Shiite Muslims March Through Downtown San Jose

January 27, 2007

Author: Matthai Chakko Kuruvila

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

(01-27) 18:48 PST -- Hundreds of Shiite Muslims mournfully marched through downtown San Jose Saturday to commemorate an ancient patriarch's martyrdom -- a symbol of non-violent resistance still relevant in today's world.

Chanting prayers, wailing songs and beating their chests, the roughly 300 men and women wearing black remembered Imam Husayn-ibn-e-Ali, who chose to die in 680 A.D. rather than submit to the rule of Yazid, an oppressive Muslim political leader. The march culminated in a talk in front of San Jose City Hall, where Sunnis, Catholics and other non-Shiites spoke of the need for interreligious harmony.

The event was believed to be the first ever public demonstration of the Shiite faith in the South Bay.

The day, known as Ashura, is one of the holiest of the year for Shiites, who are roughly 15 percent of the global Muslim population. It has gained greater symbolic significance over the past year, as tensions between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites have escalated.

The martyrdom of Husayn came roughly 48 years after the death of the prophet Muhammad, who Muslims believe received the divine word of God. His death marked one of the defining sources of division between the two Muslim sects. Yazid was a Sunni, and his killing of Husayn is often remembered by Shiites as a symbol of their perceived mistreatment by Sunnis.