The Word on the Week

Islam’s largest gathering

The Arba’een is not only Shia Islam’s largest gathering, at 15,339,955 this year, it is the largest gathering on earth!    Held annually in the Iraq city of Karbala it now caters for a broad range of nationalities with a large contingent taking advantage of the new roads and cheap visas for Iranians.

Arba’een means 40 – the number of days of mourning for Imam Hussein, the grandchild of the Prophet Muhammad who lost his life in the battle of Karbala in AD 680.    It is from Hussein that the Shia claim their Islam heritage whereas the Sunni reckon it to stem from Muhammad’s companions.   It is one of those peculiarities that the Shia’s principle place of pilgrimage is in the Sunni territory of Iran.    This has caused major problems in the past but there were no major incidents this year.

The governor of Karbala praised the peaceful conclusion of the pilgrimage. “We think that the successes of this pilgrimage is one of the chapters of victories achieved by our armed forces and volunteers against ISIS” he said.   ISIS regards Shia Muslims as heretics and regularly targets them in attacks throughout Iraq.

In contrast to the relatively peaceful gathering at Karbala, back in Iran things have got worse.    Rioting over economic problems and corruption has been met by strong armed tactics by government troops using teargas and water cannon to disperse the crowds.   The internet has been all but closed down neutralising, among other things, the smartphone networks that were used to organise past protests.

Refugees from these countries have been making their way to Ireland over a number of years as conditions in their homelands became unbearable.   Here there is always a fear of the other and the immigrant receives a mixed welcome.    This is the universal practice wherever the foreigner attempts to settle.    An exception was the Native Americans who supported the early settlers and fed them through their first winter.  

From the call of Abraham God has had the goal of bringing the gospel to all the earth (Genesis Chapter 12 verse 3).   There was, and always will be, humankind’s shunning the gospel and attempting to reach heaven by self-effort (Genesis Chapter 11 verses 1 to 8).    Now, the confusion of language has created diversity.    In the wisdom of God, the immigrant, in the most part, has to learn the language of the host country giving time for assimilation.

Of course we have direct provision, which isolates the immigrant from the working community, and gives the would-be politicians the opportunity to create fear of the foreigner to gather cheap votes and interfere with integration.  

For the Christian, Jesus (in addressing the final judgement) calls those “who inherit the kingdom” people who have shown kindness to the stranger donating food and drink, clothes and visiting them in hospital or in prison.    And these kindnesses were to be shown, not only to the smart ones, but to the least of them.    And furthermore it was to be done as if you were tending Jesus himself (St Matthew Chapter 25 verses 31/46).     There does not seem to be any exceptive clause!