On 11/24/12, many western Christians and those raised in a Christian tradition, including this observer, will travel by bus and car to Nabiteyeh, Lebanon to watch the Ashura passion play, held on an outside field, that commemorates the Battle of Karbala (October 10, 680 CE). This observer has attended more than once and can attest to the power of drama of Karbala and its relevance, indeed, seeming close connection, to the teachings from Calvary.
Some compare Ashura to the medieval era passion play at Oberammergau, in Germany. People, devout and secular, attend for many of the identical religious, spiritual, emotional, personal reasons despite hailing from many cultures and areas of the globe.
This month’s commemoration of Ashura, which every year expands globally and is observed by millions around the world is growing in Christian countries including America and many non-Muslim countries. In some Shia regions of Muslim countries such as Afghanistan has become a national holiday and most ethnic and religious communities participate in it.
While Ashura, a day of mourning and atonement among Shia Muslim, is not yet a national holiday among Christians globally, but Christians and Sunni Muslims increasingly accept the messages of Karbala, originally thought to be for the Muslims and the legacy of Calvary, from the Christian tradition.
Theologians and scholars who believe in the relevance and modern day applications of the teachings from religious texts from centuries past, have for years noted the remarkable similarities between the inspiration for humanity from the events at Karbala in the 7th Century (in modern day Iraq) and those at Calvary in the 1st century (in modern day occupied Palestine). But it is not just among the serious students of religion that Karbala and Calvary appear linked.
People who were raised in a Christian tradition, including many Americans and other westerners living in Lebanon who have crossed paths with or live currently in Shia communities, increasingly feel connected to what they have been learning and studying about Ashura and its meanings for humanity.
Many progressive followers of the Christian tradition, even as children, come to believe what Islam teaches about Jesus of Nazareth. They reason that Jesus is not God, but rather a prophet and social reformers and himself a pillar of resistance to evil in society as presented in the holy Quran. Recognizing Issa (Jesus) as a Prophet and not as a deity often strengthens the Christian faith rather than weakening it.
One reason among many is that Jesus as Prophet offers a solution to the conundrum of the concept of a holy trinity, father, son, and hold sprit. This is welcome for the reason, as this observer knows well from two decades of regular Church attendance as a youngster, no Sunday school teacher, or lay preacher, TV evangelist, or deacon, priest, theology professor, bishop, archbishop, cardinal or Pope, has ever been able to offer a convincing explanation of the concept of a holy Trinity meaning that there exists God, also the son of God, and a Holy spirit all together in one “God person.”
Try as they might, and despite centuries of intra-Christian strife and slaughter of “misguided” fellow Christians, many of this faith find Islam more rational of this point and it has led to more interest and acceptance of Islam.
Religious surveys have noted that the Christians who study Karbala identify with it spiritually much like some Shia Muslims have an affinity for Calvary once they become familiar what its meanings for humanity.
In their essence, the teachings of Calvary and Kabala are very similar and the core elements are nearly identical. In the Christian tradition all the power, love and wisdom of the Godhead were manifested in the death and resurrection of Christ. God planned this one act to deal with sin. And when he did it, it was done forever (Eccl. 3:14).
For much of the Christian community, Calvary has become the watershed of history. It is the event of all events. The death and resurrection of Christ give meaning to everything else. Nothing in itself has any meaning unless related to the death and resurrection of Christ. "All things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Col. 1:16, 17).
The sacrifice, torture and humiliation of Jesus/Issa on Calvary, is understood as God's offering to public justice. The most mournful day for Christians is Good Friday when many believe Christ was crucified for the forces of abject evil.
During Ashura, Shia Muslims greet one another with the words, “Azam-Allah-Ujoorakum.” On Good Friday, Christians express their sorrow to passersby with the words “Christ was crucified to save us sinners. Peace is Upon You,” expressing with different words the same sentiment.
Like Jesus for Christians, Hussein’s sacrifice is widely interpreted by Shia as a symbol of the struggle against injustice, tyranny, and oppression. Shias believe the Battle of Karbala was between the forces of good and evil with Hussein representing good while Yazid represented evil. Shias also believes the Battle of Karbala was fought to keep the Muslim religion untainted of any corruptions. These messages connect deeply with devout Christians and have led in recent years to a growing study of Karbala among Christians, many of whom feel a deep, seeming religious connection with Husain at Karbala.
Hussein ibn Ali and Jesus of Nazareth both sacrificed themselves to oppose injustice and inspire their communities, and all human kind to resist injustice wherever it is found.
At a recent conference on Islam and Christianity held at the Unitarian Church in Boston, one agenda item was “Karbala and Calvary” and the universal concept of self-sacrifice for the community. So far, linking Karbala and Calvary is a modest concept in the West and among activist movements but it is growing.
Many are coming to believe, as does this observer, in the spirit and power of Karbala and Calvary being connected are forging powerful instruments for justice. During October, 2012, two mainstream Protestant denominations, Presbyterian and Methodist, led fifteen Christian denominations and delivered strongly-worded letter to Congress on Israeli human rights violations, pointing out that Israel was probably in violation of the US Foreign Assistance Act and the US Arms Export Control Act, which prohibits sale of arms to human rights violators.
At a recent ecumenical discussion at the Washington National Cathedral, where many establishment US government officials attend services, if only from time to time, a discussion was held in late September 2012 on the subject: “Karbala and Calvary- two pillars of Resistance.” The discussion included reports from activists from the Muslim and Christian communities of Israel’s massive human rights violations.
The participants urged Congress to hold hearings to examine Israel's compliance with American and International laws. A communiqués was sent to Congress, under the heading, Karbala and Calvary, two pillars of Resistance, urging it to issue regular reports on compliance and the withholding of military aid for violations."
In other words, some American Christian denominations-including the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church and the United Methodists- also want the US to document any refusal to comply. If Israel continues to violate Palestinian human rights, military aid must be ended according to attendees.
While the US-Israel lobby is attacking any connection or cooperation between Islam and Christianity, some calling both Karbala and Calvary nothing but myths, and seeing in Muslim and Christian communities who are working together, an existential threat to the Zionist occupation of Palestine, the power of Karbala and Calvary is growing with the increasing participation and approval of people of good will.
At Karbala and Calvary two sainted martyrs for resistance and justice, Hussein Ibn Ali and Jesus (Issa) of Nazareth sacrificed themselves and inspired humanity, their deaths helping to create and advance the two major religions as codes of humanitarian conduct. These events are among the reasons that Western Christians and Muslims are now, after waiting too long, uniting to resist the occupation of Palestine.