“Riverbend”, a young Sunni secular woman in Baghdad, wrote yesterday: Tensions...
Things are not good in Baghdad.
There was an explosion this morning in a mosque in Samarra, a largely Sunni town. While the mosque is sacred to both Sunnis and Shia, it is considered one of the most important Shia visiting places in Iraq. Samarra is considered a sacred city by many Muslims and historians because it was made the capital of the Abassid Empire, after Baghdad, by the Abassid Caliph Al-Mu’tasim.
The name “Samarra” is actually derived from the phrase in Arabic “Sarre men ra’a” which translates to “A joy for all who see”. This is what the city was named by Al-Mu’tasim when he laid the plans for a city that was to compete with the greatest cities of the time- it was to be a joy for all who saw it. It remained the capital of the Abassid Empire for nearly sixty years and even after the capital was Baghdad once again, Samarra flourished under the care of various Caliphs.
The mosque damaged with explosives today is the “Askari Mosque” which is important because it is believed to be the burial place of two of the 12 Shia Imams- Ali Al-Hadi and Hassan Al-Askari (father and son) who lived and died in Samarra. The site of the mosque is believed to be where Ali Al-Hadi and Hassan Al-Askari lived and were buried. Many Shia believe Al-Mahdi ‘al muntadhar’ will also be resurrected or will reappear from this mosque.
I remember visiting the mosque several years ago- before the war. We visited Samarra to have a look at the famous “Malwiya” tower and someone suggested we also visit the Askari mosque. I was reluctant as I wasn’t dressed properly at the time- jeans and a t-shirt are not considered mosque garb. We stopped by a small shop in the city and purchased a few inexpensive black abbayas for us women and drove to the mosque.
We got there just as the sun was setting and I remember pausing outside the mosque to admire the golden dome and the intricate minarets. It was shimmering in the sunset and there seemed to be a million colors- orange, gold, white- it was almost glowing. The view was incredible and the environment was so peaceful and calm. There was none of the bustle and noise usually surrounding religious sites- we had come at a perfect time. The inside of the mosque didn’t disappoint either- elaborate Arabic script and more gold and this feeling of utter peace… I’m grateful we decided to visit it.
We woke up this morning to news that men wearing Iraqi security uniforms walked in and detonated explosives, damaging the mosque almost beyond repair. It’s heart-breaking and terrifying. There has been gunfire all over Baghdad since morning. The streets near our neighborhood were eerily empty and calm but there was a tension that had us all sitting on edge. We heard about problems in areas like Baladiyat where there was some rioting and vandalism, etc. and several mosques in Baghdad were attacked. I think what has everyone most disturbed is the fact that the reaction was so swift, like it was just waiting to happen.
All morning we’ve been hearing/watching both Shia and Sunni religious figures speak out against the explosions and emphasise that this is what is wanted by the enemies of Iraq- this is what they would like to achieve- divide and conquer. Extreme Shia are blaming extreme Sunnis and Iraq seems to be falling apart at the seams under foreign occupiers and local fanatics.
No one went to work today as the streets were mostly closed. The situation isn’t good at all. I don’t think I remember things being this tense- everyone is just watching and waiting quietly. There’s so much talk of civil war and yet, with the people I know- Sunnis and Shia alike- I can hardly believe it is a possibility. Educated, sophisticated Iraqis are horrified with the idea of turning against each other, and even not-so-educated Iraqis seem very aware that this is a small part of a bigger, more ominous plan…
Several mosques have been taken over by the Mahdi militia and the Badir people seem to be everywhere. Tomorrow no one is going to work or college or anywhere.
People are scared and watchful. We can only pray.
See: Baghdad Burning