Sunday, February 26, 2006

Salaam Samarra

Imagine if you could point to the exact spot where the Messiah will appear; or where Jesus Christ disappeared and is expected to return. For Shia Muslims, that spot is in Samarra. On February 22, 2006, someone blew it up.
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One thousand one hundred and seventy years ago a city was built on the Tigris. A well-known Iraqi blogger explains its name: “The name ‘Samarra’ is actually derived from the phrase in Arabic “Sarre men ra’a,” which translates to “A joy for all who see”.
For the next sixty years, magnificent artworks were created, powerful literature written, and the largest mosque ever built of bricks and mortar was constructed.

Both Shia and Sunni Muslims lived in the area. Shia’s believe(d) that leadership descended from hereditary succession. The direct line continued through twelve men, referred to as Imam (heir). Ali Hadi, was the tenth and died in 868. Hassan Askari, the eleventh, died in 874. Both were buried in a magnificent shrine in Samarra.

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Sunni’s believe(d) that four men who had been especially close to Muhammad were now the men to follow. These are often referred to as ‘Caliphs.
Four years after the eleventh heir to Muhammad died, the twelfth disappeared. Legend says that the Imam Mehdi entered the basement of the mausoleum of his predecessors and was never seen again. It is believed he will return someday, unite all factions, and bring peace.
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In 1905, a magnificent dome was added and covered with over 72,000 pieces of gold.
Think of the significance to its believers than St. Peters or St. Paul’s to many Christians. Posted by Picasa Posted by Picasa
As one Iraqi states today: “The dome was quite a landmark. It is Iraqi history. We used to see it from far away when we traveled from Baghdad to Mosul, as we pass by Samarra. I consider it one of the main structures that define Iraq.”  Posted by Picasa
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Within hours of the explosion, crowds in Samarra and Baghdad exploded in anger. Within a few days, over two-hundred Iraqis were dead, and one-hundred mosques attacked. Finger pointing and blame -- the Sunnis, the Jews, the CIA, the Americans--- no one knew who committed the atrocity. Unlike most terrorist operations, no group came forward to take ‘credit’. Many notable Iraqis, citizens on the street, and clergymen pleaded for calm. Asking all Iraqis to recognize that this action was purposefully carried out to try to pull the country down into Civil War.

Now under curfew, the ancient city “a joy for all to see” is seething with anger and frustration. The impact and repercussions will echo long after we are gone.

A note about the title: Salaam, pronounced “sE lam” is a courteous greeting in Arabic cultures meaning ‘peace be with you’. It is traditionally accompanied with obeisance--a low deferential bow, with the right hand on the forehead.

A note about the shrine’s name: In the world press, the name of that shrine is sometimes called the ‘Al Askariyeh’ Mosque (with lots of spelling variations) or the ‘Golden Dome Mosque’.
However, Iraqis and the Arab press do not call it a mosque, but a shrine. The “Shrine of Hasan Al Askari” is one example.

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