Monday, May 10, 2004

The myth of sectarian unity

Last Friday, the Abu Hanifa mosque at Adhamiyah (the largest Sunni district in Baghdad and a center of anti-American sentiment) witnessed a 'unified' Friday's prayer in which thousands of Shi'ite Sadr followers from all over Baghdad attended along with residents of Adhamiyah. Clerics from both sects condemned the US in their sermons. The Abu Hanifa Imam said that "Sharia impels us to use all means in order to drive the occupiers out of our country". Abdul Hadi Al-Darraji, a senior aide of Al-Sadr mentioned that this Friday prayer is to stress Islamic unity in Iraq, and a proof that all attempts to drive a wedge between different Islamic sects in Iraq have failed. He added that this unified prayer was encouraged by instructions from Muqtada Al-Sadr.

Saturday witnessed the formation of Hai'yat Al-Ulemma almuwaheda with clerics from both the Shi'ite and Sunni sects. Members include Sunni clerics most of whom represent the self-appointed Sunni Hai'yat Al-Ulemma and had dubious relations with the former regime lead by Harith Al-Dhari, together with a lethal mix of undistinguished Shi'ite clerics and Pan-Arab nationalists. The conference proclaimed that Islamic Sharia should be the basic source of legislation (of course), and that the Palestinian cause is the primary and central Arab and Muslim issue. Central issue? Please, not again. Don't we have enough of our own problems?

So, are we supposed to view this as a great 'achievement'? I guess those people have never read their history. Following WWI and the British mandate over Iraq, there were similar moves aiming for 'sectarian unity' most of which did not survive more than a couple of years. Sunni and Shi'ite clerics would both make sensational speeches at unified Friday prayers, then they would embrace and kiss each other as a sign of their unity while spectators cheered and praised Allah and Mohammed. Processions would march from Shia neighbourhoods to Sunni ones, pretentious stories would be circulated claiming that there was no schism in Islam at all, and that there were just a few doctrinal differences that had no significance at all.

Iraqis certainly don't need hypocritical clerics who have much more points of difference than agreement to unite them. As soon as the occupation ends and their 'common enemy' leaves, they (the clerics) will be back at each other's throats again. This has been the case each and every time throughout our history, and this time won't be any different.

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Of course, this is in regard to 'sectarian unity' on the theological and political level. I do not want to give out the impression that different Iraqi sects are having problems with each other. True, sectarian tensions exist (they have for centuries), sometimes in certain areas of Iraq more than others (e.g. Kirkuk), but not to the extent that some might imagine.