Wednesday, July 28, 2004


Order in Chaos!

Sunni-Shiite Strife (2)

Sunnis generally go to mosques; Shiites go to Husseineyyahs. A Husseineyyah is, for all intents and purposes, a mosque where, in addition to the usual prayers and services, additional services are performed in mourning of the Imam Hussein [Profit Muhammad's grandson who is much revered by most Muslims but particularly by Shiites for his stand for what he believed in, in the face of certain death. In an uneven battle, he and all 72 of his extended family were massacred].


The following events took place several months ago, in those days of total chaos and lack of government, police and courts. The timing, which coincided with fears of Sunni-Shiite possible strife, could not have been worse.

In a small town of mixed Shiite-Sunni population and governed by tribal relations, the Shiites didn't have a Husseineyyahs and wanted to build one. Some Sunnis objected to the plot of land chosen for that purpose as being too close to the existing mosque. Tempers ran high.

Some Sunni young men fired some shots at the metal sign announcing the building.

Hajji Obaid [A Hajji is one who has made pilgrimage to Mecca] was an elderly Sunni man living in that town. He paid a visit to the man in charge of the project, Abu Ammar, and told him that he could see trouble brewing and that he would bear all responsibility for any mishap following his insistence on going on with the project.

Two days later, that man was shot dead in broad day-light by people unknown in the area.

Abu Ammar's tribe accused Hajji Obaid of being behind the killing and naturally there was much coming and going, mutual threats and bad feelings.

Hajji Obaid was declared "Persona non Grata" by Abu Ammar's people and word was sent that he would not be welcome at the Fat-ha [A reception of three days' duration where people go to express condolences to the deceased's kin]. It seemed that things could easily get out of control.

Hajji Obaid's tribe decided to go to the Fat-ha in exceptionally large numbers to express solidarity and friendship.

Tribal chiefs and elders from other tribes in the area started working like a beehive to mediate and prevent things from getting worse. Hajji Obaid insisted on his innocence throughout. The murdered man had been his friend; he wouldn't dream of inciting anyone to kill him, he maintained.

Finally, more than two months later, a "tribal court" was convened. Heads of five different tribes (Shiites and Sunnis), agreed on by both sides, sat as arbitrators. They listened to the arguments of both sides and to their witnesses, retired to discuss the matter among themselves, and came out half an hour later with their verdict:

They were convinced that Hajji Obaid's tribe was responsible for the shooting of the building sign. They were fined the sum of two million Dinars (around $ 1400).

As to the killing, they said that there was not sufficient evidence to incriminate Hajji Obaid. Knowing that the man was pious, they had decided that an oath would prove his innocence unless Abu Ammar's tribe objected [implying that the man's sworn word was not acceptable]. They didn't.

Within a week, Hajji Obaid's tribe went to Abu Ammar's people to pay the fine. The fine was accepted in principle but returned. Hajji Obaid swore on the Holy Koran that "his hands, tongue and ears" were all completely innocent of Abu Ammar's murder.

Hajji Obaid's tribal chief donated a sum of money to help build the Husseineyyah. There was a lot of cheek-kissing hugging and pleasant words. The matter was settled completely.

The murderers are still at large… probably doing similar mischief somewhere else on behalf of the many forces of darkness operating freely in lawless Iraq.

This is just one story of many that we have heard of during the past year (and still do). I only told it because I witnessed some of its details first-hand. Any of those many horrible incidents could have ignited a civil war had they not been handled with wisdom and tolerance by the people involved.

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