Thursday, June 21, 2007

Shrine Politics

Shrine Politics - Government Arrests "Plotters" in the South
By Amer Mohsen, 19 June 2007
Commenting on the recent bombings of Shi'a and Sunni shrines in Iraq, Al-Sharq al-Awsat’s Rasheed al-Khayyun penned a fascinating article discussing the history and politics behind the tearing-down of revered shrines.
 
One important element that al-Khayyun alludes to –- and which was mostly missing from the analysis of Western journalists –- is that extremist Wahhabi groups may have religious reasons to attack Iraqi shrines, aside from their general anti-Shi'ism, and al-Qa'ida’s political motives (in terms of mobilizing and radicalizing Iraqi Sunnis by inciting sectarian strife).
 
Wahhabism is one of the fiercest Salafi sects in its opposition to icons of all kinds. The building of shrines to commemorate dead religious figures is seen as akin to idolatry by the Wahhabi faith. Many of the homes and graves of the Muslim prophet and his companions were carelessly torn down in Mecca and Medina to make way for the building of highrises, since such historical buildings are considered to have no religious significance, and their preservation for their perceived religious value is sternly frowned upon. The departing kings of Wahhabi-dominated Saudi Arabia are traditionally buried unceremoniously in unmarked graves.
 
Al-Khayyun reminds us that the Shi'a shrines in Iraq, housing the graves of the Imams, were equally threatened over two centuries ago, when southern Iraq experienced repeated raids by the Wahhabi armies, originating from Najd (a region in today’s Saudi Arabia) and expanding northward into Iraq’s hinterland, starting from the 18th century all the way into the 1920s. One of the objectives of the iconoclastic Wahhabis was to seize and destroy the revered shrines of Karbala and Najaf. The last such raid occurred in 1922, al-Khayyun says, and resulted in a Sunni-Shi'a conference in Baghdad, in which Sunni clerics announced that they would defend the holy shrines of 'Ali and Husain.
 
It should be noted that not only Shi'a shrines fell victim to al-Qa'ida’s bombs, several Sunni and Sufi temples were also targeted by the extremist group. The destruction of al-Qadiriya shrine last month was a major calamity for millions of Sufis around the world, who witnessed the grave of the revered Sheikh 'Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani turned into rubble. It is also noticeable that Rasheed al-Khayyun refrained from using the term “Wahhabi” throughout the article, and referred to the armies of Ibn Wahhab as “the Ikhwan.” Khayyun writes for Saudi-owned al-Sharq al-Awsat, in which any criticism of the Saudi regime or the Wahhabi sect is virtually forbidden.

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