The Muslim call for prayer, Aza’an, is different from all the other monotheistic religions. It is the only call for prayer that is rendered in the human voice. Islamic scholars, spanning the course of fourteen hundred years, have argued that the Aza’an is the microcosm of the Islamic faith: it starts with a proclamation of Allah as the Supreme Being, and concludes with a testament that He Alone is worthy of worship.

All that, of course, is true.

However, a careful reading of the Aza’an would reveal that most of its phrases reflect a commonality between all the monotheistic religions; calling the Divine through a different name, majority of the Christians, all of the Jews, even the Sikhs, would testify that there is only one God, He is Supreme, and He alone is worthy of worship. They would agree to every verse within the Aza’an – except one: “I testify the Prophet Muhammad (SAWW) is the Messenger of Allah.”

And so, for all intents and purposes, acceptance and obedience to Prophet Muhammad (SAWW), above all else, is the very definition of Islamic faith. This alone is what, in our faith, differentiates a believer from a non-believer.

The importance of this central idea is also affirmed by the Quran itself.

The Quran is careful and deliberate in specifying and differentiating between the obligations of the creation (man) viz a viz the Creator (God). Man, for example, is obligated to worship (ibadat), give alms (zakat), perform pilgrimage (hajj) – none of which God Himself does. On the other hand, God provides sustenance (rizq), bounties (naimat), and forgives the wrongdoers (maghfirat) – none of which man can do. In fact, there is no commonality between the actions of God and those of man – except one.

As mentioned in the Quran [33:56], “Indeed Allah and His Angels confer blessing upon the Prophet (and his Progeny). O you who believe, ask (Allah to confer) blessings upon him (and his progeny), and to grant [them] peace.” And in this way, as testified by the Quran, there is only one act of the Divine in which we, the mortals, partake: sending blessings upon the Prophet Muhammad (SAWW) and his progeny (Durood).

Despite this centrality of the Prophet (SAWW) and his progeny to the entire ethos of Islam, fourteen hundred years of history has systematically carried out a purposeful campaign of denying them their rightful place at the heart of Islam. In fact, the ‘five pillars of Islam’, as dictated by the Saudi narrative and recounted in our primary school textbooks - Tauheed, Namaaz, Hajj, Roza, and Zakat – do not even mention the Prophet (SAWW) and his progeny.

As a matter of historical fact, this campaign began immediately upon the worldly demise of Prophet Muhammad (SAWW), when political power of the Muslim empire was abrogated away from the Prophet’s progeny. Not that political power matters in the context of faith, but almost instantaneously, the Divine progeny of the Prophet (SAWW) was viewed as a threat to the legitimacy of those in seats of worldly power. And, as a result, fourteen hundred years of Islamic history – written through the pen of success political rulers – has purposefully tried to conceal the barbarianism committed against the Divine progeny.

Distilled through the malevolent breweries of the Ummayad, Abbasid, and Ottoman dynasties, we today have a version of history that conceals the atrocities committed against the progeny of the Prophet (SAWW), the rightful receivers of our daily Durood.

This is not about being Shia or Sunni. This is not about believing or denying wilayat-e-Ali (AS). This is not about participating in or opposing gham-e-Hussain (AS), or even about accepting or rejecting azmat-e-Sadaat. It is simply a question of stating facts for what they are, and allowing each individual, according to his or her personal conscience, to make a choice.

It is time to revise our history books and national narrative to be neither Sunni nor Shia – just to be factual.

It is time to reveal the fact (which is neither Shia nor Sunni) that after the Hajj, the Prophet (SAWW) gathered all the Muslims, raised Maula Ali’s (AS) hand and proclaimed “Mann Kunto Maula, Haaza Ali’un Maula”. It is time to disclose, as narrated in all religious books of authority, that during his last moments, the Prophet (SAWW) asked for a pen and paper (to dictate his will), which was denied to him by some of his companions. That his burial was attended by only a handful of his family members, while all others were electing the new Khalifa.

Also, in the spirit of factual honesty, it is important to narrate that the Prophet’s (SAWW) daughter (whom the Quran testifies as being among the truthful, Sadiqeen) stood before the Muslim Khalifa of the time, to ask for her share in her father’s inheritance, but was returned empty-handed. That over the course of three hundred years, following the Prophet’s (SAWW) death, every single Imam, from the progeny of the Prophet (SAWW), was martyred by the Muslims – not one of them died a natural death. That the Prophet’s (SAWW) grandson, Maula Hussain (AS), along with every single male relative and companion (except one), was martyred by those who recited the Kalima of Maula Hussain’s (AS) grandfather. That, in the aftermath, the Prophet’s (SAWW) granddaughter was forced to stand barefooted, without a veil, as the Muslim Khalifa of the time sentenced her to prison. That successive Khalifas thereafter, persecuted, mercilessly, those who dared to swear allegiance to the Prophet’s Durood-worthy progeny. That at countless instances, throughout history, Muslim leaders (venerated in our history books) tore, from limb to limb, anyone who stood with the Prophet’s (SAWW) progeny. And fourteen hundred years later, today, these acts of atrocities still continue to stain the conscience of our nation.

Let historical veils be lifted, and let the facts be recounted for what they are.

Acknowledging these events is not about being Shia or Sunni. It is simply about being truthful to that unspoken oath that each believer has sworn to the omnipresent God.

If the very definition of Deen-e-Islam, as distinguished from other monotheistic religions, hinges on acceptance and obedience of the Prophet (SAWW) and his progeny; if this is the defining feature of our Aza’an; if this is the only act, in our entire faith, that we share with God and His Angels; if, per Prophetic tradition, Ahl-e-Bayt are like the ark of Noah; if grandsons of the Prophet (SAWW) are the ‘Prince of Paradise’; And if intercession of the Prophet (SAWW) is the only real key for the hereafter, then our individual as well as collective salvation lies in joining the Prophet (SAWW) to celebrate his joy, and to mourn his loss.

And in this spirit, regardless of whether you are Sunni or Shia, religious or secular, orthodox or liberal, it is essential to participate in the joy as well as mourning of the Prophet (SAWW) and his family.

Don’t raise a black Alam, if you do not want to; don’t attend a majlis, if it makes your uncomfortable; don’t participate in the processions, if it offends your faith; don’t beat your chest, if it seems unholy. But, in some personal way, during these days of Muharram – when the family of the Prophet (SAWW), including women and children were denied food and water, a stone’s throw away from a flowing river, and a ‘Prince of Paradise’ (along with his family and companions) was mercilessly martyred by those who claimed to be followers of the Prophet (SAWW) – it is essential that each of us take some time out from our uselessly busy lives, to grieve with the Prophet (SAWW), in whatever way we deem appropriate.

And maybe, just maybe, the scar of our shared pain with the Prophet (SAWW) will be enough to tip the scales of our sinful existence.

Assalaam Ya Hussain (A.S.)