Shuck and Jive

Monday, November 25, 2019

Final Sermon at Southminster: The Reign of Divine Values

My final sermon at Southminster.
The audio includes a wonderful tribute by my colleague and friend, Rev. Don Ludwig.
And a beautiful blessing from the children.
The choir sang “A New Day” perfect for “Christ the King” or “Reign of Divine Values” Sunday.
November 24, 2019

The divine purpose, thus revealed, is to overcome evil by bringing about a Reign of Divine Values (traditionally called the Kingdom of God) on Earth, in which the present subjugation of life to demonic values—lies, ugliness, greed, destructiveness, injustice, hate, and indifference—will be replaced by a mode of life based on divine values—truth, love, beauty, goodness, justice, and compassion….
The Christian Community should base itself, all of its activities, on the Christian Community’s mission. Its basic mission is to lead the way in God’s battle against demonic power on Earth. The church is meant to serve as a counterforce to the demonic dimension of the symbolic structure in which human beings live. God’s incarnational activity in Jesus should be understood as a divine offensive against the power of the demonic.
The Christian Community should, of course, engage in ethical and political activity as usually understood. But this activity should be carried out in the context of a spiritual offensive, in which the power of prayer is used to reinforce the divine influence upon the individuals and institutions involved. Praying for those who are especially enslaved to demonic power, and who are incarnating it in especially destructive ways, will not only serve to remind us that they are essentially good creatures who are loved by God, but also that our battle is not with them but with the demonic power to which they are enslaved….
Central to worship is Communion (the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist), in which we remember that Jesus remained faithful in his opposition to the empire, which led to his death on a Roman cross.
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
Luke 23:33-43
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

The Reign of Divine Values
On Friday I prayed at the Islamic Center of Portland as I do on occasion. It is where I go to “church” so to speak. Where do ministers who lead worship go to worship for themselves? That is where I go. I appreciate the sermons of Imam Muhsen Al-Dhalimy. I always learn new things. I am learning slowly how to pray. They are patient with me and welcoming. Happy that I am with them.
This past Friday, a boy, a middle schooler, I would guess, led the call to prayer. Afterward, when prayer was finished, in the hallway he told me how much he liked the film Josh Townsley and I made about our walk to Karbala. He spontaneously gave me a hug and asked me if I was a Muslim.
I have been asked that before as I have been invited to speak at Islamic Centers around the country this past year. I never know exactly how to answer that. On Friday, I said,
“I am a Muslim in my heart.”
I don’t think we can really engage in interfaith work and not have our hearts transformed and expanded. In interfaith encounters, at least as I see it, we must risk transformation. It isn’t just about telling others what we think or what we believe. Then it is nothing more than a sales pitch. For me, I want to know what God is saying to me through you. That approach, by its very nature, risks transformation. You can’t control what will become of you.
In this my last sermon with you, I do want to leave you with a few things including my appreciation for you, my gratitude to you and for you, and my blessing to you. It has been a good five years. We have done good things together. I am glad I came here and served among you. Despite the discomfort of how things are ending, it is time for that ending as well. I fully support what you will be voting on today in terms of dissolving the call. Your session and I have worked together and all of us have come up with an agreement that meets all of our needs.
As John O’Donohue writes in his book, To Bless the Space Between Us, one of his blessings is entitled “For the Time of Necessary Decision.” It says in part:
“Often we only know it is time to change
When a force has built inside the heart
That leaves us uneasy as we are.”
Southminster’s phrase is “companions on a spiritual journey” and you have been my companion. I cannot say what I have given you. I hope I have been a companion to you on your spiritual journey as well. But do know, that you have been a companion on mine. All of you, even those who have been uncomfortable with me. You all have been my teachers, my companions. You have shown me the Divine presence and have lived the Divine values in many different ways. I have laughed a lot with you. We have shared tears. We have shared a great deal and none of that is lost and I thank you.
I also feel it is fitting that today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year. The phrase “Christ the King” sounds archaic. After all, kings rule by force. That is not how Christ empowers. Christ leads through love. So we might call this Sunday “Reign of Christ” Sunday or “Reign of Divine Values” Sunday.
That is really what it is about. It is about the hope of a renewed creation in which we relate to one another and to Earth with the values Jesus taught and lived: Beauty, Truth, Justice, Love, Peace, Courage, and Compassion.
As the text from Luke’s Gospel illustrates, Jesus demonstrated the Reign of Divine Values as he went to the cross. His sacrifice showed the world the true realm of God. It is this concept of sacrifice that is really at the core of this transformation that happened to me and I think is happening in the world. I feel the need to share this journey with you as I close my time with you.
In February 2018, I moderated a panel discussion regarding the war against Yemen at Portland State University. It was entitled “The US – Saudi Coalition: Bringing Peace or War?”
It was in the follow-up of that conference during an email exchange that I first heard of Hussain. He was referenced in regards to the panelists, all of whom had taken risks and had sacrificed in varying ways for their work in bringing truth to light. All of the panelists, including Kevin Barrett and Mohammad Al-Nimr, were and are truth-tellers. They told inconvenient truths about the powers that be.
That is how I was introduced to Imam Hussain (Peace Be Upon Him). He was a truth-teller and was martyred for embodying the truth. I knew nothing else about him except that. I wanted to learn more.
When I went to Karbala, Iraq for Arba’een I did learn more about Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, not only intellectually but also spiritually. I learned that Hussain, through his sacrifice, saved Islam. He defined Islam by his sacrifice as a religion of Beauty, Truth, Justice, Love, Peace, Courage, and Compassion.
Hussain was and is, as I saw him, a mirror-image of Jesus. They are siblings. They are brothers. They are one. As I said in a sermon a few months ago.
It is Jesus I follow to Karbala.
Jesus showed me Hussain.
If I want to follow Jesus,
I must follow Hussain.
Hussain shows me how to follow Jesus.
Hussain and Jesus both sacrificed in the same way. They sacrificed all they had, their very lives for the Reign of God, for the Reign of Divine Values, and they both summoned the world to follow in their steps if we wish to participate in this transformation of the world.
This Arba’een walk of 15 to 20 million or more is a modern miracle of this transformation. It is a sacrament through which the world is being summoned to walk as one against all forms of tyranny.
My heart for Jesus expanded because of Hussain. I am a better Christian because of my encounter with Islam.
This is not about religion in the narrow sense of that word (whether one is Christian, Muslim, Jew or whatever), but it is about religion in the broadest sense, the power of love that connects us all at the deepest levels.
When I went and touched the box above the grave of Imam Hussain (alayhi-salaam) I wasn’t sure if I should. Hussain wasn’t a figure in my religion. But I was told again and again that Hussain is for everyone, regardless of religion or creed. Just like Jesus.
So I am in the Shrine of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him). It is beautiful. The air conditioning is on. It is filled with the sound of prayer. People are crying. Some are standing. Some are sitting. Some are in various positions of prayer. Poetry is being recited from many places. I don’t understand a word of it, except now and then I hear a name I recognize, Ali, Zainab, Abbas, Hossein.
This is about a week before Arba’een. I am with the tour group. I decide I want to go and touch the big box in the center of the shrine, the lattice work above the grave of Hussain. I don’t know what it is like on the women’s side, but on the men’s side, even a week before the day of Arba’een the place is packed. it is a push and pull like ocean waves of bodies. Your feet almost leave the ground. There are so many people. You know where you are headed. It is like swimming in the ocean. You don’t need to be aggressive but you need to hold your own. You swim through the bodies, pushed left and right. Finally, I got close enough, almost there.
I should stop here. I was conscious of being different. Different religion. I only speak English. From America. My reddish hair, now reddish-gray, pale skin. Of the thousands of people inside the shrine that day, I was probably the whitest guy in the room. I reach up and put my hand up to touch the lattice work and I can’t reach it.
What happened with me is that as I reached up, I couldn’t touch it, and a hand took mine and pushed it up against the grate. It was a brown hand, taking my white hand up against the final resting place of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him). It was a visual imprint in my mind that beyond all color, all race, all religion, all language, the language of love and truth and courage is one. The love of Hussain. Our eyes met. We just looked at each other.
As I swam away, just a few yards away, I saw this man. He stared at me. Tears were streaming down his face. He asked me as many did on my trip, “Where are you from?” I told him, America. He just started bawling. He hugged me and kissed me. I have joked that I never have been kissed by so many men with scratchy beards.
But what is this?
Iraq. A country that felt post-apocalyptic to me. I like many of us Americans, watched from a distance as our leaders lied us into war, destroyed Iraq, and then ignored its suffering. No one goes there. No one that I know, except my brother-in-law. He is a professor at NYU and he goes often to the northern part of Iraq because of his work of peacebuilding with the University of Kirkuk. Besides my brother-in-law and soldiers, I know of no one who had been to Iraq. A country that Americans like me need to visit. A country devastated by the demonic, by lies and wars, by bombs and depleted uranium. By hatred from outside powers, mercenary terrorists and puppet tyrants, the people left to fend for themselves.
The US state department tells Americans not to go to Iraq. Too dangerous. Bad. Whatever. What did I find? I found love. I found tears. I found joy. I found hope. I found my heart had expanded. A Christian American was embraced and shown the love of Hussain (alayhi s-salam).
My heart was expanded. Courage is the result of an expanded heart. With courage is insight to tell the truth as best you know it when you need to tell it. That doesn’t mean I know truth more than others. That doesn’t mean I am not ever wrong. I am wrong often. Courage is admitting it and learning from it.
Courage does not mean me selling you my truth. It doesn’t mean that. Hearts do not expand that way. You tell what is true and live what is true and God does the rest.
But it does mean that I cannot be afraid of what I know or of what I learn because of the discomfort of truth to me or others or to the powers that deceive.
I included in today’s order of worship, three different quotes from Dr. David Ray Griffin. Dr. Griffin, in my opinion, is the most important Christian theologian in the 21st century. The reason I make that very bold statement is because of sacrifice.
He held on to what he believed to be true, not only true, but important for justice, despite misunderstanding, ridicule, name-calling, and marginalization.
He communicated what he believed to be true at the very point when and where it matters most.
I am going to add Dr. Kevin Barrett to my list of the most important Muslim scholars of our time as well for the very same reason. Sacrifice.
He communicated what he believed to be true at the very point when and where it matters most. He did so at great risk to himself and at great loss.
That is the type of sacrifice that is in the spirit of Jesus and Hussain (peace be upon them both).
That is what I want to leave with you my dear beloveds at Southminster.
Hold to your truth.
Hold fast to your truth.
Whatever that truth is, don’t let it go for the sake of acceptance by others.
No relationship that requires you to deny your truth is worth keeping.
Do know that if you do hold fast to what you know is true,
and this truth is in order to goodness,
it will at some point require sacrifice.
But if it is true and good, it will last.
It will resurrect beyond death.
It will live and save.
In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said:
If you bring forth what is within you,
What you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you,
What you do not bring forth will kill you.
In other words if you bring forth your truth,
that truth will save you.
If you do not bring forth your truth,
that truth will destroy you.
So in answer to the question of the boy who asked me on Friday if I am a Muslim.
I will leave that for God to judge whether or not I am worthy to be called a Muslim.
For my part, I will trust the brotherhood of Jesus and Hussain as bringers of Divine Values.
May we all embrace these values regardless of our religion.
In terms of a blessing, this is for you, Southminster.
It is from John O’Donohue’s book, To Bless the Space Between Us.
It is called A Blessing of Angels.
May the Angels in their beauty bless you.
May they turn toward you streams of blessing.
May the Angel of Awakening stir your heart
to come alive to the eternal within you,
to all the invitations that quietly surround you.
May the Angel of Healing turn your wounds into
sources of refreshment.
May the Angel of the Imagination enable you to stand on the true thresholds,
at ease with your ambivalence and drawn in new directions
through the glow of your contradictions.
May the Angel of Compassion open your eyes
to the unseen suffering around you.
May the Angel of Wildness disturb the places
where your life is domesticated and safe,
take you to the territories of true otherness
where all that is awkward in you can fall into its own rhythm.
May the Angel of Eros introduce you to the beauty of your senses
to celebrate your inheritance as a temple of the holy spirit.
May the Angel of Justice disturb you to take
the side of the poor and the wronged.
May the Angel of Encouragement confirm you in worth and self-respect,
that you may live with the dignity that presides in your soul.
May the Angel of Death arrive only when your life is complete
and you have brought every given gift to the threshold where its infinity can shine.
May all the Angels be your sheltering and joyful guardians.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Transcript of "For Love of Hussain (a.s.)"

I decided to post the transcript of our film, For Love of Hussain for the public. If any wishes to translate it into Arabic or Persian, that would be awesome. I will leave it to you. This is the full transcript with credits and the words of each speaker as well as those of the narrator, me.

God bless all who are making the visitation to Imam Hussain (peace be upon him).

The Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle


For Love of Hussain (A.S.)

An Independent Film by John Shuck and Josh Townsley

My name is John Shuck and I am a Presbyterian pastor from Portland Oregon. In October 2018, I visited one of the holiest cities on planet Earth, Karbala, Iraq. 

Of about 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, 400 million are Shia. About 700 thousand Shia live in the United States. There are about a half dozen mosques or masjids in the Portland metro. Only one of them is a Shia masjid. It is the only Shia masjid in Oregon. It is across the street from the congregation I serve on Denney and Hall in Beaverton. It is called the Islamic Center of Portland, the Imam Mahdi Center. 

I went to Iraq and learned more about my neighbors across the street.

My way and the way of my cameraman, Josh Townsley, was paid by the Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle. We went for Arbaeen, the largest annual peaceful gathering of humans in the world.  Josh and I went with a tour group, Caravan 72, led by Mohammad Baig out of Los Angeles. We went along with about fifty other Shia pilgrims from the United States to visit shrines in Iraq including the shrine of Imam Hussain (alyahi salaam), the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), and the shrine of Imam Hussain’s half-brother, Abbas, in the holy city of Karbala.

I was asked to go because I am a Christian pastor and because I have interest in interfaith work and in particular, justice issues, large justice issues, war and peace issues, such as the so-called “war on terror” or perhaps more accurately, the war of terror that is being in inflicted by the United States, Israel, and the Saudis in the Middle East. 

Also for me, this was a spiritual journey. I was moved by the story of Hussain and by those who follow him. I wanted to be inspired by his courage. You can read all about my quest for truth and my radical ideas, and I have them, on my blog, radio show, and social media, but that isn’t what this is about.  

This is about a movement. Arbaeen is the largest annual peaceful human gathering in the world.  Most people in America don’t even know about it. I didn’t until I was invited to attend earlier in 2018. 

This tour group is like any spiritual tour group to a holy place. In this case Shia Muslims from all over the United States visit holy sites in Iraq and some went on a continuation of the tour to Iran.  We stayed in a hotel in Karbala for most of the time and then in another hotel in Najaf. 

Josh and I spent our time with the tour group, participating in their programs, going to the sites, including Karbala, Najaf, Baghdad, and Samarrah.

And of course, going on the walk, a fifty mile walk over 2 and 1/2 days from Najaf to Karbala. We spent two nights on the road, one night at the Iranian Media Center and another at the Bab Husayn Mawkib. 

Visiting Iraq is not dangerous even as the state department says that Americans are not supposed to go to Iraq. I never felt safer. Josh and I walked around Karbala by ourselves. We did the 50 mile walk by ourselves.  We were embraced.  Many people took selfies with us.  We were even the object of media attention when it was discovered that a Christian pastor from America was making a film about his trip to Arbaeen.

So who is Hussain and what is Arbaeen?

What I heard most often was that Hussain saved Islam. All Muslims know this. Both Sunni and Shia honor Hussain. Shortly after the death of the Prophet, a corrupt politician, Yazid, claimed control of Islam and demanded that the grandson of the Prophet, Hussain, bow to Yazid’s authority. 

Hussain refused as a matter of conscience. On the plains of Karbala, Iraq, Yazid and his army of 30,000 surrounded Hussain and his family and his 72 companions, demanding Hussain’s allegiance in exchange for his life.  

Hussain refused. A slaughter resulted. It was a battle of truth versus falsehood, good versus evil, right versus might. The incredible cruelty of Yazid and the transcendent bravery of Hussain is recounted every year with deep mourning and conviction. 

The women and children were taken prisoner and forced to walk to what is now modern day, Damascus, Syria. There Hussain’s sister, Zaynab, bravely recounted the cruelty of Yazid and the bravery of Hussain and kept the truth alive.  There is a saying that the movement ended with Imam Hussain but continued with Zaynab.

Yazid ordered the family to leave Damascus. On their way home to Medina, Zaynab asked to return to Karbala to visit the site of the battle. They arrived on the 40th day after Ashura, the day of the battle. Arbaeen means 40th

It has only been in the last few years, since the fall of Saddam Hussain, that millions of people have come to visit their Imam. 

Sheikh Ramadhan Mufakkir
Najaf Seminary, Najaf, Iraq

Sheikh Ramadan:

Our gathering that you see of millions actually started after the demise of Saddam. Why? Because the Shias have been oppressed throughout centuries. They have been oppressed. In the time of Saddam if anyone was found walking towards the imam they would be killed. And many scholars were killed through that. So the Shias they saw that opportunity now. Now we are free. Now we are able to go to our imam freely. Because of this, people they take on that burden and that hardship of walking towards the imam because of that love, to show that now we are free. Now we can express that love toward Imam Hussain.

During the time of Saddam the walk was illegal. 

Imam Muhsen Al-Dhalimy
Imam Mahdi Center, Portland, Oregon

Imam Muhsen Al-Dhalimy:

Actually there was kind of local uprising in Najaf back in 1977 when the government, the Baath government decided not to allow anyone to leave Najaf. But a group of young people they challenged that and they run toward Karbala. And Saddam Hussain brought big brigades and many part of the Iraqi army to block the roads and they arrested thousands of people. Actually myself I was arrested in that event and we spent many days in prison and they killed some people and tried to scare people off. Because they considered that a real challenge to their authority. That is when they started not to allow people to walk. But that did not stop people to go walking but it wasn’t such a public event. People would sneak in the night. Or people would not go on the main road, that is what you witnessed between Karbala and Najaf. They would go through the rural areas so the government would not detect them. 

But now people come from over 60 countries, some walking hundreds of miles.

Sheikh Molana Mohammad Baig
Caravan 72, Los Angeles, California

Sheikh Molana Mohammad Baig:

This walk that is happening right now is a new phenomenon. It didn’t start by any planning. No one planned it. It’s just that after years of subjugation under Saddam, people were not even allowed to mourn and cry. No one was allowed to come here even to show their love. After years of subjugation, when freedom was found, it just happened that when Arbaeen came around people just felt that you know, I’m just going to go. They left their homes and started walking. They didn’t want to take the bus or anything. They just started walking. How would one understand it? For example, a crass example, Forrest Gump just starts running. There’s no reason. He just felt like it. You feel like it. I want to do this. The passion came and you just walked. And you just came and then it just grew from there. It grew. So it is something that is new. And it is just naturally there. There is no one who made the plan, you know what this is written in religion that we have to do this.  It wasn’t like that. It just came about. And how it came about the wisdom, what’s the divine intervention in that, I don’t know. no one knows yet. We are still trying to figure it out. But all we know is that we are involved in the passion of the moment, that’s it. 

The walk to Arbaeen is a time of mourning.  The entire walk is constant prayer. Poetry that recounts the sacrifice of Hussain for Islam and for all humanity is recited in Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, and many other languages. Often this mourning includes a rhythmic beating the chest called matam.

Mohammad Baig: 
Right from the start there is truth and there is falsehood. Imam Hussain is the same thing. He stood for truth. There is truth in him. Then there is falsehood out there. This truth and falsehood they come and meet. Falsehood on that day of Ashura, the army there on Ashura, when they killed Imam Hussain and they captured his family, they started beating drums of victory. They proclaimed to the world that they won and Hussain has lost. That was more hurtful for the family of Hussein than even his death. The fact that they proclaimed victory and beat the drums of victory. But divine decree would have it such that after that day until the day of judgment that drums of victory are going to beat. These are the drums of victory of Hussein. We are claiming to the world that truth has won. And we are making noise so that the whole world can listen to that noise and that beat and know that this is Truth that will always win. 

All along the road between Najaf and Karbala are mawkibs. They provide rest, relaxation, food, and my favorite, Iraqi chai, strong and sweet.

The people of Iraq are the hosts. They save up for the year to provide comfort and hospitality to those who are visiting Imam Hussain.  

On the first night we stayed at the Iranian Media Center. Two people gave up their cots for us. We spoke with Iranian film-maker, Ali Afshar. He told the story of Ali Asghar, the six-month child of Imam Hussain.

Ali Afshar
Documentary Film-Maker, Iran
Ali Afshar:

The six-month boy was the son of Imam Hussain, with the name of Ali Asghar. In the battle on the day of Ashura, Imam Hussain told the enemies and put Ali Asghar like this... And told the enemies, “He is six months. He is thirsty. If you have war with us, he is children. What happened? Someone put an [arrow] to Ali Asghar’s neck and killed him. Simple. In these days, you can see this same killing like this story where? In Israel. In Yemen. In Syria. Some years ago in Iraq. Here. Near in this road. We can find something with this story. 

Justice. That is the main takeaway from all of this. The courage to stand with the oppressed against the powerful. Take a stand for truth. Take a stand for justice. That stand requires sacrifice. That is the essence of Imam Hussain (alayhi salaam) and true Islam. And true humanity. 

On the walk between Najaf and Karbala are pillars every fifty meters. On each pillar is a poster of a martyr, a young man who lost his life fighting ISIS. 

Sheikh Ramadhan Mufakkir On the poles from pole number one to pole number one thousand four hundred, we see pictures of martyrs, we call (Arabic). These are actually people, regular people not army trained, actually rose up when they heard the verdict to go to defend Islam…. Those pictures are innocent young kids who have left behind wives, left behind kids, and they rose up so they could go and defend the shrines of the imam. They can defend their country. They gave up their lives so that we are able today to come visit the Imam, able to go to Karbala, be able to go to Samarra…. Sheikh Hani is like one of the bravest guys I have met. I met Sheikh Hani from 2013. He actually was one of my Arabic grammar teachers. Very brave. He always had a problem with Wahabbis. He is from an area in Baghdad where a lot of his family members were killed through explosions. So he always had this bravery of always going and fighting these enemies. So when had the opportunity to go and fight he didn’t look back. He told us in class that you know what, I am leaving tomorrow and I will not come back. I remember seeing him three days before he died. I saw him and Sopana Allah, I saw him and we hugged and he said I am going back and he never came back. 

This 50 mile walk from Najaf to Karbala is not easy. It is wall to wall people in the desert heat. But walking does offer time for reflection. It was important to me to do the walk, even more so than to make a movie. This was a spiritual visit for me. I am glad I made the choice to do the walk rather than focus on making a movie about the walk. It gave me the opportunity for self-reflection. What is my life about? Where do I stand? For whom do I speak?

I met a man from India. And we walked together for about 90 minutes. I don’t remember his name but we talked about everything from religion to politics to life. It was a breath of fresh air to be able to have conversations about things that matter with someone from the other side of the world. It was one of many gifts I received. 

Naveed Hamza 
Dallas Texas.

Naveed Hamza:  As we have been making this walk, continuously we have been thinking or looking around that everyone is walking in one direction towards Karbala and Imam Hussain. I think it is symbolic and metaphorical that even in our lives, the duration that we are in this world, we all need to be walking in one direction. In our belief it is to be free of this world, to be with Imam Hussain and the Ahlulbayt and all the prophets, to be with God. The way to do that is to have that singular focus in one direction towards the Truth. In the Qur’an it says to be on the right path, be on the righteous path. That is what this feels like we are on. The righteous path. Everyone is moving in the same direction. Everyone has this dedication. Everyone has this intense love for Imam Hussain. Drawing them all—we saw young and old, people who can’t walk. Those who don’t have shoes. It doesn’t matter. There is some kind love that is drawing them in.

On the second night we stayed at the Bab Husayn Mawkib. Again, two people gave up their mats for us.  This is a huge mawkib with sleeping accommodations for 4500 people. 

Karbala, Iraq, is not a wealthy city. The electricity goes off and on. The water is bottled. Yet the city receives 15 million people during a two-week period.

Sheikh Ramadhan Mufakkir:  You know when the companions of Jesus came to him and they wanted to see a sign. And they said, “Show us a sign.” The sign was a table spread, the last supper we call it. From a piece of bread he was able to feed, how many people. We see it here the same thing. The people here throughout the year don’t got nothing. And even myself, I ask myself this question: When it comes to Arbaeen how can these people host 40 million, 30 million? Like you said the sewage is bad, the roads are bad, the infrastructure is bad. But you will see that in this walk, this week or two weeks of people coming here, you will see that everything is free. They give their houses. Everything little thing that they got they give it. How? It is a miracle from God. Something that is unexplainable just like the table spread. This is something that goes in my head every time.  How many animals they kill. How much food they give. How much water they give. And you will see after Arbaeen, they go back to suffering. But when it comes to Arbaeen, it’s like, you would think that every body in Iraq is rich.

You don’t make the visitation, the ziyarat, without an invitation. It is important that the Imam invites you and the Imam grants permission. So all of the visitors, all 15 million plus, are believed to have been invited. No visitor is unwelcome. No visitor is anything less than a blessed beloved of Allah. Of course, you feed them. Of course, you shelter them. Of course, you care for their needs. You love them, because they are on a divine mission, a sacred journey, in which they will be blessed, be a blessing to the world, and you will have a part in that, not because there is anything extra special about you, but because, Insha-Allah. You do it for the love of Hussain (alayhi s-salaam). The people of Iraq know this.

Whether you are making the ziyarat or serving those who do, it is a divine interplay, a unchoreographed dance of love.

But lest we get caught up in the romance of it, let us remember who is this Imam who invites visitors from all over the entire world. Imam Hussain (alayhi s-salaam) refused to submit to the authority of Yazid, who he believed to be unjust. Hussain refused to allow Islam to be directed by tyrants with small minds and large greed.

His brutal slaughter and the slaughter of his 72 companions on the plains of Karbala 1400 years ago was a tragedy—a tragedy of cosmic significance. But it was something else. It is a victory. It is a tragedy that repeats itself all over the world and it is a victory in the hearts of those who will not allow that tragedy to be the final word on the matter.

The invitation to visit Hussain (alayhi s-salaam), is the invitation from his own lips. As the battle ended, and Hussain faced his own end, he called out to the world, to future generations, “Is there anyone who will help me?” The response is from any in the world, regardless of religion, or culture or language, “Labbayk ya Husayn.” “Here I am, Husayn.”

Group chants: Labbayk Ya Hussain! Labbayk Ya Hussain! Labbayk Ya Hussain!

Three men chant: Labbayk Ya Hussain!


“Hussain is the name of justice. Hussain is the name of sacrifice. Hussain is the name of braveness. Hussain is our symbol. Hussain is our passion. Hussain is our love” 

Labbayk Ya Hussain, Here I am Hussain, can mean so many things in a world that is soaked in the blood of injustice. It can mean that I will bear witness to what I think is true, what I think is just, what I think is good, even if it means I will have to give up my own life. I will fight the Yazids of the world on behalf of the poor even if the odds are 30,000 to 72. Insha-Allah.

Hanan Al-Zubaidy
Portland, Oregon

Hanan Al-Zubaidy: There is a phrase that we hear as we grow up in this that every day is Ashura and every land is Karbala and I think that is a powerful reminder for how timeless this story actually is. It is reminding us that every day is Ashura. Ashura being the day that Imam Hussein was killed. Every single day there are people losing their lives or facing oppression one way or another. And every land is Karbala means every where in the world, even here in Portland and in the United States and in the developed countries there is oppression happening every where and in every single generation. 

I don’t want to leave with a false impression. I was embraced, but that should not be mistaken for “it’s all good.” It is not all good. The United States has rained destruction and death on Iraq. Millions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Palestine have died and are still dying because of the United States and its misguided foreign policy and its support of Saudi Arabia and Israel.  War drums continue to beat against Iran, for no good reason.  I came as an ambassador. I hope others will come. I hope American media will come. I hope other Christian pastors will come. Come and see. See what is happening, talk with real people, and be advocates of true peace, peace that comes from justice. 

The most emotional moment for me was when I was able to swim through the bodies to touch the lattice work that is above the grave of Imam Hussein (alayhi salaam).  I couldn’t quite reach it. A hand took mine and pushed it against the lattice work.  I looked at the person who helped me and I felt a surge of emotion.   

It was as if Imam Hussain (alayhi salaam) was calling me to give myself for truth. I am a Christian. I am a Christian pastor. But because of my encounter with Imam Hussain (alayhi salaam) I have received a renewed faith in the work of Jesus and Hussain (peace be upon them both) for justice and truth. Jesus and Hussein are brothers. They are one. 

If the human race is going to survive, we all must be one.  

For Love of Hussain (A.S.)

Presented by
The Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle

Directed by
John Shuck and Josh Townsley

Filming and Editing: Josh Townsley
Interviews, Script and Narration: John Shuck

Sheikh Ramadhan Mufakkir
Imam Muhsen Al-Dhalimy
Sheikh Molana Mohammad Baig
Ali Afshar
Naveed Hamza
Hanan Al-Zubaidy

Special thanks to:
Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle
Caravan 72
Fourteen Panorama Hotel
Imam Hussain Shrine
Iranian Media Center
Bab Husayn Mawkib

Friday, October 11, 2019

Protests in Iraq: Saving the Iraqi People

For the past week I have been receiving messages and comments with pictures and videos and hashtags “Save the Iraqi People.”

I am not sure what to make of this. Some of the comments on my Facebook page have been aggressive and accusatory because according to some I have not done my part to support the demonstrators and their cause.

It is true. I have been hesitant to support the cause especially as I do not know what the cause is, what the goals are, who the participants are, and how I can best support truth, justice, and peace in this case. All I know is that a lot of people have died and many more have been injured. I am certain that most if not all of those who have died and who have suffered are innocent people and righteous sufferers. I am distressed over that. There is not much I can do from my laptop in America except to express my sorrow, offer my prayers for justice and peace for Iraq, and offer some of my thoughts regarding all of this.

Let’s break this down.

I trust absolutely no one. It is nothing personal. It is just that my Facebook page of 5,000 friends and 8,000 followers is teeming, swarming, and infested with agents. These agents represent intelligence agencies from the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other places as well. I have no idea who is or who is not an agent. Not only that, but even those who are not agents are subject to disinformation and deception. This goes for me. It goes for you. I do not trust any picture or any video from anyone. It doesn’t mean I think the images are deceptive. I cannot know. I don’t know the context. I am not there. I can’t speak the language. I do not know what is happening. I know nothing.  I don’t know who is doing what to whom. Even if I did, I don’t know what to do about it.

When I receive these memes with hashtags to “Save the Iraqi People” I have no idea what to do about that. I could blindly pass it on in the hopes that someone somewhere will save the Iraqi people. I know it won’t be me. I cannot save the Iraqi people. As much as I love the Iraqi people and have been embraced by them since I went to Iraq for Arba’een last year, and as much as I sympathize and empathize, I cannot save you. I don’t think anyone with whom I would share the meme will save you either. That is the point.

It isn’t that the message isn’t out. The New York Times got the message. They know that Iraqis are protesting and dying. Some are salivating over it. It is a great opportunity for the opportunistic to take a bite out of what is left of Iraq and seek to isolate Iran.
The harsh truth for the United States is that Baghdad is too dependent on Tehran and cannot manage without Iranian natural gas and other products that meet its day-to-day needs. Iraq’s annual trade with Iran is $12 billion while American exports to Iraq are a mere $1.3 billion. 
Washington can help reduce this dependence and reinforce Iraqi sovereignty by enabling Baghdad to build stronger relations with countries that can provide alternatives. This can take the form of a road map to energy independence involving facilitating strategic dialogues on shared energy grids and new pipeline connections with the Gulf states and Jordan.
What is this meme, "Save the Iraqi People" intended to accomplish?  Whose help is being sought?

Is the request for me to tell my congressperson to send more US military to Iraq? Should my president, Donald J. Trump fire some missiles into Baghdad? Will that save the Iraqi people? That is how America saves. That is how we “saved” Libya. That is how we “saved” Syria. That is how we “saved” Iraq already on more than one occasion. If we don’t blow up countries ourselves we arm and train mercenary terrorists (ISIS by whatever name) to do it.

If you want an outside government to save you, America (or any Western/NATO country) is not a wise choice. You would do better to pray to Satan. We are Shiva, destroyer of worlds. Honestly, if you want an outside government to save you, I would start sending those tweets, hashtags, and memes in Persian. Regardless of the bad blood between Iraq and Iran, Iran is 1,000 times more likely to be a better ally to Iraq than Israel’s pet, the United States.

Remember America armed and funded both sides in the Iran/Iraq War and America put Saddam in power before taking him out over the course of several decades, killing two million Iraqis and poisoning the entire country with depleted uranium for good measure. The Israeli/American neocons want to mix it up with Iran next. They are loving this death and destruction and the meme to “save the Iraqi people” and to divide Iraq from Iran at Arba’een. They would love to save Iraq by turning it into Greater Israel.

It would not shock me in the least to discover that the current Iraqi government is infiltrated with U.S. and Israeli agents shooting at innocent Iraqis. Not only that but Israel likely employs a lot of sharpshooters who speak Farsi so that Iraqis will blame Iran. Who benefits from violence against Iraq? Not Iran.

In terms of what to do about your government, I certainly don’t know, and in my opinion, nor does any honest person in America. Our own government is in shambles. How could anyone in America know any more or love the Iraqis any more than Ayatollah Sistani?
The office of the Shia Muslim Supreme Religious Authority already suggested — on August 7, 2015 — that the relevant authorities should form a committee comprised of well-known and highly-qualified figures, whom the Iraqis trust, and such figures should be from outside the realm of the government. The committee has to be tasked with initiating the prerequisites to combating corruption and achieving reform, and it should work side by side with the representatives of the demonstrations in order to listen to the demands of the Iraqi people and their perspectives. And after the committee has finished initiating the prerequisites — whether legislative, executive, or judicial — all the prerequisites must come into effect immediately. This was the suggestion the government didn’t act upon, but it could perhaps be an appropriate solution to the current crisis.
I empathize with you. I can’t save you. No one in America can. You will have to save yourselves. Perhaps your inspiration for that will be found in Karbala.