Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Pictures of Basrah Shia festivals

Here are the promised pictures of Muharram preparations in Basrah. I took these at various towns and villages south of Basrah. As I mentioned a few days ago, the preparations over there were widespread. Almost every house had a black, red, or green flag on the roof. Black mourning banners wherever you set your eyes. Never has Iraq witnessed anything like this before, not in my lifetime at least.

Signs like 'Al-Hussain the light of my eye', 'Al-Hussein is a piece of me and I am a piece of Al-Hussein', 'Oh Hussein, every drop of my blood calls for your name', 'Peace be upon Hussein, Ali bin Hussein, the children of Hussein, and the companions of Hussein', 'Our condolences to the Imam Al-Mahdi (may Allah speed his return) on the anniversary of holy Ashurra' were hanging everywhere including governmental buildings, colleges, schools, and hospitals which is not a good practice. I mean when they start putting these signs on governmental buildings, what does that indicate?

I uncomfortably watched as Al-Sadr supporters were putting one of these signs on our hospital entrance next to posters of Sistani, Al-Sadr, Al-Hakim, and Khomeini. One sign attributed to Al-Sadr which caught my eye was 'If a woman shows one hair of her head, it was as if she participated in killing my grandfather Al-Hussain'. Oops.

Another thing I noticed was the sheer bliss these people were experiencing by practicing these beliefs. "If Saddam had allowed us to practice latum, the British wouldn't be here today" our cook casually told me. "You mean to say that you would accept occupation by foreign forces just to be able to flog yourself?" I jokingly asked him. "Damn well I would" he responded curtly.

Of course the whole practice of self flagellation carried out by the Shia during Muharram denotes penance and remorse for the sin of their forefathers by abandoning Al-Hussein and failing to protect him from the army of bin Zeyad. Al-Hussein represents a symbol of rebellion against tyranny and injustice, and his death a sacrifice for mankind. Many similarities with the story of Jesus can be drawn from it.

By the way, I did try using one of these chain whips just for the fun of it. It was a bit dissapointing since they don't hurt at all. Phonies. I also put up an act and marched with some of them wearing my black shirt (which I had prepared for the event beforehand) after someone taught me. Everyone seemed so proud of the good devout dentist, hehe.

Haven't been listening to anything lately except qirayat and lamenting hymns during my stay in Basrah, and I've reached the point where I'm humming these tunes to myself, which scares me. "You're starting to sound like a Shi'ite!" my friends wife alarmingly exclaimed when I was telling her about my recent adventures yesterday over tea, "If you say one more word I swear to God I'll throw you out the window!".