SHAFAQNA- Dr. Amílcar Aldana Cruz is professor at Havana University and a member of Shia community of Cuba. In an interview with Shafaqna, he explains about the culture of Ashura in his community.
Shafaqna- How well Imam Husayn and the Ashura event are known among your people, Muslims or non-Muslims and how are Muharram grieving ceremonies carried out in your country?
Cruz: Ashura in Cuba is not an event known to most people in general, primarily because Islam in my country has a very recent history and it has not been a long time since Islam has entered my country, but this does not prevent Cubans converted to Shiism from having a knowledge and culture of Ashura, acquired in recent years.
Following the publication of a book on the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 2016 in Cuba, the Cuban readers have understood the great imprint of the rise of Imam Husayn through the revolutionary work of Imam Khomeini and its implementation throughout the movement against the Sha and the structuring of the Islamic government. Our job is to publicize this great spiritual and historical epic movement in various social scenes. One of them is the intellectual and academic environment (the environment where I work), where manipulation and distortion prevail.
An example of this is the circulation of a Spanish academic journal in the university environment, which presented a monograph dedicated to Islam in response to the trend that today exists in the West in a large number of texts (“Criticism”, number 911, monographic “Islam, so close, so far”), from books and magazines of high studies to master thesis and doctoral seminars. This publication exposes through different angles of knowledge (such as sociology, philosophy, anthropology, the sciences of religions, cultural studies and political science) what is, in multiple manifestations, the phenomenon of Islam.
Numerous scholars have participated in this magazine, mostly Islamists, Arabists and political analysts from several universities of the Iberian country with an intention of approach, not apparently hostile, towards the Islamic universe. One of these articles which is entitled “Fundamentalism, back to the past” is printed with a photograph where an Iranian observes us with harshness, dressed in black from head to toe, with a band around his forehead with the Arabic phrase “Oh Husain!” at a mourning ceremony.
It is a known phenomenon that in the media field an image charges with a value when the picture is accompanied by a text where the words become codes that encompass highly known and manipulated concepts, as is the case of the noun “fundamentalism”.
And in this case, without reading the article, the image of the Iranian in the event of mourning ceremony on Ashura is intended as a tool with the function of annexing a series of terms handled by Western media such as religious terrorism, mistreatment of women or mutilation by Sharî’ ah, distorting in its total ignorance the significance of such an event.
From a historical point of view, the martyrdom of Husayn (P) occurred on 10 Muharram year 61 d. H (towards October 680 AD) is seen as one of many episodes of successive fights that occurred in the early centuries of the Middle Ages by Western historians (and thus entering universities), comparing it to facts such as the wars that occurred when Emperor Theodoric died (526) in Christian Rome or the struggles in China in 690 AD. C when Wu Zhao was taking power (this is the look of a large group of Oxford historians who follow the school of Arnold J. Toynbee, as is the case of British historian Paul Kennedy, or of positivist and transcendentalist cut, as can be the one developed by the well-known American historian Will Durant).
Others only see the point of political rupture that will mark the anti-Ummayad insurrection movements that will end this caliphate in 132 AD. H -750 d. C (this is the vision of schools of Marxist tendency like the Annals of France). A third group sees it in the plane of the symbolic epic, making it emulate with the Sanskrit accounts of Ramayana, or seeing a kind of Iranian cultural fusion between the stories of the “Shahnameh” of Ferdusí and the narratives of the events of Karbalá (this line was taken by the historians of the religions that followed the paradigm of the Circle of Eranos).
All of them do not perceive the true dimension born of the disgraceful event in Karbalâ that marks a rising, not only social but in its great spiritual measure, which in this 21st century is as alive and felt as any fact, not even in the contemporary stage. The images of the Husanîyas in ‘Ashûrâ that provide us with documentaries and reports made by Westerners and that are displayed in the houses of high anthropology studios or on television news are translated by them as examples of what religious fanaticism can derive, wanting to demonstrate on a theoretical mantle the existence of low civilizational mentalities in analysis of the commensurability or incommensurability of belief systems, of understanding of apparently irrational beliefs and behaviors.
Everything would validate the analysis trends of the clash of civilizations, put into vogue by Samuel Huntington, where an irrational Islamic civilization would face the rational, technological and democratic Western society. There is a lack of two elements of understanding: one, of the real historical dimension of the fact and the other of the inner experience that causes the mourning of Imam Husayn (P).
Shafaqna- How could the teachings of Imam Husayn and the Ashura Culture help modern people?
Cruz: As a matter of fact, my work has been to bring real knowledge of ‘Ashûrâ to academic and interreligious environments. At the moment taking advantage of the use of social networks, we have a website where we have dialogues with people of various religions and ideologies about the ‘Ashûrâ event and its high value in the history of mankind.
Shafaqna- What influence does Ashura’s message have on your personal and social life?
Cruz: The tragedy of Karbalâ teaches us, among other things, that man has to fight hard and with a passion to preserve human and divine values. Said sacrifice is transformed into a sacred paradigm that, as it is discovered without the veils of the historical phenomenon itself, will show a unique spiritual path, which can serve as a lesson to today’s man, whether he is a believer or not but who is capable of possessing freedom, of reason and feel for himself without means to lose him.