Tuesday, February 10, 2004

You live in this place for most of your life and you think you know most of the religious festivals and traditions in your country, right? Wrong.

I walked thru Karada street last night only to be surprised by men standing in the middle of an intersection giving away sweets and candy to people in cars and a couple of kids with what was supposed to be fireworks. Karada (which is a predominantly Shai neighborhood) was full of signs congratulating the Shia nation on the occasion of the Eid al-Ghadeer (Eid is a religious celebration). Not wanting to look like an idiot I took the candy, shook hands with the nice gentlemen and ran home to my in-house Shia expert, my Mom.
She gave me the strangest answer ever: “oh yes, Ghadeer, of course. You have to go find and kiss 7 [illwiya]s. It will bring you good luck” – illwiya is a female descendant from the family of the prophet – kids when your parents give you strange answers try Google. Her sister was a bit more helpful; she suggested I go take a look at the Final speech made by the Prophet Mohammed before he died (the Farewell speech). But I still didn’t get it, there is nothing in it that would make the Shia so especially happy. Unless there is something my school textbook is not saying. As I said; try Google.

It turns out that the Ghadeer thing is the best way to explain the Shia/Sunni schism in a nutshell. Sit comfortably, take a sip of that beer and get ready for a story.


It is the year 10 according to the Muslim Calendar; the prophet has just finished his first (and last) pilgrimage to Mecca, to the house of Allah. On his way back he announces to the 100,000 Muslims following him on that pilgrimage that he has just received a message thru the heavenly Information Highway. They stop at a small pond called Khumm (pond in Arabic is Ghadeer, which makes it Ghadeer Khum). The prophet delivers his last speech to the congregation, starting with saying that he fears he will not meet the faithful in this place next year, somewhere in the middle he says the following:
I am leaving for you two precious things and if you adhere both of them, you will never go astray after me. They are the Book of Allah and *my progeny, which is my Ahlul-Bayt.*.
So with that his family, his descendants were given a free Divine upgrade so to say. But it gets better, later in that speech he also says:
Whoever I am his leader (Mawla), Ali is his leader (Mawla). O' Allah, love those who love him, and be hostile to those who are hostile to him.
And presto you have a schism, you see there were others who had their eyes on the quickly growing thing that was called Islam and they were not going to give that over to this young Ali just because he was the Prophet’s cousin. As I pointed out earlier their full name was [Shi’at Ali] which means the group of Ali. They were the people who have and are still trying to assert the right of the Prophet’s descendents to lead the Muslim community. And Eid al Ghadeer is a big thing because they plaster the streets that bit from Muhammad’s speech “Man Kuntu Mowlahu fa haza Aliyun Mowlahu - this Ali is the mawla of all those of whom I am mawla”.
This in a nutshell is the start of the split in Islam. Hope you enjoyed the story.


On the long list of things that I have not seen or experienced before the fall of Saddam I can now add a new item, Eid al-Ghadeer. Happy Eid al-Ghadeer to you all.


There was one sign that was so creative in what it proclaimed I thought it deserved a picture

It says “Ali the talking book of Allah”. Imagine that!

Two FunFacts about Eid Al-Ghadeer:
-Funfact 1: Everey year right after the Haj ceremonies the Saudi Government make sure that the pilgrims from Shia nations are on the move and not anywhere near the Ghadeer where that speech took place. Just imagine it, A celebration of Shia legitimacy in a Sunni country; we can't have that, can we now?
-Funfact 2: The thing about kissing seven [Illwiya]s for good luck.... I was wondering why the streets of Karrada didn't turn into a kissing fest when I was told that my mind was filthy: girls kiss girls and the boys kiss boys.....on the cheek. My mind is not filthy....excuse me now I have to go find 7 boys to kiss.