“Moharram in Damascus” by Ali Khan

“Moharram in Damascus” by Ali Khan
Dispatch 13 (10/1/2009) Syria Comment

I was slightly fearful of coming back to Syria because I thought that I might have forgotten a lot of the Arabic over the break. Like any good student I took my books home but then only managed to go over them a few times. I came back a week ago but the trip back was frustrating.The Indian officer in Delhi Airport refused to believe that I resembled the picture in my passport because my beard was a bit thicker than in the photo. I suppose people everywhere are becoming more and more nervous, especially in India, after what happened in Bombay. Dense fog delayed the flight for four hours and then there was a three-hour wait in Doha. In order to avert another problem with picture recognition I bought an electric shaver at the airport in Doha and while we were in the air on the way to Damascus I shaved off my beard. Needless to say people were a bit perplexed as to why I has done it, except for the Syrian gentleman who was sitting next to me. As soon as he saw me, he broke out into a huge smile and said naaiman, which is the traditional greeting to someone who has just had a haircut, a shave or even a shower. Apparently the shave was not enough to assuage the concerns of the immigration officer in Damascus who stared at my picture for about fifteen minutes. Even I have not stared at myself for that long! Actually, I think he was a bit perplexed as to how an Indian had a 6-month multiple entry visa. Finally, I managed to persuade him of my good intentions and was happy to discover that my Arabic was not that rusty after all.

A picture of a Sabeel, where passers by and pilgrims are offered free hot drinks. Photo by Ketan Gajria

A picture of a Sabeel, where passers by and pilgrims are offered free hot drinks. Photo by Ketan Gajria

When I was leaving India I saw a poor middle-aged man crying by the security barrier. He was carrying a small plastic bag with his passport and ticket. His family had lined up on the other side to say goodbye to him and they too were all virtually weeping. I was so moved to see this graying man go to each member of his family, young and old, to kiss their hand ask for their forgiveness for anything he might have done that caused them pain. I realised that he was probably going away for a long period, perhaps even a few years, to work, most likely as a manual labourer, so that he could send money back to India. I am so grateful to have been able to go home just for a month.I came back the day before my classes were meant to start. The day I returned was the 6th of Moharram. Moharram is the first month of the Islamic New Year. The first ten days of Moharram are particularly significant as they commemorate the period in which Imam Hussain, the grandson of the prophet, went to Karbala with his family and friends in order to take a stand against the injustices of the Umayyad Caliphate. He and his 72 companions were martyred there on the tenth day, after three days without food and water, by the armies of Yazid, who was the Umayyad Caliph in Damascus at the time. After the massacre of Imam Hussain’s army, including the killing of his 6-month year old son, the women of his family and his ailing son were taken to Damascus. His young daughter died in prison there and her tomb still stands in the old city in Damascus. It is popularly known as Seyyida Ruqayya.

Saida Ruqia interior. Photo by Ketan Gajria

Saida Ruqia interior. Photo by Ketan Gajria

Saida Ruqia interior. Photo by Ketan Gajria

Imam Hussain’s sister’s shrine is also just outside the old city of Damascus and is known as Seyyida Zainab. An entire Shia community has evolved and established itself around the shrines and Shia from all over the world come to Damascus to pay homage to and seek the blessings of the granddaughter and the great-granddaughter of the Prophet. I wanted to experience Moharram in Damascus and so I came back early.

After coming home, I went to buy some groceries and saw that one part of my street had been covered in black banners, to symbolize a time of mourning. Some had sayings of the Prophet and the Imams written on them in bright colours, others had the names of the martyrs of Karbala and yet others had greetings and prayers written on them. The other new addition was the graffiti against Israel and its allies everywhere. A few houses down from my house is the Madrassa of Sayyid Mohsin al-Amin, who was a great Shia scholar. It is now a government run school but for the ten days of Moharram it is used by the local Shia community to hold their majalis, or meetings in which a preacher would, ex-tempore, recite eulogies in memory of the Imams, a verse from the Quran or a saying of the prophet and then would elaborate on it. This year I think a scholar from Lebanon had come to read the majlis. Every evening I would see a fleet of Mercedes covered with antennae, with the distinctive ‘Liban’ number plates, roar onto the street and stop outside the main entrance to the school. Big men with metal detectors searched everyone who went into the building. This year, because of the horrendous events of Gaza there were posters outside the school and around my area praying for the Palestinian people.  The area around the school is known as Shari’a al-Amin and is the main Shia neighborhood in the old city. In the evenings when I walked to the bus stop to take a servees to Seyyida Zainab, I had to walk through Shari’a al-Amin. The whole street was draped in black banners and most of the shopkeepers and local residents were dressed in black from head to toe, as a sign of being in mourning. Loudspeakers blasted latmiyyahs, or eulogies in memory of Karbala, recited by famous personalities. [Listen in English or Arabic] Mullah Basim al-Karbalai of Iraq seems to be the most popular.

Seyyida Zainab had been completely transformed in the time that I was away. For Moharram the main street in front of the shrine was blocked off so one had to get off earlier and walk. The streets were covered in black banners and there was a river of black clad people flowing in and out of the shrine. A few hundred yards before the shrine a couple of stalls had been set up. These are known as sabeels. Each sabeel had a picture of a different Ayatollah and inevitably, most also had a picture of the Presidents of Syria and Iran. The stalls were handing out free tea, hot milk and biscuits to the pilgrims in the name of Imam Hussain and the martyrs of Karbala. I think each stall was patronised by a different Ayatollah. Moqtada as-Sadr who is not of the rank of an Ayatollah also had a stall in his name. One or two of the sabeels had been set up by groups of young men who had pooled together money in order to distribute tea. On the last two evenings I noticed that trucks would arrive at about eight o’clock and would stop just after the sabeels. They would be laden with big steaming cauldrons and vats and as soon as people saw them, they would rush towards them. Rice and chickpeas or sometimes other hot food was handed out in Styrofoam plates to the eager pilgrims. Minivans would come and distribute oranges and fruit to passers by. People who could not afford to hand out food in such vast quantities contributed in their own way and often I would see a man lugging around a crate or two of fruit, handing it out to people who walked passed him. In addition to the sabeels, people had set up stalls to sell Moharram Memorabilia. The uniquely American habit of printing and selling T-Shirts for a special occasion seems to have caught on here too. Shops were full of baseball hats, bracelets, T-shirts, bandanas, flags, posters, wristbands, headbands, rings and key chains emblazoned with the name of Imam Hussain or his cousin Sayyidna Abul Fadhl Abbas, who was also martyred in Karbala and is renowned for his bravery and military prowess.

The shrine itself had been cleaned, the golden dome polished and the marble courtyards scrubbed until they sparkled. The atmosphere was very different from how it was during normal days. There was a constant hushed murmur as people prayed and the shrine was quieter than usual. Nearly everyone was wearing black. Inside, the caretakers who take people’s shoes so that one doesn’t have to leave them outside greeted people by saying, ‘may God grant the greatest reward to you who mourn Imam Hussain’ rather than the usual greeting of ‘may peace be upon you.’ Inside the shrine, where the zari, or tomb is, the air reverberated with the hum of people praying. The door had been covered with a beautifully ornate and heavy curtain so that the heat was trapped inside. The actual tomb is surrounded by a thick and heavy cage of pure silver. The constant throng of pilgrims touching and kissing the zari makes it somewhat dull for most of the year but obviously it had been polished to perfection for Moharram. A velvet banner with golden letters that read ‘peace upon you O Zainab, hung on one side of the zari. The inside of the shrine was sparkling with the light from the chandeliers being reflected by the thousands of little mirrors. Nearer the zari one could see men and hear women on the other side, crying and weeping as if they had lost one of their own family members. A young boy, still in his teens, stood respectfully in front of the zari and in a quivering voice recited a eulogy in memory of Seyyida Zainab. Slowly a group of men, old and young, gathered behind the boy and silently shed tears as he poignantly described how Seyyida Zainab and her family had been brought to Damascus as prisoners, walking behind a man who carried the head of Imam Hussain aloft on a spear.

Since people from various different nationalities come to Damascus for Moharram, majalis (plural of majlis) are held in different Hussainiyas, halls where people gather to remember Imam Hussain. I managed to attend an Iraqi majlis, an Irani majlis, an Indian majlis, a Pakistani majlis and an Afghan majlis in the few days before the tenth day. Obviously each majlis was special and evocative in describing the plight of the martyrs of Karbala but I was particularly moved by the Afghan majlis.

The Afghan Sayyid with the black turban is sitting on the minbar reading the majlis on the night of the 9th of Moharram. Photo by Ketan Gajria

The Afghan Sayyid with the black turban is sitting on the minbar reading the majlis on the night of the 9th of Moharram. Photo by Ketan Gajria

A friend of mine saw me standing inside the shrine and asked me to follow him. We crossed the courtyard and went into a small-carpeted room that was divided into two by a black curtain. One part was for men and the other for women. The lights were very dim, making it seem as if it was lit by candles. I looked around and I think I was the only non-Afghan there. Most of the Afghans are Hazaras who are Shia and have long been a persecuted minority in Afghanistan. They are distinguishable by their Mongoloid features. The Afghans in Syria are nearly all refugees with a large number of them arriving here during the Taleban’s brutal years of government. The preacher was a short, slim man and he wore the distinctive black turban that marked him out as a descendant of the Prophet. He read a short and simple sermon in Pharsi that was especially meant for the large number of children who had gathered there. After this, in a hauntingly mellifluous and melodic voice he recited a poem recounting Seyyida Ruqayya’s reaction to her father’s death and Seyyida Zainab’s reaction to her brother’s death. Whereas often preachers get very emotional and animated when reciting these eulogies, the Sayyid remained stock still on the minbar, or pulpit. His eyes were closed and his head slightly lifted as if he was reciting to the sky. He clasped his hands together and would very occasionally lift one of them to wipe away his tears. The emotionally charged composure with which he recited the poem, for me, reflected the dignity and quiet pride of the Afghan people here, who still face great hardship and suffering.

On the night preceding the tenth day the Iraqis took out their procession and walked around the shrine all night. The shrine is kept open all night and the rush of people did not diminish as the darkness slipped by. I could hear the drums well into night, pounding out a war beat. People carried mish’al, or torches that were kept alight by a man who went from person to person adding kerosene if their fire was fading.

The Iraqi procession on the streets outside Seyyida Zainab. People are carrying Mishaals. Photo by Ketan Gajria

The Iraqi procession on the streets outside Seyyida Zainab. People are carrying Misha'als. Photo by Ketan Gajria

The Pakistanis held their majlis in one corner of the courtyard and then proceeded to walk into the shrine carrying an ‘alam, or a standard, with inscriptions of the Quran and the names of the Prophet and the Imams. I was standing next to the zari when they entered and before I knew it, I was asked to hold the ‘alam while they did matam, the ritual and rhythmical beating of the chest accompanied by a nouha, or eulogy. In Arabic the eulogy is called a latmiyyah and in Pharsi and Urdu it is called nouha. The nouha was in Punjabi and while they were in the shrine, the lights were switched off. All one could hear was the thunderous echoing of the matam and the solitary mournful voice that was reciting the nouha.

The Pakistani Anjuman doing Matam outside the main gate to Seyyida Zainab. Photo by Ketan

The Pakistani Anjuman doing Matam outside the main gate to Seyyida Zainab. Photo by Ketan

I was honoured and surprised that I was handed the ‘alam as I was dressed in Arab clothes and there were many others around who were dressed in Pakistani clothes and would have been more obvious choices. Afterwards, I went home to get warmer clothes and on my way back, walking through Shari’a al-Amin I saw that sabeels had been set up there too. I huge mustachioed Syria man waylaid me and offered me a sesame biscuit and a steaming cup of hot chocolate. The next morning I got up early to go back to Seyyida Zainab but when I got to Shari’a al-Amin I discovered that the whole street was jam packed with pilgrims. In addition to this, some clever minivan driver had decided to drive through the crowd causing even more complications. I spent the rest of the day at Seyyida Zainab and in the evening, before sunset I went to Seyyida Ruqayya’s shrine.

Classes have begun. Damascus is cold, though sometimes because of the schizophrenic weather here, we manage to get a couple of hours of sunshine. I hope that the terrible events in Gaza will cease soon and that sanity will prevail. Everyone is glued to their televisions here, watching minute-by-minute coverage of the crisis. Until next week, Ma’as Salaam!

Comments (22)

Itay said:

The Most watched game in the world: the Middle East Olympics

Here we go again! Another 2 years have passed and we have our bi-annual contest between the good vs. bad with another Israel-Arab round of “games”.
We get our coverage of the games from the “Jewish controlled media” but for some reason they forgot to cover all the previous matches. Not that they were a “match” in the traditional sense of the word, rather just a warm up by team Hamas. Team Hamas had just 15,000 shots on goal as 15,000 rockets were shot at Israel since they gained their sovereignty in 2005 and have long been not answered. “OK”, Israel said; “you challenged me to a game, so we’ll have our bi-annual match and play the game you invented.” The only game the Radical Muslim Arabs have invented since the Middle Ages is the game of War against non-Muslims. When Israel comes to the field, it should not play by the same rules of the game the Muslims invented and played in Sudan, Iraq, Bosnia, Somalia, Chechnya, Iran and Lebanon. No, Israel should play by different rules; play the game according to Western humanitarian rules while the other side still plays with the old familiar Middle East street rules.
Well, it also doesn’t help Israel that the referee is an organization created after a Jewish catastrophe: the holocaust, and is totally disregarding the mandate he was created for. The ref is supposed to be preventing atrocities and promoting human rights. This referee, in fact has a majority of Muslim nations watching over human rights abuse. Have you heard of the expression letting the cat watch the milk? Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia, Iran all managed to escape with not even so much as a whistle blow from the human rights observer, but guess who did not?
Its round two in the series and the players are getting on the field. Now all the analysts come on to the field and start analyzing the game. They call the game Israel vs. Hamas or Israel vs. Palestine, but they are missing the entire picture. Even the name of the match is wrong; it should be Israel vs. The Arab world at the least or better known as The Free World who embraces Western values vs. Radical Islamic Jihad. By western values; I mean human rights, humanitarian efforts, freedom and democracy – you know, all the ones that the predominantly Muslim UN referee stands for. Some analysts of the game, mostly in the American channels, started calling the game by its real name. They know that once this game is over, the winning Muslims will go to the next playoffs phase, Europe then America and then the trophy and the championship ring… world domination with the extermination of the non-Muslim infidels.
So, the game is now being played with Israel playing according to the Major league rules of proportionality while the Arabs play with street rules. The analysts start asking why is this game even played? After all, there is the Annapolis two state solution agreement already. In Camp David, the Arabs were already offered 95% of the Palestinian territory including East Jerusalem (where the Jewish quarter is) as their capital. Also they are confused about the ‘Free Gaza’ signs the fans are holding in the stands. Wasn’t Gaza freed? Didn’t the Israelis pull out of this formerly Egyptian territory? Israel controlled Gaza unfortunately, after they won another Arab game – the Six Days War.
Now the statistics start pouring in and the Europeans can’t have enough of it. The Eurovision is quite boring, there are two more years till the next Euro soccer championship. They’re just eating these cheese and crackers on their sofas while watching the best show in the world; a barbarian Middle Eastern fight while they scream to the TV and trying to direct the players on the field. They add their own commentary and analysis. The cameras however, are only focusing on the offence of one team and wow they are beating them big time! The cameras don’t show the defense of team Israel and they start analyzing the statistic and reach the conclusion that Israel is playing the Middle Eastern game better, meaning they are the bad side. Jews are Middle Eastern after all, that’s what the guy with the mustache said 60 years ago when he called for their annihilation. That’s what every country in Europe said when they persecuted the Jewish people for millennia until we got the hint and did what they asked us to, and went back to our home court to play in our league. After 2000 seasons in the Euroleague we brought something back to our not welcoming new league, we brought back Jewish and Western values of compassion and humanitarianism to a league that had not played by these rules for years.
American audience is watching it and knows that Israel plays by these rules and knows we are not baby killers. Statistically, 80% of American Jews are liberal and/or active in human rights group. Jews started the Negro Advancement Group and were lynched in Mississippi while marching for African American human rights. The European audience is still not convinced though.
Much like American football, Europeans can’t understand this game either. They realize a team needs to score touchdowns and enjoy watching ESPN best plays, but don’t bother explaining to them about how many tries you have to pass how many yards, they know who the better team is from the statistic of a game they don’t even understand. So, they get the statistics, the latest talk about 700 Palestinian deaths, out of them 200 are civilians and on the other team 13 Israelis. They reach the ‘expert’ opinion that Israel wins the Arab war game and hence is the bad side. I got to admit we play defense pretty well and even though the other side had 15,000 shots on goal in three years, and about double that in the past 8 years, compared to our 100 bombs. Since Israel started its offence 12 days ago, they managed to keep their net relatively cleaner. They are winning the Arab game. Some feel like they need to win more convincingly, since after the last game with Hezbollah when Israel got some of their political objectives, Hezbollah claimed victory because Israel was pressured to stop the game in the middle. As long as Israel is pressured by the international community to stop defending itself they declare victory for the ‘resistance’ that doest really resist anything but logic and peace. When the Muslims feel confident they can take us in their own game they continue to play again and again until they win their long waited championship game: the annihilation of the state of Israel.

If we win the Arab game, they definitely win ours, the Public relations game. All the bright Wall Street Jewish strategy planners and all the Jewish genius that created Hollywood to win hearts and minds don’t help us. The monopoly of the victimized people have transferred from the people who suffered the holocaust to the poor ‘freedom fighters’ who gained their freedom but for some reason are still fighters. The Arab Muslims realized that Israel and the West are compassionate societies like the Arab world will probably never be, so they play by ‘our rules’. When Hamas and Hezbollah, who target civilians were answered by Israel who targeted militants and by error hit a school and killed innocent women and children the entire world opinion and Israeli public opinion was shocked and appalled, rightfully so. Then came the second most important invention of Islam since the war game, the ‘let’s win the Zionists and crusaders in their own turf PR game’. Simple, they know how sacred life is in Israel that they will defend themselves when they get shot at; they also know how sensitive world opinion is to civilian casualties. The Arabs think to themselves “Brilliant! Now, let’s brainwash our kids to die as martyrs and take them or force them to come to a school and then shoot from this school. Now when Israel retaliates we’ll have 100 dead kids, the entire world pressure and public opinion will force Israel to stop their preemptive offence, and we’ll declare victory again (and who counts the kids of course, much like the Israelis they are irrelevant too).” This pattern has worked in Lebanon in the games played in 1993, 1996, 2000 and 2006. The strategy is so good that Hamas has hired Hezbollah’s coach. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0wJXf2nt4Y)
The West feels so bad for the Palestinians who are getting exploited by Hamas (rightfully so) that it donates more money for humanitarian causes in Gaza than to the entire continent of Africa. It is needless to say that the petro-rich Arab brothers from Qatar and the Emirates are far less generous than the US, Europe or even hold your breath, archenemy Israel. The problem is that Hamas is receiving this humanitarian aid and instead of feeding its people, it’s buying weapons to ‘liberate’ the already liberated Gaza strip. Hamas has mastered the PR game so well, that Europeans are so eager to cease fire. It is so good to tell the players on the field what to do, when you sit at your nice comfortable sofa in the Alps without worrying about the consequences. I agree we should cease fire, but when the UN feels safe enough to move its security council to Sderot or the French foreign ministry that pushes aggressively for ceasefire feels safe enough to relocate to Israel’s fourth largest city, Beer Sheva, than we should definitely ceasefire.
This game can’t go on anymore, and not just for the sake of Israel, but because the real trophy is Europe, America and eventually the World. There is only one way to let this game end. This game wasn’t created by the Palestinians fighting for freedom or the occupying Jewish state. Long before there was a Jewish state, Arabs killed Jews in 1921,1929 and 1936 and each time they managed to convince the British that they killed the Jews for a reason. This stopped a Jewish return to their homeland, from the chambers of Auschwitz. In 1937 the Phil committee decided to divide the land to Israel (22% of the land) and Palestine (78%). Who agreed and who wanted to keep playing games? Then 1947 came, and the UN decided to part Israel to an Arab state and a Jewish state and again who agreed and who kept playing? Then 1956, 1967, and 1973 etc… All these games were not played by the weaker and poor Palestinian side (There was no notion of a Palestinian at the time; they were just general Arabs living in Jordan and Egypt without a unique identity and national ambitions). These games were all played by the Arab world with a population of 325 million and size of 12.9 million square kilometers (All of Europe is 10 million square kilometers.) backed by 1.2 Billion Muslims vs. a tiny Jewish state of Six million (One million of them Arabs that gladly stay there and enjoy political freedoms they can never have in the Arab world.) and 20,770 sq. kil. (Half the size of Switzerland). Only when the Arabs saw they can’t win the conventional game, they started playing the PR game and pretend they are freedom fighters for poor occupied Palestine. The PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) was actually started in 1964, while ‘Palestine’ was occupied after the Arabs lost the Six Days War. A war they started in 1967.
The Arabs managed to master the PR game to play on European guilt over colonialism and intolerance and let them believe that the Jews who suffered from all these intolerances built an ‘apartheid nation’. They also played on European anti-Semitism. Europeans always say that you can be critical of Israel without being an anti-Semite, well if you are critical of a country defending itself from people who want it to have the same fate as Hitler did, you are! If you criticize Israel for proportionality when it defends itself, it means you want it to fight with one hand behind its back so you don’t care about how many people in Israel die. When you criticize Israel for sending ground troops to a sovereign nation that launches missiles against it to halt it, while you wouldn’t have asked that from your European neighbor you are. If the IRA would attack the UK from Ireland, France wouldn’t say that England’s reaction was unproportionate. If missiles from Morocco fall on Spain and it will decide to invade Morocco to eliminate the threat, no European nation would ever question Spain’s motives.
To stop these games, the referee needs to delegitimize the offender and not punish and put pressure on the one who plays by the rules. Only when the Gazans would see themselves that Hamas gets them to nowhere and the international community doesn’t believe their PR games and knows that they brought it on themselves, they would understand it’s not serving their purpose to support Hamas, and maybe there will be a chance for peace. The US has realized that a long time ago, it’s about time the rest of the world will too! Also, please I don’t want to hear about the Jewish lobby controlling American foreign policy, we all know that in a democracy 2% of the population and still declining can’t control the entire country’s decision making. While the ‘Protocols of Zion’ are a best seller in the Arab world along with ‘Mein Kempf’ an advanced Western society can’t believe such nonsense. Let’s start cheering for the right side so these games will maybe finish some day.
If you think that I am observing this game from the Israeli gate and can’t get a full- court vision of it, here is the view from rational fans that managed to survive the Arab gate:

January 10th, 2009, 11:56 pm


Shami said:

Syria is not in need of such tourists and their latmiyat and cursing even in farsi or urdu of the companions of the prophet ,Abu Bakr and Umar and his wife the mother of Believers Aisha must not be allowed inside the city of Damascus like in the Ummayad Mosque and souq al hamidiyeh.The quarter on which Ruqaya mosque was built by the iranian government in 1991 should return to the damascene people.
Under the Ottomans ,syrian Jaafari families like Murtada were the managers of of Sayda Zeinab wakf today it’s the iranian embassy ,the syrian government should not allow this kind of expropriation for the sake of the iranian regime.

January 11th, 2009, 12:36 am


Chris said:

Can someone explain to me how post one, the one about the latmiyat, is not racist?

Oh and by the way Shami, Ali Khan is not a tourist. He’s a student of Arabic.

January 11th, 2009, 12:47 am


Chris said:

That was a really pleasant read and some very interesting reportage. Not pretentious in the slightest and really informative.

Thanks Ali Khan.

Oh and by the way, that is a marvelous photo of Sayyida Roqaya Mosque.

January 11th, 2009, 1:08 am


Karim said:

Chris,you misunderstood me ,i meant these tourists like those we see above in the pictures not our dear reporter Ali Khan.And i would like to thank him too for his interesting reports.

January 11th, 2009, 1:18 am


Lee said:

Thank you, Ali Khan, for the wonderful photos and text. Blessings on your return to Damascus!

January 11th, 2009, 1:25 am


Chris said:

Why are the tourists, like the ones above, not liked? And aren’t they pilgrims anyway?

January 11th, 2009, 1:28 am


abdo said:

Thanks SHAMI for the corageous words which represent true Syrian culture rather than this disgusting display of hatred and ignorance of a misguided group which has always distorted true Islamic beliefs. Your slection of the name SHAMI indicates your true Syrianism rather than these outsiders who are seeking to destroy true Syrian identity. In particular, I cannot understand who would find any merits in posting such ugliness like the photo of The Pakistani Anjuman doing Matam.
Syria is in need of more SHAMIS like you who are not afraid to be vocal and quick to point out such ugliness.

January 11th, 2009, 2:09 am


Shami said:

Chris,the shia tourists are welcome if they want to visit in a civilized way these places that they consider holy but look at this video recorded inside suq al hamidiyeh,these commemorations are source of trouble if seen as provocation by the damascenes and this is likely the case.


January 11th, 2009, 5:38 am


Hasan said:

Oh my God, What have you done to the peaceful Umayyad City of Damascus, Bashar Al-Asad? Disgusting Iranians.

January 11th, 2009, 1:53 pm


nafdik said:


Your disdain of the “shia tourist” reminds me so much of islamo-phobic discourse in the west.

January 11th, 2009, 5:35 pm


Shami said:

Dear Nafdiq,it’s not comparable,the phobia of the bad and ugly is logical reaction,what we see here it’s nothing else than an invasion of a public space and an act of provocation that hurt the syrian people in general and the damascenes in particular.

January 12th, 2009, 1:15 am


Hur said:

First of all I would just like to point out that there are also Syrian Shia, so not all the Shia are foreign tourists! . Secondly, I was at Seyyida Zainab and I did not once hear anything negative said about Abu Bakr al-Siddiq or Aisha or anyone else. There are paranoid, xenophobic and bigoted people on both side of the equation and it is precisely such generalisation that is causing so much rift in the Islamic world. Why focus on the stupid comments of a small group of people and use this to charaterise the larger group! I can also post videos of Wahabis and Salafis saying horrible and racist things against the Shia, actually I don’t need to since you vocalise your hatred here, but this would be counterproductive and in no way do their views represent those of the Sunni world. I have read books by the Sheikh of Al-Azhar accepting the Shia as a madhab in Islam. Additionally I condemn those people who curse others as this is not part of either Sunni or Shia Islam but you my friends are indulging in this, which shows you are on the same moral ground as the people in that video you posted. I believe you may have heard of a Quranic verse which says Lakum dinakum waliyadin and La ikraha fi-din!

January 12th, 2009, 2:30 pm


Alia said:

Dear Hur,

I second your wise words. Being both Sunni and Shamiia, I am not unhappy about the Shia honoring the blessed Hussein (ra)as they see fit.
I also believe that racist bigoted discourses do not belong in Islam. Surat al-Hujurat verse 10: “Inama’l mu’meenoona Ikhwa.” {The believers are brothers/sisters]. Each of us can be the first to extend his or her hand, we do not have to constantly highlight the shortcomings of the others.

Now that our brothers and sisters and their children are being pounded by the forces of the enemies from all sides, is it not time to set our disputes to rest ?

January 12th, 2009, 6:14 pm


Shami said:

Yes Hur ,we accept mazhab al Jaafari as a sunni mazhab ,and there is less than 1% of difference.Imam Abu Hanifa and Malek were both students of Jaafar.Imam Jaafar aSadiq was the grandson of Abu Bakr from his mother side and his daughter was named Aisha…the problem is not jaafarism but rafidism which consist most of the time of cursing the sahabis and the wife of the prophet.
So here we are in face of an other version of shia’ism which is rafidism ,we can summarize it by =takfir of 99% of the friends of the prophet among them Umar ,Abu Bakr ,Usman ,Aisha,Zubayr,Talhat…..This rafidism which is the mazhab of the iranian regime consider the wife of the prophet,his most loved wife and he died on her chest , as a woman of bad nature and a whore who had sexual scandals.So when Sheikh of al Azhar some decades ago had accepted Jaafari mazhab as one of the Sunni Mazaheb ,rafidism is not included in it of course.
For example the non rafidi shias ,like the Zaydits are completely merged in the islamic body because they are not source of fitna.

January 12th, 2009, 8:51 pm


Alia said:


Your discourse is not based on the Qur’an:

We are not responsible to judge the belief of others, we need to make sure of our own- fa la tuzakoo anfusakum huwa alam biman-ittaqa. …

The status of the Sahaba (ra) is not a pillar of Islam or a condition of Belief.

January 12th, 2009, 9:04 pm


Shami said:

Hur ,of course they would not dare to insult them in front of you(taqiya) ,there are places for this purpose ,they are called husayniyat.
Now here is my fear ,most of our people in the Muslim countries ignore their true beliefs when they will be aware of that,you guess what the reaction could be.
Here is a sample from the Iranian Ayatollah Shirazi who has one of the biggest hawza in Sayda Zainab.


January 12th, 2009, 9:12 pm


Shami said:

Yes Alia for us as centrist muslims ,it’s allowed to criticize the Sahabis and Ahl al Bayt,but we do it in a civilized way far from this culture of hatred.
This bloody struggle that we see in Iran,Pakistan ,Iraq,Lebanon and Iraq must not be imported to our peaceful land and here the regime must be careful because in the end our syrian alawite community could be confounded with these extremist rafidis.

January 12th, 2009, 9:45 pm


Hur said:


Thank you Alia. Shami, I am a Shia myself so there is no question that ‘they’ would hide something in front of me. Additionally, I know the howza and i know the people in the howza, and granted that there are young guns who get carried away with their emotions and say stupid things, I can guarantee you that the elders and the ulama do not think lilke this. The hate speak happens on the SUnni side too, so if you are to write about the shortcomings of some Shia, then also write about the shortcomings and hate speech of our so called brothers in Saudi and other places! Also, if you want to argue at a religious level, the Shia ulama, wihtout getting abusive, can use your own Sources, Bukhari, Tirmizi, Muslim to show that some of the criticisms are valid. The problem with both sides is that neither can listen to a logical and rational debate. Granted that that Shia will always think that the Imams were Ma’asoomeen and the Sunnis do not think this will always be a difference, but why see the differences. I have read Salafi and Hanbali essays which call Shia worse than apostates. How an this be? It seems that you are choosing to only look outwards and not inwards. Anyway, the long of short of this is the famous hadith of the Prophet, accepted by ALL schools of thought, that the biggest jihad is to introspect and look at ones own thoughts, deeds and actions. Only then can we judge others. And i will like to say the second Aya of the Quran that you and I read says, Alhamdolillah Rab al-‘alameen. IT is importnat to note the right at the begining of the Quran it says ‘alameen and not muslimeen, shia or Sunni or masihiyuun. Wa Allah Azim!

January 13th, 2009, 1:26 pm


Shami said:

Dear Hur,the problem here is that Shirazi is an Aytollah and a MArja3 taqleed ,these dirty words are not from marginal young people carried away with their emotions.

January 14th, 2009, 2:02 am


faizan hussain naqvi said:

This is the wonderfull job done by Mr ali khan, comments given by Mr shaami are ridicilous, in present all the muslims suffers lots of comlications in entire world managed by anti islam powers,Mr shaami proves that he is not a true muslim, bcoz in present era the most aspiring and needy object to face the anti islamic challenges is to campaign more and more intregation among muslims and the post written by Mr shaami proves that he is not the true wellwisher of islam and muslims. one important fact moharram processions are the best way to criticed terrorism and to spread integration among all religions and the finest example is seen in my country india where moharram is commencerated by muslims as well as non muslims also by paying their homage to the worlds greatest martyr HUSAIN bin ALI who sacrifice their life for the rebirth of islam .
May almighty guide him the right path

March 2nd, 2009, 9:59 pm


Hasan said:


I will concede that there are some serious issues about the view the Shia and Sunni take about certain personalities from the early Islamic history. Yes, the Shia don’t look very favorably upon some companions and some wives of the Prophet. So does the Quran. Give yourself the liberty to think independently and research Islam and Islamic history without a Shia or a Sunni bias. Many issues would become clear to you. Sura Tahrim for example will enlighten you about the status of some wives of the Holy Prophet with the Almighty Himself.

A series of events after the demise of the Prophet that ultimately led to the outrageous massacre of the First Family of Islam in Karbala, when seriously researched and studied, will make you realize that the blind and the seeing are not alike. Imam Hussain bin Ali and Yazid bin Muawiyah were not alike.

Muslims as a community have suffered very unfairly as a result of this inherited split. Today, with the world united against Islam and Muslims, we suffer even more. The real enemy is outside Islam and is unashamedly all out to destroy Islam and Muslims. Shia and Sunni alike. No exceptions.

Be aware of this before you condemn the Shia and some of their practices, which have no bearing on the current reality of today’s real world. Do not be gullible and write your own extinction order for the want of a little good sense and forbearance towards your brothers and sisters in faith.

I am a Shia and some of my best friends are Sunni. We just agree to disagree on some contentious issues. Makes an interesting educational discussion occasionally. That is where we leave it.

A little tolerance for differences which were forced upon us by Arab disputes some 1400 plus years ago will go a long way in saving Islam and Muslims from the relentless media and military assaults by the real enemy.


May 21st, 2009, 10:34 pm


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