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Ashura in America

Celebrating a Muslim holiday in Michigan.

2:00 PM, Jan 18, 2009 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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When the Bektashi Sufis established themselves in Michigan in 1954, the founder of their center, Baba Rexheb Beqiri, wrote on their first Ashura in the United States that Imam Hussein was persecuted and slain at Karbala because he defended a constitutional attitude toward religious rule, liberty, and the welfare of the people. Hussein, according to Baba Rexheb, "kept alive the flag of liberty, the prestige of religious democracy." The people rebelled against the injustices of their rulers, but evil usurpers replied with "terroristic actions." This anticipation by a Balkan Sufi exile in America of the key questions in the relations between Islam and the West a half-century afterward is more than remarkable. The principle of "religious democracy"--meaning democracy within religion, not a political system based on religion--comprises a great challenge to Sharia-driven conformity in Islam, and the description of Muslim tyrants maintaining their position by terror could be taken from the pages of any newspaper in the world today.

The Balkan Shias who gathered in snow-covered Michigan to observe Ashura demonstrated that an American Islam--as American as it is Muslim--exists. It is a bulwark of civilization against extremism, standing for peace and mutual respect between faiths, and appreciative of the opportunity to mourn a Muslim hero in safety and freedom.

Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.