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Ashura Special

Life under the holy flag

The illustrious Syed family at 48 Abul Hasnat Road, Old Dhaka, can trace back their origins from Najaf, Iraq to their dwelling at Dhaka, where they have resided for the past three hundred years, since 1707. Their arrival in Dhaka however predates that date by 60 years.

The date was deciphered from what is referred to as a 'roz-naamchaa' (diary entries) written by Meer Shakurallah-Al-Hussaini - a 'tahsildar' (revenue officer) representing the Moghul Court in Dhaka which recalls the date conveying the death of Emperor Aurangazeb, a time reported by historians to be 1707.

This Shiite family has been in the forefront of not only religion and heritage, but also socio-political changes observed in this land since the seventeenth century.

Today, their ancestral home serves as an Imambara, a site of worship that opens its door to people irrespective of sect, caste and religion come every Muharram, the second holiest month in the Islamic calendar.

They have played host to a long list of dignitaries, noblemen and politicians in the likes of Raja Amir Ahmed Khan of Mahmudabad and Iskander Mirza, who later became President, Republic of Pakistan.

A section of their family compromised with the British to bring about change, while another segment, to which the Syed are closer, opted defiance towards Colonial tyranny, which resulted in brutal onslaughts on the family, once in 1757 after the battle of Plassey and also during the great Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.

Martyrs of both these historically significant periods now lie buried in different parts of what is now Old Dhaka.

Syed Taqui Mohammed, son of Nawab Syed Chottan Saheb is the current head of the family. A poet, with equal proficiency in Arabic, Persian and Urdu, Taqui is a member of the National Waqf Committee, Ministry of Religious Affairs, as an eminent Shiite Scholar. He has also been, since 1980, the 'Mutawalli' of their Imambara, a place used for religious rites by the Shiite community for ceremonies, especially those of the first ten days of Muharram.

Taqui holds a very spiritual view towards the observance on Ashura, 10 Muharram in the Islamic calendar. For him, the observance is defiance toward oppression that has been going on since the death of the beloved grandchild of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) till today, be it against Islam, or humanity in general.

For the family and the millions of Shiite here in Bangladesh and around the world, the solemn ceremony begins with the sighting of the new moon of Muharram. And continues for ten days.

From the first till the ninth of Muharram, the family fasts and on the tenth, observe 'faaqua'-abstinence from consumption of food, which is however different from the traditional concept of fasting, or 'roja' as we know it.

During these ten days, at the Imambara on 48 Abul Hasnat Road, there will be ceremonies conducted by scholars before Zuhr prayers. Quotes from the Qur'an and hadith literature are drawn to address issues significant to the observance of Ashura. A separate congregation of women is addressed by a female scholar.

And then there is the 'matm' (requiem).
The beating of one's chest in the memory of Imam Hussein (ra), has a spiritual significance. Syed Taqui Mohammed clarifies that a human wounded in his ankle touches it for comfort. As for the case when it is the heart that bleeds, there is but one option to beat the chest, signify sorrow, and assuage pain of a loss far too great for human comprehension.

And what a loss!

What we call the battle of Karbala was hardly a battle, with an 'army' of mere 72 people (which included women and children, all slain in the cause of Islam), they were against a tyrannical power many folds in strength but weak to the core, for a force no matter how strong, is weak if it is against the cause of humanity.

The 'tazia' procession that we observe during Ashura every Muharram was a tradition brought into the subcontinent by Muslim invaders. It is significantly different, now from its original source, Arabia. Here, like everywhere else in the world, observance of Ashura and Tazia has blended in with the prevailing culture of the land.

In the past, and even today albeit in a much smaller scale, Ashura was a day that transcended not only sectarian differences within the religion but broke borders and embraced participation from sections of other religions found in Bengal.

Although many might consider the use of sharp knives and blades for requiem, an exaggeration, but Taqui leaves it to the individual. Sadness and grief takes the form of varying shades in different individuals, it is only natural that the expression of such a feeling will also be unique.

The carrying of flags, red and green with intricate work of golden jori is a hallmark of tazia processions. It is a simple statement, just to say that I am under the shade of a banner, the flag of Islam, the religion of Allah conveyed to the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). It is simply to say that I am under the flag of humanity where justice prevails and has no creed.

By Mannan Mashur Zarif
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
We would like to express our wholehearted gratitude to Syed Ali Ahmed and his family for helping us with valuable information featured in the article.

Check it out

Transcom opens a window

Ever dreamed of owning a Windows Mobile phone? For most of us the cost can be prohibitive, which is why the initiative undertaken by Transcom Digital Bangladesh and Update International presents such a unique opportunity.

On 21 December 2009, Lenovo's ET 660 was launched in a press conference in Transcom Digital's Gulshan-1 showroom. Speaking at the ceremony were Zafrul Alam Khan and Yasser Noor from Transcom, Tarequl Islam and Quamrul Hasan from Update International and Ashraf Kaiser from TWBA Benchmark. Transcom Digital, in collaboration with Standard Chartered Bank and Hyundai has made this offer one that is indeed hard to refuse.

Bearing in mind the prohibitive costs of Windows Mobile phones, the credit card holders of Standard Chartered Bank and Brac Bank can pocket this phone, paying manageable instalments of Tk 2325 a month over a twelve-month period. The phone costs Tk 27900, and credit card carrying customers can avail of this payment scheme at zero percent interest. What's more, the first two thousand Standard Chartered credit card users to buy the phone also stand a chance to participate in a quiz and become the proud owner of a brand new Hyundai i10 car. They also stand to win one of twenty Lenovo notebooks to be given away.

The red carpet has also been extended to Standard Chartered's Saadiq and debit card holders, who can buy the phone at a ten percent discount.

Speaking at the press conference, Yasser Noor of Transcom Digital said, “At Transcom, we try to keep products that are in the top three in the world. Lenovo is currently the third best computer brand in the world.” About the offer, he said, “We want our customers to avail the best, at the least possible cost. You can see here that the collaboration of big corporations can only mean that things will be easier for the consumers.”

As a phone, the ET 660 is top of the line, with all the features of the quintessential Windows Mobile. With touchscreen capabilities, the Operating System is Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, and contains Office Mobile with MS Word, MS Excel, MS Powerpoint to keep you abreast of work when on the go. On the connectivity front, its got WAP 2.o, GPRS and EDGE; take your pick. Add to that a 3.2 MP camera with built-in flash and a Windows Media video player that plays MP4, 3GP, AVI and WMV files, and you have a pocket entertainment centre. The product comes with a one-year limited warranty and includes a free bluetooth device.

The phone is available for purchase at Transcom Digital's showroom in Gulshan-1 and other participating outlets. Offers such as this do not come along everyday, and the product is definitely worth the price. For those who can afford it and this offer lowers that bar it would make a lovely New Year's gift for yourself or a loved one. As a gift, this phone will give you giant brownie points, and that's always worth it, especially at only Tk.2325 a month.




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