SHIA (SHIITE) FESTIVALS OF ASHURA AND ARBA'EEN

SHIA FESTIVALS

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Ashura
In addition to the seven principal tenets of faith, there are also traditional religious practices that are intimately associated with Shia Islam. These include the observance of the month of martyrdom, Muharram, and pilgrimages to the shrines of the Twelve Imams and their various descendants. The Muharram observances commemorate the death of the Third Imam, Husayn, who was the son of Ali and Fatima and the grandson of Muhammad. He was killed near Karbala in modern Iraq in A.D. 680 during a battle with troops supporting the Umayyad caliph. Husayn's death is commemorated by Shia with passion plays and is an intensely religious time. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

Websites and Resources: Islam Islam.com islam.com ; Islamic City islamicity.com ; Islam 101 islam101.net ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/islam ; BBC article bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam ; Patheos Library – Islam patheos.com/Library/Islam ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts web.archive.org ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam britannica.com ; Islam at Project Gutenberg gutenberg.org ; Islam from UCB Libraries GovPubs web.archive.org ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary pbs.org frontline ; Discover Islam dislam.org ; Shias, Sufis and Muslim Sects and Schools Divisions in Islam archive.org ; Four Sunni Schools of Thought masud.co.uk ; Wikipedia article on Shia Islam Wikipedia Shafaqna: International Shia News Agency shafaqna.com ; Roshd.org, a Shia Website roshd.org/eng ; The Shiapedia, an online Shia encyclopedia web.archive.org ; shiasource.com ; Imam Al-Khoei Foundation (Twelver) al-khoei.org ; Official Website of Nizari Ismaili (Ismaili) the.ismaili ; Official Website of Alavi Bohra (Ismaili) alavibohra.org ; The Institute of Ismaili Studies (Ismaili) web.archive.org ; Wikipedia article on Sufism Wikipedia ; Sufism in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World oxfordislamicstudies.com ; Sufism, Sufis, and Sufi Orders – Sufism's Many Paths islam.uga.edu/Sufism ; Afterhours Sufism Stories inspirationalstories.com/sufism ; Risala Roohi Sharif, translations (English and Urdu) of "The Book of Soul", by Hazrat Sultan Bahu, a 17th century Sufi risala-roohi.tripod.com ; The Spiritual Life in Islam:Sufism thewaytotruth.org/sufism ; Sufism - an Inquiry sufismjournal.org

Ashura

Ashura, a festival that marks the the Martyrdom of Imam Hussein, is the most important Shia event, one that is not observed by Sunnis. Held on Tenth Day of Muharram (the 1st Lunar Month), it commemorates the murder of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who was slaughtered with thousands of others at the battle of Karbala in A.D. 680 between supporters of Hussein ibn Ali and troops supporting the Umayyad caliph. During the days leading to the battle, there were by some accounts only 72 companion (warriors) vs thousands on other side. The first nine days of Muharram solemnly recount the tragedy. On the tenth morning, the day on which Hussein was murdered, people form barefoot processions in the streets of Karbala and carry black and green banners and models of the martyr's mausoleum. Similar processions are held in other Shia areas.

In the Kabala processions thousands of barefoot men dress in black mourning clothes and red-and-green bandannas to express their desire to make sacrifices for Islam. They carry black flags and symbols of Hussein (Husayn) and march through the streets to the sound of pounding drums and chanted dirges while beating themselves with their fists, cutting themselves with knives and whipping themselves on their backs, gashing their heads with swords and slamming their chests with chains---often until they are dripping with blood---to express their the grief and recall the suffering of Imam Hussein. Some men carry portraits of Hussein. Some beat themselves while chanting poems about Hussein like “Hussein is a martyr of Karbala, the grandson of the prophet leader of the youth in heaven.” Pilgrims traditionally wail and beat themselves to atone for the collective guilt of their ancestors who failed to come to Hussein’s aid.


Imam Hussein's body without a head

In mosques imams tell the story of the brutal death of Hussein at the battle of Karbala to weeping worshipers. In some places, passion plays are held in which performers reenact the martyrdom of Hussein and people pray for the dead, including martyrs from the Iran-Iraq War. Ashura also marks the day the Prophet Muhammad encouraged his followers to fast to commemorate the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery. Sunni Muslims mark the event with a voluntary fast.

According to the BBC: “Ashura has been a day of fasting for Sunni Muslims since the days of the early Muslim community. It marks two historical events: the day Nuh (Noah) left the Ark, and the day that Musa (Moses) was saved from the Egyptians by Allah. Shi'a Muslims in particular use the day to commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet, in 680 CE. In Shi'ite communities this is a solemn day: plays re-enacting the martyrdom are often staged and many take part in mourning rituals. [Source: BBC, September 7, 2009 |::|]

During Ashura, Shia Muslims commemorate the most important days in their faith’s history during the first month of the Islamic calendar, known as Muharram. In commemoration of the martyrdom of Husayn, killed near Karbala in 680, with processions are held in the Shia towns and villages of southern Iraq on the tenth day of Muharram (Ashura), the anniversary of his death. Ritual mourning (taaziya) is performed by groups of five to twenty men each. Contributions are solicited in the community to pay transportation for a local group to go to Karbala for taaziya celebrations forty days after Ashura. There is great rivalry among groups for the best performance of the taaziya passion plays. [Source: Library of Congress]

In the villages, religious readings occur throughout Ramadan and Muharram. The men may gather in the mudhif (tribal guesthouse), the suq (market), or a private house. Women meet in homes. The readings are led either by a mumin (a man trained in a religious school in An Najaf) or by a mullah who has apprenticed with an older specialist. It is considered the duty of shaykhs, elders, prosperous merchants, and the like to sponsor these readings, or qirayas. Under the monarchy these public manifestations were discouraged, as they emphasized grievances against the Sunnis.

Ashura Theater

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Ashura Theater
Ta’zieyh is a strange form of Iranian musical drama that combines religion, music, theater and circus acts and encourages the audience to participate directly in the action. The performers ride horses and herd sheep while conveying a Shia religious story with stylized movements while the audiences sings, shouts encouragement to the heros and insults at the villains and participates in the battle scenes. Sometimes during wedding scenes men in the audiences give the “groom” a ritual bath and women paint the hands of the “bride” with henna and actors give out wedding cookies to the audience.

Ta’zieyh (literally “mourning” in Arabic) developed in the 16th century as a sort of passion play held during Ashura in which performers described the killing of Hussein and his followers in the Battle of Karbala in A.D. 680. Massacres, betrayals and decapitations were performed by a troupe that included actors, camels, horses and sheep.

After witnessing a performance of Ta’zieyh in an Iranian village, the British director Peter Brook said, “I saw in a remote Iranian village one of the strongest thing I have ever seen in theater: a group of 400 villagers, the entire population of the place, sitting under a tree and passing from roars of laughter to outright sobbing as they saw Hussein in danger of being killed. And then fooling his enemies and then being martyred. And when he was martyred, the theater became a truth: here was distance between past and preset. An event that was told and remembered in history, 1,300 years ago, actually became a reality in that moment.”

Ashura Self-Flagellation

Many Ashura participants beat their chest and wave their arms in a unique way to commemorate Hussein martyrdom. Describing the Ashura procession in Tehran, Bill Heavey wrote in the Washington Post, “Men in black shirts and black pants...are solemnly parading double-file down a packed street...to the beat of drums and the prompting of a megaphone. “Yah Hosein!” After each cry, the men stop momentarily and flick themselves over the shoulder with short chains on wooden handles. Others smack their chests with their hands. The chains don’t look particularly heavy; on the other hand, they aren’t feather boas...”Yah Hosein! They take a step, stop, switch hands with the chains and flick the opposite shoulder. Many of the men are sweat-soaked, glassy-eyed, tranced out. They have been marching for hours and will continue until the noon call to prayer, when they will kneel in the streets and facing Mecca and place their foreheads against tablets of compressed dust, acknowledging that from which they arise and to he will soon return.”

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Participants in Ashura that beat themselves beat their chests with their hands or whip their backs with chains connected to a handle that is swung with the hand. Some strike themselves with swords. Performing the matam , or self-flagellation is believed to bring out feeling of grief over the death of Hussein, his grandson and the 72 members of their family. ‘stitching matam”: refers the infliction of such severe cuts stitches are required. Many Sunnis and Shia too consider the ritual barbaric.

Some Ashura participants flog themselves with a zanjir-zani , an implement comprised of handle and five short chains connected to five slightly curved blades. The devise can turn the skin to a bloody pulp if use repeatedly. There are zanjir zani regarded as suitable for children six and over. Children’s versions without blades are available.

In 2008, a Briton of Pakistani descent was found guilty of cruelty to children for forcing two boys, aged 13 and 15 to whip themselves with bladed zanjir-zani. Both needed hospital treatment for cuts sustained using the devises during an Ashura ritual. The boys said they wanted to participate in the ritual and beat themselves but not with blades. A video tape shows the man, Syed Mustafa Zaidi, beating himself with the blades until he was quite bloody. Religious leaders asked him to stop out of fear he might harm himself. He them removed the shirt of one of the boys and forces him to beat himself. The young boy said the others ‘swung it once or twice and said, “I don’t want to do it any more.”

According to the BBC: “Shia Muslims are not the only ones that practice masochist acts in the name of religion. In a ritual known as kavadi Hindus piece their body, face and tongue with skewers and dangle objects from small meat-hook-like things stuck in their arms and legs. In a festival that honors the goddess Darupathi, believers walk on coals after entering a trance-like state.”

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Ashura Zanjir
In medieval times devout Christians often whipped themselves in public and wore course hair garments under their clothes as punishments and resolution for their sins. To reduce their time in purgatory penitents walked around churches on their knees, wore scratchy underwear, climbed long stairways shackled in chains and whipped themselves in Holy processions, with self-castration perhaps being the most extreme form of self denial.

The Shia occasionally also do things like write petitions with their own blood. Modern studies of self-inflicted suffering in religious observances suggests there are two main purposes: 1) to gain mastery over some perceived weakness or fault, such as lust and desire; and 2) induce a trance-like state that is believed to bring one closer to the divine.

Free Food During Ashura

Jason Rezaian wrote in the Washington Post: The commemoration features public scenes of emotional self-flagellation...But in Iran, such sacred rituals are complemented by a modern twist, as residents race around this city to take advantage of copious supplies of free food. Known as nazri, the food is considered holy for anyone who eats it or makes it. It is given free by individuals and private groups as a way of completing an offering made to God in honor of Hussein’s martyrdom. Kiosks called hayats are set up all over Iran. In the capital alone, there are now nearly 13,000 registered hayats making offerings of food or drink. Everyone from rich bazaar merchants to high school kids takes part in the cooking and serving of the food. [Source: Jason Rezaian, Washington Post, December 3, 2012]

The selection at nazris includes a wide range of snacks and beverages, from hot cocoa and simple sweets to more elaborate Iranian dishes. The most popular nazri food is gheymeh, a stew of lamb, tomatoes, yellow split peas and dried lemons. Often cooked in enormous copper pots over wood-burning fires, and then served in disposable containers that litter city sidewalks for weeks, the food is believed to have benefits both physical and spiritual.

The long lines in residential neighborhoods, and traffic jams caused by drivers who stop in the middle of the street to pick up nazri, provide a festive air that contrasts with the processions of chest-beating mourners. “Yes, we’re mourning the loss of our most important martyr,” said Jamshid, an accountant who asked to be identified only by his first name. “But this has really become a big party for Imam Hussein.”

“For Iranians who want to maximize their haul, a new Web page has mapped out locations offering nazri, along with the date and time of giveaways as well as the type of food available. Arman Taherian, a co-creator of the Nazri Finder Web site, said he and his partner had confirmed 96 locations throughout Tehran, and continue to add listings. “We felt that our traditions aren’t moving forward quickly enough with the speed of technology and decided to use these tools along with our old traditions,” he said.

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Muharram

Politics and Rituals Mix at Ashura in Iraq

In 2012, Al Arabiya and AFP reported: “With more pilgrims expected to visit the shrine city of Karbala, Ashura rituals in Iraq this year have had an unprecedented political taste added to them, withShiittes chanting phrases condemning modern politicians. Shia Muslims marching during Ashura rituals in the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala mixed mourning the death of Imam Hussein over 1,300 years ago with politics, making it the first time Ashura pilgrims incorporate their daily sociopolitical sufferings to religious chants. The numbers of pilgrims are expected to reach three million, Karbala provincial governor told AFP. [Source: Al Arabiya with AFP, November 25, 2012 ^=^]

“Hundreds of black-clad Shia walked toward the mausoleum of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad who was killed in 680 AD by the armies of the caliph Yazid, ritually beating their chests as a sign of mourning for the slain imam. But they also chanted about the current politics of Iraq, an unusual occurrence in commemorations that mainly focus on the past. In one chant, the marchers lamented that Iraq's prime minister, parliament speaker and president are all "chasing after positions, and the people's share is only troubles," concluding: "O Hussein, we are with you until death, until death with you." In another, they said that "the effect of financial corruption is the same as terrorism," and that "our leaders are corrupt from the top." "You took everything, and you want to take my vote; I won't let you, even on my death," they shouted. ^=^

“Iraq has vast oil wealth, but basic services such as clean water and consistent electricity are still lacking, and corruption is rampant. And while security has improved significantly, bombings and shootings remain a constant threat. Staff Lieutenant General Othman al-Ghanimi told AFP that 30,000 security forces personnel were deployed at the northern, southern and eastern entrances of Karbala to protect the pilgrims. ^=^

“Mass-casualty attacks on pilgrims that have blighted Ashura commemorations in the past have been absent so far this year. Millions of people flood Karbala for the peak of the Ashura rituals, which comes on Sunday this year. Karbala provincial governor Amal al-Din al-Har told AFP that there were about two million pilgrims currently in the city, among them 200,000 from abroad.”“ ^=^

Arba'een


Arba'een pilgrims

Arba'een is a Shia festival that marks the end of the 40 day mourning period of Iman Hussein, the prophet Muhammad’s grandson and the martyr killed near Karbala. Many mark the event by making a pilgrimage to Karbala, with some walking the entire distance from Baghdad to Karbala. Many wear black and carry flags. Little tents and open air kitchen are set up along the route to offer rice and soups in keeping with the Shia custom to offering food and drink to pilgrims.

Arba'een marks the 40th day after Hussein’s death, when his family, taken captive by his killers, and then pardoned, returned to his grave. According to the Washington Post: “Millions of Shia Muslims traveled from across the Muslim world to walk in procession to the shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala, Iraq, for the world’s largest, yet largely unknown, annual pilgrimage. This ziyara, or visit, to the shrine in southern Iraq is known as the Arba'een. It marks the end of 40 days of mourning for the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, a central moment in Shia tradition. More than 10 times the size of the hajj — because Iraq does not limit the number of pilgrims — it was restricted for years during the rule of Saddam Hussein because of its potential for sectarian collective action.” [Source: Fotini Christia, Elizabeth Dekeyser and Dean Knox, Washington Post November 21, 2016 \+\]

“The pilgrimage’s unique processional nature facilitated this regional targeting during the survey process. Able-bodied Iraqi pilgrims walk from their homes across Iraq to Karbala, with some traveling as far as about 300 miles from Basra in the south. Iranians usually travel via bus to the city of Najaf, 50 miles south of Karbala, then walk from there. During the procession, tents, or mawakib, stationed beside the path provide rest and refreshment for pilgrims. For Iraqis, these mawakib are unofficially organized by region. Iranian mawakib are less specifically targeted but still often have broader regional trends. By visiting different tents, we were able to gain a geographically representative sample. \+\

Arba'een Karbala Pilgrims

Describing the scene in Karbala in 2003, Craig Smith wrote in the New York Times: “The overwhelming emotion in the packed streets outside the mosque housing the tomb of Hussein...was euphoria at the Shia’s newfound freedom and exhilaration over the mass chanting and chest slapping that swept through the crowds...While groups of men chanted wildly and beat themselves with ever-increasing frenzy, young boys squirted the crowds with rose water from bottles or backpack pesticide sprayers...Men offered water to passing pilgrims from cast-iron bathtubs set up along the roads, and hawkers sold tablets of compressed earth, the holy soil on which Hussein’s blood was spilled. Others sold posters, some depicting Hussein pierced by arrows or his bloodied head upon a spike.”

Many of those who visit the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf are pilgrims who make their way to the shrine on foot. from their hometowns in Iraq and even Iran. Men, women, children, old people make the trek. Some are barefoot. Some wear green headbands. Many carry black flags to remember Hussein. The walk from Baghdad tales a few days. From Basra, it is a tough 10 day march.

Celebrating Arba'een in Iraq After Sadaam Hussein

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Muharram mourning
In April 2003, around a million Shia pilgrims were allowed to converge on Karbala to complete one of Shia Islam’s most important rituals for the first time in 25 years. The ritual had been banned off and on since the 1930s because of its potential as a political rallying point against whatever government was in power. Under Saddam, the ritual was banned.

Alissa J. Rubin wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The Shia revolution in Iraq burst into public view barely 10 days after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Without his troops to forbid them, Shia Muslim pilgrims began to throng Iraq's highways as the festival of Arba'een neared, the women's black abayas flowing behind them in the breeze as if flocks of crows had taken to the roads. At almost every hamlet along the route to the holy city of Karbala, volunteers scattered plastic chairs and tables and offered sweet tea, water, bread. The mood on the eve of the festival was one of exhilaration, exuberance -- and resolution. Everyone seemed to know why he or she was there. This was celebration, but also a moment of solidarity. [Source: Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, May 8, 2005 <|>]

“Pilgrims jostle for space with the peddlers of religious souvenirs who fill the streets leading to the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, offering devotional tracts and garish prayer rugs emblazoned with depictions of favorite imams.The Shia are in essence a people on pilgrimage, living over and over -- as some Christians do the passion of Christ -- the wrongs that were done them. Often, pilgrims will weep as they describe the final battle of Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein, near Karbala as if it had happened yesterday and they had known him personally. "There began to be a revival of the life and the body of Shia more than 25 years ago," says Talal Talib, 33, a singer of religious music. "But then we were practicing in secret. Now we are practicing in the middle of the streets." <|>

Reporting from Karbala, Anthony Shadid wrote in the Washington Post, “A little after 6 a.m....=Karbala began to stir. Tentative at first, crowds ambled toward the gold-domed shrines of Imam Hussein, Shia Islam's most beloved saint, and his half brother, Abbas. Young men loyal to militant clerics marched in military formation, pictures of their patrons taped to their shirts. Others beat their chests in ritual mourning known as lutm. Women cradled their young, their black abayas melting into the black banners fluttering along streets that overflowed with honeyed sweets, incense, religious books and prayer stones. [Source: Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, March 31, 2005]

“Green, red and white flags were unfurled, and an improvisational orchestra of mourning was unleashed: sorrowful chants for Hussein, pounding drums, laments crackling from rickety speakers and the shuffle of thousands of feet converging on the city. Wednesday marked the eve of Arba'een, the sacred 40th day of mourning for Hussein, the prophet Muhammad's grandson, who was killed with his thirsty, outnumbered followers in a battle here in 680. It was a day of spectacle: one of the most remarkable convergences of people in the Muslim world. And it was a day of ritual: the quiet routine through which Abu Zahra says he finds meaning. "The best people never get tired, and they never lose patience," he said as he stirred the beans.

At once formal and intimate, routine these days is a powerful means of survival in Iraq. It is often rendered through the customs of burial, designed to bring comfort amid grief, to extract meaning from tragedy. It is constant, dignified and unhurried when little else is. This week in Karbala, a city blighted by suicide bombings last year on a similar holiday and shadowed by concerns about more of the same, it is an antidote to fear, an anchor in uncertainty.


Abra'een at Hussein mosque in Karbala


Arba'een Food

Reporting from Karbala, Anthony Shadid wrote in the Washington Post, “A little after 6 a.m., as a relentless sun began burning through a gray sky, Abu Zahra and his men started their work. They stoked a fire with wood and kerosene, bringing to boil 110 pounds of garbanzo beans. They slaughtered three lambs. And they sipped sweet, dark tea on a morning imbued with ritual in one of Iraq's most sacred cities. Around them, Karbala began to stir. [Source: Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, March 31, 2005]

For Abu Zahra, the ritual is making qima, the dish he and his men feed to thousands in the city. "Take it easy, take it easy!" he shouted. Men clad in black hurried across trampled and hardened ground, lugging the vat of beans. With a ladle known as a chifcheer, they poured the beans into pots, which drained into a bathtub. They then beat the beans into a paste with a mallet. To the side, three boys peeled and cut 20 pounds of onions with butcher knives. Another man checked on the cooking lamb.

Abu Zahra was one of three cooks at the camp of two tents. They arrived in Karbala 10 days ago after, as is custom, walking about 100 miles in plastic sandals from their village of Noamaniya in the southeastern province of Wasit. Their skin was leathery from walking 12 hours a day in an unforgiving sun. Each had a beard that came from sleeping more than a week in a tent. "It's nothing!" Abu Zahra shouted. "Some people walk from Basra," a trip of 320 miles.

Abu Zahra is a spry man, with sad eyes that belie an exuberant charm. He has a prominent nose and a full head of gray hair that he keeps tucked under a red-and-white checkered scarf. His age is guesswork -- "50, 54, 55," he said, waving his hand. He talks as much as he cooks, ordering tea every so often for guests willing to chat. "Ala ra'asi," he declared -- meaning, at your service. "I'm going to show you hospitality until you get fed up with me."

Bus to Karbala and Najaf

Starting on a journey that began in Baghdad, Anthony Shadid wrote in the Washington Post: “The cries began before dawn Friday and rang out around the impromptu bus stop for hours. "Karbala! Karbala! Karbala!" the drivers shouted in staccato bursts, their voices rising on the last word like a car horn. "Najaf! Najaf! I'm going to Najaf!" In streets subdued by the Muslim sabbath, three men hurried toward a gray minibus headed south. Strangers brought together by faith and fervor, they had packed tattered prayer rugs and pocket money to cover the 75-cent fare. Still sleepy, they grabbed their seats for the 2-½ -hour trip to hear a sermon by a militant Shiite Muslim cleric, Moqtada Sadr. [Source: Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, October 31, 2003 <+>]


Bayn al-Haramayn (literally: between the two shrines) is the distance between the Holy Shrine of Imam al-Husayn and the Holy Shrine of al-'Abbas (a) of 378 meters. In the past, Bayn al-Haramayn was not an empty space between the two shrines; rather it was occupied by residential and commercial buildings. During Saddam, buildings in this distance were destroyed in order for the shrines to be expanded and developed, and so the present space was built. After the collapse of Saddam Hussein, the project of developing Bayn al-Haramayn was examined and executed as one of the most important projects for the reconstruction of the shrines by Iran and Iraq.


“So began a ritual of the new Iraq, the weekly pilgrimage of hundreds, sometimes thousands, from Sadr City, a desolate Baghdad neighborhood of 2 million renamed for Sadr's father, to the sprawling mud mosque in the sacred town of Kufa, near Najaf. There, Sadr has preached a regular Friday homily that blends devotion and activism and is shaped by his fervent opposition to the U.S. presence. His huge audiences represent one of the intangibles of the six-month occupation: the unpredictable face of Iraqi street politics.<+>

“With the driver, Abed fumbled through cassettes that cluttered the dashboard, settling on a tape of devotional chants to a Shiite saint. Black prayer beads swayed from the rearview mirror. In the right corner of the cracked windshield was a portrait of Imam Ali, the prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, with two of his sons -- a talisman of a sect steeped in symbolism. <+>

“The driver -- like others here, notoriously unruly -- lurched forward and set off the wrong way down a two-lane street. "God's prayers on Muhammad and the family of Muhammad," he said. The 13 passengers dutifully repeated the blessing. Through the open windows, a cool breeze blew over Tuama, 33, who like the other passengers lazily flicked his cigarette ashes on the carpeted floor.” <+>

“At the end of the journey, “The minivan passed the last checkpoint before Kufa, and the passengers got out. Each went his own way. Hussein walked toward the mosque. Tuama joined friends. Abed hurried to the displays of religious literature, where posters of Sadr and his father and newspapers were for sale for a little more than 10 cents on soiled canvas mats, weighted against the breeze by rocks. The smell of grilled kebab and boiling garbanzo beans wafted in the air. Vendors hawked traditional pastries doused in sugar and honey. <+>

“Abed picked up the latest copy of Sadr's newspaper, the Seminary. Its lead editorial urged Shiite leaders to unite "before the great flood comes and before the army of Satan readies itself to eliminate you one after another." With hundreds of others, Abed shuffled into the Kufa Mosque, beckoned by the call to prayer. He laid out his red-and-gold rug, kneeling side by side with others in the community spontaneously created by the Friday prayers. As Sadr went to the podium, chants rang out from supporters, some wearing funeral shrouds to suggest their willingness to die: "Long live Sadr! Faith will be victorious!" <+>

“Sadr's voice, which had sounded hesitant in the days after the war, has matured. It has become deeper, more forceful. On this Friday, he infused his speech with references to current events and calls "to defend the oppressed and the weak and to help the poor." He repeated his insistence that anti-occupation protests should be peaceful but denounced U.S. troops without specifically naming them. "They have shown their wicked intentions against Muslims. Their hearts are full of hatred," he declared. When followers started chanting their support, he playfully scolded them. "Enough, enough," he said, employing an Iraqi slang term that few clerics would use in a public address. "You'll get us into trouble." <+>


Arba'een at Bayn al-Haramayn


“The prayers ended, and dozens gathered near the mosque's door to wait for Sadr's departure. One man asked excitedly: "Has he come yet? Has he come yet?" Others chanted their fealty, kaffiyehs, towels and posters thrust in the air: "We sacrifice our souls for Sadr and his son Moqtada." Then they broke into another chant: "Whoever touches you, Moqtada, we'll cut them to pieces."” <+>

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Arab News, Jeddah; Islam, a Short History by Karen Armstrong; A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). Also articles in National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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