Sunday, May 24, 2015

South Africa: How ISIS is sorting the journalists from the attention-whores

When we talk about Iraq and the Levant it seems almost impossible to identify one overarching narrative that could guide our discussions. Do we talk about the warring parties and their backers?  Do we discuss propaganda tools, chemical warfare, institutionalised rape and beheadings? Do we discuss ahadith about the end times? Do we deliver historical sermons about America or Israel’s demonic ploys? Do we deliver sermons on the meaning of the black flag? Do we talk about Assad, Nouri al-Maliki and now Haider al-Abadi being tied to regional Shia forces, and the rebels to Sunni actors, which makes these religious wars driven primarily by identity politics? Do we say that sectarian dimensions merely have an imaginative hold over actors, state and non-state, and it’s more a conventional struggle for regional hegemony?

Well, if all that is unclear, there is certainly one principal that is – and that is how SA Islamic scholars should respond. In light of more and more, and more attention-whoring via ‘letter 1’ and then ‘letter 2’ and then, wait for it, ‘letter 3’ this past week, it’s very clear that the large majority of South African Muslims and their ulama leaders are being wise to to ignore anonymous rants.  The sad reality that unfolded this past week however is that cheap shot journalists aren’t. What did our Prophet (S) say about the disease of spreading ‘news’ without thinking through the consequences? When in doubt that information you have may hamstring the greater good, you keep that information to yourself. You even ‘white lie’ if you have to.  If 1 or 2 people, or even 20 individuals from a Muslim population of 1,25 to 2 million in South Africa feel a need to gun-tote in Iraq and Syria, surely they don’t need canticles or ballads? I would assume their intentions are pure and good, and if so, why the need for publicity and letters to justify their choice. If it all about the good fight, go fight it! Rants and tirades and allegations and slander against Ulama and religious leaders and our Muslims heritage in South Africa have no place in a ‘legitimate’ Jihad. One would assume niyyah is part of Principle 101 in this game.

The duty of our scholars is simple

According to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him):

"Every one of you is a shepherd, and every one of you will be questioned about those under his rule: the ruler is a shepherd, and he will be questioned about his subjects; the man is a shepherd in his family, and he will be questioned about those under his care; and the woman is a shepherd in the house of her husband, and she will be questioned about those under her care... Thus, every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for those under his/her care. " (Al-Bukhari)

Under this powerfully simple injunction, our religious leaders owe a duty and responsibility to South Africans first. There is educating to be done, there is poverty eradication to be achieved; there are social ills to root out. Yes, we are one body, and yes, Muslims are being oppressed brutally on every single continent, but the priority for Muslim scholars in SA is not encourage hijrah or content-adorn misguided tirades or cheap-shot journalism. At best, what they’ve done unequivocally is to warn South Africans against being recruited for shadowy causes.

And for the journalists…

The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam also said:

"Let whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day either speak good or be silent. Let whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day honour his neighbour...” [Al-Bukhari & Muslim]

This hadith discusses some of the ways a Muslim's faith should affect the way he relates to others.  This is an encouragement to speak what is good and beneficial; at the same time it is a warning, cautioning us to be careful in what we say, lest we say something that is harmful or false, more especially to or about our immediate neighbours.

Allah informs us in the Quran some of what constitutes good in our speech and benefits other people - “There is no good in a lot of their private conversations, except if it enjoins charity or that which is right; or it brings reconciliation between people. And whoever does that seeking Allah's pleasure, then We shall grant him a great reward.” [Surah al-Nisa: 114]

There’s a war out there. A war against Islam. And every bit of ammo you give the enemy will be loaded in media cannons and fired against you. The words "We are not at war with Islam" have been uttered by everyone from Obama  to Bush to top-level military officials. Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Muslim world that U.S. forces have invaded, occupied or bombed since 1980 alone. Reading the day's top stories or just listening to people speak about 'the Muslims' sure makes it clear there is a war against Islam. So if by your hack ‘journalism’ you’re simply rooting out extremism; or facilitating ‘dialogue’; or waking South Africans from an ulama-induced 'coma'  - ask yourself these questions: Are the Syrians and Iraqi’s (we all feel bereft about) benefiting? Are the helpless and needy getting care? Are you adding to social and moral upliftment? Or are you just fodder in a modern crusade against our Faith? Then - feel free to spew whatever nonsense you like.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Helen of Try – Why I respect Helen Zille

Helen Zille - 1980's
She’s been called a great many things, a lot of them derogatory, but I will always respect Helen Zille. She’s been a loyal servant of the people - shown tenacity, great spirit and commitment, and remained brashly human in her entire tenure as Premier of the Western Cape; a member of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament; leader of South Africa's official opposition political party; and a former Mayor of Cape Town. And throughout that she’s been a wife and mom (and be brave enough to botox, admit poor fashion sense, and take part in public cycle races). I often wonder what she and her husband talk about in the evenings, whether she ever really relaxes, and how her sons cope with their  mom under the hammer. In a nutshell, till the end of her days, Helen will always have something to teach South Africans about moving forward. And to appreciate that, your blood doesn’t need to be blue, viz. you don’t have to be a DA smurf, nor do you have to agree with the DA’s political approach of offering little else but haranguing the ANC (and accepting Nathan Kirsch’s donations).

Perhaps it’s the Steve Biko experience that made Helen believe she is entitled to be vicious toward the media. Zille was inundated with death threats immediately following publication on the Biko expose and Kruger threatened to shut down the paper. She and her editor, Allister Sparks were found guilty of “tendentious reporting” in a quasi Press Court and ordered to publish a correction. She wrote: “I will never forget that phrase, ‘tendentious reporting.’ I was still young and idealistic enough to become tearful at such injustice.”

So, when she says, “You scrutinise me, I’ll scrutinise you right back!” I deem it merely her way of sharpening and toughening up journalistic integrity and skill within South Africa. Her backhands which made many a journalist ‘tearful’ have shaped a robust landscape of debate and counter debate these past 8 years. If she weren’t that tough, how boring, bland and underdeveloped our young journo puppets would remain.

Helen of SA may not be "the face that launch'd a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium" but she certainly did try. Our Helen of Try.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

What is a Royal Baby – A Symbol of Hope or Destruction?

Image Credit
In the animal/human kingdom, births symbolise hope and promise. Historical accounts are rife about how European monarchs in different times and places have all struggled to produce an heir. So, it is without surprise that the world’s eye is on the dilation per centimetre of the latest royal sprog. But, as the adage goes "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." The new baby may symbolise hope for but a few. For those who’ve been trampled, bombed, raped, abused, murdered, left homeless, orphaned, widowed and tortured by the baby-daddy and his ilk, it’s another story altogether.

Royal Blood

Prince William is currently off active duty, but a serving RAF officer who is a future head of the Armed Forces. Prince Harry on the other hand was interviewed after having flown out of Afghanistan at the end of a four-month tour. He’s served two tours. His comments:

"If there's people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we'll take them out of the game, I suppose," he said. "Take a life to save a life … the squadron's been out here. Everyone's fired a certain amount."

In March 2015 a heavily pregnant Kate, made her way to lead the British nation in honouring the servicemen and women who fought and died during the conflict in Afghanistan as part of a commemoration service.

The British armies sexual and racial abuses in Afghanistan (of children as young as ten) don’t apparently feature in memorial services. Neither does breaking the Geneva Convention apparently. Oh wait, there’s that one other thing: the NATO Invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was ILLEGAL under international law. Yes, royal sprog serves as hope, but maybe for the aggressors, immoral and thieves of the world.

Abdullah – a baby of Hope

Abdullah al-Zubayr (ra) was a sahabi whose father was Zubayr ibn al-Awwam, and whose mother was Asma bint Abi Bakr, daughter of the first Caliph Abu Bakr (ra). He was the nephew of Aisha (ra). He was the first Muslim to be born in Madinah after the hijrah.

When the Prophet (S) and the Muslims settled in Madinah Munawwara those who bore spite against the Muslims were subdued. They thus spread the rumour that their priests had made the Muslims infertile by means of their witchcraft and Madinah was not going to witness the birth of Muslim babies.

On the birth of Abdullah bin Zubair (radiyallahu anhu) there was lot of rejoicing among the Muslims and the baby eschewed the negativity spread by the Jews of Madinah and the enemies of Islam. The baby was presented herself before the beloved Prophet (S). The Prophet (S) kissed him, then chewed a date and rubbed it on the newbom's gums (a Sunnah called tahneek). 

His life and eventual gruesome death in Makkatul Mukarramah leading a rebellion against the Umayyad Caliphate by Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf serves as HOPE – hope to be courageous in the face of enemy, hope to stand for Justice, hope that a mother’s duas are accepted, hope that moral parents will produce moral offspring, hope to challenge injustice no matter how irrelevant or small you may be. That’s the hope every new baby should arrive with.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

mamma bear and baby bear – the last of the single digits

I started penning notes on my son’s birthday when he turned 5. Writing them and sharing them have morphed from being cathartic to pensive to celebratory. I currently bask in the privilege of life sharing with innocence.  So much of the motherhood I participate in and observe (aside from sheer hard work), is competitive, entitled or/and self-absorbed. So as I’ve reflected over the last few days about what Abdullah’s turning 9 means, I was careful to note – its what it means to me – not him. Shukr to Allah, his turning 9 and the milestones over the past year have had me glow. I enjoy him speak. I enjoy him explaining. I enjoy him raising his eyebrow at me. (He has a noteworthy side-eye.) I marvel at his understanding of new concepts. To my utter delight I’ve realised he “yes ma’ams” my thinking aloud, even if he’s not on the same page. I watch. I learn. I laugh. Alhumdulillah. [I do also shout a lot.]

The amazing development of character and personality in a human child after the age of 7 just as our beloved Nabi ﷺ prophesised, has me in perpetual awe. For example, if a young child understands the larger plots of Hamlet and Othello he should easily understand the Hijra. If he can build an Atlantis on Minecraft, then he can definitely envisage the cradle of Islam in Arabia. If he can suss the tones on my Farsi poem playlists as ‘sad’ – then obviously the candescent lyricism of Quranic recitation should be clearer. If he wants to know what is "good" about Good Friday if Jesus supposedly died on that day; or why the apa at madressa doesn’t like sport after school; or why I won’t go to Woolworths even if I miss it (a lot) – all this is the habited sense of inquiry our Deeni texts tell us develops between 7 and puberty. If he expresses utter shock at news of pregnancy stats in SA primary schools (717 girls in primary school fell pregnant in 2013/14), then this is indicative there is a clear distinction in the child’s mind between what is decent and perverse. Likewise, on the rare occasion he receives the soft sting of a wooden spoon for a fib, or reneging on a deal to do/not do something, then why for not waking for salaah (at age 10) as Nabi ﷺ asked us to?

Experiencing this particular age with my son (that is essentially a buildup to puberty) the really difficult part is being unfake with myself. Being a mother has become secondary. To my chagrin, any emotion, mood, activity or situation wherein I permute, reflects. If there’s anything that can be said about mothering a boy from 8 through to 9, it’s my own need for self-discipline. That in short supply, I lay my head at the feet of the Almighty. Only He is the Bestower, the Master of Favours, Grace and Ability.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Romantics – a Muslim version


Tags:
Reclaiming Persian love, not just its’ fiqh;
Seeing the world through humanity, not theology;
Islam is one long romance;
Wait for the outcomes;
Romance cannot exist in a vacuum;
Romance exists as hindsight and as perceived

Khosrow and Shirin is the title of a famous Persian tragic romance by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi (1141–1209). He also wrote Layla and Majnun. It tells a fictional version of the story of the love of the Sasanian king Khosrow II for the Syriac or Armenian princess Shirin. The love story was already well-known from the epic-historical poem the Shahnameh by Ferdowsi and other Persian writers.

When the Seljuq Sultan Arsalan Shah requested a love epic from Nizami without specifying the subject, Nizami picked the story of the lovers Khosrow and Shirin, and a theme set in his own region. He based it on partly historical facts.

Let’s begin:

There is a place high up in the mountains of Kurdistan where the crow roams freely and the snow finally kisses the sun. A place where you can hear the ping of wildflowers in bloom and the sound of butterfly wings resting on their petals. This is where our story sleeps.

There was a brave man called Farhad who loved a Princess named Shirin. Farhad tried in vain to gain access Shirin's heart, but the stonecutter loved a lady of royal blood. Farhad would go to the mountains and spend his days without food, playing his flute in praise of Shirin. At last, people thought to devise a plan to acquaint the Princess of the stonecutter's love. But how could a mere laborer aspire to win the hand of a princess? It was not long, however, before the Shah himself heard the rumours of this extraordinary exchange of sentiment. He was naturally indignant at the discovery, but as he had no child other than Shirin, and Shirin was also pining away with love, he proposed to his daughter that her lover, being of common birth, must accomplish a task such as no man may be able to do, and then, and only then, might he be recommended to his favour.

Wait. Here I have to stop.

Remember that this narrative forms part of a larger story.

See, Shirin was already in love with a King called Khosrau. And there are other versions too. Some say Farhad worked for years and cut the canal the Shah requested. He had to dig a well in the rocky beds of the mountains. He was half-way through, and would probably have completed it, when the Shah consulted his courtiers and sought their advice. His plan had failed. Farhad had not perished in the attempt, and if all the conditions were fulfilled as they promised to be soon, his daughter must go to him in marriage. The viziers suggested that an old woman should be sent to Farhad to tell him that Shirin was dead; then, perhaps, Farhad would become disheartened would stop the work.

It was an ignoble trick, but it promised success and the Shah agreed to try it. So an old woman went to Farhad and wept and cried till words choked her; the stonecutter asked her the cause of her bereavement.

"I weep for a deceased," she said, "and for you." "For a deceased and for me?" asked the surprised Farhad. "And how do you explain it?"

"Well, my brave man," said the pretender, "you have worked so well, and for such a long time, but you have laboured in vain, for the object of you devotion is dead!"

"What!" cried the bewildered man, "Shirin is dead?"

Such was his grief that he cut his head with a sharp spade and died. His own blood streamed into his canal. When Shirin heard this she fled to the mountains where her wronged lover lay. It is said that she inflicted a wound in her own head at the precise spot where Farhad had struck himself, and with the same sharp edge of the spade which was stained with her lover's gore. No water ever flows into the canal, but two lovers are entombed in the same grave.

I’ll have you know Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was only published in 1597. The Shahnameh was composed between 977 and 1010 CE.

Nezami's version begins with an account of Khosrou's birth and his education. This is followed by an account of Khosrow's feast in a farmer's house for which Khosrou is severely chastised by his father. Khosrou asks forgiveness and repents his offence. Hormizd IV, who is now pleased with his son, forgives him. That very night, Khosrow sees his grandfather Anushirvan in a dream and Anushirvan gives him glad tidings of a wife named Shirin, a steed named Shabdiz, a musician named Barbad, and a great kingdom, that is Persia.

Shapur, Khosrow's close friend and a painter, tells Khosrow of the Armenian queen Mahin Banu and her niece Shirin. Hearing Shapur's descriptions of Shirin, the young prince falls in love with Shirin, the Armenian princess. Shapur travels to Armenia to look for Shirin. Shapur finds Shirin and shows the image of Khosrow to Shirin. Shirin falls in love with Khosrow and escapes from Armenia to Khosrow's capital Mada'in; but meanwhile, Khosrow also flees from his father's anger and sets out for Armenia in search of Shirin.

In the way, he finds Shirin unclothed bathing and washing her flowing hair; Shirin also sees him; but since Khosrow was traveling in peasant clothes, they do not recognise one another. Khosrow arrives in Azerbaijan and is welcomed by Shamira the queen of Armenia - yet he finds out that Shirin is in Mada'in. Again, Shapur is sent to bring Shirin. When Shirin reached Armenia again, Khosrow – because of his father's death- has to return to Mada'in. The two lovers keep going to opposite places till finally Khosrow is overthrown by a general named Bahrām Chobin and flees to Armenia.

In Armenia, Khosrow finally meets Shirin and is welcomed by her. Shirin, however, does not agree to marry Khosrow; unless Khosrow first claims his country back from Bahram Choobin. Thus, Khosrow leaves Shirin in Armenia and goes to Constantinople. The Caesar agrees to assist him against Bahram Choobin on condition that he marries his daughter Maryam. Khosrow is also forced to promise not to marry as long as Maryam is alive. Khosrow succeeds in defeating his enemy and reclaims his throne. Maryam, due to her jealousy, keeps Khosrow away from Shirin.

Meanwhile, a sculptor named Farhad, falls in love with Shirin and becomes Khosrow's love-rival. Khosrow cannot bear Farhad, so he sends him on an exile to Behistun mountain with the impossible task of carving stairs out of the cliff rocks. Farhad begins his task hoping that Khosrow will allow him marry Shirin. Yet, Khosrow sends a messenger to Farhad and gives him false news of Shirin's death. Hearing this false news, Farhad throws himself from the mountaintop and dies. Khosrow writes a letter to Shirin, expressing his regret for Farhad's death. Soon after this incident, Maryam also dies. According to Ferdowsi's version, it was Shirin who secretly poisoned Miriam. Shirin replies to Khosrow's letter with another satirical letter of condolences.

Khosrow, before proposing marriage to Shirin, tried to be intimate with another woman named Shekar in Isfahan; which further delays the lovers' union. Finally, Khosrow goes to Shirin's castle to see her. Shirin, seeing that Khosrow is drunk, does not let him in the castle. She particularly reproaches Khosrow for his intimacy with Shekar. Khosrow, sad and rejected, returns to his palace.

Shirin eventually consents to marry Khosrow after several romantic and heroic episodes. Yet, Shiroyeh, Khosrow's son from his wife Maryam, is also in love with Shirin. Shiroy finally murders his father Khosrow and sends a messenger to Shirin conveying that after one week, she would have to marry him. Shirin, in order to avoid marrying Shiroy, kills herself. Khosrow and Shirin were buried together in one grave.

Sorry, you have to read all that to get to my point. The actual story is far more beautiful to read, share and celebrate than that bleak summary. It’s part of the magic of epic and grandiose literature. Nizami wrote five long poetic books, commonly called "The Five Treasures." Among these, the "Khosru and Shireen," is generally regarded as his masterpiece.

Nonetheless, if we’re to define a great enduring romance as understood from the Sunnah? We’re all part of a greater story. There are telling details we leave out when we focus on just one part our lives. For e.g. if we focus on just the Shirin and Farhad story, we ignore that she loved the King, Kosrau too, and he was doing everything he could to be with her. Is this not an example of Allah’s love for us? If we focus on just one part of a bigger picture we aren’t true romantics. What is the greatest gesture? What is an epic romance? If the answer says something along the lines of sacrifice, perseverance, believing in a dream and hoping  - it’s all about interpretation, right?

(Allah’s blessings, pleasure and peace be upon His beloved servants and Prophets)

Adam roamed the earth for hundreds of years looking for Hawa;
Qaabil killed his brother Haabil for a woman they both loved;
Noah held out for that one kid – he pleaded with him from a ship as apocalyptic waves crashed around them “I’m here, waiting for you”;
Ebrahim went into fire for his conviction – to prove a point to his father;
Safoora married a man who pitched up at her door after having murdered someone. He was flat broke.  Her father harboured him as a fugitive and tenant + he had no family (he's THE Musa) and -- and then he becomes the greatest freedom fighter & liberator of Egypt.

And if we want to get 1400 years closer -- Umm Salama's husband waited for her even after his family tried to tear them apart; Zainab, the Prophet’s daughter gave up everything to be with Abul Aas. Usman gave up a decisive war to nurse his wife back to health. Prior to that he'd crossed deserts to be with her. Mugheeth wandered around the city disoriented after Bareera broke up with him.

Our seerah is replete with such examples. What's the romance really? The story, or just how its marketed/ interpreted?

The answer to making our lives epic, I believe, is to recognise (Who) as in the Almighty really wants to be with us.  His love is enduring. His tests are to strengthen us. His challenges are part of a bigger picture. Ultimately, to recognise this, we must force ourselves to become romantics.


Allahul Musta’an

Monday, January 12, 2015

Between the noose of Apostasy and Blasphemy – We’re all Raif Badawi

Resuscitated in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack comes the case of Raif Badawi. He’s a Saudi writer charged with 1000 lashes (to be administered weekly), ten years in jail and a fine of a million Saudi Riyals. It’s unclear to me if he insulted Islam or the Saudi monarchy. His website has been shut down, and the vacuous hordes who live on the internet, brainwashed to link the bigotry of Charlie Hebdo to his case aren’t making it easy to separate the issues.

Raif Badawi’s case is one I genuinely believe to be of free speech, if such a thing even exists. I’ll explain later. Leaked videos of his first set of 50 lashes made their rounds on the Internet last night. 19 more weeks to go. OH, wait then there’s still the ten years of jail to wait out. I debated clicking on the link for about two hours. Eventually I gave in. Anything to do with jail or violently incarcerated young men affects me as a rolling freeze frame: Abu Guraib. Perhaps the swishes to Rafi Badawi were genuinely painful, but to me they were more embarrassing and humiliating. Embarrassing for the poor cop who swished around on his back, legs and bottom in a hasty 50 willing it to be over more than Raif. The sorry state administration was over in approx. 3 mins. Other reports say 15 minutes.

Here’s an example of Raif’s writing:

We should not hide that fact that Muslims in Saudi Arabia not only disrespect the beliefs of others, but they also charge them with infidelity to the extent that they consider anyone who is not Muslim an infidel, and, within their own narrow definitions, they consider the Non-Hanbali Muslims as apostates. So how can we be such people and yet be able to build a human civilization and normal relations with six billion humans, four and a half billion of whom do not believe in Islam.”

Below, another, clearly indicative to anyone familiar with the laws of Saudi Arabia and religious teachings that the thirty year old, father of three, is merely insulting the monarchy, not Islam. Sure, there are ahadith about ridding the peninsula of all Shirk (polytheism), but how more much more Shirk have the Saudi Monarch's let in via other means? Bummer for Sa’ud. Their alliances and track record is that of an errant father who punishes his children to appease his own guilt – reminiscent of a Muslim dad addicted to porn who’ll beat up his sons and daughters for just talking to the opposite gender.  Who is Saudi kidding.

“Furthermore, we have not asked ourselves how it is that America allows Islamic missionaries on its territory, and how it is that we reject under all circumstances the freedom to proselytize within our Kingdom’s land. We can no longer hide our heads like an ostrich and say that no one can see us or that no one cares. Whether we like it or not, we, being a part of humanity, have the same duties that others have as well as the same rights.”

Then, there’s this regarding Valentines Day (which is banned in Saudi):

“Congratulations to us for the Commission on the Promotion of Virtue for teaching us virtue and for its eagerness to insure that all members of the Saudi public are among the people of paradise.”

Anyone with the slighest insight to how Saudi lifestyles are led - somewhere between Vegas, the ghettos of Kolkata, and Peter O'Toole may find that amusing. According to Amnesty, the charges against Badawi mention his failure to remove articles by other people on his website. He was also accused in court of ridiculing Saudi Arabia’s morality police. He’s been held since mid-2012 after he founded the Free Saudi Liberals blog. He was originally sentenced in 2013 to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in relation to the charges, but after an appeal the judge stiffened the punishment. He was sentenced May 2014. Worst still, Badawi’s lawyer was sentenced to fifteen years in prison—with an additional fifteen-year ban on leaving the country—for insulting the judiciary, inciting public opinion, and undermining the regime and its officials.

Make what you want of this case – Islam’s laws are clear:

Even in the extreme case of Apostasy or Ridda (wherein there is a death penalty attached) an apostate is not to be put to death immediately. He or she should be offered the opportunity to return to Islam and resolve his doubts. Allah knows, we all have doubts. It's an age of doubt.

Surely, in a lesser case here, where Raif shouts out loudly he is a practicing Muslim ([even if] there was blasphemy involved) - a then 27 year old rebelling against a schizophrenic government and encouraging others to do the same deserves some slack. All the monarchy has achieved is to make him an honourary martyr of the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Oh yeah, and kudos to them for not waterboarding him in some secret black hole prison like some people we know. After Jumuah salaah in the burning heat is as transparent and public as we need.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Recalling a visit to Najaf and Karbala – Ten years later

Is it a city?
No, its Najaf's cemetery Wadi-as-Salaam, wherein 5 million bodies are buried. 
In January 2004, a year into the US invasion of Iraq, I visited Najaf and Karbala. It coincided with the Hijri month of Dhul Qa’dah 1424. We stayed at the White Palace hotel in Baghdad, its most white or palace-like feature, the foyer chandeliers through thick cigarette plumes. Over breakfast we discussed the large rats in the cupboards and how they darted across the carpets, the military jets overhead, and the fallen monument to Saddam we’d seen the day earlier. Baghdad was on fire. Our guileless breakfast banter was punctuated by the arrival and departure of silent, severe looking, chador-clad women. They wordlessly partook of the black tea, cheese and apples on offer and were off. “Ziyareh” – “the visit” or “homage” I was to learn later that day and up to now, is a form of rotational knowledge. I make my own ziyareh to the memory of it, unpack and revisit angles, compare it to (non Arab) Shia Iran, and world current affairs regularly. As 10 Muharram 1436 H or Aashura approaches, Karbala and Najaf, the sites where Ali, his son Hussain, and brother Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them all) are allegedly buried, receive more media attention than usual.

Karbala is located about 100 km southwest of Baghdad. It houses the grave of Husayn ibn Ali (ra) the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) and the Abbas shrine, the burial place of the son of Ali (ra), and half-brother of Hussain (ra).

Najaf is about 160 km south of Baghdad. The walk to Najaf from Karbala is about 80km’s, often walked as a pilgrimage, a Camino de Santiago ala Safavid. The tomb of Ali (ra) is said to have been discovered at Najaf around 750 AD by a Dawood Bin Ali Al-Abbas. A shrine was built over the tomb by Azod Eddowleh in 977, but later burned down. It was rebuilt by the Seljuk Malek Shah in 1086, and rebuilt yet again by Ismail Shah, the Safavid, in the 1500’s.

At the time, I remember being more incensed with the USAID oil gallons littering the soil north of the Imam Ali Mosque than perturbed by self-flagellation, the procedural sarcophagus’ to the tomb and fire walking. There, outside Wadi as-Salam ("Wadi of Peace") a fascinatingly huge cemetery, the US and its coalitions' rape of Iraq had already sprouted in the soil. The charity oil gallons were a twisting of the knife. They were still to get to Fallujah in April/November to use phosphor and depleted uranium ammunition. In Fallujah and Ramadi we met young students of knowledge and Hidfh. Allahu A'lam if they're still alive.

Today’s blogpost addresses one method of moulding women and female behaviour via the symbolism of Karbala.

Shia sacred narratives assign prominent roles to two female figures, Fatima Zahra (daughter of Muhammad (sa) wife of Ali and mother of Hasan and Husayn (ra)) and Zaynab (ra) the daughter of Ali and Fatima (ra) who was present at Karbala. She was led with other women and children as a prisoner to Damascus where she reportedly confronted Yazid:

"O Yazid, You can never reach the level of our lofty position, nor can you destroy our remembrances, nor can you wipe out the ignominy you have earned for yourself by your abominable and vile performance. Your decisions are poor and your days are numbered. Your party will disperse the day when the Announcer will announce - Allah's curse be on tyrants and transgressors." Bibi Zainab binte Ali

"O you the son of freed slaves! Is this your justice that the ladies of your house remain veiled and we the Prophet's daughters should be paraded from place to place?" Bibi Zainab binte Ali

"O Yazid! Your misdeed has proved your rebellion against Allah. This action of yours comes as no surprise from a person whose ancestors chewed the liver of such saintly martyrs. The descendants of such enemies of Allah should naturally be the most deadly!" Bibi Zainab binte Ali

"O Yazid! You did what you wished, but remember that you have cut your own skin. In the near future you will be taken in the presence of the Holy Prophet. On that occasion you will be burdened with the sins of the misdeed committed by you shedding the blood of his progeny and dishonouring the sanctity of his family." Bibi Zainab binte Ali

"O Yazid! Practice any trick you can and do anything that you think would vanish Islam, but you should know that you cannot eradicate our message, path and memory. You should know that our memory will never die." Bibi Zainab binte Ali

As noted above by Shia texts, Zaynab bint Ali (ra) is a deemed a revolutionary figure for pious Shia women.  She’s considered brave and outspoken. She is believed to be The Foundation of Mourning (Majales A'azaa) as she kept the sacrifices of Imam Hussein alive. Shia tell stories that after every Majlis, women would offer their condolences to Zainab (ra) and the men to Imam Zain-ul-Abedeen, making a stir in the cities - the sound of crying and beating of chests and heads affected the minds of the inhabitants, and making them sadder and wiser to the events of Karbala.

Interestingly enough, Ibn Kathir (ra) narrates the words of Hussain (ra) which concur with the teachings of the last Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (saw) -

“Shortly before his demise, Hussain (ra) had advised his beloved sister Sayyidah Zainab (ra) not to mourn over his death in this manner.

He said, "My dear sister, I swear upon you that you, in case I die, shall not tear your clothes, nor scratch your face, nor curse anyone for me or pray for your death". (Al-Kamil, ibn Kathir vol. 4 pg. 24)” [Taken from Muharram - By Mufti Taqi Usmani (db).

A few years ago I came across a marriage book in a “Sunni” store replete with says of Imam Ali (ra). Among them:

Asbagh bin Nubatah quotes Imam 'Ali as follows: "Almighty God has created the sexual desire in ten parts; then He gave nine parts to women and one to men. And if the Almighty God had not given the women equal parts of shyness, then each man would have nine women related to him." (Wasa'il, vol. 14, p.40) -- In other words, Allah has given the women greater part of sexual desire but He has also neutralised it by giving equal parts of shyness to them.

The following ties with further discussion points on the moulding of women in Shia texts and to juxtapose with questions of the “progressive Shia” and the “ backward Sunni” discourses that are de rigueur in Islamic study circles especially when it comes to the rights and emancipation of women.  Further, I’d like to hear more from those who believe Khomeini kept the reforms of Pehlavi’s White Revolution which granted female suffrage, increased literacy, reduced and willfully amended Shia jurisprudence to fit them, and thereby greatly affected the outlook and influence of Shia women in Western societies.