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Posts Tagged ‘Ashura

 

Shiite Ritual Draws Historic Parallels: Bloody. And belittled

The blood oozing from the cuts in the top of Ali Rassoul’s head on Tuesday had crusted in streaks around his eyes and ears and soaked the front of his long, white gown.

But his wounds had nothing to do with the car bombs and urban battles that have torn Iraq apart:  they were his way of commemorating a much older battle: that of Karbala, where in the year 680, the army of  Omayyad Caliph Yazid slaughtered Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, and cut off his head.

Baghdad- For many Iraqi Shiites who commemorated the death of Hussein on Tuesday in an event called Ashura, the current threat against their community from the extremists of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has profound historical parallels.

“This year Ashura is more important because of the threat against us from ISIS,” said Mr. Rassoul, who runs a woman’s shoe store and had a long dagger in a shiny scabbard hanging from his shoulder. “They have come to kill us, just like Yazid came to kill Hussein.”

Photo

Shiites in Baghdad bled Tuesday to commemorate the slaying of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in 680. Credit Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

Mr. Rassoul spoke from a street in the Kadhimiya district of northwest Baghdad, in front of an ornate mosque that houses the tomb of a martyred Shiite leader.

While millions of Shiites across the world observe Ashura, Kadhimiya is one place where a minority pays homage to Hussein through the contentious practice of self-cutting called tatbir.

As the sun rose, hundreds of mostly young men gathered in a street here dressed in white robes.

While a few beat drums, the crowd chanted, “Haidar! Haidar!” invoking Hussein’s father, Ali. Some waved colored flags. Others carried long knives brought specifically for tatbir.

When the time came for the procession to start, Amer Matrouk, the leader of one group, drew his blade and the men, some of whom had shaved their heads, knelt before him so he could give them swift blows to their scalps, just enough to open the skin and start the bleeding.

“Not everyone knows how to do it,” said Mr. Matrouk, 63, who said he has been practicing tatbir since he was a child and had a row of straight scars on his scalp to show for it.

He rejected the idea that it could seriously hurt anyone.

“We have never had any accidents,” he said. “Sometimes there are those who are not very strong and they get dizzy from all the blood, but they are fine in the end.”

The practice of tatbir is debated among Shiites and many respected clerics have spoken against it.

Some argue that it is a form of self-harm, which is religiously forbidden.

Others have written it off as a folk practice, that may have seeped into Islam from Christian Passion plays about the crucifixion or from indigenous mourning rites that communities brought with them when they became Shiites.

Still others have argued that it makes Shiites look bad, which is reason enough to avoid it in a region where they are a minority and often looked on with suspicion by Sunnis.

These practices used to be limited and no one paid attention to them, but they have started to spread and defame the image of the event in a huge way,” said Abbas Shams al-Din, a Shiite cleric and writer during an interview in his book-lined Baghdad home. “If you search for pictures on Google and type ‘Ashura’ or ‘Shia Muslim,’ you won’t see anything but blood. It’s terrible!”

Ayatollah Khomeini went on record against tatbir, and it has become punishable by law in Iran, although some still do it in secret.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, too, has criticized it, and his movement has sought to channel the fervor in a more productive direction by holding Ashura blood drives. But other Shiite groups in Lebanon still do it.

And it persists in Iraq, where clerics who have spoken against it have faced popular criticism, Mr. Shams al-Din said.

“There are some who do not want to issue a fatwa because they know that people will do it anyway,” said Abbas Kadhim, a senior foreign policy fellow at Johns Hopkins University who has studied Shiite theology. “If you do this, you set them up to be sinners.”

But those arguments meant little to the hundreds of men marching in Kadhimiya, blood dripping from their heads, soaking their white robes and pooling in the street.

A woman who gave her name as Um Salah sat with two friends on the sidewalk, thumping her hand rhythmically on her chest as the procession passed.

“Yesterday, there were attacks and explosions, but we are still here,” she said, saying that the event showed the steadfastness of the community.

Two of her sons were serving in the Iraqi Army, she said. They never told her much about what they saw, other than calling to say they were fine and making progress “in the fight against the terrorists,” she said.

A short drive away at the Kadhimiya Blood Donation Center, an employee said that many people had come to donate.

“It can help the wounded person or the soldier,” the employee said, giving only his first name, Jassim.

But when a visitor observed that the clinic was deserted, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “People come.”

Others wish tatbir would go away.

“Why do they do it?” said Haidar Abu Yassir, a taxi driver, screwing up his face in disgust. “Did Hussein do that? No! He was cut into pieces!”

Mr. Abu Yasser said that he felt that donating was better than “letting all that blood drip off your head for nothing.”

But when asked if he knew anyone who had donated, he paused to consider the question.

“Nope,” he said. “They all want to do tatbir.”

Iran: Hussein, Karbala, Ashura, Shias, Ayatollah marjaa, Wilayat fakih,…

Prophet Muhammad refused to designate a successor:  He was aware of his fragile health condition 8 days before he died and he was mentally conscious and able to make this decision.

When Muhammad died, his close relatives such as his 8 wives, his remaining two daughters and his sons-in-laws got in charge of the burial procedures and ceremony.

The leading companions such as Abu Bakr and Omar negotiated transition with the original leading tribes of Medina, called Ansars.  The ansars are those who welcomed the Moslems to settle in their city as the tribes of Mecca started persecuting the Moslems in 632.

Abu Bakr was selected Caliph.

The Sunni sect in Islam is this branch that doesn’t mind caliphs not being direct descendants of Muhammad, as long as they are considered from “noble” tribes of Mecca.  The Shia sect insisted that caliphs should be direct descended of Muhammad.

Abu Bakr, Omar bin Khattab, Uthman bin Affan, and Abi bin Abi Taleb were the four caliphs called Rashidun, meaning adult companions who followed Muhammad from the start and fought all his battles.  They were all from tribes of Mecca, which upset the ansar tribes who welcomed the Moslems and saved them from persecution and permitted them to establishing their first City-State in Yathreb named Medina later on.

It is to be noted that all male sons of Muhammad died in very young age and he had four married daughters.

Two daughters died before him.  The youngest daughter Fatima married Ali, his nephew and later son-in-law.  One of his daughters had married Uthman bin Affan.  Hassan and Hussein were the grandsons of Muhammad from Fatima and Ali who were born while the Prophet was alive.

Caliph Muawiya bin Ummaya (from the richest tribe in Mecca) was named governor of Damascus by Uthman and contested the caliphat with Ali.

Ali’s troops had the advantage of vanquishing Muawiya troops but Ali decided to negotiate.  Thus, those against the negotiation as victory was near were called “khawarej” (the ones who aabandoned Ali’s troops); they may as well be the first Shias (those who disagreed).

Ali might have been the most promising Imam, but he was no political statesman.  A few khawarej met in Mecca and decided to assassinate both Ali and Muawiya on the same day.  Muawiya’s assassin barely wounded him, but Ali’s assassin was successful as Ali was leading the prayer in Kufa.

After the assassination of Ali, Muawiya established the first hereditary dynasty in Islam with capital Damascus.  Muawiya struck a deal with Hassan.  The deal was that Hassan will be the next caliph after the death of Muawiya.  In a sense, the deal was sharing power between the Sunnis and the Shias in turn.

Muawiya poisoned Hassan:  He cooperated with Hassan’s wife to convince Hassan to wearing a poisoned expensive robe that Muawiya sent as gift for the deal.  Then, Muawiya killed Hassan’s wife and eliminated direct witnesses.

Hussein continued with the deal and left Muawiya at peace from political upheavals.  Muawiya died and his son Yazid succeeded him as caliph.  Hussein didn’t appreciate this treachery and reclaimed his right according to the deal and moved from Mecca with his family and 72 followers intending to settle in Kufa (southern Iraq).

Three months of marches in the desert brought Hussein in Karbala.

By dawn, Hussein realized that the troops of Yazid had surrounded his small party and cut off the way to the main water sources at the Euphrates River. Hussein negotiated for 10 days, hoping that the citizens of Kufa will come to the rescue, at no avail.  Hussein was beheaded and his head sent to Caliph Yazid on a spear in 680.

The uneven battle of Karbala was waged during Ashura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram.

The Shias adopted the account story of the engagement in Karbala as written by Hussein Kashefi in his “Garden of Martyrs” and which was widely circulated in the 15th century.  The story goes as follows:

“Hussein was hit by an arrow in the neck while trying to drink from the river.  Ten cavalry men from Yazid army rushed to achieve Hussein so that to receiving huge rewards.  Hussein was lying for dead and every time Hussein opened his eyes and looked at the coming killer then, the knight would feel shame and retreat.

Commander Chemr was decided to finish the job and sat at Hussein chest.  Hussein asked Chemr to remove his iron mask and show his face, which he did and Hussein said: “This is the first veritable sign.”  Chemr’s face looked porcupine with two incisive shooting out his lips.  Hussein asked Chemr to open his shirt and said: “This is the second veritable sign”  Chemr’s chest showed scars of leprosy.  Hussein said: “I had a vision last night by the Prophet and He told me how my assassin would look like.”

Hussein asked Chemr: “What day it is?”  Chmer said: “This is the Friday of Ashura”  Hussein asked “What time is it?”  Chemr replied: “This is the time of prayer.”  Hussein said: “The believers are praying and you are indulging in killing me.  Get off my chest and do your job while I am praying facing Mecca.”

The surviving family members of Hussein were given a roundabout three-month long trip up north Iraq, then north Syria before descending to Damascus and suffered hardship and humiliation.

Muawiya made sure to assassinating all males of direct descendant to Muhammad, including the surviving husbands of his daughters and even Muhammad’s wives.

Aicha, the most learned and beloved of Muhammad’s wives, was spared humiliation and assassination for two reasons:

First, she sided with him against Ali after the assassination of the third caliph Uthman and

Second, Aicha was the prime eminent in Islam jurisprudence.  She had gathered all the verses of the Prophet and confronted the Hadith that were lies and incorrect.  Uthman manipulated many verses and officially published the current Koran.

The Shias believe that the Abbassid caliph Al Maamoun assassinated Imam Rida in 817 in the city of Mashhad by poison.

All the streets in Mashhad converge to Imam Rida’s mausoleum and the city welcome 20 million pilgrims per year. The Abbassid dynasty are descendent of one of Muhammad’s uncle Abbas.

Kufa was not spared persecution, even though it didn’t come to succor Hussein.

The new governor Hajaj bin Youssef made the citizens of Kufa check their necks as his first speech started: “I see heads ripening and ready for the harvest…”  Kufa is renowned for its bad luck of supporting the losing party:  It supported Aicha, the youngest and most beloved wife of Muhammad, against the troops of Ali in the first civil-war battle of the “Camel” around Kufa.

Iran was Sunni before the 16th century.  An Azeri prince, Shah Ismail, took power of Iran in 1502.

The successor of Ismail decided to have the Shia sect as the kingdom official religion in order to unite Iran against his nemesis the Caliph of the  Ottoman Empire.  The ottoman Empire crushed the Iranian army but didn’t venture in resuming the war inside Iran.  The ottoman Empire just got Iraq as one of the wilayyats  of the Empire.

The Shia sect has a highly structured hierarchy and the curriculum for religious proficiency is lengthy and passes by degrees of study programs. There are currently 12 “ayatollah marjaa” among the Shias, two them died recently: Montazari and Fadhlallah of Lebanon.  An ayatollah marjaa is the highest cleric who can institute his school of jurisprudence and proclaim fatwas (interpretation opinion on an Islamic law).

The followers of other Ayatollah marjaa do not have to agree with the fatwas of one ayatollah.

Ayatollah Khomeini didn’t vehemently refuse the title of Imam, a title reserved for the “hidden Mahdi” who was declared hidden at the age of 5 in 874.  The successor of Khomeini, Kamenei, was not even ayatollah and still, he is considered “Supreme Guide” of the “Wilayat fakih” or the rule of the highest religious cleric in jurisprudence.

Note:  I read a few articles of Khomeini’s fatwas and I must say that so many years of learning theology and Islamic laws left something to be desired.  I think an ayatollah must have also a PhD in a scientific field in addition to religious knowledge.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

June 2020
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