Friday, January 26, 2007

Recommendations for Consumption re: Muharram and Shia

People take different approaches to mourning. And people take different approaches to the observance of Muharram.

I often find myself in a reflective state. For, if a sacrifice is to have any true meaning and worth, it must bring about a benefit and a change. The benefit for all of us from the sacrifice of Imam Husain (as) is the survival of opportunity to seek and find Truth. But the change has to come from our response to the sacrifice - what do we choose to do with the opportunity? Do we honor the sacrifice by availing ourselves of the search or do we succumb to the ho-hum of the status-quo?

I find my own words generally inadequate for expressing much of anything related to Muharram. Others have already said many things well enough.

Here are some things I like to consume this time of year (and all year) in relation to this train of thought (in no particular order):

1) There are not a lot of English language latmiyat available - so what "those Shia" are chanting is often a mystery, and sometimes people assume the wrong things. Usama Al-Atar has produced some popular recordings that are English renditions. Karbala's My Heart (purchase) (download free)
is an Ashura-themed album. I like track 4 - Every Day is Ashura and have it on my iDisk for you.

2) The Murder of Imam Husayn is an African-American rhythm and rhyme story-telling style account of the tragedy of Karbala written and told by Shaykh Ali Abu-Talib son of Abdun-Nur. If you do a Google search, you can find a few of his shorter poems online and experience his strong style. What I have is four-cassette tape set of this poem - so, yes, it is long - but it goes into good detail of the events and are good alternatives to nightly lectures. The tapes say they were recorded and distributed by GrassRoots Calling, P.O. Box 741177 San Diego CA 92174-1177; (619) 527-9683.

3)Husain The Savior of Islam by S. V. Mir Ahmed Ali is very old by the standard of anything available in English about Islam and particularly Shia Islam. But to this day, it strikes me as something very unique. In particular, part of it shows the parallels between the Hajj rites and the role of Imam Husain (as) and the tragedy of Karbala.

4)Honouring Allah's Saints is a very poorly translated book, but it still contains valuable insight toward understanding some of the origin and textual basis for the emotional fervor some Shia'a display in love of Ahlul-bayt.

5)The Brother of the Prophet Muhammad by Mohamad Jawad Chirri is a superbly written and thorough work on the relationship with the Prophet (saw) and status of Imam 'Ali (as) through Sunni sources. A reader of this book would end with a clear understanding of the origins and reasons behind the existence of Shia Islam today.

The clear style of the author can be appreciated online in these digitized texts: UPenn's online book links for Mohamad Chirri.

6)Light of My Eyes, Husayn is a very beautiful mp3 file I found a few years ago. I couldn't tell you who made it or where I had found it. But I uploaded it to my iDisk for you.

7) Ziyarat Nahiya Al-Muqaddasa is a profound Ziyarat in relation to Karbala which comes to us from Imam e Zaman (Imam of our Age) through one of his four original deputies. The link here is to an introduction - click through to find the ziyarat itself. I have it in a text sent to me by a dear friend one year that is identical to what you see online in words if not in formatting - published by NABA. It lists their e-mail address as .

8) Kumail and Kausar Publications has published a handful of very beautiful and moving works.
Their actual website is here.
In the current topic, I recommend both "Oppression on the Ahlul Bayt (as)", which is an account of sad events immediately following the demise of the Prophet (saw), and "Miracles of Ziyaarat e Ashoora" which includes the ziyarat itself and Dua Alqamah and some other shorter ziyarahs, and includes moving and interesting reports about the claimed effects of the ziyarat's recitation.

9) Shiabooks produces the highest quality literature of its type in English I've ever seen. The typeface and Arabic font are simply brilliant and the work is fastidiously referenced and published in high-quality. These works are primarily translations of collections of fully-cited hadith topical collections. Their booklet on Imam 'Ali (as) and his sons is available for free pdf download at their site. The other two books are "The Glad Tidings of Mustafa for the Shia for Murtaz'a" and "The Qa'em in the Qur'an". The former explains the meaning and obligations behind the usage of the title of "Shia", while the second is a tafsir of Qur'an of ayahs that have relation or reference to the Imam e Zaman (as).

10) Tears and Tributes is a by now exceedingly well-known novel-style account or story-telling account of Karbala. If someone just wants to read it like a novel, this serves that purpose. But I've always had a problem with this one in that it quotes people as saying things (as it is, after all, in a narrative style) when in reality I suspect much of that may be without reference to back it so I don't believe in its pure accuracy. That might not bother many people as the general message and much of the details are accurate and clear, but I'm a bit of a purist in that regard.

11) Verses of Ghadir is an exegesis of the Prophet's (saw) Ghadir sermons and the Qur'anic ayahs revealed on that occasion. This work is one of the best I've read on Ghadir Khum - the event of the very public proclamation of the role of 'Ali (as) in Islam.

12) - 14) Ultimately, to me, Muharram and all of Islam is about the Greater Jihad - Jihad e Nafs, Jihad e Akbar - the struggle against the self. Nothing else matters without this. It is the kernel, the essence. These three books are profoundly beautiful and meaningful. They can forever change your life. Even one page from them can forever change your life. Reflection and growth upon the pondering of these is delightful and deep.

Al-Siraj The Lantern by Shaikh al-Bahrani is available online, or also for purchase. It is essentially a book of purity and ethics and wayfaring - the path of gnosis and seeking Siratul Mustaqeem.

Self Building by Ayatollah Ibrahim Amini(or click here for purchase rather than online) is a superior detailed instruction manual for those wanting to win the struggle against self.

Lantern of the Path is by our 6th Imam, Jafar as Sadiq (as). It is a collection of short passages that take a moment to read but a lifetime to absorb and emulate. It is truly a masterpiece of seeking the Straight Path. It can be purchased here, if you prefer the hard copy to the digitized text.

15) A friend of mine wrote a philosophy textbook that explains Islam as its true self better than anything I've ever read. I put a draft version of it as a pdf file called "Islamway" on my iDisk. It is a very dense writing style - lots of meaning in small space, so it is not a fast read. Also, there are a number of typos not corrected in the draft version. I do believe the edited version is coming to publication soon.

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