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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sunni Mosques burn after second bombing of Shia shrine in Samarra

"You have reckoned that history ought to judge the past and to instruct the contemporary world as to the future. The present attempt does not yield to that high office. It will merely tell how it actually happened." -Leopold Von Ranke on his 'Gistory of the Romanic and Germanic peoples."


BULLETIN: Sunni mosques are burned in retaliation for a second attempt to destroy a sacred Shia shrine. The destroyed Shia mosque commemorated the year 878 and the divine ascent of Shiism's 12th Imam and future saviour of the Shia. Sunni enemies of the Shia like to hit directly at times and places important in Shia liturgy as if trying to declare victory in a civil war cast in historical and apocalyptic terms.

IN THE NEWS TODAY.: Four Sunni Mosques were burned in retaliation for yesterday's bombing of the Al Askiriya Mosque in Samarra, one of Shiism's most sacred shrines. The bombing, which came after a previous attack destroyed the mosque's golden dome in February of 2006, destroyed the two minarets which were still standing. The first attack, attributed to Sunni al Qaeda terrorists, was intended to start a Sunni-Shia civil war, which it did successfully, the conflict having taken 20-30 thousand lives over the last year. However, after radical nationalist Shia leader Moqtada al Sadr began a reconciliation movement with moderate Sunni leaders, there have been signs of a patchwork nationalist trend among Shia, Sunni and secular Iraqis who want to join ranks in expelling all foreign presence from Iraq, including al Qaeda, Iran and the US occupation. The second attack on the Samarra mosque seems to have been an attempt to derail any such nationalist reconciliation.

LOOKING BACK: Samarra's Al Askiriya shrine, sacred to Iraqi Shia, was built on the spot where, in 878 AD, Shiism's 12th Imam or relgious leader is believed to have been spirited away as a child to an occult realm from where he watches over the world. Iraqi Shia believe that the line of legitimate Imams was interrupted with the 12th Imam, the Mahdi ("the disappeared one"), and so they call themselves "Twelvers". All subsquent Imams rule only as proxies for the Mahdi and therefore can only decide on relgious matters. Milleniarian Shia, like Moqtada al Sadr, believe that the Mahdi will return one day as a saviour and, after an apocalypse, inaugurate a new world free of sin and suffering.

In 827, in Saudi Arabia, Al-Hadi, the future 10th Shia Imam, was born; and in 827 be became Imam at the age of six. In 848, Al-Hadi and his son, Al Askari, were taken to Samarra, where they were detained by the Caliph Mutawakkil. In 868, al-Hadi is alleged to have been poisoned and buried near the Mosque of Al Mutassim. Al Askari succeeded Al-Hadi as Imam but remained under house arrest until his deatj in 874. He was buried beside his father in the old Mutassim mosque. It was Al Askari's son, the infant Imam, who was hidden in a cellar there before his disappearacne in 878.

The alleged disappearacne occurred at a time when the Sunni Abassid Caliphate of Baghdad was verging on decline. The Shia were tolerated then and soon would be invited to share power. There had aready been signs that the Abassids were straying from the Koran while the more vigorous Shia Saminids ruled Persia, and the west Persian Buwahids gained in local power around Baghdad. Between 836 and 892, the Abassids moved the Caliphate to Samarra where they lost power increasingly to their own corps of Turkish bodyguards. It was in Samarra, in 869, that the 12th Imam, the Mahdi, was born, where his forbears had been under house arrest.

The legend of the disappearacne and the missing Imam's divine status may have been a sign of growing Shia power and confidence at time of Sunni Abbasid decline. Indeed, in 892, the Caliph moved the capital from Samarra back to Baghdad to escape his Turkish guard. Shortly afterward, in Egypt, the Shia Fatimids threatened the Abassids from the west.

In the 930s, to the east, the Shia Buwahids increased in power in western Persia and eastern Iraq and in 932, the Caliph of Baghdad allowed the Buwahids to rule as a counterweight to the Turks in Samarra. As a result, the Caliph was effectively supplanted by a Buwahid king, Muizz al Dawla al Buyd. The Abassid Caliphate survived in name only with the Caliphs reduced to administrative figureheads. The Shia, now fully in control of the Baghdad region, declared officially, in 941, that the Mahdi, the 12th Imam, had disappeared in Samarra back in 873.

In 992, the Hawza or seminary was instituted in Najaf in order to produce the Shia clerics and Imams who would rule on behalf of the Mahdi. The Hawza exists to this day and the head cleric there and spiritual leader of the Shia of Iraq is the Ayatollah Sistani.

Samarra's Al Askirya shrine, built in 1905, houses the tombs of the 10th and 11th Imams- Ali al-hadi, who doed in 868 and his son, Hassan Askiriya, who died in 874.

FROM PAST INTO PRESENT: After the 7th century succession stuggle for the Caliphate, in which the followers of Ali, the prophet's son-in- law, were designated Shia, and those of Abu Bakr, the prophet's companion, took the name Sunni, Sunni and Shia and lived side by side in Mesopotamia, where the Shia had first settled. The 8th century Abassid Caliphate was practical, the Shia were tolerated and when things got difficult the Abassids turned to strong Shia Persian dynasties for help. Shia Buwahid rule lasted until the 11th century when they were ousted by the Seljuk Turks. Iraq was dismembered for the next couple of centuries by the Seljuks and by the the invasions of the Mongols and Tamerlane and finally by the Turkmens.

Shia Sunni rivalry re-emerged with the conversion of all of Persia to Shiism in the 16th century and the conversion of Iraq into three Sunni-ruled provinces by the Ottoman Turks. Control of the Baghdad region swung back and forth between Persia and the Ottomans, alternately favoruing Shia and Sunni. By the time the Ottomas had reasserted control, the Shia in Iraq had become the lower class, dependant on Persia for religious support.

Persia itself adopted Shia Iraq's legend of the Mahdi, which was to become important in modern Iranian concepts of clerical rule.

In all Shia struggles, through the Shia-led rebellion against the Britisjh in Iraq in 1920, to persecution under Saddam Hussein, the Mahdi remained a source of apocalyptic hope among radical, political Shia.

After the 1979 clerical revolution in Iran, the country's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini reinterpreted the Najaf Hawza's doctrine on the Mahdi, claiming not to rule as any humble proxy for the Mahdi, but with greater secular as well as spiritual power, as the Mahdi's divinely chosen deputy on earth. In some moments, Khmoeini even thought of himself as the Mahdi. President Ahmedinejad, like Khomeini, has claimed to have had private communications with the missing 12th Iman.

In the 1980s, when the Najaf seminary (Hawza) became divided between the moderate or "Silent" seminary of the Al Khoei clerical family and the "Outspoken" or radical seminary of the Al Sadrs (to which Moqtada al Sadr is heir), the "Mahdist" or millenarian radicals tended to proliferate on the edges of the "outspoken" Sadrist group.

Conventiently, "Mahdists" look on the present conflict in Iraq as the apocalyptic prelude to the coming of the Mahdi and the meting out of justice against the occupiers, the Sunnis and often Christians and jews as well.

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