March 22, 2006
Yesterday was the Chehlum, the forty day of the mourning period of the death of Imam Hussain, the third Imam of Shia Muslim sect. Farman Shah telephoned to our office and invited me to join the majlis which would be held in his house. Farman Shah lived in Noraseri, not far from our camp in the village. Farman Shah and his family were all from Shia sect, the Aliwallahs. Majlis, the speech which was held everyday during the mourning period of Muharram until Chehlum, would deliver the story of the death of Imam Hussain. And more than often, the speech brought tears to all of the audience. The Chehlum majlis, as the Ashura majlis (the death day of the Imam) was among the biggest and the most important.
I departed early in the morning from Muzaffarabad together with Tajjamal (I called him Taj Mahal), a guy from Noraseri who lived in Muzaffarabad. He came early in the morning, when I was not prepared yet and was still shocked by the whole day of Chehlum self-beating and self-torturing. He rushed me, I was rushed. The transport was not easy either. There was no bus going to Noraseri. Once we found a Suzuki but there was no space for two people. The other Suzuki was going only to the bridge in the mid-way, and there were no seats left. Not to waste more time (we didn’t know what time the majlis would start), we took this Suzuki. I hanged myself outside the car – a common Pakistani way of traveling. But in this disaster area, the trip was not quite enjoyable by hanging one’s life on the edge of the grueling moving car. The road was full of holes, bumpy, and dusty.
During the way I asked Taj Mahal’s opinion about maatam and zanjirzani. He claimed himself as Aliwallah, I thought that he meant that he was Shia (Shiite). But he was not. He just meant that he also loved Ali, so he was Aliwallah. He said that the custom of beating one’s self was unacceptable. And he hated it very much. He used the term ‘jahil’. As to my understanding, ‘jahiliyah’ was the dark age before the coming of Islam. A very ordinary comment of someone from Sunni sect about the Shiite traditions.
Arriving in the bridge, we hitchhiked a truck. The drivers were Peshawari from the border province. The Peshawari, the Pathans, are mostly all Sunni. And Taj Mahal discussed with them about the ‘stupidity’ of zanjirzani.
Taj Mahal, even was from Noraseri, had never returned to his village since the disaster. This was his first time coming back to the village, and he could not recognize the roads that lead up to the hill. The roads were all changed, due to the landslides. Along the way, his relatives (children and women) were excited to see him and gave him greetings. Everybody was related to other body in villages.
We didn’t go directly to Farman Shah’s house. Taj Mahal invited me to his auntie’s house, not far from our camp. The auntie prepared some tea for us. It was about 1:15 when we started to go to the Farman’s house. The speech should have started at 1. Taj Mahal said that we were not late, just the exact time. Pakistani time.
And he was correct.
Farman’s house was still standing, despite the earthquake shocks. But the house was considered as ‘dangerous’, not for living anymore. Cracks were everywhere on the wall. And now the whole family was living in tents in the house yard. But he believed that the house should be strong enough to handle some dozens of people who come to attend the speech, which was delivered on the rooftop of his two-story house.
It was 1:30, but the majlis was not started yet. Farman, a healthy man dressed in black – as the Shiites wear during the mourning periods, was busy of preparing this and that. The audiences were coming. Many of them were children. I thought that they would be maatam and zanjirzani also. But most of the audience was Sunni. There are not so many Shiites in this village. And for sure maatam and zanjirzani would not be held on the rooftop of Farman’s cracked house.
Imam Hussain was respected by both Sunnis and Shiites. For Muslims, Hussain was a hero who fought the evils, an example how Muslim should be brave in the war against evil deeds. But for Shiites, the braveness was to be shown by experiencing the pain that Hussain suffered in the war, ‘physically’. The majlis, the speech, was not exclusively for the Shiite, as what was delivered in the majlis was also accepted by the Sunnis. And indeed, most of the audience of the speech today was Sunni.
The black Shia flag was waving when the wind blow. The huge, ice-capped Nanga Parbat back grounding the rooftop speech, with about half of children audience. The children came from local village, some from neighboring villages. First of all, two boys, both of them were Sunnis, chanted shalawat from the Koran. There was problem with the electricity, and Farman had to turn on his generator. The speech was supported by a set of powerful loudspeaker, so that people from the neighborhood can also listen to the majlis speech.
Then some imams were giving the speech, telling the suffering of Imam Hussain in the war of Qarbala. Children was quite unrest audience, they couldn’t stand for hours of speech. When the other elder audience started whipping and crying, the children moved around, climbed the other roof and played in the ground just in front of the face of Nanga Parbat. Some policemen, I didn’t know whether it was their duty to come here, rushed the children to be quiet and go back to their seat. But it was a hot day anyway. And many of them were hungry already, couldn’t wait for the lunch, the nice smelling chicken biryani made by our international class cook from Yunan (Greece).
I was also. And so was the Taj Mahal. I was escorted by him to his house, to have an early lunch. I protested, as I wanted to follow the speech. But it seemed that my stomach didn’ agree with me. So I was in Taj Mahal’ auntie’ house, enjoying the white rice with beef curry. After the lunch, of which actually I was supposed to go back to follow the speech, I fell asleep. So I missed the ending of the speech completely.
When I woke up, it was already 5:30, and almost dark. I went back to Farman’ house, to inquire whether there was still something there. Yes, the biryani was still there, and we were served the food. But of course the majlis was finished much earlier. It was embarrassing that it seemed I came there just for the food and missed the speech. Farman invited me to the room, with the cracked walls, where they still used to watch TV and listen to the radio. Farman’ youngest brother, a boy of 18 years old, had a very distinctive European look. Farman’s other brother was studying in the UK after getting a scholarship. The family was proud of him. About zanjirzani, Farman said that he never did it, as he was afraid of the pain. But he told me to attend another mourning festival of another Imam in Muzaffarabad, about a week later. This forty days of mourning were dedicated for Imam Hussain, one among the Twelfth Imams whose death of each to be remembered in mourning periods. Imam Hassan’s mourning period would start on March 29, this year. His father, Imran Shah, urged me to become Muslim. It was considered as impolite in Indonesia to ask other’s religion and ask someone to follow other religion. But it was not the case in Pakistan. Almost every single body I had meet asked me whether I was Muslim. And after I denied, they gave me a prayer to be one as soon as Allah permit. I was used already with this, and didn’t think too sensitive about questions concerning my own religion. So, Imran Shah was very happy when Taj Mahal told him that I had got a Muslim name from the Shiah mosque a day before. He said that I would be a Muslim very, very soooooon.
The family, most of the males were wearing black clothes, then went up the rooftop. And they proudly showed the black flag of Shiite, and it seems that the huge snow-caped mountains supporting the pride. The flag was weaving proudly.
Later on the night, I stayed in Taj Mahal’s auntie’s tent. The biryani from Farman was still stuck in my stomach so that I didn’t have any choice but to refuse any dinner offer.