Tuesday, April 03, 2007
The march to Karbala
( a Shia rendering of Imam Ali)
It has become all too often to hear and read about the mass murder of innocent Iraqi Shias civilians marching into the city of Karbala to commemorate religious beliefs and occasions. Slaughter of civilians occurs almost daily when suicide bombers blow themselves up especially among the marchers who were commemorating the Arba’en, which literally means “Fortieth “ the 40th day to the date of the murder of Hussein, the grand son of Prophet Mohammad, and who Shia hold as the third Godly appointed Imam or ruler of “Islamic state”
In order to understand the broad political and social changes unfolding in Iraq now we should examine the religious rituals and its forceful disposition in today’s Iraq.
For one, the march into the city of Karbala by millions of Shia, Iranians, Arabs, and others is not to be viewed as simply as a religious march on a religious occasion, something some Christians do to commemorate events in Jesus Christ’s life. But rather as an expression of a distinctly evolved Shia ritual, though steeped in history and symbolism of martyrdom and injustice, however it was banned by the previous Iraqi regime because it asserted in the eyes of that regime, a religious and political identity deemed incompatible and even dangerous to the national secular-modernism identity of the state and its political existence.
The previous Iraqi state forged a common identity of all Iraqis regardless of the type or branch of religion one’s have, so long as loyalty to the state is strictly observed. Dissent and opposition were brutally and criminally suppressed however.
It was not unusual in such state, therefore, to see men like Tarik Aziz, a Christian Iraqi Arab reaching the upper echelons of power as deputy prime minister and the voice of Iraq to English speaking world, or former Information minister, Mohammad Said Sahaf, better known for his comical briefings during the 2003 war. He was an Iraqi Shia.
Many explanations and arguments were made to explain why Iraqis who share a common heritage, common religion as well as a common language and common blood, and tribal ties have descended into this vicious way of slaughtering one another.
We could discern from the violent crash of the former Iraqi state that it has ushered a breakdown of a larger national identity common to all Iraqis, dismembering it into pre-modern layers of identity of the tribe, family, ethnicity and religious sects.
Judging from the behavior of the Shia men of religion, the ayatollahs and other custodians of Shia relics, it was evident that they have not ascribed to the larger identity of being Arab, Muslim or Iraqi, in the national sense of the word. Otherwise it is absurd to think that one could switch loyalty in a day or two and behave in such fashion indicative of deep resentment and animosity to his “ former” identity” and his former country.
It is evident form ritual marches by millions of Shias to the city of Karbala, ceremonies of self-mutilation, ritualistic mourning of revered dead Muslim figures that they are signs of a “neo Shia identity” an emerging identity asserting itself not just by brute force but also with pump and extravagance.
This identity is teetering on the brink of “ Shia Nationalism” which will be based on a distinct Persian identity or Shia-Persian nationalism.
However, an Arab Shia-nationalism cannot hold in Arab society, partly because Shia Arabs are a minority and only about 10% of the Arab Muslims, and do not have a separate culture, language and other aspects of national characters outside the Arab fold.
But Iran does. So the specter of Arab Shia embracing Shia nationalism as a caveat to Persian nationalism would mean that a force from within the Arab fold is now challenging it and poses a grave danger to the existing social and political order for the benefit of a non-Arab country.
This might lead to repercussions against Shias and enforce their image as tools of power hungry Iran.
If we look at Iraq today we see that almost everything in it is going under some sort of shiafication process as well as holification, which is an aspect of Shiasm itself.
Al-Thawra city (Revolution City) became Sadr City, named after the late Shia Aytaollah Mohamad Baqer Sadr, whole neighborhoods were cleansed of their residents if they were Shias or Sunnis, depending on the majority, Statues of ancient Muslim Caliphs were removed because of ancient Shia animosity toward them. Large paintings and murals of Ayatollahs now adorn the walls and the streets, paintings of Imam Ali and his sons Hasan and Hussein are seen during Karbala marches. Such sights were virtually unknown in the past.
The cities of Najaf and Karbala became the holiest of all holies; to the Shias it is as if the hands of God himself built them. For the word “ holy” which has a Greek heritage and etymology means something divine or divine intervention and presence
The shrines of Imam Ali and his sons became almost an object of worship an anathema in mainstream Islam that stresses that there should be no intermediaries between man and God, and no man, or city for that matter are holy in the divine sense of the word Including prophet Mohammad himself and the city of Mecca.
Scoial changes; Muta'a marriages:
On the social level, Muta’a marriages have become widespread, despite that it is considered illegal and an affront to Islamic morality and values of mainstream Muslims. Muta’a means pleasure, which is a Shia practice, whereby a contractual agreement of temporary marriage for strictly sexual favors that ranges from one hour to days or months, depending on the contract drawn for the man and the woman by special religious clerics in special offices or houses.
Altghough it was considered a taboo in the past but this practice has been esepcially known in the cities of Najaf and Karbala were Iranian pilgrims come to pay a religious visit the shrines of Imams , and at the same time “marry” a woman for few hours or so for sex, then everyone is happy and each go their separate way .
For the rest of the Muslim community, this is considered an outright prostitution
For main stream Muslims, these social and political development has giving them a jolt for which unlike the Shias, other Muslims have no clerical establishment of Ayatollahs, or seminaries or a religious structure comparable to the Shias, in fact Shiasm has more in common with Christianity, structurally speaking, than Islam.
For most of the Arab and Muslim world the Shias practices are being perceived as an alien and strange. Practices like the Mut’a marriages, “ Pilgrimage” to places other than or in addition to Mecca, the designation of Najaf and Karbla as “ Holy cities” all of this gives the impression of separateness from the larger Muslim community. And Shias have indeed separated themselves from the larger community of Muslims throughout the centuries in rituals and religious practices.
Shiaism as a political Party
Shiaism, it started off as a political opposition group,a political party,that favored a claimant to power ( Ali )against another ( Abu Bakr who was elected by the Muslim community) but in the course of centuries Shiasm developed an intellectual argument and a theology, and in some cases it branched off into a whole new religion outside the main body of Islam.
Its central difference between the main body of Islam and Shiasm is whether Imam Ali should be the ruler of the Muslim community after the death of the prophet in the 7th century or not.
Moreover, “Sunnis” do not harbor any animosity to the Prophet’s clan and family, who the Shias believe f as “Holy”, nor do they have any animosity toward the Shia Imams. It is all too common for “ Sunnis” to name their children as “ Ali, Hasan, Hussein, Hadi, Mahdi, Jafar, all of which are holy, perfect, and sinless super human beings in the Shia theology. Conversely, however, no Shia family will ever name their children such names like Omar, Othman, Bakr; names of Muslim Caliphs and whom Shias are taught at a young age to hurl insults damnation and ritualistic curses at them until the present day. It’s worth noting that damnations and curses against historic Muslim figures are recited at every Shia prayers.
Picture of Imam Ali on T-shirt)
This type of historic vendetta rendered quaint in other religions and societies but still persists among the Shias indicates that the Shias are psychologically stuck in a tragic moment of history and unable to move forward past that moment..
Furthermore, it was non Shia Muslims who showed the most support for an exclusive Shia organization such as Hezbollah, during its war with Israel last summer. Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Tunis Morocco, Algeria, are countries were Shiasm is virtually non-existent, yet it was where Hezbollah enjoyed the most support and sympathy in its war against Israel.
This shows that mainstream Muslims, unlike Shias, view themselves simply as Muslims, Not Sunnis.
Who are the Sunnis:
Sunnis cannot fairly be described as a “ Sunnis“. To label it as such would be an oversimplification because there is no such thing as a “ Sunni Identity” that corresponds with the Shia identity, nor there is a Sunni rituals or Sunni hierarchy such as Ayatollahs that will lead a Sunni establishment of sort or even Sunni states, for all of the Arab states, are secular in nature and in law, and nowhere mentioned in their modern constitutions the insistence on being a Sunni State with a Sunni head of State in contrast with Iranian’s constitution for example, the leading Shia state, that insists on the Shi’ism being the creed of the state and that of its head.