Saturday, March 08, 2008

A Tribute To My Iraqi Shia Friends

Looking at my recent posts, the word 'Shi'i' seems everywhere, I have been ranting too much, way too much about that ; so I thought I'd do this post to remember my good times with them.
Most of my college friends were southern Shi'i, when I first started learning about the differences and hostility between Sunnis and Shia in 2006, this created a dilemma for me, I would spend the night getting so pumped up with rage when learning about the Shia doctrine, and then I would go to college, and that frustration would all fade away the moment I met the first one of them.
When I went to UNHCR back in September 2007, I did not hang out with the elegantly-dressed Baghdadis, instead, I immediately connected with a southerner from Basra ; I can't help their simplicity and modesty, soon enough I was sitting with the whole mashraga, Nasiriya, Hilla, you name it. it felt back like college for a brief while. However, being in Jordan, none of my friends are here with me, and this has naturally led to some imbalance on that point, this post is aimed to at trying to regain that balance and to remind myself and you that it wasn't some apartheid segregation and that only religion is keeping us away from each other.


Sixi Princi:
Princi is my best friend, we worked together on a lot of video projects (notice the early use of the name "Abbas" in this post, subconscious?) he is one of the nicest people one could ever hope to meet, he's now in Sweden and has long hair, beware. Princi has a picture of Sistani above his bed, but he is not an orthodox Shia, for starts he thinks it's completely valid to pray with Sunnis (and he did pray with us in public once in a Sunni mosque amazingly in 2005! Was it so good so late?) and last I heard he doesn't even believe in Mahdi.
Eihab: Eihab was a tall, strangely white, bald dude from Kerbala with Turkish descent. He was a very close friend of mine, an atheist, but like most Iraqi atheists his sectarian identity did not fade with his religion (he chose the 555 bloc). Like me, in his latter days Eihab became more aware of his sectarian identity, but that never affected our friendship ; we joked about it all the way until he died. He was killed in 2006 and he appears in the tribute video I made for him and three other dead pals.
Jidida: Jidida is a Baghdadi who had affinity for Muqtada al-Sadr. He's such a modest dude, he also bore intense hatred for the Badr brigade, who were unmistakably Iranian to him, but more so for Saddam Hussein. I talked about him earlier in my blog here.
Muqdad: Here comes the good stuff. Muqdad comes from Najaf, and he was named after Al-Muqdad al-Aswad, a companion of Ali (he too, is aswad, very dark-skinned), however, I think his similarity with the prominent companion ends about here. Muqdad was a very, very, very horny, muscled individual who'd tell us hilarious fantastical stories about his fake misadventures. God, those were the days...
Mudhaffar "Giraffe": A tall guy from al-Misyab, Mudhaffar was a very simple individual with a very imposing neck, he also asks every new girl in college to be his girlfriend.
Weezi: One time I burnt the garbage can with a hastily-thrown cigarette in our college department as a joke, Weezi instantly searched me out and introduced me to the "cool" community due to that feat. I didn't know Diwaniya people were famous for their wise-cracking until I met Weezi, a Yoda-like smartass character who, in his own words, if he ever wanted to talk to you then that means he wants 5 bucks.
Hamchi: Hamchi was an ultra-religious, Persian-accent-during-prayer Badr-sympathizer from Najaf. He thinks I will go to hell because I don't pray the Shi'i way and he thinks praying with Sunnis is a sin that rivals drinking wine, he was also one of the nicest people I have ever met. I used to mess with him about his suit and ties almost daily, it was with Hamchi that I engaged in the little *honest* sectarian debate at my college and it always ended so respectably, Hamchi is married now and he's working somewhere in the south. Last time I heard from him he wanted to elect Mithal al-Alusi. Both Hamchi and Eihab appear in this early post.

My time with those people were some of the best I have ever had in my life, I never felt strange or detached between them, we never discussed religion or politics, it was all regular college topics: girls, girls and girs. On the contrary, they were so easily lovable and very fun-going and hip, you can understand how difficult it is for me to talk about the huge sectarian differences when all my friends are of the opposite sect, of course, I am aware of some limits, most of these people, for religious reasons (including me) would not marry of the opposite sect (in fact, I did want to marry a Shi'i girl in particular just to annoy a sectarian member of my family, but on thinking it through I realized that the sectarian differences are just too great ; maybe if she's secular, and hot), but it is largely for the memory of those people that I do not want Iraq to divided, it is for those people that I feel truly belonging and I do believe a secular government is necessary to strengthen those ties and de-emphasize the hostile history. Looking back, it's hard for me to decide which is real and what to embrace: the violent religious and historical enmity, or the honest transcending feelings of friendship? I guess it's a problem for all multicultural societies.

*sigh*

21 comments:

Muhannad said...

Nice post. I hope there will soon be peace in Iraq, and I hope you get to see your friends again.

Lynnette In Minnesota said...

Abbas,

That was a beautiful post. I know you laughed off Rhus's idea of just kissing and making up, but that is not such an outlandish idea, as long as you have friends of different sects. And I do hope you will be able to see your friends again. :)

Regarding the last post, I know with everything that is happening in Iraq at this time it is hard to envision things becoming more secular. Or at least less religion-biased.

But have you considered that this paroxysm of religious fervor is something that may not last? For years under Saddam the Shia were not allowed to practice their religious rites and holidays. It is not surprising that, like a Genie let out of a bottle, their desires to do so would erupt. I do agree, though, that shutting down the country for every one is a little much. And maybe at some point, they too will realize that this is not such a practical thing to do, and encourage more quiet gatherings.

You can always hope.

CMAR II said...

I love this kind of post. Lists of things the blogger likes. You know, Lynnette could be right. Religious ferver is often a kind of fad that starts for a variety of reason. Shi'a become more religious because it is okay to for the first time. Reportedly (and apparently) many of Saddam's devoted minions who went on to organize the insurgencies also became very religious out of nationalistic reasons. So there is hope that everyone will settle down and allow their faith to become a part of Iraqi society rather than the other way around.

Don Cox said...

"like most Iraqi atheists his sectarian identity did not fade with his religion (he chose the 555 bloc). "______I think that is true of most atheists anywhere. The religion you were brought up in stays with you even after you no longer believe in any of it. ______That was a great post. There is nothing better in life than friends.

Gilgamish said...

Great post Abbas, I truely enjoyed it.

Even though I am agnostic, sometimes it feels to me that marrying someone from the same sect is rather boring :D I dunno why ,I always think mixed-things lol were much cooler, it adds some hipness to the country too :D

but yeah, nothing matters as long as they secular and hot :D cheers for that :D

"like most Iraqi atheists his sectarian identity did not fade with his religion (he chose the 555 bloc). "______

My very athiest Iraqi friend is not like that at all, bas I guess bcz it takes the form of "heritage".

neurotic_wife said...

I too enjoyed this post. Maybe cuz it's a small window to what your life was really like in Iraq. No hatred between your friends just because they were from different sects...

I liked this post KK, and btw, Im gonna continue calling you that, hope you dont mind. Thats the name I knew you by... ;)

RhusLancia said...

Very nice post there, Abbas. For a moment you were inching towards earning the first-ever "Iraqi Bloggers Central Memorandum of Recognition for Increasing Sectarianism Over Time" award.

C.H. said...

I think its great that you are helping to heal the rifts between Sunni and Shia the terrorists have inflicted on Iraq. Good post Abbas, I liked it.

Anand said...

Thanks kid. You are a good kid :-)

I like Shia too.

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Average American said...

Abbas, very nice post, and a very nice blog you have also. From most Iraqi bloggers I have read, there is a common thread, and that is that people used to not even know which sect their friends and neighbors belonged to. I think that the whole idea that religious beliefs are somehow the major cause of violence in Iraq are either wrong or at least way overexagerated. I think that most violence stems from people of power (some of whom have religious titles)trying to get more power or trying to hang on to the power they have. Couple this with outside governments, including the U.S. Syria, and Iran and then throw in AlQaeda and you have the bloodfest which is Iraq today.
Towards the end of your post you mentioned that you hoped for a secular government. I hope as you do. It is the only way for a truely bright future for all of Iraq!

Anonymous said...

Abbas:

You should try to remember that religious faith is of immense comfort to some, provides solid justification for charity and acts of altruism to others, and provides a much needed sense of spirituality to many. The intense passions that can be stirred up in those of stong religious faith can be used for for both good and evil purposes. The evil side of the religous coin is usually expressed in religious intolerance, which can be easily manipulated by unscrupulous political or church leaders into mass bloodshed.

The history of Protestant/Catholic religious violence in the wake of the reformation neatly illustrates those dangers. The inter-christian religous prejudicies that were the legacy of that conflict have faded away very slowly in the west. It is just in this century that intermarriage between nearly all christian sects has become commonplace in the US. Even with the explicit separation of church and state set forth in the US constitution, religious prejudices were still stong enough that, as late as the 1950s, it was relatively uncommon for catholic and protestants christians to marry. I hope, for your sake, that Iraq can move past the current state of religious intolerance faster than we have in the west.

Mark-In-Chi-Town

Bruno said...

This was a good post, Abbas, thanks. I also liked your comments at Mojo's place. :)

Speaking of which:

"From most Iraqi bloggers I have read, there is a common thread, and that is that people used to not even know which sect their friends and neighbors belonged to."

Maybe somebody should tell Mojo this?

Iraqi Mojo said...

Maybe somebody should tell Bruno that Iraqis did not know which sect they belonged to until the Sunni Arab "resistance" started mass murdering Iraqi Shia.

Abbas Hawazin said...

bruno,

I seriously doubt Mojo would get it. He thinks the Shia are better because they didn't blow up anything during 24 years of oppression.

I think the reason Sunni got so aggressive and Shia didn't is because Shia are accustomed to being ruled (1400 years) and the Sunni are used to rule, in addition, and that is more important: 1. religious sentiment were not as high in the entire Iraq (and Middle East) 20th century until the 1980s, and 2.politically speaking Shiism is a passive cult( as evidenced by the marja'iya) that awaits Mahdi to start acting up again - Khomeini changed all of this with his Vilayet al-Faqih, which caused a shitstorm.

Mayssam said...

Abbas ,

May Eihab rest in peace.

"(and he did pray with us in public once in a Sunni mosque amazingly in 2005! Was it so good so late?)"
Most chiits see nothing wrong with praying in sunni mosques but they are not sure how they will be received there . Am sure you know that because sunni mosques out number chiit ones in Baghdad many chiits prayed in sunni mosques , this i know for a fact .
Pesronnaly i don't think mixed prayers are that important or has a special meaning . Have you ever wanted to go to a chiit mosque? how many sunnis you know prayed in a chiite mosque?

Iraqi Mojo said...

Yeah let's ignore people's sect, cuz sect is not part of the problem. Let's pretend that it's not really a sectarian war. Let's pretend that only Americans murder Iraqis. Right. Let's pretend that there were no problems before 2003. Yes, let's pretend that Saddamists had nothing to do with the current situation in Iraq. Let's pretend that Saddamists and their "mujahideen" did not intentionally mass murder Iraqi Shia in order to PROVE that life was better for Iraqis before 2003. If only those damn Americans would leave, those wonderful Sunni Arabs would stop blowing up markets. Everything would be hunky dory!

Sectarian Toll Includes Scars to Iraq Psyche

BAGHDAD, Sept. 16 — Violence swept over the Muhammad family in December, taking the father, the family’s house and all of its belongings in one chilly morning. But after the Muhammads fled, it subsided and life re-emerged — ordinary and quiet — in its wake.

Now they no longer have to hide their Shiite last name. The eldest daughter does not have to put on an Islamic head scarf. Grocery shopping is not a death-defying act.

Although the painful act of leaving is behind them, their minds keep returning to the past, trying to process a violation that was as brutal as it was personal: young men from the neighborhood shot the children’s father as they watched. Later, the men took the house.

“I lost everything in one moment,” said Rossel, the eldest daughter. “I don’t know who I am now. I’m somebody different.”

They are educated people, and they say they do not want revenge. But typical of those who are left from Iraq’s reasonable middle, the Muhammads have been hardened toward others by violence, and they have been forced to feel their sectarian identity, a mental closing that allows war made by militants to spread.

“In the past the country lived all together, but now, no,” Rossel said. “I don’t trust anyone.”

Iraqi Mojo said...

We wouldn't want to hurt the poor, downtrodden Sunni Arab's feelings!

'In northeastern Baghdad, Hashem, a polite 14-year-old from a different Shiite family, has an acute sense of sect. (For his safety, his last name is not being used.) The players in his soccer club are Shiite. His school is three-quarters Shiite. His five or six close friends are all Shiites. He refrains from telling a joke he likes about a Sunni politician because it might hurt the feelings of the Sunni boys.

Though the alignment is religious, in practice it is more like being on the same sports team: Hashem, like his father, is not at all devout.

“In the beginning it was a shame to say Sunni or Shiite,” he said, sitting on a couch in a guest room in a heavily Shiite neighborhood in northern Baghdad, “but we know.”

Iraqi Mojo said...

Sunni Arabs miss the good old days. And so do the Iraqi Shia, cuz they're sick of being blown up. Saddam never blew up markets before 2003. Look what's happening now! This is "democracy" brought to you by the Americans. Fvcking Americans! The Iraqi Shia want to return to days when there were no tensions between the sects, when all was well in our beloved Iraq.

"Part of the sensitivity comes from trauma inflicted by Saddam Hussein’s government: years ago, Hashem’s grandparents were forced out of their homes by local Baathists and died in the desert. "

Iraqi Mojo said...

But everybody knows that 80% of Baathists were Shia. So there's an 80% chance that SHIA actually deported Iraqi Shia. Poor Sunni Arabs are blamed for everything!

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