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here!
Sahewala ne farmaya Behen Zainab na ghabra na…hamsha sabr hain karna
The first Muslim ban just went into effect and I’m standing at an airport, shoulder to shoulder with friends and allies, making it as clear as we can that this does not represent our country. All of this was put together in a few short hours and so prep time was limited — but anytime new instructions needed to go out, nameless, faceless leaders would come into the crowd, yell “mic check” and we’d all repeat their words until everyone in the crowd had gotten the update. As the evening wore on, food started to appear and pretty soon there were tables overflowing with food…and food volunteers showing up from every corner, making sure that everyone was fed and cared for.
Whose streets? Our streets!
Matam ke saf bichi hain aur roerahai jahanhain
It’s May 1st and in honor of all workers, I’m marching through the streets in Oakland. It’s a beautiful display of diversity and solidarity — and I feel right at home as people are shouting instructions in multiple languages and everyone finds this perfectly normal and acceptable. Little kids are trying desperately to get away from their parents (as well they should be) and you can spot the proud grandparents in the crowd as they look over generations of their family who are here, standing up, showing up, fighting to belong.
The people united will never be defeated!
Sar khole apne lal ko roti hain Fatima, Ashur pai Hussain ko loti hai Fatima
It’s August in the weeks after Charlottesville. I put on my standard protesting gear — comfortable shoes and my kafiya scarf. Colleagues and some friends ask me if I get tired, week after week, protest after protest. Doesn’t it get old? Don’t I get scared in crowds . How can I explain that I’ve been practicing for this my whole life?
This is what democracy looks like!
Nabi ka ghar jalai ja rahahain, Ali ka dil dokaiya jar hahain
DACA was just repealed and I’m listening to strong, confident young men and women pleading for us to stand with them and their families as they express their fear and their worry. Tears roll down my cheeks — but tears are openly flowing everywhere, as we as a community are moved to tears, even as we re-commit to continuing the fight.
If we don’t get it, shut it down!
Ashur ka suraj kuch toh bhata kyai ghuzri tha kyai daiykha tha
I was raised on this. Every majlis in rememberance of Imam Hussain (A.S.), the beloved Grandson of the Prophet (pbuH) had all the same elements — bukhra burning on the side; a certain uniform that I put on; a sense of warm community who greets each other with such love; an eager anticipation even though we know the words of the sermons so well that we can all recite them; well loved marsiyas and matham nohas that we all sing along/chant to because it’s how we let out our emotions. There are always multiple generations of families; mass chaos in multiple languages; crowds that push and have no organization and yet seem to always know what they are doing; and more food than we need, but every drop cooked with such love and such gratitude that nothing is wasted. And tears upon tears of remembrance and of thankfulness. And, most importantly, the central narrative of a hero who stood against an army because he knew that he was fighting for us all — for every generation to come, for every Shi’a to follow — against injustice and tyranny and corruption. A hero who was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice because it was the right thing to do. Because it was his job, his role. And the story of his family — his faithful brother, his strong sons, his loyal daughters, and his indestructible, inextinguishable sister who survived it all to keep his followers safe and to tell his story for the rest of her days.
Every Ashura is special, is powerful, is moving. Every Ashura is a well needed reminder of who I am at my very core. But this Ashura, I can’t help but reflect on how much more important Ashura seems this year as we are in the midst of this great struggle for the soul of our country. This Ashura, I’m more thankful than ever that I’ve had this lifetime of training, and of understanding to prepare me, to give me a sense of identity, to give me strenght to continue to stand up against injustice and to stand up in solidarity.
And as a proud American, I am reminded every morning as I open the news that every day is Ashura and every land is Karbala.
Farah Mahesri is a strategy consultant who works on international education and positive youth development issues, and has been active in politics and Muslim identity. For two years, she managed EmpoweredVoter.org, a Congressional scorecard on how members of Congress were voting on issues that mattered to the Muslim community, and regularly volunteers on election campaigns.