Over 900 people have signed a petition to ban a Shia procession in Luton which is due to take place next week. But a counter-petition, which has garnered over 1,500 signatures, has denounced it for “fostering sectarian hatred.”
The first petition, on change.org, was created by Luton resident Altaf Khan two days ago and refers to the Ashura procession which takes place every Muharram to commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson, Imam Hussain.
The petition states: “Luton prides itself as being home to people of different cultures, ethnicities and faiths where we all live together with respect and harmony.
“Once a year we have the Annual Shia Procession through Bury Park that is deeply sectarian, offensive and uncivilised. Self-flagellation and chest beating scares, offends and frightens members of the local community. It is against the spirit of multiculturalism and tolerance we have been enjoying in Luton for the past 30 years.
“We the people of Luton wish to pressure the Local Council and Police to put an end to these processions that inconvenience local businesses and residents. This procession fuels the flames of sectarianism that have wreaked havoc in parts of the world such as Pakistan, Iraq and Syria.”
The petition, which has been backed by Luton Islamic Centre, has attracted 100s of comments, the vast majority supporting the call for a ban. Although many of the comments appear to come from people who live outside of Luton, some of them include:
“Public beating should not be there for the whole of the public to view. This can be done privately also. Children should not be exposed to seeing this”
“I feel grossly offended by their cursing the companions of the Prophet which they do in Urdu and not in English .. I heard it with my own two ears and complained but police did nothing!”
“This aggressive ritual is barbaric and should be done through the heart of the community. Such an act is nothing other then a provocation. Why not beat themselves in their place of worship. No need to do it and cost the taxpayer money by blocking traffic and putting police on the street.”
On the other hand a few Shia Muslims also commented. For example:
“The Shia should carry on the procession in public as it’s in remembrance of our Prophet’s (pbuh) grandson’s message to tell how brutally he and his 72 companions were killed by tyrant called Yazeed and children and women folk were disrespected so much. Just read the story of Imam Hussain and you will be crying.”
A “sectarian petition”
Meanwhile, Dr Raza Hussain, president of Masjid-e-Ali (which is organising the march) told 5Pillars that the petition itself was sectarian.
He said: “People have got the wrong idea – there won’t be any blades or anything like that on the march. People will only be beating their chests as a sign of mourning for Imam Hussain and some will march along quietly doing nothing other than reciting their prayers.
“All these people who are supporting the petition are doing so on a sectarian basis. Throughout the world people are coming together from different spectrums of the Muslim community to mourn Imam Hussain and what happened at Karbala – and not only Muslims but people of other faiths such as Christians and Hindus choose to mourn too.”
Dr Hussain added that the procession had taken place in Bury Park for years without any incidents.
“People are playing on the anti-Shia sentiments of a few to inflame sectarian tensions and seek to divide people with the sectarian agenda of the takfiris. And some have been foolish enough to buy into this.
“My experience is that the local businesses and shops give water to the march participants as is the tradition in the subcontinent. And our mosque, Masjid Ali, has very good relations with the Sunni community. We have a Sunni mosque right opposite our’s and we have speakers from it coming into our mosque often. There are no problems whatsoever.”
Moreover, a counter-petition has been launched asking for Shias to be respected and comparing the original petitioners to ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The petition, which has garnered over 1,500 supporters, states:
“The basis of a tolerant society is that it allows for the expression of religious ceremonies of all people equally, within the boundaries of the law.
“Shia ‘chest beating’ (matam) and procession (juloos) are performed by us, on ourselves. We neither force anyone to join us, nor do we do it on others. Shia processions have occurred peacefully in England every year, in almost every major city, for the last 30 years. This us without incident, crime or sectarianism. Each procession lasts less than 5 hours per year.
“Those who began the petition are the same sect as ISIS, Al Qaeda, Taliban etc (the Saudi based Salafi cult) who are using underhanded and simply wrong arguments to try and ban Shia processions and foster further sectarian hatred in the UK against Shia, under the pretense of community cohesion.
“We have the right to practice our faith, all we ask is a few hours a year to do so in public. We are the same community as you. We are your neighbours, your friends, your work colleagues.”
Hundreds of people are expected to attend the march in Bury Park next week.
The day of Ashura is marked by Muslims as a whole. For Sunnis, it is marked with a voluntary day of fasting which commemorates the day Prophet Nuh (as) left the Ark, and the day that Prophet Musa (as) was saved from the Egyptians.
But for Shia Muslims it is a major religious commemoration of the martyrdom at Karbala of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
It falls on the 10th of Muharram and is marked with mourning rituals and passion plays re-enacting the martyrdom.
Shia men and women dressed in black also parade through the streets slapping their chests and chanting. A minority of Shia men seek to emulate the suffering of Hussain by flagellating themselves with chains or cutting their foreheads until blood streams from their bodies, but this is discouraged by major Shia leaders and groups, who say it creates a negative image of Shias.
The killing of Imam Hussain was an event that led to the split in Islam into two main sects – Sunnis and Shias. Today, Sunnis comprise about 85% of the worldwide Muslim population whereas Shias comprise 15%.