I’m Sunni and I went to the 10th Muharram procession in Melbourne!
Australia is known for its racism. I expected at least a few condescending glances but it was nothing like Pakistan.
Pakistan, home to 180 million people, saw another deadly Muharram this year when 57 people were killed in a suicide bombing in Lahore. Each time, short term administrative solutions are followed to bandage the plague of ideological intolerance that has infected us for years.
Cities are put under curfew, statements of condemnation floated, promises of fool-proof security made and cellular services blocked for as long the government deems fit. Nothing much has changed since last year, when Raja Bazar in Rawalpindi was gripped by sectarian violence.
This religious intolerance and administrative failure is in stark contrast to what I recently experienced in a foreign land. I come from a Sunni background, but this year, I took part in a 10th Muharram procession organised in Melbourne. This was to show solidarity with my brothers in faith back home.
Australia is known for its racism. Hence, I expected at least a few condescending glances as thousands of people from the world over wore black and walked the city’s street as a unified force.
Nohas were played on loudspeakers and participants thumped their chests in grief. Information leaflets were also distributed which explained the reasons behind this procession and who Imam Hussain (RA) is.
People from all nationalities and races transcended their nationalistic differences and came together for a single cause – the cause of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom.
The procession was taken out right before the Melbourne Cup was to take place a few blocks away. It is a popular horse race that allows people to bet on their favourite horse and drink in celebration. Just that fact was enough proof of the plurality and tolerance of divergent views. We walked further on towards Carlton Gardens where a wedding was taking places only a few minutes earlier.
Following that, Zuhr prayers were offered and the participants dispersed to peacefully go home.
How unfortunate that this proof of coexistence was blatant in a ‘gora land’ and not in my own country that boasts of 98% Muslim population and was founded on secular, pluralistic principles. There was no threat of violence or fear of being attacked. There was no hint of racism in a country known for it. The government didn’t have to put security on high alert neither did it jam cell phone services.
Will we ever be able to fight the ideological extremism prevalent in Pakistan and allow space for such peaceful coexistence of different beliefs and values?
Will we ever see a day when the government doesn’t have to enforce shallow administrative actions to fight the larger battle against extremist mindsets and a lack of plural values?
Let’s hope so.