Saturday, June 09, 2007

Ali al-Wardi 3: Intercession

Some of the foundations of religious faith at that time were based on intercession, meaning that when people claim to hold to the prophet’s companions or household, then it does not mean following their way of life, but to get their intercession on judgement day. People believed that life is mortal, and is not worthy of human interest but must one must tend to the afterlife instead, most importantly by performing religious duties on one hand and to get the intercession of those favored by God on the other. As for morals and good treatment and so forth then they are not important as all sins in their regard may be forgiven by the intercessors whom God loves extremely. It is clear that this principle of ‘intercession’ has roots in the composition of the governing state in old times, people are used to see that the person who is close to the sultan is able to save someone’s neck or grant rewards, this was reflected on their religious faith. This also explains many contradictory social patterns in Ottoman-era Iraq as the people (government and commons) were extremely focused on rebuilding shrines and mosques at times where oppression and thievery was common between people, as the government oppresses people who oppress each other, all believing in a seat of heaven once the intercessors speak their words.

One of the most controversial cases in Sunni-Shiite debates is the succession of Prophet Mohammed, any researcher looking into the case through modern objective lenses will feel that the case is one of the far past and has no exclusive relationship to the present, Iraqis opinion was different, as they believe the person who succeded the prophet will be their intercessor and could rescue him from damnation.

The foundations of intercessions is common in all major religions in one form or another, but we could argue that its effects are subdued earlier on, as people pour their interest in performing righteous deeds more than indirect intercession, however as time takes its course people revert to their old social pattern, immersed in life and far away from religion, they find themselves drowning in sins and has no hope for salvation unless by a guided figure who will be their ticket to God. They do not ask God directly, for their example is the one of a criminal being led to the court, finding no other solution but to seek a ‘middle man’, so he dedicates his effort to this ‘middle man’, thinking that his heart must soften and be moved by dignity to come to his aid, people extend this principle to what happens before the afterlife as well, when someone is ill, had a relative dead, is in heavy debt, or is surrounded by plague, they would hurry to a shrine of a saint or imam and would cry and beseech him. They rarely address God himself, for he is like the Sultan who is unreachable due to his high esteem and regard.

Hasan Kibreet:

The story of Hasan Kibreet is a very fitting example for the social values dominant at those times, Kibreet was a shaqi in al-Kadhimiya district of Baghdad who lived at late Ottoman, early-British period. The many tales people weave around him depict him as a bloodthirsty butcher of the sort that kills a man and then walks in his funeral the next day, others relate incidents which could only be interpreted as sadistic, as he takes pleasure in bloodshed and pain, when he participated wit the Mujahideen in al-Sha’eeba incidents during World War I he would not only kill enemy soldiers but would decapitate them and bring their heads to clerics who were with the Mujahideen, who were sickened by his deed and would reproach him without any effect.

Someone asked Kibreet about the number of his victims and how he shall face his creator, he said that he killed a lot of people but he is hoping for the intercession of Fatima al-Zahraa, saying that one day while he went with a number of Baghdad shaqis to rob rich houses there, he passed the Sheikh Ma’roof cemetery in Kadhimiya, and he heard the sound of a pleading girl who is crying for Fatima al-Zahraa’s mercy, Kibreet realized that she was about to be raped while still a virgin, so he decided to add one more victim to his list for ‘Fatima al-Zahraa’, killing him and returning the girl to her parents safely. It is highly likely that Kibreet died while being certain that he will get that intercession, and many people of Iraq are still following his footsteps, killing, looting and assaulting, and then doing something by which they seek the intercession of a saintly figure close to God.

They are not to blame, as they are forced to do this due to their conditions, as they have grown up with the morals of Jahiliya, and have taken a custom to it and cannot deviate from it, on the other hand, they fear the punishment of God and hellfire, so they must reach a solace to pacify the catch-22.

Tob Abu Khuzama:

After Ottoman Sultan Murad re-liberated Baghdad from the hands of Iranian Saffavids in 1638, he left one of his heavy cannons to be put at the gate of the fortress, the cannon grew in the eyes of Baghdad’s peasants, Sunnis in particular, to hold something of a sanitly essence by which people are blessed and myths are spun around. The cannon was named ‘Tob Abu Khuzama’, allegedly because there was a small crack at its rim which legend has it that the cannon was at heavens when Baghdad was being laid siege to, and that God ordered Gabriel to descend to Earth to aid Sultan Murad to liberate Baghdad, so Gabriel descended, leading it by the rim. Other legends speak of the pattern of fish on its sides, saying that they stuck to the cannon while it crossed the ‘sea of power’ in its heavenly descent, and that the cannon picked up dirt and transformed it into bombs by the will of God. Other stories mention that Sultan Murad once became angry at the cannon and struck it by his fist, causing the crack as a testament to his physical strength. Another story talk about the cannon itself becoming angry (perhaps by the Sultan’s punch), so it hurled itself in the Tigris which forced Murad to pull it from its rim.

Those legends escalated into saintly proportions, women would bless their children by it, and would swear by it and hold promises near it, custom has it that the newborn in Baghdad is brought at his 7th day, circled around the cannon, and have his head inserted inside the cannon three times, this continued until it was moved to the war museum prior to World War II, people forgot it and its saintly essence, not so long ago, the cannon was returned to al-Madyaan square, and is today an artifact without any divine value. (Konfused Kid - It was pulled out after 2003 by bandits who probably tried to make good use of its copper)

In conclusion, We cannot understand religious rites in Iraq and other similar societies unless we understand how prevalent and far-reaching the principle of intercession is in the hearts of people, people would deny this sometimes but they are still under sway unconsciously, for without that they would feel astray.


Konfused Kid: I had no intention to translate the passages regarding intercession as most of them were related to a principle which I felt wasn’t relevant to modern times, at least not as powerful as al-Wardi envisions it to be here , but after re-reading it casts very illuminating lights on the contradictory values of religion in Iraqis, it could explain how people who are supposed to be devout can go about their daily life while knowing that they have shed so much blood and destruction. Today, the principle of intercession has faded from the forefront of Sunnis, who claim to ‘ask God alone’. Perhaps influenced by Wahaabism, anyway, it is clear from al-Wardi that a few centuries Sunnis were just as attached to intercession as Shiites. Ironically, Saddam Hussein carried out many of the practices pointed at by al-Wardi here, I cannot remember how many gigantic mosques has he built in the last years of his reign.

16 comments:

programmer craig said...

Interesting reading, Kid :)

Today, the principle of intercession has faded from the forefront of Sunnis, who claim to ‘ask God alone’. Perhaps influenced by Wahaabism, anyway, it is clear from al-Wardi that a few centuries Sunnis were just as attached to intercession as Shiites.

When I read it, it made perfect sense to me. I know Christians who are the same way... it's a little different, but many Christians think that because Jesus died for our sins (that's a core Christian belief) that they are free to sin as much as they want, and as long as they have faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, that everything is fine. It doesn't work that way - and anybody who reads Christian scripture carefully can see where Jesus himself says that he will deny many of his followers. Very nerve wracking.

Anyway... about the section of your post that I quoted... how can Sunnis do the things they do (suicide bombing, murder, kidnapping, all that stuff) and still call themselves Muslim, if they don't expect this "intercession"?

A Muslim murdering a Muslim, for instance. I can read scripture as well as the next guy, even if it's Islamic scripture. There is *no way back* from that. Period. How does somebody expect God to forgive them for a sin that God himself has said is unforgivable? Does God make mistakes? Is God so easily persuaded to change His mind? When did God start making mistakes, and when did God ever change His mind?

On the other hand, if these people who do things like that are just criminals, why do other Muslims allow them to portray themselves as Holy Warriors, when it is so obvious they are anything but that?

I know there is nothing that can be done about it. I'm just curious.

Konfused Kid said...

for al-Qaeda-type, I don't think intercession amounts to anything because they are Wahhabis, Sunnis who are influenced by such things today are a lot less than what al-Wardi talks about here, most of them are Sufi-inclined, like sheikh Abdil-Qadar al-Gilani (the Sunni mosque which was attacked a few days ago). Still, i still think this article sheds a general light on how people can act in two very contrasting ways.

Don Cox said...

It is very much like the way Catholics hope for intercession by their favourite saints. Also, some of the images of Ali look remarkably like the standard images of Jesus. Nobody knows what Jesus actually looked like, and I guess this is true of Ali too._______Thanks for doing more translation. Bush should have read this book before invading.

Little Penguin said...

Kid,

I totally understand the core fundamentals of Al Wardi's argument.. but in my opinion he's making the same mistake.. Hasan Kibreet's story sounds familiar but it seems that it's over-blown to the extent that it portrays those who believe in intercession as criminals who cling onto saintly figures to be saved from God's wrath.. It's not like that.. I am a firm believer in intercession but that doesn't mean that I take sins or crimes or deviant acts lightly..

Craig is spot on when he points out the seemingly-contradictory nature of this argument.. but.. isn't God's Mercy beyond our limited comprehension? I'm not implying that criminals may get away for simply hanging onto Ali and Fatima and Hasan and Hussein.. Whilst God is merciful, He is just.. a verse in the Quran clearly states that those who sin are not seen in the same level as those who don't.. sinners might get the help of an intercessor, but they will definitely get the punishment they deserve.. God's justice is undisputed, that's a core belief that's just as fundamental as intercession..

With regards to Iraqis today, I'll be absolutely and unreservedly blunt.. I dont know what's happening amongst Sunni religious factions, but as far as the Shias are concerned, it seems that they are spoon-fed a very personal understanding of religion.. it's so personal that it's not even the one that Al Sayed al Sistani, the most senior scholar, teaches.. it's the viewpoint of a few well-funded politicians who hold majalis and discuss politics with a hint of religion.. it's sad and i've complained about this to many many scholars..

Regards

Konfused Kid said...

Yes Penguin, you are right in that it does not represent doing as you please as long as you have intercession, while intercession is still a firm principle in Shiism, it looks to me as it was much stronger in the past, and it still just as strong for some people. Still, to understand explotiation of intercession to any figure, which is common, is important. consider people who voted for 555 simply because they fear hellfire if they don't since Sistani blessed it, or people who believe that a good devout Sunni would go to hell and a drunk troublemaking Shiite would go to heaven.

Anonymous said...

im sorry u seem to be confused about sunni doctrine... many sunni scholars are clearly against the shiia type of interecession. those sunnis ali al-wardi is referring to are the sufi/sufi-influenced laymen sunnis. please let's refer things to their doctrinal sources, not what the laymen do.

Lynnette In Minnesota said...

Shaqi

So, okay, maybe a psychologically dysfunctional Robin Hood.

Have you ever seen the movie The Gods Must be Crazy? The cannon story reminds me a little of the people's reactions to the Coke bottle in the movie. It's an hysterically funny movie, btw. The first one that is. It was made in the 80's.

Kitten said...

Correct me if im wrong, but isnt the concept of intercession explained in the Quran??

The Holy Quran has numerous verses which identify the validity of intercession. These verses go on to identify who will be able to intercede...here are some:

"No one will have the power to intercede (with Allah), except for him who has taken a covenant with the All-beneficient" (19:87)

"Those whom they invoke besides Him have no power of intercession, except those who are witness to the truth and who know (for whom to intercede)" (43:86)

“Intercession is of no avail with Him except for those whom he permits. When fear is lifted from their hearts they say, ‘What did your Lord say?’ They say, ‘The truth, and He is the All-exalted, the All-great.’ (34:23)

This does NOT mean that anyone can obtain forgiveness of sins through intercession...it will only work for individuals with a high level of piety.

So a message to the worthless pieces of scum that live amongst us...u wont get away with ur crimes that easily, and if u think u will...think again!

programmer craig said...

Iraq in two years?

Anonymous said...

Intercession is a continuation of the practices of pre-Islam Arabs. They believed in God, but they revered idols and statues representing angels or "smaller" gods who would intercede with God on their behalf.

Also, almost all the Sunnis of Iraq were influenced by Sufism, except a minority of Sunnis with roots in the Arabian desert near Basrah. Salafi and extremist thoughts only entered Iraq during the last two decades or so, and the process has sped up after the U.S. invasion. Sunni extremists started blowing up the shrines of Sufi figures that they have revered for centuries. The practice of visiting Sunni shrines (Abu Hanifa, Gailani, Sheikh Marouf, etc.) has been completely abandoned.

Konfused Kid said...

Exactly anonoymous, and the reason for this is the Sufi method was the official recognized religion by the Ottoman caliphate.

Anonymous said...

kid, what are your personal thoughts regarding intercession?

Jeffrey said...

Kid and all the regulars here,

Here's a blog entry in which I organized the Iraqi bloggers by year and month of first appearance on the scene.

Let's Catch a Wave!

Check it out and let me know who I missed.

*

onix said...

Intersession then reminds me of shamanism.(in that sense autocratic scripture;) It is rather obvious to me that any spiritual entity would have a hard time communicating with usual people in their usual moods and with their usual hardships.
(i personally often find it near impossible to accept other peoples thoughts , just because they don't make sense to me on an intimate level)

Actually this makes me think of budhism. Since in budhism everyone relates to the same spiritual plan they don't need intersession so much? I suppose because theirs spiritual entity (god etc.,i think it is the ummah) is a more common denominator of all people. In practice a mullah would just find more time for meditation and communion.

is this what sticks behind all that intersession stuf?

koreyone said...

have you tried Steven Eriksons' books of the fallen tale's of the Malazan Empire. They are great reads. They have a web site that is well organized. It may be interesting for you and a way to escape for a while from reality. Thats always a good thing.

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