Friday, February 29, 2008

Respect Knowingly ٌ

Yesterday was the anniversary of Shia Arba'een. I suppose it's a good time to speak about mutual respect of the religion of others as an essential attempt towards co-existence in Iraq.

I have argued before that Sunnis and Shiites are irreparably hostile on religious terms, I still believe so, but I do believe that a good number of Iraqis from both sects would like nothing more than a peaceful co-existence. A key component towards achieving that goal is a meaningful respect of the opposite sect's religious values, which I believe is only possible under a secular rule that will dimnish the impact of religion on everyday life but also respect the religious rights while working neutrally towards skirting the hostile foundations of the two sects are built upon into a distinct Iraqi idetity, an impossible task of course because most Iraqis want a theocratic government, hence the dilemma, nevertheless I'll just babble on for the benefit of future "Iraqi" generations who might learn from the mistakes of their forefathers, how's that for being self-important.

Many of you might be surprised that I am a fan of Mulla Bassim al-Kahraba'ie, as a matter of fact, Mulla Bassim single-handedly played a huge role in my conversion from Western music into an appreciation of Middle Eastern modes of music. That respect grew out from a curiosity incurred by the ubiquitous presence of the Shia flagellation mega-hit "Ya Yom Ashoof Ei'tabak" everywhere in Iraq, which was endlessly satirized such as [here], and then it developed into an interest in the supernatural, enterainingly apocalyptic vision of Shiism ; you see, the problem with Sunni Islam is that it's stories are rather boring from the perspective of a story-teller, sure it does confirm Judeo-Christian stories of a prophet who talks to animals and the snakes of Moses but those are minor stories, as the principle concept largely center upon a worship of a single God and that's about it. On the other hand, Shiism is centered upon a very passionate
dramatic piece with lots of dark fantastical themes: there's a fascinating battle between Good
and Evil where Evil always wins, there's a centuries-asleep Hidden Wrath-Of-God Imam who will come back, resurrect all the bad guys and kill them, those apocalyptic visions easily stirred the Heavy Metal-, fantasy-, Gilgamish and Enkido-loving spirit within me, there's something ethereal when you listen to a story told in a larger-than-life mesmerizing melody about the righteous holy blood dripping from the cuffs of Musa al-Kazim by Haroon, in the process uplifting those holy men and their antagonists from normal eat-shit-sleep human beings into the mystery-shrouded Demigods in an Iron Maiden song.

Okay, okay, so Shias might be a little annoyed at my comparison to their beliefs with mythologies here, but my point is that I have grown a sense of appreciation for their rich
culture, in fact one of my things I want to do someday is visit Karbala or Najaf like Salam Pax did here (why is the blog's colors like this now?) just for the grandiose curiosity of it. In fact, Sunnis ave somehow recognized the huge impact of those Shia religious hymns in rallying solidarity and they have attempted to replicate it, they are stealing Shia eulgoies and are applying it to Saddam Hussein for example, and also they have a 'Mawlid' celebration (think Nusrat Ali Khan-like), but that is nowhere near as powerful as the Shiite ceremonies, and that is because their version of religion is still a pure simplistic veneration that refuses innovation "bidda3" and isn't as imaginative, it discourages iconization and frown upon any other form of worship than Qur'an recitals, in fact even the pillars of Sunni Islamic music comes from external sources, the most famous Muslim singer, dubbed "Muslim Bono", Sami Yusuf, is a British of Azeri (mostly Shia) origin who was born in Iran, but is for some reason Sunni (even that is in doubt). Another very famous song, Ya Tayba, hails from Indonesia and has Sufi roots (they even say Ya Ali in it), Sufism is a blurry form of Islam which stress Music and dancing as a form of being closer to God. it has many Shia influences but nothing of the complex traditions and stories which makes it offensive to the orthodoxy Sunnism.

Let's revisit Mulla Bassim again, in 2003, Bassim was singing in his "Symphony of Graves" about Saddam Hussein:

Kurd and Arab a victim,
Sunni and Shia altogether.

in 2006, after the Askariya Shrines were demolished, the Mulla sang this hateful masterpiece (edited here, but Nawasib line can still be seen in the end):

O Mahdi, You have four vengeances,
Taim, Adi, Harb and Sakhar
The first took away Fadak from you
The second broke the rib of your mother
The third split open Ali's head
The fourth slaughtered the blood of Hussein
Should Hasan live with us
He would've been poisoned again
and Should Hussein be resurrected
They would have cut his neck again
Lo, Alas your grandfather is buried among the Nawasib!

"Grandfather" refers to the Askari shrines, which is in Samarra, a Sunni town, that is what he refers to by "buried among the Nawasib." In Shia lexicon, Nawasib is the most extreme form of insult you could bestow upon a person, it means a devout enemy of Shia. The poem is also unusual in the sense that it explicitly refers to the names of the First and Second Caliphs (although still somewhat coyly through their tribe names), an extreme rarity as they are usually hinted to as "the people" or just "them."

I find in this poetry a reflection of a more popular resentment, yes, even though the Shia doctrine is hostile to Sunnism, it tries to bury those conflicts so not to cause controversy. But when the Shia Arabs were not warmly accepted by their Arab neighbors, and when terrorists began to blow up Shia markets, culminating in an outright demolishion of a holy shrine, the Shias found less and less reasons to embrace the desire to keep this peace and to declare the ancient hostiliy more brazenly ; it's a reaction, not an action. The Sunnis in general should've been more receptive to Shiites, but they chose to be hostile and a hindrance.

On the other hand, the Shiites should not have announced their arrival to dominance with such a venegance. If the Baathis and the renegade al-Qaeda started to attack Shia indiscriminately, the Shia government gave the general Sunni population, both inside Iraq and outside it, more and more reasons to view the conflict as encompassing Wahhabi and Sunni alike. They basically
justified the Sunni fears that they will be marginalized even if they chose to participate, they
killed innocent civillians by the dozen just the same , and then there was the sloppy, sectarain-themed timing and execution of Saddam Hussein (a very stupid move then was made by Sistani's deputy, who called for Saddam to be executed between the shrines of Hussein and Abbas), the disbanding of the army, and the engulfing of Iraq into a perpetual mourning ceremony whose greatest concern was sealing off everyday life from one Ziyara to the next, another needless of demonstration that we are Shia and we are in power, so eat your heart out.

And this is why Iraq is fucked, because a theocratic government would often tend to aggravate the opposite sect as the difference between the two sects is hostile. This is especially true of Shiism because, like I said, its practices are more apparent, more encompassing, and are filled with dramas, ceremonies, and rituals, which would make the Sunnis alienated and indirectly remind them of those hostilies, on the other hand, regular Sunni Islam* on the other hand is just reading Qur'an and going to Friday prayers, and isn't offensive to any Shia figure.

What we need is a secular government that would realize the danger of religion on Iraq, a government that recognizes Shia dominance and practices but does not make it a perpetual all-encompassing feature of the state, a government that greatly enforces the identity of being an Iraqi before everything else, and the Shia slogans and murals that you will find everywhere if you go to Iraq today always serves to remind you that some people are 'less' Iraqi than others. It is my opinion that this state is impossible to create today, as to why, it's for another time.

For now, I dedicate this hymn to my Shia brothers, it's called Ajat al Aasreen, if anyone knows what this maqam is this please tell me because it sounds like a traditional Iraqi mode and I love it very much.

عجت العصرين و أسود الفضا من طحت يحسين يبن المرتضى

* Excluding probably Wahhabism, it also serves to remind oneself that the dominant form of Sunnism in the Ottoman times was Sufi, a trippy music-loving form itself.


Iraqi Mojo said...

An awesome post, Abbas. Shukren.

Bruno said...

That was a good post, I agree. Very interesting.

Sandybelle said...

You are the most wonderful Uncle Abbas on this earth.
I really love this post.

CMAR II said...

Very good post. Was Wahabbism really the most dominant form of Sunnism under the Ottomans? I've heard some say that Sunni Islam was much more liberal 150 years ago than it is today.

Don Cox said...

You misread the last line. He said Sufism, not Wahhabism. They couldn't be more different._____That was a good thoughful post. I don't he sow you can respect another's beliefs when you simply do not think they are true, but you can and must respect him/her as a human being (provided he is not a psychopath).

Don Cox said...

"he sow" should be "see how". Fingers do weird things sometimes.

CMAR II said...

[Don Cox] I don't he sow you can respect another's beliefs when you simply do not think they are true

Sure you can. You can believe that a belief has value and merit while doubting its objective truth. This even works in science: The nuclear model of the atom is verifiably untrue but is very useful for describing chemical interactions of elements.

[Don Cox] You misread the last line. He said Sufism, not Wahhabism.

I'm not sure I did. He said "EXCLUDING Wahhabism" that Sufiism was dominant.

Iraqi Mojo said...

On the term "nawasib" - I learned the meaning of this term just more than a years ago. A friend of mine asked Ustath As'ad abu Khalil what it means, and he said "it means those who are dedicated to hating `Ali".

Obviously it was wrong of Bassim to imply that all the people of Samarra are dedicated to "hating Ali" and I understand why a Sunni would be offended by this.

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Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

Even though it is slanted, and there are parts of the timeline that I wouldn't agree with, I like this post and I think it is thoughtful and smart. You should be doing more of these, and in Arabic.

I've seen a sample of your Arabic writing, and my critique is to make it less "stream of consciousness" (as is the dominant genre in satirical writing) and more to the point. You've got talent, and a good head for analysis.

annie said...

very interesting post

nadia n said...

So I read this over again. I have an anecdote, it sort of applies:

I was talking to this girl a little while back, she is Jewish, and she told me she can't even look at a crucifix because she was told that Christians use the cross as a symbol solely to remind themselves of how the Jews had killed their lord. Now Mel Gibson and a few other retards may think this way, but she had gotten the idea that this was something that was essential to Christianity as a faith. All I had been taught about the cross and the crucifix was it was a symbol of Christ sacrificing himself for others, something he did by choice because God willed it and it's a reminder of how we should follow his example, and I told the girl this. The girl's family was originally from Eastern Russia and her father had told her this, from what I gathered they had not had a very easy time there.
We could also mention the very negative associations the cross has amongst a lot of Muslims because of the crusades, etcetc.

A couple of weeks ago you wrote this:

When SCIRI/Badr first started assassinating Sunnis in Baghdad left and right, I couldn't hear anyone reporting it for a long time, people would show up on TV and talk about national peace and unity while Sunnis were being killed everywhere, there was absolutely no mention of the story anywhere, but it was the talk of the town ; I felt as if nobody would hear our voice and that made me so afraid, in fact, it was the only reason I voted for the Sunni Islamic 618 bloc and not the 731 Secular Allawi one. It was about a month later when the story began to unfold on TV and Newspapers.

I'm not going to get into a big theological discussion here, a lot of people that read your blog could kick my ass at that, but my point is that there are lots of different ways of interpreting the same words and beliefs, and I think you underestimate the social factors sometimes. You seem to me to recognize that as a factor for yourself, but not others as much? I dunno, that's what I get out of your posting, and I think that can be a very problematic way of looking at things, but feel free to tell me how wrong I am.

Don Cox said...

"Christians use the cross as a symbol solely to remind themselves of how the Jews had killed their lord."______There are some anti-Semitic Christians with this attitude. An example would be the notorious Oberammergau Passion Play. (In Switzerland). It is pretty stupid, because crucifixion was specifically a Roman method of execution. The Jewish method used at the time was stoning (for example the death of Stephen, described at the beginning of "Acts of the Apostles".) It would be more accurate to accuse the Italians of killing Jesus than the Jews.

Abbas Hawazin said...


Okay, I think you are trying to tell me something but it was lost in the details. can you like distill it in a very simple sentence? I gather it's something about not giving everyone else the opportunity to look at things the way you're looking at it (so u probably mean that Shias chose 555 for the same reason I did - and that my theory about Shias complete obedience to the Clergy is a little exaggerated?)

Well, if that is what you mean, then I clearly hope so that they are, but the 20th century have had several exampled in which the marjiya was the sole yardstick which moved Shia affairs (20 revolution, communist party fatwa...)

the Clergy is a centralized organized religion institution that is potentically the Pope at the time of the Holy Roman Empire. It would take a much longer time for it to wield no political influence. The only reason it did not interfere extensively in politics before was the passive nature of Shiism as a whole.

nadia n said...

Sorry, clarity was never my strong point.

I was thinking of this line

This is especially true of Shiism because, like I said, its practices are more apparent, more encompassing, and are filled with dramas, ceremonies, and rituals, which would make the Sunnis alienated and indirectly remind them of those hostilies,

And other posts you have had that go into this territory.
In general I think when you are going to be defining what others' beliefs entail for them, you are going to run into trouble. Especially if we're asking the question of whether faith and coexistence are compatible(forgetting for a sec the theocracy that a supposed 22% of Iraqis want,) or where you are saying that it is not. Painting a scenario in which the options are either abandoning faith completely or war and possible genocide are the two options is a really problematic box to put yourself in.

I understand that things are more complicated than that, and these ideas aren't coming out of a vacuum, and I'm tempted to make the Protestant/Catholic comparison as well(I was watching the Passion of Joan of Arc the other day.) But talking about the realities on the ground is very different from saying that the current realities and leadership are features that are absolutely inherent to the religion. That's my concern, I guess.

Maybe that is too philosophical a stance to take in these shitty times but I have the luxury philosophizing from such a distance.
Maybe I'm totally wrong, everyone else seems to think these posts are great, so I dunno.

Abbas Hawazin said...

nadia n,

i understand your viewpoint, but I have come to the conclusion that the hostility is inherent because it is the Occam's razor explanation for a lot of history, many ppl are embarrassed to say it outright but I do believe it is, that said, it does not mean Iraqis are sworn enemies, especially after the introduction of the nation-state principle to Iraq, it just means that religion will always form a barrier against forging a truly authentic national identity and it will always be eat or be eaten.

C.H. said...

Very good post. I agree with you that there are many tensions between Sunni and Shia, but they must find a way to get along for the good of their children and their country.

They must also also work together to fight terrorism, a force that is capitalizing on and exacerbating the tensions by blowing up innocent people and forcing Iraqis to fight one another.

nadia n said...

I don't know, I think a lot of people are not shy about saying so outright.

Religion can be a barrier(it can also be the opposite but that's beside the point,) but the conditions we live with can be a bigger one; I think it's the second that drives the first and not the other way around. I think that's our difference? If we had a different past 30 years, we wouldn't be talking about the last 1200 years today. In some ways it can be more comforting to chalk it all up to Iran, because then the solutions are much more simple than if you look at each case independently of the others.

The other "side," though, worries me just as much.

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