Q. Why do we remember Imam Hussain (as) through a ‘Procession’?
We remember Imam Hussain (as) through the often practiced medium of a procession because it is an effective means to spread awareness about Imam Hussain (as), his cause and his sacrifice for mankind. The movement of people in a coordinated and synchronised manner attracts the attention of any onlookers because it gives the impression that something is happening, something that cannot be achieved by simply standing in one spot. We want onlookers to question what that something is and in doing so whet their appetite for why we are holding the procession. The Ashura Procession comprising of thousands of people from various ethnic backgrounds all wearing black adds to the curiosity in people’s minds as to what is going on and why.
Holding a public assembly (as has been suggested by many) is definitely one way of remembering the tragedy of Karbala, but taking it a step further and holding a procession is a more effective way of spreading awareness to the community at large. In holding and participating in the procession attendees are mirroring an honoured tradition of walking from one’s home to Karbala on the day of Ashura. This is a way for people in the community to connect to Imam Hussain’s (as) sister, Sayedda Zainab (as), feel her pain and remember her long journey as a captive from Karbala to Damascus.
Finally, on this point it is worthwhile to consider that the notion of a procession is not exclusive to those who practice Ashura Processions, it has been utilised as a powerful tool by countless groups around the world – consider the various military, ethnic, social, political, special interest groups, minority groups, sporting and ceremonial events. In these instances we see people walking as a collective for a cause they believe in and celebrate/commemorate while promoting awareness and knowledge to the wider community – the Ashura Procession is no different.
Q. Why is the procession done on or around the day of Ashura?
The Ashura Procession aims to unite people from various backgrounds to spread the message of Imam Hussain (as), the message which reached its zenith on the day of Ashura. This day (Ashura) has a special significance to millions across the globe, it has become the day that everyone reignites and spreads the message of Karbala and Imam Hussain (as). That is why the procession is held on the day of Ashura. It is held in the morning as opposed to in the afternoon primarily because Imam Hussain (as) was martyred just after Dhuhr prayers.
Q. Why does the procession occur some years on the day of Ashura and others one day before or after the day of Ashura?
While our intention is to have the procession on the day of Ashura, it may not always work out based on constraints imposed on the procession. There have been many reasons over the years for this. In accordance with local, state and federal laws we must notify all relevant authorities about the details of our Procession and this can often mean that we are at their mercy. Such authorities may place limitations on us in many ways. Our intention is to work with all authorities to achieve the best outcome for the procession and meet all our aims and objections.
Another reason is that due to the nature of the Islamic Calendar (a lunar based system) there occurs uncertainty as to the exact Gregorian date of the 10th day of Ashura, and that can cause some time constraints. A Procession of this magnitude takes months to prepare, yet we may only know the date for certain 10 days before it occurs.
Q. Why is the procession held in the city rather than in the suburbs?
The Sydney CBD is a central place in the heart of one of the biggest cities in Australia. One of our objectives in this Procession is the dissemination of the message of Imam Hussain (as). An effective way to achieve this objective is to hold our Procession in an area that will cause the greatest impact to the wider community, and grab the attention of the entire city, if not the world, especially where tourists and the media are concerned.
Q. How is the message of Imam Hussain (as) spread through the procession?
There are several ways the message is spread:
- Flyers that discuss the message of Imam Hussain (as) are handed out to onlookers
- Attendees often converse with onlookers to discuss why the procession is held, and answer any questions the public have
- Media are invited and a media statement is distributed to each and every media outlet via fax/email
- Interviews are conducted before, during and after the procession with media – whether it be radio, TV, online or newspapers.
- Several banners are displayed during the procession, with the main banner carrying the overarching message we intend to communicate
- A speech is made at the conclusion of the procession in English to further spread the message to the wider public
- We refer people to our website for further information – www.ashura.com.au and encourage the wider public to subsbcribe to our facebook page as well http://www.facebook.com/ashuraaustralia
Q. Doesn’t a procession in the CBD cause an unnecessary traffic disruption ?
All processions held on the street have the potential to cause a traffic disruption, but the key is in how we manage this to minimise the disruption. Each year we work with several authorities to come up with a detailed plan on how we can reduce traffic disruption. In 2011, we came up with a detailed 12 point plan that was approved by the authorities and saw minimal traffic disruption in the CBD. The procession has been run in the Sydney CBD for the past 6 years now (the first two years were held in the Western Suburbs of Sydney) and in each year we have had the full support and commitment from the various authorities including the Local and State Police, the Sydney Opera House, the Federal Police, Sydney City Council, the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority to name a few. They are 100% supportive of the procession and want to ensure we hold it each year as they think the message is powerful, significant and one that needs to be communicated to the community. If any one of these authorities felt in their assessment that the Ashura Procession had a negative impact on traffic flow in the Sydney CBD they would not have approved it for the past 6 years. The fact that it has been approved indicates that traffic disruption is kept to a minimum.
Q. How many mosques, centres or associations are invited to help plan the Ashura procession?
We encourage any and all Shia mosques, centres or associations to participate in helping to plan the Ashura Procession. We have, are and will continue to run the Ashura Procession with an open door policy – anyone from any centre, mosque, ethnicity, denomination, background, and religion is invited to take part in helping to plan and run the Ashura Procession.
Q. What language are the processions run in?
The most common language used is English. Most things including our chants are in English, the speech, the brochures and banners. While the main strength of the Procession is its visual boldness, the main message is relayed and can be read in English.
While we do have chants in Arabic, English and Urdo, non-English aspects are small in number and generally won’t be heard by the masses. The ultimate aim is also to spread the message, which is why we need to focus on English, the official language of Australia.
Q. Do chants get out of control during the procession?
We use synchronised chants and main speakers in order to partially control the audibility, tone and content of our chants. The Police have always said that our Procession is safe, secure and well organised. They further add that it is the most peaceful Procession that they oversee.
We embrace the diversity of the participants of the procession who span a plethora of rich ethnic backgrounds and cultures. Multi-cultural gathering and people have slight variation in how they practice the remembrance. The majority of the chanting is soft and synchronised. Chest beating will leave memory and will raise questions in people’s minds as to why they do this. This cultural expression of emotion leaves a lasting and deep impression in people’s minds.
Our marshals, all of whom receive training, are co-ordinated so as to maintain peace and order within the crowd. All our marshals wear safety vests and have set tasks to perform. There is a code of conduct and a great amount of training for each group.
Q. Why are ladies doing procession at the front?
Ladies are at front primarily because we want to show Australia and the world that we hold women in high regard in our families, homes, community and society. They are our sisters, mothers, friends, colleagues. The status of women in Islam and especially during the events of Karbala is best symbolised by having the ladies in front of the procession, leading the procession.