INDOCTRINATION: THE SOUL OF KERBALA
When I was seven I joined another school, and I was moved directly into third grade because of my previous studying, this school was purely religious, it offered syllabus in Quran, exegesis, Islamic history, ethics, jurisprudence and [artihmetic?], the school had no knowledge of modern material such as English, Geography and sciences, it did try to incorporate those subjects so as to apply as a school eligible for the official statewide examinations, but it failed to achieve that status and was shut down when the Ba'ath Party assumed power.
Most of the students did not need to pass the exam and they didn't seek employment at the Iraqi government, they were either anti-Shah Iranian diaspora, or devout Iraqis who - as my father - adhered to the legal sharia ruling and refused to enlist their sons for governmental schooling.
My father would often take me to the large Husseini ceremonies, the topics addressed by the orators revolved around the story of Imam Hussein and the story of his life, in addition to the issues of the Caliphate, the Sakifa and the struggles of the other Imams with the Caliphs of their times. I had no need for additional reading to understand the topic, as the child grew in those surroundings to be indoctrinaed to an extremist, concentrated Shi'i education. He would be aware of his sectarian identity over any other national, social or tribal identity. On top of that, my devout father was keen on instructing me with the speeches of Imam Ali, in particular the one known as al-Shaqshaqiya, he gave me my first book when I was 12, al-Muraja'at by Abdilhussein Sharaf al-Din, which is a Sunni-Shi'i debate between him and al-Azhar Sheikh at the time Salim al-Bushri, it concluded by al-Bushri's admittance to the validity of the [Shi'i] sect as an Islamic mode. Other books I read were "Why Did I Choose The Sect of Ahl al-Bait" by Shii convert Sheikh Mohammed al-Antaaki, there was also a teacher in our school named Mohammed al-Ta'ie from Mosul, who converted to Shiism during a visit to Kerbala, all this served to convince me that my Twelever Jaafri Imami Shii sect is the true path and it represents perfect Islam. Thus I was often puzzled, looking with a mixture of bewilderment and fury at a Sunni neighbor of ours from Ein-Tamur, wondering why is he blind to the acceptance of Ahl al-Bait.
In the 60s, Kerbala strove to combat the Communist, Nationalist, Atheist and Western tides that invaded Iraq, I recall accompanying my father to a lecture by Sayyid Mohammed Kazim al-Qazwini in the house of a friend, he held weekly seminars for young people that moved from house to house, I was eleven at the time, and the preacher suggested the allocation of a son to study jurisprudence and spread Islam in Europe and America, without saying anything to me I warmed up to the idea and intended to be that in the future, something undoubtedly welcomed by my father and mother. I believe that Sayyid al-Qazwini was a major influence on my life at the time, he often urged the residents of Kerbala on well manners with pilgrims, to observe the hijab of women, to propagate virtue and prevent vice, and I used to carry out his instructions literally, demanding from women who bought from our shop or who walked the streets or sat in shops, exposing locks of their hair, to adhere to Islamic teachings and cover their hair appropriately, I found no embarrasment in addressing women as I was little boy, although I was almost whipped once by the husband of one of the women I advised, who reproached me and told me to mind my own sisters.
When I was 14, the head Imam of Kerbala, Sayyid Mohammed al-Shirazi suggested that I don the clergy clothing of a turban and a jubba. I managed to convince a few similar-minded friends and we used to stroll the streets of Kerbala in 1967, looking very strange in our turbans but without any facial hair.
One morning, to be exact July 17th, 1968, while I walking from my house to the school, I heard a voice crackling from a radio in one of the shops, many men were crowded there, the broadcaster was officer Hardan al-Tikriti, one of the Revolutionary Leadership council, he was issuing the statement for the July 17th coup d'etat, I hurried to school and told my teacher and the colleagues, as it was unusual for anyone in our religious schools to keep a radio or a television, two devices banned in the devout community at the time.
The Hawza and the Islamic movement paid scarce attention to political developments in Baghdad, devout people in Kerbala lived in another age that rang centuries past, with the first men [of Islam], the culture that proliferated in councils, books, neighborhoods and lectures was all about Islamic history, the story of Sakifa and the Six-Man Council, and the injustice inflicted upon Ahl al-Bait, Fatima al-Zahra, the Battle of Kerbala, and the stories of the other 12 Imams with the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs, in addition to exegesis of Quranic verses and interpretation of the narrations of Ahl al-Bait, however, some of the famous orators of the days would often allude to criticism of the government very subtly, or as we say: "drive in nails."
Perhaps some leaders of the Islamic movement were up to speed with political developments, but they did not speak in public engagements or Husseini ceremonies about any of it, [for example], Sayyid Shirazi in particular was engaged in a heated discussion with members of the upstart Islamic Dawa Party, regarding [issues such as] Tatbeer (i.e. headsplitting, this), and other Husseini processions, Shiari himself organized a special tatbeer convoys for students of the Hawza in order to validate this Husseini activity and to silence the opposition of intellects and others. Sayyid Kazim al-Qazwini went to India in 1956, he saw a special Husseini ceremony there where Indians would ran barefoot over burning coal, and he carried this peculiar cereomony to Kerbala aided by Shirazi, which stirred the condemnation of intellectuals who sought the aid of the Grand Ayatollah Muhsin al-Hakim to issue a fatwa banning this kind of masochism.
In 1966 there was a clash between the Shirazi following I was a part of and the Dawa Party or the supporters of the (Islamic Charity Society) which some of my uncles joined, the clash was also about tatbeer, as a party member issued a lecture attacking tatbeer, causing Shirazi members to orchestrate a rally that ended in attacking the society's headquarters and destroying it, although the incident ended with no injuries or victims, it left a deep rift between the newborn Islamic movement and the traditional devout class.
Certainly we were in a planet and politics was on another...
NOTES: the issue of Tatbeer is still unresolved until today. the Sayyid Shirazi al-Katib speaks of here is known to be a more hardline, extremist cleric and is traditionally its most active supporter, on the other hand, Iran's Khamenei had outlawed it,and I think that Sistani had sent mixed signals about the issue.