Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Hussain's Christmas Tree
Surreal sights in San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza are not uncommon, but dozens of Muslim women dressed in black standing around the city-sponsored "holiday tree" on Sunday afternoon felt like a first.
They were part of a group celebrating Ashoura, which commemorates the murder of Muhammed's grandson, Imam Hussain, at the Battle of Karbala in what is now Iraq.
Sunni Muslims spend the day fasting, while Shi'ite Muslims traditionally marked Hussain's martyrdom with various forms of public mourning, including self-flagellation.
Last year a group in London decided to rebrand the holiday with PR friendly blood bank donations instead of dramatic self-abuse...
...and they have embarked on a slick series of publications and a website called Who Is Hussain spreading the word about him among the larger world, both Muslim and otherwise.
Young people were handing out bottles of water to passersby with packaging which read, "MARTIN LUTHER KING, ALEXANDER THE GREAT, ARISTOTLE, JESUS CHRIST, CONFUCIUS, CHE GUEVARA, MOSES, ROSA PARKS, HUSSAIN..."
The campaign seems to be spreading quickly among young Muslims living in the English speaking world (click here for an article in the Lebanon Daily Star), and it was charming seeing them in an American public space championing an ethical hero. It felt new.