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Sharing the Sounds of Karbala

Sharing the Sounds of KarbalaA few committed souls are putting together the first-ever Karbala Open Mic. The purpose is to fill this great need within the English-speaking community to produce, practice, and share the sorrow and grief of the martyrs of Karbala (peace be upon them) through lyrics, hymns, prose, plays and poetry.Sharing the Sounds of  KarbalaIn the last few years, first generation and indigenous Shia Muslims have been dabbling in the production of English poetry in praise and lamentation of the martyrs of Karbala (peace be upon them). Unfortunately, this work has usually taken the form of lyrics that have been translated from another language and recited in that same original rhythm. The result is that English Noha, Latmiyyah and Marsiya have a forced and unmusical quality to them and are ultimately, uninspiring. However, this does not mean that there is no solution to this problem.

All we need is creativity. The lack of such inspiring material in the English language is probably not just because the story of Karbala is relatively new to the English-speaking world, but because compared to the Indo-Iranian, Semitic and Romantic Languages, Germanic languages (English) are relatively unmusical. Great for science and technology, but difficult to rhyme. In short, we need to create a new rhythmic sound in English that complements the natural musicality of this language, while keeping it Halal.

How will we know when we have found it?  When it makes the hearts of audiences tremble the way they have for centuries on the other side of the world in Urdu, Farsi, Sindhi, Punjabi, and Arabic. We owe it to our neighbors on this side of the world who have yet to experience the power and passion of Karbala. But most of all, we owe it to our unborn children who will continue the legacy of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) in a new society.

Producing this new medium is not the responsibility of any organization, mosque, or group – it is the duty of each individual, each Hussaini. In Karbala, there were 72 individuals who stood up against greater odds, against their greater inner fears. A common statistic is that people fear public-speaking more than they fear death. If that is you, make this stage your battlefield… make this stage your Karbala. We need to remember that this is a tradition that started before Karbala and continued after it. It was Lady Fatima (peace be upon her) who stood up and courageously proclaimed her rights in a court of unsympathetic usurpers, and it was Lady Zainab (peace be upon her)who singlehandedly shook the grounds of Damascus with her thunderous words in front of the vilest of tyrants. We need only stand up in front of our friends, neighbors, and those sympathetic to the remembrance of Karbala and the cause of justice. Is this so difficult? Our later Imams (peace be upon them) patronized and monetarily compensated poets who composed poetry for Imam Hussain and the martyrs of Karbala. Should we not follow their example?

To help in this important endeavor, a few committed souls are putting together the first-ever Karbala Open Mic. The purpose is to fill this great need within the English-speaking community to produce, practice, and share the sorrow and grief of the martyrs of Karbala (peace be upon them) through lyrics, hymns, prose, plays and poetry.

We are creating a space for Hussainis of all cultural backgrounds to artistically express themselves in English in praise and lamentation of all those who were tragically massacred for taking the greatest stand against injustice in the history of humanity. The poet who develops the most original-sounding, inspiring work will receive a check for $100. Second place will be $50. God willing, these prizes will increase as the already overwhelming interest in this endeavor continues to grow year after year.

So where are you English-speaking, Karbala-inspired, passionate poets?

The Karbala Open Mic event is scheduled from 6pm – 8pm on the Sunday (February 17th, 2008) before President’s Day, which is a holiday. It is being held in the main auditorium of Professional Children’s School in New York City, which is committed to providing a creative environment supportive of the arts and has graduated many famous faces in the field.

Please submit your prose, poetry, monologues, and dramatic skit ideas to alinaquvi@yahoo.com, as all work will be screened beforehand. We’re not looking for translations here. We’re looking for you to recite either your original work or someone else’s work – in rhyme and rhythm would be even better.

Please tell your friends with talent about this event. It is open to everyone. For those not interested in presenting, please join us to support those who are. It’s time for the universal message of Karbala to inspire the masses in English, the way it has in other languages for centuries.

This event is open to all who believe that remembrance of stands against injustice remind us and allow us to stand against injustice in our own time.

In order to help create an appropriate atmosphere, black attire is required.

If you are a member of Facebook, please search for this event under “Karbala Open Mic” and confirm your attendance.

Professional Children’s School (PCS) is located in Manhattan at 132 West 60th Street between Columbus (9th Ave) and Amsterdam (10th Ave). It is adjacent to Fordham University and just 2 blocks west of Columbus Circle & Central Park and 2 blocks south of Lincoln Center.

The closest subway stop is at 59th Street/Columbus Circle on the 1, A/C, B/D.

This event is being sponsored by Mohsena Memorial Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization based in Princeton, NJ.

About Mohammad Ali Naquvi

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  • Naqi

    The message of Karbala transcends the boundaries of any single language and speaks to the nature of the human soul. It is this transcendent essence of the tragedy that has pulled at the heart strings of so many, regardless of language, and has often created a new medium in which the message and anguish of this story has been realized. English as a poetic language poses many difficulties first and foremost is the grammatical structure of the language makes the act of mourning in rhyming difficult. This is because one must maintain a sense of seriousness without making the writing sound frivolous or gruesome. The difficulty lies in the translating the events and feeling of Karbala into an eloquent form. I feel that a new medium might possibly be comprised of interlocking rhyme and freevers, this will allow for dramatic and poetic depth and keep the message clear, serious, and beautiful without undermining meaning of tragedy.

    I love the article. I think it’s about time a new generation of writers, took the pen to page, and retold a story that resonates so strongly within the hearts and minds of millions, the creative possibilities are endless!

  • Tahira Naqvi

    What a wonderful idea Ali, and what a clever way to go about executing it. Yes, let’s get all those young poets and writers who have the potential of passionate ouburst to create new forms of lamentation on the subject of “Karbala!” And I disagree with Naqi when he says that “English as a poetic language poses many difficulties; first and foremost is the grammatical structure of the language makes the act of mourning in rhyming difficult.” Let’s turn back to read Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth, Browning and Tennyson to remind ourselves of the depth of emotion that can be achieved in English.

    I will add though, that we shouldn’t discount the value of translation altogether. I think we can harmonize the traditional sounds and ideas of Urdu with the new forms and melodies of English.

    Looking forward to the event.