Shmuel Polin
ניט מיט שעלטן/לאַכן קען מען די וועלט איבערמאַכן

“Who is Hussain?” comes to Chicago

“Who is Hussain?” comes in Chicago

The November Hussein Protests in Chicago 2014 highlight anti-extremeism in the Islamic community

In the mists of an ocean of negative public attention brought to Islam by ISIS, and terrorism, The “Who is Hussain?” protests in Chicago reverse negative stigmas and take a stand in the Islamic community against extremism like ISIS.

While on a trip to Chicago, I was blessed by the opportunity to observe a protest. The protests come during the Mourning of Muharram, which is also the beginning of the Islamic calendar. The mourning marks the death of revered saint Hussain ibn Ali.

The protest, much like the campaign platform, did seek to spread the message of anti-extremism of Imam Hussain ibn Ali, the Islamic martyr from 1400 years ago. Imam Hussain was the grandson of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Imam Hussain protested against the Umayyad Empire for engaging in extremism and violating much of the basic ideals of early Islamic belief.

Resultantly, Hussain was murdered alongside members of Muhammad’s surviving lineage living in Iraq. Many Muslims today identify the Mourning of Muharram as a turning point in contemporary Islamic history. It is often cited by Imams as a “red line” between Muslims who are firmly anti-extremist, and those, who like the Umayyad’s of Hussain’s time, utilize violence to accomplish their goals.

While some mark the death of Hussain ibn Ali by flagellating themselves, as has become popular in much of Iraq, Lebanon and Iran today, this campaign seeks to spread the message of Hussein by standing up against extremism with peaceful demonstrations.

The movement has won national attention with an effort centered on the slogan “Who is Hussain?”

The protest on November 4th, 2014, brought about one hundred to one hundred and fifty people nearby the entrance of the Chicago Arts Museum. Most of the protesters were holding signs and expressing their basic grievances. There were also several well-spoken speakers.

The speakers spoke of civil rights, equality, affordable living, and social problems predominantly facing Chicago’s Muslim community. The crowd was predominantly religious and observant Muslims.

The protesters held signs and rallied around flags. The signs read, “ISIS doesn’t represent Islam.” “Saudi Arabia doesn’t represent Islam.” “Free Saudi Arabia’s political prisoners.“

I was fortunate enough to interview one protester at the rally; a Chicagoan Turkish citizen, named Taral. Taral explained to me his frustrations with not only ISIS but also his native Turkish government. “Ergodan has turned back the clock of progress for Turkey. They are refusing to make any conscious stand against ISIS. They do not represent my people, its no longer my country.” Taral’s grievances are not uncommon; the general attitudes about Turkey have become almost unanimously negative.

For weeks now, Turkey has idly remained a bystander while Korbani has been bombarded and while other Kurdish cities have fallen to ISIS. ISIS has indiscriminately executed women and children. Turkish citizens have been kidnapped, and the community abroad has begun to wonder, as Taral, “What is Turkey’s price tag, for the actions of ISIS?”

Overall, it was a refreshing feeling seeing so many Muslims taking a stand against extremism.   It brought to light, that they, the Righteous Among All Nations, those who choose to speak up, like Imam Hussain, are often the first victims of extremism.

About the Author
Rabbi Shmuel Polin is the Rabbi of Etz Chaim Congregation - Monroe Township Jewish Center on Monroe Township, New Jersey. A New Jersey native, he completed his B.A. at American University in Washington D.C. where he studied Jewish Studies and International Studies. He also completed both an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in Jewish Studies from Gratz College of Melrose Park, Pennsylvania. His thesis focused on the depiction of European antisemitism in 1930's-1940's American and foreign cinema. Subsequent to both of masters programs, Rabbi Polin graduated with a third Masters in Hebrew Letters and received his Semikhah (Rabbinic ordination) from the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio. Shmuel has years of experience of teaching Hebrew School at Kehillat HaNahar of New Hope, Pennsylvania, leading as a student rabbi at Beth Boruk Temple (Richmond, Indiana) and Temple Israel (Paducah, Kentucky), and also working for Israeli non-governmental organizations.
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