It is a path of mourning for the wounds are deep and the arrows are plentiful that pierce the flesh of Hussain Ibn Ali and his companions on Ashura. On that day Yazid’s army controlled the battlefield. Hard to call it a battlefield, a massacre, really. What do you call 30,000 soldiers against the bravest 72 people who ever lived or ever will live?
It was Yazid’s day. The day of might. The day of brute force. The day of overwhelming numbers. The day of treachery. The day of deceit. The day of control.
“You will do this because we say!”
That is the cry of every authoritarian despot everywhere. Authority rules. Not truth. Not democracy. Not reason. Not love. Not compassion. The authoritarians use those words and make a mockery of them. And they fool the masses. They fool the 30,000. But those who are aware know, the minority, the 72. They know.
They know because their heart knows. Their heart knows because they know the grandson of the Prophet (peace be upon him). They know because they have seen the love and beauty that is Imam Hussain (AS). So few. So few really know. As Hussain told his sister Zainab:
“Falsehood can buy many supporters, but truth has only a few friends.”
But when I walked the road to Karbala in October 2018 I was surrounded by millions. Poor and wealthy alike from around the world, walking to make their visit to the man who opened our eyes to the meaning of justice, of truth, and of sacrifice. They walked mourning, weeping, for Hussain and his family, for their suffering, for their courage, for their commitment to Allah at all costs.
Hussain calls out today to everyone, to Muslims, to me a Christian:
“Hal Min Nasirin Yansurna. Is there anyone to help me?”
Don’t answer lightly, dear mourner of Hussain.
How can I say, “Labbayk Ya Hussain! Here I am Hussain!?”
Do I mean it? Do I mean it, really? Am I really here for Hussain when it means going against the grain, resisting the lies, challenging the powerful, seeking the truth, the real truth?
Honestly, more often than not I don’t really mean it. The cost is too great. I hedge my bet.
Labbayk Ya Hussain! Here I am Hussain! (As long as I don’t have to sacrifice too much).
Here I am Hussain! (As long as it doesn’t take away my comforts).
Here I am Hussain! (As long my life isn’t disrupted by the cry of the suffering).
Here I am Hussain! (As long as I can safely blend in with the crowd).
I mourn for Hussain because I was too late for the battle. I mourn for Hussain because I know I am not like Hussain. I mourn for Hussain because the world is mired in injustice, deceit and cowardice, and I am a part of it. I mourn for Hussain because it is just easier to be on the side of Yazid. I mourn for Hussain because mourning is about all I can do.
What is the road to Karbala?
It is the road, if we let it, to be a road of honesty.
I felt summoned by Hussain when I touched his shrine and I was assisted because I couldn’t quite reach it. A hand took my hand and put it against the grate amidst the surging crowd. It was a moment of unity. A Christian from America welcomed. Hussain is for everyone. I felt summoned by Hussain to seek what is true and just. I felt confident that I could. But following Hussain is not an easy road.
Two years have passed since I made the ziyarat to Imam Hussain (AS). The world has changed dramatically in these two years. It feels as if we are under a spell. Something is very, very wrong and we don’t seem to know what it is. We are being deceived by the powers of this world as Yazid’s army was deceived.
What is the road to Karbala?
It is the road of awakening. It is the road of the free man and the free woman. It is the road of hope for humanity when the odds are so against it all seems lost. Hussain showed the world what it means to be a true, free human being when the world was at its darkest.
“Labbayk Ya Hussain!” is not really about us and what we think we can do. We are too late. But we are bearing witness to a promise. We are bearing witness to the revealing of Imam Mahdi and the return of the Prophet Jesus. It is a matter of faith. We are summoned to trust that Allah has not given up on us.
That may be the hardest task of all—to hope for humanity when humanity is under attack. Perhaps that is what Hussain may be asking of us now. To keep hope alive. Hussain wasn’t defeated at Karbala. He was victorious. Yazid won this world with its deceptions and corruption. Hussain won the world to come with freedom and truth for humanity under the compassionate, watchful eye of Allah.
This world to come is coming soon, inshallah.
John Shuck, a Christian pastor, attended Arbaeen in 2018 thanks to the sponsorship of the Husayniah Society of Seattle and Sister Zahra Abidi. John and his partner, Josh Townsley, made a film about the visit called “For Love of Hussain (AS)” available on YouTube.
The cruelty. That is what is destroying my soul. The cruelty. The clincher for me that COVID was a psychological operation was when they cancelled March Madness. The students were so excited about the tournament. The ETSU (East Tennessee State University) Bucs finished their best season in decades, perhaps ever, and the news simply announced that the tournament was over. They attacked the young people first. I saw the meanness in that and knew intuitively that this was Satan’s work. The cruelty has abounded since then.
It is more than simply destroying humanity or turning us into robots or reducing the population; it is the excessive amount of cruelty by which it is done that destroys my hope. Oh I weep. God, how I weep. Why? If there is a God, why? I remember as a kid being taught by another kid a few years older than me how to make ants fight to the death. I did it once. The same kid liked to take a magnifying glass and fry them in the sun. What made this fun? He was just a kid. So was I. I think on that and realize that we are nothing more in the minds of our conquerors. We are but ants to them.
I can’t fight this anymore. I have lost all hope. I will be judged for that if there is a judge. Judged for giving up—for abandoning hope. I doubt now that there is a righteous judge. I am thinking that the universe, existence itself, is a cruel joke run by evil. Sometimes I hold out hope that there is Good beyond it, but I am losing that hope daily.
My heroes, my friends, my “conspiracy theorist” pals who take the abuse each day for posting what they see happening to us, keep at it through varying degrees of personal despair. If we can just post the right meme. If we can just dismantle one lie in the delusion. If we can make people see some of the falsehood, even just a little bit, people will awaken. We keep at it. Meanwhile, people cannot awaken because they cannot believe that such cruelty exists. They cannot imagine that those they have been conditioned to trust are so evil. So cruel. The longer it goes on, the more people fear, and the more they trust their authorities, and the more they hate those who challenge that illusion of security provided by these authorities.
In all the movies (ie. Matrix, The Hunger Games), the good people win. But who made the movies? The evil Satanists made the movies. All of this is a movie. It is their movie. They are playing us even through that. They are so far ahead of us, like the consciousness of a human vs. the consciousness of an ant, that even hope, even God in every religion and the Good in every philosophy and practice, is their creation. It is cruelty all the way up and all the way down. Even Goodness is an illusion. There is no pure heart. We are all made in Cruelty’s image. It isn’t that Evil is a distortion of Good, but Good is a distortion of Evil. Not a distortion, really, just a cipher, a rube, a program, in the cruel, sick game.
Is that blasphemy? Am I saying too much? Is there anything worthy of hope? Do I have it wrong?
My friends are fighting. They are warriors. They are not giving up. They fight in the belief that Good can defeat this Evil before total enslavement. The last thing I want to do is to discourage that spirit. That fight is the last remnant of our soul. But I have to ask if we are doing anything more than playing their game?
Maybe. Maybe we are doing something. The USS Liberty did not sink. Israel and the Traitor in Chief, LBJ, tried their best to sink the USS Liberty on June 8th, 1967, but the last torpedo fired that should have sunk it hit a beam in the ship and did not break it in two. The USS Liberty did not sink and its survivors tell her story to this day. That is a sign of hope for me. If Divine Intervention, the Good, saved the Liberty, was it saved for nothing? I meditate on that and I hope yet.
In October 2018, I learned the story of Imam Hussain (as), Hussain Ibn Ali, and his courageous stand against Yazid. I don’t know how that all worked out that I would visit his shrine in Karbala, Iraq. I don’t know what it means that the moment I was about to touch the shrine and I couldn’t reach it, to be assisted, to have my hand pushed against the grate and to look into the eyes of the person who did it. I don’t know what that means. I just know it happened and I felt a summons to speak what I thought was true. Was it a Divine sign? Maybe I am just being played. But I hope yet.
Hope is thin. So thin it rests on a razor’s edge. Hope is so thin that I lose it in the fog. Cruelty is thick. It is a dense fog that covers all. It grows thicker each day. We have no time left. The Cruel plan is unfolding faster and faster. It won’t be long, a few months, a few years on the outside before we are all transformed into an artificial existence. Our humanity is being stripped away from us. It has begun with the masking, the walking in rows, the distancing, the isolating, the destruction of our societies, divide and conquer, but more than that, the inability of the many to see what is happening before their eyes.
How can others not see what I see? It is so difficult to fathom that everyone from former church members to family members to the most aware people I thought I knew not to see that this is all terribly, terribly wrong. Such is the deception. Such is the cruelty. Such is the thickness of illusion. We are under a spell. Can it be broken?
I don’t know. In this thick fog, I still clutch the thin hope that if I can tell my truth at all, then it is not over. Not yet.
We are human.
We are not sick.
We are not diseased.
We are not contagious.
We are being deceived.
Jeremiah 31:27-34 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say:
‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Luke 18:1-8 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’ And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
Where does the parable end and the commentary begin?
One of the most significant contributions of the Jesus Seminar in its deliberations since the 1980s has been answering that question about the teachings of Jesus.
One of the significant gifts that the Jesus Seminar has given is making the scholarship of the academy available to non-professionals. What have scholars been saying about Jesus these past 200 years that never made it to the public?
One of the things they have been saying is that the Jesus of the Creed is not the same as the Jesus who told those puzzling little parables. These scholars also have been showing that the gospels, while preserving the teachings of Jesus, also painted portraits of Jesus and framed Jesus in certain ways.
Modern Jesus scholarship has been asking,
“What belongs to Jesus and what is later redaction?”
It is Jesus versus the editors of Jesus.
It is not a simple or easy task. Sometimes the editors of Jesus put words in Jesus’s mouth, so a casual reader thinks Jesus did say these things. After all, the gospel says Jesus said it. Who are you, scholar, to question the gospels? The church as a whole was not pleased with the Jesus Seminar. They didn’t like that these scholars messed with cherished belief systems.
Nevertheless, Despite the opposition, the scholars of the Jesus Seminar persisted, like the persistent widow, in searching out the voiceprint of the historical Jesus.
They discovered that this parable contains a bit of editing.
One rule of thumb is that parables are not allegories. When you run into landlords, judges, kings, and Fathers, don’t mistake them for God. The later editors do that. The historical Jesus did not.
Another rule of thumb is that a tidy explanation of a parable, even if it appears on the lips of Jesus, is likely not Jesus. He didn’t explain himself very well. Jesus told parables to make people think. Often to make people feel uncomfortable. Often to make people challenge what they had learned from conventional wisdom. Often to push against boundaries.
The Gospel writers didn’t like that and so they tried to explain his difficult teachings and make what Jesus said fit their own portrait of Jesus.
In this parable of the persistent widow, the editor appears both at the beginning and the end to tell you how to read the parable and what it is all about.
The editor begins:
“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”
That is a nice sermon and kind of true about the parable. Don’t lose heart. True enough. Yet the parable itself, says nothing about prayer. Even as prayer is a good thing, and Jesus certainly taught his disciples about its importance, that isn’t what this parable is about. This parable is about widow who is fed up with injustice. She isn’t praying to the judge. She is demanding justice from the judge.
Then the editor appears at the end of the parable:
And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
On its own, those rhetorical questions are interesting to ponder, but they have nothing to do with the parable. The editor turned the widow’s persistent demands for justice against the judge as prayer to God. The editors have taken a parable about the reality of injustice in the world and turned it into a lesson in personal piety. Pray always. Don’t lose heart.
Here is the parable without the editing:
‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”
This judge is certainly not God. The parable itself has him say he doesn’t care about God at all. He doesn’t care about what it is right or wrong. He doesn’t even care about people. He represents the reality of what widows, the poor, and the oppressed faced in Jesus’s time. Jesus was speaking to those very people who know the experience of the widow and who themselves experience this injustice, this hopelessness, on a daily basis.
Jesus is affirming what everyone who is listening already know, that there is no justice for the poor. That the system is rigged. Jesus is pronouncing an indictment upon it. The system of so-called justice has nothing to do with kingdom of God. In fact, it mocks it in the words of the unjust judge in the parable itself, “I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone.”
Jesus is laying it out on the entire fraudulent system of justice as against God and human decency. Jesus is really saying that this system is demonic. It serves itself not who and what it was called to serve.
Jesus is speaking to people for whom all the authority figures are against them. The people Jesus speaks to are the rabble from whom the well-to-do want to protect themselves.
This parable of Jesus is an indictment on systems of justice that have been structured and maintained by the powers that be to keep that imbalance of power in place.
The editors of the gospels, or the gospel writers, are removed from Jesus’s original audience and from Jesus. The gospel writers, writing at least 40 years, and in Luke’s case perhaps longer, maybe 60-70 years after the time of Jesus, also represent a different class of people. Whereas Jesus was likely in the peasant class, illiterate, and without property, the author of Luke is not that at all.
The author of Luke is like the wealthy liberal who likes Jesus but does not relate to the experience of the poor and the systems that are built that have “no fear of God and no respect for anyone.” So Luke makes Jesus’s parable a story about prayer and personal piety, something the well-to-do could understand.
What was Jesus’s original parable about then? It is a parable about how to respond to a system that is rigged against you. When you have no obvious power what are some ways to get justice? One way is to do what the widow did. Keep showing up.
Palestinians know this. No outside power is there for them. There is no appeal to justice that the Israelis will ever heed. The Israelis do not care about justice for the Palestinians. Palestinians know this. They know that resistance is survival. Survival is resistance. They stay on their land despite all the violence and abuse and the indignities. Each day of survival is in itself a victory.
In the parable, the judge does not grant justice to the widow because he has a change of heart. He doesn’t rule in her favor because of the evidence or because she is in the right. He grants her justice because he is tired of seeing her. She has worn him out. She keeps bothering him.
That is the weapon you use when you have no other. You just keep telling the truth until the powers are worn out. You wear out your opponent with truth and love.
Who has done this throughout history? We can think of Cesar Chavez or Martin Luther King or Sojourner Truth.
Yesterday was Arba’een. It was the fortieth day after the martyrdom of Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad. Between 20 and 30 million people marched to Karbala, Iraq. The largest peaceful human gathering on earth. I walked in it last year. They did it again this year.
Why? Because there is still injustice. The judge still has no fear of God or respect for people, so they walk.
Amidst the bombs and guns of the oppressors, people walk. Amidst the threats and violence, people walk. Amidst the scheming and the plotting, people walk. Amidst greed and fear of the small minded, people walk.
Like the widow in the parable, they keep continually coming. They will not stop. They will not be intimidated. They will not be quiet. They will keep going as long as there is oppression anywhere.
It was the most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed in my life. It is in the spirit of Jesus and his parable of the persistent widow.
Eventually, the unjust judge will do the right thing. He will do the right thing because he is worn out. Until then, they walk. They persist.
One day says Jeremiah, turning to the other text for today, one day, says the Lord:
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
One day, perhaps even the unjust judge will have a change of heart. One day after the widows of the world have walked until their feet are bloodied, Until every last ounce of energy has been used, Until every tear has combined with every other tear to create a raging river… One day, perhaps the scales will fall from the eyes of the powerful, And even they will turn to God and turn to respect other human beings…
And the law of love will be written on every heart.
Until that day, Those who follow Jesus will walk with the widow, Everyday. They will persist.
Last year I had the opportunity of a lifetime. I don’t say that lightly. It is an experience that will stay with me for my lifetime, insha’Allah. I visited the shrine of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) in Karbala, Iraq during Arba’een, the largest annual peaceful human gathering in the world. Estimates range from a low of 15 million to upwards of 30 million people who make the journey to Karbala every year.
The trip was sponsored by The Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle. Sister Zahra Abidi has a vision for a Hussain Revolution in the United States that includes bringing people together to discuss important things, sometimes controversial things, but things that matter not only to Muslims but to all human beings. That is how I met her.
It was in the follow-up of that conference during an email exchange that I first heard of Hussain. He was referenced in regards to the panelists, all of whom had taken risks, and had sacrificed in varying ways for their work in bring truth to light. Each of the panelists was a truth-teller. They told inconvenient truths about the powers that be.
That is how I was introduced to Imam Hussain (Peace Be Upon Him). He was a truth-teller and was martyred for embodying the truth. I knew nothing else about him except that. I wanted to learn more.
Sending Christians and Sunni Muslims to Iraq for Arba’een is one of the things Sister Zahra and the Husayniah Society of Seattle does. I am happy to support her good work. They have just purchased property in the north of Seattle, in hopes, insh’Allah, of creating a center. I am sure she would love to talk with you about it and hear your encouragement. You can visit their website. Search Husayniah Seattle.
The Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle paid for the trip for my friend, Josh, and me. Josh has done some filming. So we went to make an amateur documentary. It was more than that for me. This was timely in my life. It was a search, you could say. I have been experiencing I guess you could say a spiritual growth spurt. Maybe it is a mid-life crisis. I have discovered the need in my own life to search more deeply about what is really going on in our world and what are the forces at work and to what paths we are being led. I realize I cannot trust our traditional sources of information, especially the mainstream media to do that.
I am discovering that these forces are dark forces as the title of this conference indicates. Rise Above Hate. What is hate? How do we rise above it?
I didn’t go To Arba’een for healing. I didn’t go for intercession. I didn’t go for forgiveness of sins. I didn’t go for mourning. I didn’t know people went for all those reasons until I went there and started talking with people.
I went because I wanted to see this person and why so many were attracted to him. I wanted to see the person whose life was so pure, that he gave it to save his grandfather’s faith. I wanted to visit the person who didn’t compromise his principles. I wanted to see the person who might inspire me in some way to find courage and character for whatever it is that Allah is calling me to do. I wanted to see the person who in his life and in his death rose above hate and showed us all how to do it.
Some Muslims I have met are curious as to whether I have converted or reverted to Islam. I don’t know how to answer that exactly. I like to think that my faith has expanded. I have a heart for Jesus (peace be upon him) and I always will, insh’Allah. But I also have a heart for Hussain (peace be upon him) and a heart for Mohammad (peace be upon him and his progeny). Being introduced to Hussain and the Prophet and his family and the Islamic faith in loving ways by loving people has expanded my heart.
You really cannot have an interfaith interaction and expect not to be changed in important ways. Unless we are vulnerable enough to have our hearts touched by another, it is not really an interaction. It is just us trying to convince others of our position. It is just a sales pitch.
I cannot worry about whether or not others are changed by what I say. That is up to God. I want my heart expanded by others—by you. Or to put it more accurately, to have God expand my heart through you.
That has happened a great deal in this past year in all my interactions with Muslims through the Islamic Center across the street from my church in Portland and with the Husayniah Society in Seattle as I mentioned, through my on-lineinteractions, through the generous opportunity to attend conferences, through the helpful resources in which I am slowly beginning to learn more about Karbala, through reflection, through my ministry in my church, and, of course, through the opportunity I was given to visit the holy sites in Iraq.
That is what I think it means to “rise above hate.” It means to have one’s own heart expanded. Let me explain.
Love expands the heart. Hate shrinks the heart.
You know the book and movie, “The Grinch who Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss? The Grinch’s heart was three sizes too small, remember? He hated the Whos in Whoville. Then, by a miracle, his heart expanded. He met a Who, Cindy Lou Who, who showed him kindness and he saw what the Whos really loved and valued, what the birth of Jesus (peace be upon him) meant, not things, but generosity, and the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day.
Sometimes the simplest children’s stories tell the most profound truths.
We cannot stop hate by hating the haters. We cannot just expand someone else’s heart. Hate takes a long time to shrink a heart. What does it take to shrink a heart with hate? It takes isolation. It takes hurt. It takes ignorance. It takes fear. It takes prejudice. It takes suspicion. It takes rejection. It takes anger. It takes envy. It takes greed. It takes acceptance of falsehood. It takes abuse. It takes oppression. It takes time to allow hate to shrink our hearts.
Hate is out there. We can find it in our institutions in our governments. They can be overtaken. In my tradition, we call this force the demonic. It can take over a whole nation. The demonic does not work for the good of the world or the people or its creatures. It works to divide us, to shrink our hearts with hate. The demonic works in secret. It works in the dark. It works with deception. It works with lies. It works with marketing. There are forces at work in the world that want to shrink our individual hearts and our collective heart as a people. So we live in suspicion and fear and become docile to these forces.
Any of us, all of us, are susceptible to having hate shrink our hearts. Hate is like a toxic weed that grows in the soil of ignorance. Hate is the result of so many complex negative emotions. You can’t convince people or prove to people or sell people on your opinion. You can only actually love. You can only do that by allowing your own heart to be expanded by another.
Rising Above Hate. How do we do that? If hate shrinks our heart, how does love expand our heart?
I should add this: The Latin root word for heart is cor. COR. Where we get the word coronary. We also get the word courage. We think of someone with the heart of a lion, like Hussain’s half-brother Abbas, as having the heart of a lion, a courageous heart. As your heart expands, as your heart grows with love, you become courageous.
How do we become courageous? How do we expand our hearts?
The Buddha in the Dhammapadda is reported to have said:
Do not consider the faults of others
Or what they have or haven’t done.
What you yourself have or haven’t done.
We cannot do that if we think we want to stop the hatred of others. We want to stop hate. Therefore we want to stop them, those haters. You can’t just tell people, “You are hateful. Stop it.” It won’t work. We can only allow our own hearts to be expanded.
So I am in the Shrine of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him). It is beautiful. The air conditioning is on. It is filled with the sound of prayer. People are crying. Some are standing. Some are sitting. Some are in various positions of prayer. Poetry is being recited from many places. I don’t understand a word of it, except now and then I hear a name I recognize, Ali, Zainab, Abbas, Hossein.
This is about a week before Arba’een. I am with the tour group. I decide I want to go and touch the big box in the center of the shrine, the lattice work above the grave of Hussain. At first I wasn’t sure if I would do it, or should do it. If it was appropriate. Hussain was not a person in my religion. But I kept hearing all week that Hussain is for everyone. So I decided to go and do it.
I don’t know what it is like on the women’s side, but on the men’s side, even a week before the day of Arba’een the place is packed. it is a push and pull like ocean waves of bodies. Your feet almost leave the ground. There are so many people. You know where you are headed. And you aim for it. But it is like swimming in the ocean. You don’t need to be aggressive but you need to hold your own. You swim through the bodies, pushed left and right. Finally, I got close enough, almost there.
I should stop again. I was conscious of being different. Different religion. I only speak English. From America. My reddish hair, now reddish-gray, pale skin. Of the thousands of people inside the shrine that day, I was probably the whitest guy in the room. I reach up and put my hand up to touch the lattice work and I can’t reach it.
A hand took mine and pushed it up against the grate. It was a brown hand, taking my white hand up against the final resting place of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him). It was a visual imprint in my mind that beyond all color, all race, all religion, all language, the language of love and truth and courage is one. The love of Hussain. Our eyes met. We just looked at each other.
As I swam away, just a few yards away, I saw this man. He stared at me. Tears were streaming down his face. He asked me as many did on my trip, “Where are you from?” I told him, America. He just started bawling. He hugged me and kissed me. I have joked that I never have been kissed by so many men with scratchy beards.
But what is this?
Iraq. A country that felt post-apocalyptic to me. I, like many of us Americans, watched from a distance as our leaders lied us into war, destroyed Iraq, and then ignored its suffering. No one goes there. No one that I know, except my brother-in-law. He is a professor at NYU and he goes often to the northern part of Iraq because of his work of peacebuilding with the University of Duhok. Besides my brother-in-law and soldiers, I know of no one who had been to Iraq. A country that Americans like me need to visit. A country devastated by the demonic, by lies and wars, by bombs and depleted uranium. By hatred from outside powers, mercenary terrorists and puppet tyrants, the people left to fend for themselves.
The US state department tells Americans not to go to Iraq. Too dangerous. Bad. Whatever. What did I find? I found love. I found tears. I found joy. I found hope. I found my heart had expanded. A Christian American was embraced and shown the love of Hussain (alayhi s-salam).
That is how we rise above hate. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable so our hearts can expand. If you cannot go to Arba’een, then bring Arba’een here.
Courage is the result of an expanded heart. With courage is insight to tell the truth as best you know it when you need to tell it. That is what I try to do now in my ministry and on my Facebook page and radio show, where ever I do my thing. That doesn’t mean I know truth more than others. That doesn’t mean I am not ever wrong. I am wrong often. Courage is admitting it and learning from it.
Courage does not mean me selling you my truth. It doesn’t mean that. Hearts do not expand that way. You tell what is true and live what is true and Allah does the rest.
But it does mean that we cannot be afraid of what we know or of what we learn because of the discomfort of truth to us or others or to the powers that deceive.
Nor can we be afraid of exploring and researching in taboo areas.
Exposing the demonic and its lies.
That is where the hatred infests.
Nor can we be concerned if people will reject or ridicule or whatever they must do to protect their illusions. Hussain’s sacrifice shattered all illusions.
In particular, he shattered an illusion that you fight hate with more hate and that you lead with power and coercion.
Hussain showed the world that you lead not with might but with right. You fight hate with love from an expanded and courageous heart.
That has always been the way that the true heroes rise above hatred in all its forms.
Contact John Shuck for an interview about this ground-breaking film!
The film has been released on YouTube and as of this writing has already received over 8,000 views since it was posted on Monday. “For the Love of Hussain (A.S.)” recounts the reflections and experiences of a Christian Pastor from America on the fifty-mile walk from Najaf to Karbala, Iraq for Arbaeen in October 2018.
Arbaeen is the largest yearly peaceful gathering on Earth. Officials estimate the number of people entering Karbala over a two-week period over fifteen million.
Yes. You read that correctly. Fifteen million. Other estimates are even higher. By comparison, the Hajj, receives three million visitors each year. Arbaeen has no central organization but has self-organized spontaneously after the fall of Saddam as visitors walk to visit the shrines of Hussain and Abbas in commemoration of their martyrdom in the Battle of Karbala 1400 years ago.
What they are saying about the film:
Miriam Fatima — ‘Unity is what this world need b4 its too late… We All together can Stand up against oppression like Imam Hussian a.s.. Stand For Truth’
S Jafry — ‘May God reward you with His best Mercy and expand your ability to continue to seek, recognize and stand for truth, justice and freedom. Beautifully captured especially shared mission of Jesus and Hussain.’
Syed Bokari — ‘Very inspiring, truly amazing and wonderful to see Muslims and Non-Muslims coming together through the love for Imam Hussain. God Bless the Pastor and his team for bringing the visit to the world. Mashallah.’
Moshin Raza — ‘Amazing well done…thanks for spreading this message of peace. Karbala is the only place in world where any person from any religion can attend this peaceful gathering for love of Hussain and witness humanity where everyone is treated equally and that is message of Imam Hussain a.s’
Farah Shariff Haji — ‘So beautiful! ♥️🙏🏼 Thank you for sharing it. Labaik Ya Hussain!’
Imaan Designs — ‘Thank YOU for awesome storytelling – the genuineness of feeling shone through!’
Princess Jenny — ‘I watched it was really wonderful thanks for your efforts and wish you success in your work always.’ 💖 💞
Ihsan Al-Saidi — ‘Thank you for sharing. Could not stop crying. Labayk ya Hussein.’
Rob Solomon — ‘Nicely done … well presented. The walk of Peace is thrilling. Simply thrilling.’
Ge Sada — ‘Actually I enjoyed every single minute of the documentary with my family. Your comments are really touching and brought tears to our eyes many times … Now I have what I’ve always needed when someone else, when a foreigner asks about Imam Hussain.’
‘Alhamdulilah! a short documentary, For love of Husayn, has been released. Pastor John Shuck and cameraman Josh Townsley were invited to make the 3 day Arbaeen trip from Najaf to Karbala in Iraq by Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle in 2018. Husayniah sponsored the entire trip but did not interfere in the production of the film at all. The film is therefore an independent review of the amazing Karbala walk by these two Christian pilgrims. Husayniah plans to send Non-Muslims and Sunni Muslims as pilgrims to Karbala every year to witness this miracle. We ask the pilgrims for nothing in return but to help us spread Imam Husayn’s message of Love, Peace and Justice.’
I suspect that after this post gets sent, the number of people who follow me via email (currently 2174–see sidebar) will decrease substantially. The Progressive Spirit radio show has ended and I am taking a different turn in regards to the things that I view as important and worthy of my time and hopefully yours. Yet I hope you will be curious enough to stay with me and pass this blog on to others.
We are in an apocalyptic time. Apocalypse means revelation. This is a time of revealing, of making manifest that which has been shrouded. Apocalypse in the popular sense means massive destruction. This time could be that as well especially if we decide as a human species to ignore the revelatory aspect of apocalypse.
But I am hopeful because I believe in God (not Gawd) to use David Ray Griffin’s distinction. To believe in God means to believe that morality and purpose are more than human social constructs. Morality and purpose are as real as atoms and supernovas, beetles and Bohemians. The very fabric of the universe is moral and we are a part of it, participating in it, being guided by and, to a degree participating, in its unfolding.
That belief is important, according to Griffin, because without it, without a belief and hope that the universe in some way “cares” we will not be able to face the task before us that is immense beyond measure. That task has come to us in the form of Global Warming or Climate Catastrophe. Monumental in itself, our situation is far worse than a problem to solve. Our destruction (apocalypse in the popular sense of the word) is enabled by the evil in high places that temporarily profits by our impending demise. The work of this evil is to shroud our true situation. Evil works in darkness as our wisdom traditions remind us. None of our institutions is capable of dismantling this evil or even capable of naming it. All of the institutions associated with education, religion, politics, commerce, justice, military, and media are held by the grip of this evil, unable to see in the darkness their own complicity.
The only thing that can save us is apocalypse in the precise meaning of that word, which is revelation. We need an unveiling, a de-shrouding, an unfolding, and an awakening. This is not simply an intellectual activity. It is a deeply spiritual event. I use the word ‘event’ because apocalypse is an event in which we participate. This event is happening now. This time is apocalypse now.
All around us the shroud of evil is tearing. Glimpses of light are piercing it. These glimpses are truth-revealing glimpses into the reality of our imprisonment. What exactly happened on September 11th, 2001 is a question related to this apocalypse. We know that we have been deceived but at the same time we are not allowed to know. I am not supposed to be writing about this. You are not supposed to be reading it. It is taboo. Yet here you are. You are still with me. The apocalypse event unfolds as more and more people see what they are not allowed to see, say what they are not allowed to say, and do what they are not allowed to do. Apocalypse now is rendering the taboo powerless. I need not convince you of anything. You already know it. I don’t need to show you Building 7. You know the official myth is a sham. You only need to trust what you know. Find your heart (courage) and act. When you are ready, you will.
Arbaeen is Apocalypse Now. It is not apocalypse (revelation) in the sense of a religious ritual by a sectarian group of Muslims. Arbaeen as revelation is an unfolding of truth and courage so profound that Christian bishopsprostrate before it and American Christian ministers (yours truly) return home and preach sermons about its transformative effects.
At first glance, Global Warming, 9/11, and Arbaeen are not related. But of course they are intimately connected. Global Warming negatively effects the poor first. It results from unbridled fossil fuel extraction that is linked to unsustainable economic growth that results in global resource war which is justified by demonizing the “Muslim enemy” that was created by the false flag of 9/11 who resists via Arbaeen.
Evil trembles before Arbaeen. American media cannot even report on it. But 15 million bear witness. Arbaeen (Apocalypse Now) is when the oppressed of the world lead the march toward justice.
Apocalypse Now (revelation) is a divine, redemptive event that uncovers the evil that is hell-bent on the popular version of apocalypse (destruction). Apocalypse Now is our summons to participate in our collective salvation.
John Shuck speaks with Hanan Al-Zubaidy and Catherine Shakdam about his recent trip to Iraq for Arbaeen
Having just returned from Iraq for Arbaeen in which over 15 million people from all over the world converged on the Holy City of Karbala, John Shuck discusses his experience and the significance of the world’s largest event with Iraqi refugee and Portland resident, Hanan Al-Zubaidy, and geo-political analyst from the U.K., Catherine Shakdam.
Hanan Al-Zubaidy is an Iraqi refugee who moved to the United States with her family in the early 90’s. Settling in Portland Oregon, Hanan is a recent graduate of Portland State University where she earned her masters in Educational Leadership and Policy. Focusing her work on marginalized populations, Hanan is currently volunteering with Larch Correctional Facility and sits on the board Human Rights Council of Washington County.
Scholars and religious leaders explore the impact of Husayn and the devotion of the 15-20 million pilgrims who visit his shrine each year. Part 1 of 2.
This is a rebroadcast of an episode that originally aired in May 2018.
I will be attending the pilgrimage to Arbaeen from Najaf to Karbala, Iraq, at the end of October, with a Maulana Mohammad Baig, courtesy of the Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle.
On April 28th 2018, The Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle and Global Initiatives co-sponsored an interfaith educational event called Husayn Day. The event was a reflection upon Husayn, the martyred grandson of the Prophet Mohammad. Rather than bow to his oppressors, he, along with 72 family members were killed in Karbala, Iraq in 680 CE. He is considered a martyr for justice, truth, love, and resistance. He is a leading figure in Shia Islam and his death is mourned each year by between 15 and 20 million pilgrims who visit his shrine during the forty-day period of mourning from Ashura to Arbaeen.
In the next two episodes, you will hear speeches from the presenters on Husayn and the yearly pilgrimage to his shrine. The presenters include, Dr. John Morrow, Sister Nicole Correri, Sheikh Fadhel Al-Salani, Sheik Ahmed Bahriny, Maulana Mohammad Baig, and me, John Shuck.
The West is largely ignorant about Islam and, in particular, Shia Islam and the person of Hussain. Twenty million people visit his shrine each other. This the largest annual gathering of human beings on planet Earth. Yet, Western media ignores it. According to an article in the Huffington Post by Sayed Mahdi al-Modarresi, “World’s Biggest Pilgrimage Now Underway, And Why You’ve Never Heard of it!”
Why you have never heard of it probably has to do with the fact that the press is concerned more with negative, gory, and sensationalized tabloids, than with positive, inspiring narratives, particularly when it comes to Islam.
You will hear about it on Progressive Spirit.
In this first episode you will hear from Dr. John Morrow, full professor, author, senior research scholar, public speaker and activist. He is author of a number of numerous articles and books including The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World. Dr. Morrow provided a stirring poetic spiritual biography of Husayn.
You will also hear from Sister Nicole Correri. She is the preeminent female Shia speaker in North America. She will begin a Ph. D. program at Boston University in the Fall. Sr. Correri told the importance of Zainab, Husayn’s sister, and described her experience attending Arbaeen.