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Thousands of Australian Shia Muslims mark Ashura

More than 50,000 Australian Shia Muslims are marking Ashura, the 40 days of mourning that commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Ashura commemorates the massacre of Imam Hussein, his family and followers in 680 AD during the battle of Karbala, still a city in modern-day Iraq.

In Australia this year, Ashura began on 24 October and many commemorate the occasion by attending mosques and religious lectures at community halls.

Sayed Mahdi Al Modaressi, prominent scholar and religious leader, is delivering a series of lectures to Shia Muslims in Sydney at the Hurstville Civic Centre. He told The Point Magazine that although the battle of Karbala occurred over 14 centuries ago, its significance to Shia Muslims today is as great as ever.

“If you look at the sheer number of people who gather around in every corner of the globe to remember Imam Hussein, it’s astonishing. That really is something that sociologists could learn from by studying this phenomenon,” he said. 

 

“If you look at the sheer number of people who gather around in every corner of the globe to remember Imam Hussein, it’s astonishing. That really is something that sociologists could learn from by studying this phenomenon."

– Sayed Mahdi Al Modaressi

With an increase in sectarian tensions stemming from the current conflicts in Iraq and Syria, security measures have noticeably increased at Ashura gatherings in Australia, including the use of metal detectors. 

Ashura organisers at Sydney’s Hurstville Islamic Centre, run by the Al Emaan community organisation, say the security measures are necessary in the current climate.

“Often people think that extremism doesn’t affect the Muslim community, in terms of them being the victims, but it does. There are those who wish to do us harm because we are lovers of Ahlul Bayt (family of the Prophet) and because of our beliefs, there is an apprehension within the community so we have to increase our security,” said Mustafa Elachi, a security volunteer for Al Emaan.  

 

Sayed Al Modaressi said there is targeted violence against Shia gatherings and mosques and communities have genuine concerns, especially with the rise of the terrorist organisation ISIS, which views Shias as heretics.

 “I think it’s good for us first and foremost to be vigilant, for us to ensure that if there is anything out of order we speak out and cooperate with authorities,” he told The Point Magazine.

But Sayed Al Modaressi said additional security was not necessary at this stage.

“I use to lecture in the United States where I had to have police escort me to and from lectures. I think in some ways that could incite more violence, it could provoke people into further targeting our centres. At this stage we have a very good strong relationship with authorities and security agencies and there’s probably no need for them to be physically present,” he said. 

Sayed Al Modaressi said there are lessons that can be learned from Imam Hussein today.

“I would say sacrifice. For the good of society, for the good of humanity, you should be able to make a sacrifice and reach out and help other people,” he said.

The Point

More than 50,000 Australian Shia Muslims are marking Ashura, the 40 days of mourning that commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein.

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