by MW Cook

Stuff you don’t see everyday

October ninth was the Shi’a holiday of Muharram. It is a very special time for Shi’as all over the world. The main part of their parade took place outside my house. Here are some photos I took outside my bedroom window and just by my front door.

Those men are holding metal whips with which they beat themselves as the parade travels through the town. If you were to ask someone in Pakistan why they do this, they would give you one of two explanations. According to the Shi’as themselves, here is the story.

After Mohammad died he left no obvious successor. The Muslim community wanted to pick a Caliph to lead them religiously and politically. Most Muslims agreed on a man named Abu Bakr, who was Mohammad’s best friend. A smaller group of people thought that a man named Husayn Ali should be the first Caliph. Ali was the nephew of Mohammad and his only male relative. Ali’s supporters were called the Shi’a of Ali. Followers of Ali. Anyway, Abu Bakr died after a couple years, then another man took over whose name I can’t remember right now. Ten years later he died and was replaced by a man name Usman. Twelve years later Usman was murdered and Ali became the Caliph. The Shi’as were obviously pleased. Unfortunately Ali was killed shortly thereafter. The Shi’as went into deep mourning and split from the mainstream Muslim community. They regard this day as a very solemn time. They mourn his death all day and wound themselves out of grief.

Now, the trick comes when you ask a non-Shi’a about why the Shi’as hurt themselves on this day. The mainstream Muslims are called Sunni. They will tell you that it was the Shi’as who killed Ali all those years ago and now they are cursed people. They wound themselves because Allah will never forgive them, but maybe they can increase their chances through this rite. Different, eh? On a side note, I should mention that it’s rarely a good idea to ask about a group’s theology or practices from a rival group. It’s like asking a Brethren about what the Catholics believe. You’ll likely not get an objective answer.

So let’s think for a moment about the second explanation. I don’t buy it, just because the Shi’as and Wikipedia say different, but it makes me think. I wonder if they see something meritorious in all this. I wonder if they think injuring the physical body will make things better in the life to come. I was reading something this morning with Ruth that I wanted to share:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as he had chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
1 Cor. 15:35-38

I caught something in this that I’d always missed before. You are the seed. When you die you are sown into the ground. After that, something very different comes up. I have a lovely plant growing on my roof. It has long branches, large green leaves and beautiful red flowers. At one time this plant was a simple, brown little seed. Something you wouldn’t even notice if you saw it lying on the ground. Today it is the first thing you see when you get on the roof. You are a seed, your death will remove your corruptible self and you will put on incorruptibility. What will the resurrection body be like? Different. Don’t try to figure it out, just compare a bulb to a tulip and you’ll get an idea. Except this tulip doesn’t sleep in winter.

How are Muharram and the new body related? I see people corrupting their bodies in the hopes of increasing their chances for future incorruptibility. But this is using physical weapons in a spiritual war. This is using paper and wood to build the USS Enterprise. Impossible. For incorruptibility we must kill the sin that is in us. We can’t. Jesus can. We needn’t whip ourselves, he was already whipped.

Praise God. That’s all.