Shi'ites free to celebrate Festival of Hussein after 25 years

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 23 Apr 2003

By Shahanaaz Habib in Baghdad

KERBALA: Beating their chests with their hands, the Shi'ite Muslims came in the hundreds of thousands to the holy site where Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein was beheaded. 

Mostly on foot, they walked for days from as far away as Nasiriyah, Umm Qasr, Basra and Baghdad for the Festival of Hussein. 

All along the road to this town, groups of people prepared water, tea, food and dates to offer for free to the “pilgrims” making that journey. 

Some sprayed rose water on “pilgrims” so they would smell sweet instead of sweaty. 

Others put up tents for the “pilgrims” to rest their sore feet for a while before continuing their long walk, some guided traffic and others checked cars and people for weapons. 

But to the US, the Shi'ites in Iraq must seem like an ungrateful lot. 

After all, it is thanks to them and the war on Iraq that the Shiites now get to celebrate their festival in the open. 

The festival was banned for 25 years by Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, and under the old government even playing a cassette of poetry relating the history leading to Hussein’s death was a punishable offence. 

The Shi'ites are saying ”thank you America” for ousting Saddam, just as quickly they are saying “America get out of Iraq now”. 

Karim Kamil, who was making that pilgrimage on foot, gets angry whenever he sees US tanks and weapons on the road. 

“I feel insulted. We are civilians, we have no weapons with us.  

“The US are in front of us civilians to show that they want to make us slaves.  

“They brought us democracy with weapons and tanks. They burn our buildings and organisations and then want to help us rebuild these to leave their mark here. 

“They want to show they are doing us a favour and make us forget the crime they did.  

“But all Iraqi people feel they are our enemy. If they don’t leave soon, we will not kick them out. We’ll bury them here,” he said, spitting venom for the US-led forces. 

As for the talk about a Sunni-Shi'ite split among Iraqi Muslims, most believe in Iraq there is no difference between them. 

“All this talk about Sunni or Shi'ite is rubbish. It is an invention of the media,” said Amar Shwar. 

Stressing that Allah and Islam is one regardless of whether one was Sunni or Shi'ite, he accused America of trying to play the divisive card among them. 

“We will bury the regime which tries to separate us,” he said as he continued on his two-day journey. 

Kerbala is about 100km from Baghdad. Iraq is made of 60% Shi'ites while the minority Sunnis have been the ones holding political power. 

Another “pilgrim” Ahmad Awad was “sure” that the US wanted to drive a wedge between Sunnis and Shi'ites and hoped any new Iraqi leader would not “put any holes between us.” 

“It was Saddam who separated the people.  

“Now that he is gone, Sunnis and Shi'ites would unite. Thank you America,” said yet another “pilgrim” Ahmad Kassim who also demanded the US leave.  

“This country is not for sale. Get out now, America,” he said. 

For Muhammad Ali, it was the US who made Saddam into a hero for the Muslim world when the leader was in fact a “bloody man.” 

“The US did not come here to give Iraq freedom. Don’t forget they were the ones who put Saddam in power in the first place.  

“Our people know that Saddam was on America’s side serving them until he stopped later.  

“And now the US is going to put another man who can serve them. 

“But we refuse anyone who serves US' interests here. Any place that the US place their feet, they destroy it completely,” he said. – JMTM 

Earlier articles from Baghdad by Shahanaaz Habib:  

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