Muslims Commemorating the Day of Ashura in Detroit during WWI

Işıl Acehan – Global Daily News

Many Muslims in the United States are commemorating the Day of Ashura today. It is the 10th day of Muharram (the first month of the Islamic calendar), which is considered a holy month and second only to Ramadan in its significance. Muharram is derived from the word “haram” which translates as “forbidden”. It is one of the four sacred months of the year in which fighting is prohibited.

Perhaps the first and one of the most significant Ashura Day commemoration that was ever organized in the U.S. was in 1916 in Detroit, Michigan. In the early 1900s, there were thousands of Muslims in Detroit, who mostly came from the Ottoman Empire, including today’s Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria.

When WWI broke out and the Ottoman Empire lined up with Germany, Muslims in the U.S. had to undergo the challenges of the war. They not only had to worry about their homeland and family members, they also had to endure an intensification of anti-Turkish propaganda in the U.S.

The Ashura Day in 1916 would give them an opportunity to solidify Muslim unity in America, raise funds for the war effort, and show their loyalty to the U.S. and also to the Caliph, Sultan Mehmed Reshad V.

Detroit Free Press published a detailed description of the Ashura Day commemoration that would going to take place.

“Cosmopolitan Detroit, which embraces almost every nationality and every religion in the world, counts among its residents more than 6.000 followers of the faith of Allah and Mohammad. His prophet, a fact of which most Detroiters are unaware,” Detroit Free Press told its readers on September 28, 1916.

Three most significant Muslim associations, the United Moslem Association, the Arabian American Association, and Keirat Island Moslem Association would organize a parade in Detroit on October 5, 1916.  The most distinguishing feature of the commemoration program would be religious services and readings from the Quran throughout the day.

Also the Turkish Red Crescent Society of Detroit would join the Ashura Day commemoration. Ali N. Harp, the secretary of the United Moslem Association, with headquarters in Istanbul, said that efforts would be made to secure contributions to the Turkish Red Crescent. He also noted that Detroit Turkish Red Crescent Society had already contributed $50,000 (of around $1.2 Million value today) to the Turkish relief fund. 

In an effort to show their standing as established immigrants and contributors to the U.S. economy, Secretary Harp said that there were thousands of Muslims in Detroit and all of them had their own homes. He remarked, all Muslims “have greatest regard for their adopted country, though as followers of the Prophet, we regard the Caliph as our religious head.” He noted that they were all looking forward to the Muharram, as for Muslims, it was “the day for the exchange of presents and good wishes.”