Religion

UK Zanjeer Zani Case and the Internal Shia Struggle

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Zanjeer Zani is a divisive issue in the Shia communityHow can we utilize that passion to bring people together under the flag of Imam Hussain? That has always been the claimed goal, but reality suggests we are being pulled in different directions. This is a dangerous topic, one in which any suggested reform – be it abandoning a particular ritual like Zanjeer Zani. Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:”Table Normal”; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:””; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”,”serif”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;} Zanjeer Zani is a  divisive issue in the Shia communityA Shia man named Syed Mustafa Zaidi was convicted of child cruelty this past week for involving two minor boys in Zanjeer Zani – involving the use a long-bladed whip to beat the back – during the most recent Ashura commemoration of the Jaffria Islamic Centre in Levenshulme, UK. Mr. Zaidi grew up in Pakistan and has performed Zanjeer Zani since the age of seven three times a year.

The testimony in the trial suggested that the two boys, aged 13 and 15, may not have been the only minors involved and that they had most likely participated willingly. The UK court ruled that the boys were too young to give consent to self-harm and thus found Mr. Zaidi guilty. He is awaiting sentencing as the month of Ramadan approached. While other cases of Zanjeer Zani have been brought to the attention of officials in the UK, this is the first case in which prosecution was carried out.

According to the BBC, Syed Zaidi testified, “I’m on oath, and we’re talking about my religion here. I can’t lie about this, he (one of the boys) came towards me… and he said himself that he wanted to do the Matam…. It was an emotional time and the children were happy, they asked for it. No one forced anyone. If I knew that this was going to turn all against me, I wouldn’t have allowed them to do it, I wouldn’t have done it.”

One wonders how this particular case ended up going through the courts when previously UK officials have chosen not to involve themselves in the rituals of Shia Muslims associated with Muharram. The two boys were brothers, and perhaps the parents objected to their participation and chose to take the case to court rather than resolve it through more direct, simpler means. This seems to be a most unfortunate case in which the differences of opinion within the Shia community about the best methods of mourning, marking the tragedy of Karbala, and expressing love for Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) in general have led to a tragic outcome.

Many Shias are nothing if not passionate about Muharram rituals, either for or against particular practices. But it is apparent at times that the passion has barred communication and fueled division, and, at worst, impeded the successful dissemination of the message of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) into the hearts and minds of people.

How can we utilize that passion to bring people together under the flag of Imam Hussain? That has always been the claimed goal, but reality suggests we are being pulled in different directions. This is a dangerous topic, one in which any suggested reform – be it abandoning a particular ritual like Zanjeer Zani, adding a new one such as blood donation, improving the educational rather than emotional focus of the lectures, or anything else – will be cheered by some and reviled by others.

One can sometimes feel that there are two Shia communities. One of them regards the fervor of one’s participation in mourning rituals as a symbol of one’s devotion and love for Ahlul Bayt. The harder the beating, the more blood, the more dedicated the Shia. And if someone wants them to tone down the ritual, to this community it is unthinkable, as it is the same as being asked to give up devotion to Ahlul Bayt, to be less Shia, to be more like the enemies of Ahlul Bayt.

The other community regards a mourning ritual as a means to an end more than as a sacred symbology. Because the ritual itself isn’t as sacred to them, they are more willing to adapt their Muharram observances to varying circumstances of public opinion and communication. While the former community would see them as less passionate, this community sees itself as more focused on the self-reform message of Imam Hussain than on mourning itself.

Sometimes one can find these two communities even in one heart. Many Shias are engaged in an internal struggle over what we should be doing in Muharram. Where can we find the ideal expression of devotion to the cause of Imam Hussain? How can we best carry that cause into the modern age so that we can live it and breathe it until we find ourselves standing at the ready before the Imam of our Age (may Allah hasten his reappearance)? Perhaps that internal struggle is precisely what is needed – after all, we need to ask the questions before we can find the answers.

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