Shuck and Jive

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.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Expanding the Heart

These are the notes from a speech I gave at the Hussain Day Conference in Somerset, New Jersey at the Masjid-E-Ali Mosque. The conference was entitled, "Rise Above Hate."
It was sponsored by Payam-e-Aman and Stand With Dignity

Last year I had the opportunity of a lifetime. I don’t say that lightly. It is an experience that will stay with me for my lifetime, insha’Allah.  I visited the shrine of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) in Karbala, Iraq during Arba’een, the largest annual peaceful human gathering in the world.  Estimates range from a low of 15 million to upwards of 30 million people who make the journey to Karbala every year. 

My friend and I made a film about it. You can find it on YouTube, “For Love of Hussain.” 

The trip was sponsored by The Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle. Sister Zahra Abidi has a vision for a Hussain Revolution in the United States that includes bringing people together to discuss important things, sometimes controversial things, but things that matter not only to Muslims but to all human beings. That is how I met her. 

In addition to being a pastor I host a radio show on KBOO, a community radio station in Portland. I moderated a panel discussion regarding the war against Yemen at Portland State University in February 2018. 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 bring truth to light. Each of the panelists was a truth-teller. 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. 

Sending Christians and Sunni Muslims to Iraq for Arba’een is one of the things Sister Zahra and the Husayniah Society of Seattle does. I am happy to support her good work. They have just purchased property in the north of Seattle, in hopes, insh’Allah, of creating a center. I am sure she would love to talk with you about it and hear your encouragement. You can visit their website.  Search Husayniah Seattle.

The Husayniah Islamic Society of Seattle paid for the trip for my friend, Josh, and me. Josh has done some filming. So we went to make an amateur documentary.  It was more than that for me. This was timely in my life. It was a search, you could say. I have been experiencing I guess you could say a spiritual growth spurt.  Maybe it is a mid-life crisis.  I have discovered the need in my own life to search more deeply about what is really going on in our world and what are the forces at work and to what paths we are being led. I realize I cannot trust our traditional sources of information, especially the mainstream media to do that.

I am discovering that these forces are dark forces as the title of this conference indicates. Rise Above Hate.  What is hate? How do we rise above it? 

I didn’t go To Arba’een for healing. I didn’t go for intercession. I didn’t go for forgiveness of sins. I didn’t go for mourning.  I didn’t know people went for all those reasons until I went there and started talking with people. 

I went because I wanted to see this person and why so many were attracted to him. I wanted to see the person whose life was so pure, that he gave it to save his grandfather’s faith. I wanted to visit the person who didn’t compromise his principles. I wanted to see the person who might inspire me in some way to find courage and character for whatever it is that Allah is calling me to do. I wanted to see the person who in his life and in his death rose above hate and showed us all how to do it.

Some Muslims I have met are curious as to whether I have converted or reverted to Islam. I don’t know how to answer that exactly. I like to think that my faith has expanded. I have a heart for Jesus (peace be upon him) and I always will, insh’Allah. But I also have a heart for Hussain (peace be upon him) and a heart for Mohammad (peace be upon him and his progeny).  Being introduced to Hussain and the Prophet and his family and the Islamic faith in loving ways by loving people has expanded my heart. 

You really cannot have an interfaith interaction and expect not to be changed in important ways. Unless we are vulnerable enough to have our hearts touched by another, it is not really an interaction. It is just us trying to convince others of our position. It is just a sales pitch.

I cannot worry about whether or not others are changed by what I say. That is up to God. I want my heart expanded by others—by you.  Or to put it more accurately, to have God expand my heart through you. 

That has happened a great deal in this past year in all my interactions with Muslims through the Islamic Center across the street from my church in Portland and with the Husayniah Society in Seattle as I mentioned, through my on-line interactions, through the generous opportunity to attend conferences, through the helpful resources in which I am slowly beginning to learn more about Karbala, through reflection, through my ministry in my church, and, of course, through the opportunity I was given to visit the holy sites in Iraq. 

That is what I think it means to “rise above hate.”  It means to have one’s own heart expanded. Let me explain.

Love expands the heart. Hate shrinks the heart.  

You know the book and movie, “The Grinch who Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss?  The Grinch’s heart was three sizes too small, remember? He hated the Whos in Whoville. Then, by a miracle, his heart expanded. He met a Who, Cindy Lou Who, who showed him kindness and he saw what the Whos really loved and valued, what the birth of Jesus (peace be upon him) meant, not things, but generosity, and the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day.  

Sometimes the simplest children’s stories tell the most profound truths.

We cannot stop hate by hating the haters. We cannot just expand someone else’s heart. Hate takes a long time to shrink a heart. What does it take to shrink a heart with hate? It takes isolation. It takes hurt. It takes ignorance. It takes fear. It takes prejudice. It takes suspicion. It takes rejection. It takes anger. It takes envy. It takes greed. It takes acceptance of falsehood. It takes abuse. It takes oppression. It takes time to allow hate to shrink our hearts. 

Hate is out there. We can find it in our institutions in our governments. They can be overtaken. In my tradition, we call this force the demonic. It can take over a whole nation. The demonic does not work for the good of the world or the people or its creatures. It works to divide us, to shrink our hearts with hate. The demonic works in secret. It works in the dark. It works with deception. It works with lies. It works with marketing. There are forces at work in the world that want to shrink our individual hearts and our collective heart as a people. So we live in suspicion and fear and become docile to these forces.

Any of us, all of us, are susceptible to having hate shrink our hearts. Hate is like a toxic weed that grows in the soil of ignorance. Hate is the result of so many complex negative emotions. You can’t convince people or prove to people or sell people on your opinion.  You can only actually love. You can only do that by allowing your own heart to be expanded by another.

Rising Above Hate. How do we do that? If hate shrinks our heart, how does love expand our heart?

I should add this: The Latin root word for heart is cor. COR. Where we get the word coronary. We also get the word courage. We think of someone with the heart of a lion, like Hussain’s half-brother Abbas, as having the heart of a lion, a courageous heart.  As your heart expands, as your heart grows with love, you become courageous. 

How do we become courageous? How do we expand our hearts? 

The Buddha in the Dhammapadda is reported to have said: 

Do not consider the faults of others
Or what they have or haven’t done.
Consider rather
What you yourself have or haven’t done.

We cannot do that if we think we want to stop the hatred of others.  We want to stop hate. Therefore we want to stop them, those haters.  You can’t just tell people, “You are hateful. Stop it.” It won’t work.  We can only allow our own hearts to be expanded.

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. At first I wasn’t sure if I would do it, or should do it. If it was appropriate. Hussain was not a person in my religion. But I kept hearing all week that Hussain is for everyone. So I decided to go and do it. 

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. And you aim for it. But 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 again. 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. 

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 Duhok. 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).

That is how we rise above hate.  We allow ourselves to be vulnerable so our hearts can expand. If you cannot go to Arba’een, then bring Arba’een here. 

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 is what I try to do now in my ministry and on my Facebook page and radio show, where ever I do my thing. 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 Allah does the rest. 

But it does mean that we cannot be afraid of what we know or of what we learn because of the discomfort of truth to us or others or to the powers that deceive. 

Nor can we be afraid of exploring and researching in taboo areas.  
Exposing the demonic and its lies.
That is where the hatred infests.

Nor can we be concerned if people will reject or ridicule or whatever they must do to protect their illusions. Hussain’s sacrifice shattered all illusions.

In particular, he shattered an illusion that you fight hate with more hate and that you lead with power and coercion.  

Hussain showed the world that you lead not with might but with right.  You fight hate with love from an expanded and courageous heart. 

That has always been the way that the true heroes rise above hatred in all its forms.

May we all be heroes in that same spirit.