Protests in Iraq: Saving the Iraqi People

For the past week I have been receiving messages and comments with pictures and videos and hashtags “Save the Iraqi People.”

I am not sure what to make of this. Some of the comments on my Facebook page have been aggressive and accusatory because according to some I have not done my part to support the demonstrators and their cause.

It is true. I have been hesitant to support the cause especially as I do not know what the cause is, what the goals are, who the participants are, and how I can best support truth, justice, and peace in this case. All I know is that a lot of people have died and many more have been injured. I am certain that most if not all of those who have died and who have suffered are innocent people and righteous sufferers. I am distressed over that. There is not much I can do from my laptop in America except to express my sorrow, offer my prayers for justice and peace for Iraq, and offer some of my thoughts regarding all of this.

Let’s break this down.

I trust absolutely no one. It is nothing personal. It is just that my Facebook page of 5,000 friends and 8,000 followers is teeming, swarming, and infested with agents. These agents represent intelligence agencies from the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other places as well. I have no idea who is or who is not an agent. Not only that, but even those who are not agents are subject to disinformation and deception. This goes for me. It goes for you. I do not trust any picture or any video from anyone. It doesn’t mean I think the images are deceptive. I cannot know. I don’t know the context. I am not there. I can’t speak the language. I do not know what is happening. I know nothing.  I don’t know who is doing what to whom. Even if I did, I don’t know what to do about it.

When I receive these memes with hashtags to “Save the Iraqi People” I have no idea what to do about that. I could blindly pass it on in the hopes that someone somewhere will save the Iraqi people. I know it won’t be me. I cannot save the Iraqi people. As much as I love the Iraqi people and have been embraced by them since I went to Iraq for Arba’een last year, and as much as I sympathize and empathize, I cannot save you. I don’t think anyone with whom I would share the meme will save you either. That is the point.

It isn’t that the message isn’t out. The New York Times got the message. They know that Iraqis are protesting and dying. Some are salivating over it. It is a great opportunity for the opportunistic to take a bite out of what is left of Iraq and seek to isolate Iran.

The harsh truth for the United States is that Baghdad is too dependent on Tehran and cannot manage without Iranian natural gas and other products that meet its day-to-day needs. Iraq’s annual trade with Iran is $12 billion while American exports to Iraq are a mere $1.3 billion. 

Washington can help reduce this dependence and reinforce Iraqi sovereignty by enabling Baghdad to build stronger relations with countries that can provide alternatives. This can take the form of a road map to energy independence involving facilitating strategic dialogues on shared energy grids and new pipeline connections with the Gulf states and Jordan.

What is this meme, “Save the Iraqi People” intended to accomplish?  Whose help is being sought?

Is the request for me to tell my congressperson to send more US military to Iraq? Should my president, Donald J. Trump fire some missiles into Baghdad? Will that save the Iraqi people? That is how America saves. That is how we “saved” Libya. That is how we “saved” Syria. That is how we “saved” Iraq already on more than one occasion. If we don’t blow up countries ourselves we arm and train mercenary terrorists (ISIS by whatever name) to do it.

If you want an outside government to save you, America (or any Western/NATO country) is not a wise choice. You would do better to pray to Satan. We are Shiva, destroyer of worlds. Honestly, if you want an outside government to save you, I would start sending those tweets, hashtags, and memes in Persian. Regardless of the bad blood between Iraq and Iran, Iran is 1,000 times more likely to be a better ally to Iraq than Israel’s pet, the United States. 

Remember America armed and funded both sides in the Iran/Iraq War and America put Saddam in powerbefore taking him out over the course of several decades, killing two million Iraqis and poisoning the entire country with depleted uranium for good measure. The Israeli/American neocons want to mix it up with Iran next. They are loving this death and destruction and the meme to “save the Iraqi people” and to divide Iraq from Iran at Arba’een. They would love to save Iraq by turning it into Greater Israel.

It would not shock me in the least to discover that the current Iraqi government is infiltrated with U.S. and Israeli agents shooting at innocent Iraqis. Not only that but Israel likely employs a lot of sharpshooters who speak Farsi so that Iraqis will blame Iran. Who benefits from violence against Iraq? Not Iran.

In terms of what to do about your government, I certainly don’t know, and in my opinion, nor does any honest person in America. Our own government is in shambles. How could anyone in America know any more or love the Iraqis any more than Ayatollah Sistani

The office of the Shia Muslim Supreme Religious Authority already suggested — on August 7, 2015 — that the relevant authorities should form a committee comprised of well-known and highly-qualified figures, whom the Iraqis trust, and such figures should be from outside the realm of the government. The committee has to be tasked with initiating the prerequisites to combating corruption and achieving reform, and it should work side by side with the representatives of the demonstrations in order to listen to the demands of the Iraqi people and their perspectives. And after the committee has finished initiating the prerequisites — whether legislative, executive, or judicial — all the prerequisites must come into effect immediately. This was the suggestion the government didn’t act upon, but it could perhaps be an appropriate solution to the current crisis.

I empathize with you. I can’t save you. No one in America can. You will have to save yourselves. Perhaps your inspiration for that will be found in Karbala.

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Expanding the Heart

These are the notes from a speech I gave at the Hussain Day Conference in Somerset, New Jersey at the Masjid-E-Ali Mosque. The conference was entitled, “Rise Above Hate.”

It was sponsored by Payam-e-Aman and Stand With Dignity

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. 

My friend and I made a film about it. You can find it on YouTube, “For Love of Hussain.” 

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. 

In addition to being a pastor I host a radio show on KBOO, a community radio station in Portland. I moderated a panel discussion regarding the war against Yemen at Portland State University in February 2018. It was entitled “The US – Saudi Coalition: Bringing Peace or War?” 

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-line interactions, 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.

Consider rather

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.

May we all be heroes in that same spirit.

For Love of Hussain (A.S.) Now On-Line!

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.’

The trip to Iraq for John Shuck and Josh Townsley was sponsored by the Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle. This is what they said about the project:

‘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.’

While in Iraq, Townsley and Shuck were interviewed by the Iraqi Media NetworkShabir TV, and The Imam Hussein Shrine. After the walk, Shuck was interviewed by Peter Wong of the Beaverton Valley Times.

Both Shuck and Townsley are available for interviews and for venues to share their film and their experiences. 

Contact John Shuck via e-mail.

John Shuck is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Beaverton. Josh Townsley is executive director of Evergreen Habitat for Humanity in Clark County, Washington. 


Discussing the Largest Event on Planet Earth

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 was instrumental in bringing the Ramadan Tent Project to the United States. Catherine Shakdam recently wrote a couple of articles about Arbaeen entitled, “Millions of Muslims, Over 60 Nations Gather to Reject Terror in Iraq” and “The Great March to Arbaeen.”

Arbaeen is the largest peaceful gathering on Earth and yet hardly anyone in the United States even knows about it.

While in Iraq, John Shuck and photographer, Josh Townsley, were interviewed by Shabir TV, The Iraqi Media Network (starts 1:07),  and the Imam Hussein Shrine.

Bios:

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.

Catherine Shakdam is a geopolitical analyst and commentator for the Middle East with a special focus on Yemen and the Gulf countries, Catherine Shakdam has been published across several prominent media outlets including: The Huffington Post, Sputnik, Citizen Truth, Press TV, The New Eastern Outlook, RTMintPressAyatollah Khameini’s website, Open Democracy, the Foreign Policy Journal,  The Duran, The American Herald TribuneKatehon, and many more. Catherine has been instrumental in breaking media silence over Yemen’s war, and the tragedy which has befallen the impoverished nation. 

In 2015 she authored: Arabia’s Rising – Under The Banner Of The First Imam.

In 2016 she authored A Tale Of Grand Resistance – Yemen, the Wahhabi, and the House of Saud and From Mecca to Karbala – Walking with the Holy household of the Prophet

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Husayn Means Beauty: The Attraction of the Seventh Century Martyr (ENCORE)

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.

Video of the entire conference.

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