Thursday, December 31, 2009

Elif Medya: Ramadan Donations 1430 (2009), Video of German, Turkish, Uzbek, & Pakistani Jihadis in Waziristan

Turkish jihadi commander Ebu Zarr (middle) and German radicalized convert-turned-jihadi Eric Breininger (second from right).

Today's BlipTV feature is a video produced by the Turkish jihadi media outlet Elif Medya, "Ramadan Donations 1430 (2009)," which was released on September 11. It shows German, Turkish, Uzbek, and Pakistani jihadis in the Pashtun tribal belt of Pakistan (probably in Waziristan) receiving and thanking people for donations of food and livestock for the Muslim month of fasting and prayer. The video also features statements by different jihadis, including several Germans. One of the Germans shown is Eric Breininger, a young radicalized convert. He is shown in one segment alongside the Turkish jihadi commander Ebu Zarr (Abu Zarr), who traveled this year from Chechnya to Afghanistan/Pakistan.

Introductory segment of the video, featuring Turkish and German-language translations of a Qur'anic verse from Surah [chapter] al-Imran.

WARNING: The video shows halal butchering, which is essentially the same style as kosher butchering; it requires the cutting of the animal's throat and the draining of all its blood. For those who are squeamish, be forewarned.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Abu Yahya al-Libi: 'Eid al-Adha 1430 Sermon

Abu Yahya al-Libi in a screen still from the video of his 'Eid al-Adha 1430 sermon, produced by al-Qa'ida Central's media outlet, the al-Sahab (The Clouds) Media Foundation, and released on Dec. 27.

I'm just beginning to take advantage of the opportunities BlipTV for Views from the Occident and its subsidiary blog, Occident 2. While on a semi-vacation, I've decided to upload a couple of videos and schedule them in advance for posting, beginning today.

The first video is the 'Eid al-Adha 1430 sermon (from a month or so ago) of senior al-Qa'ida Central (AQC) leader Abu Yahya al-Libi. A skilled orator and respected jihadi-Salafi theologian, Abu Yahya first gained renown in 2005 when he and several other prisoners escaped from the U.S. military base at Bagram in Afghanistan (which was also a former Soviet base). Since then, he has appeared in dozens of AQC video productions and has addressed jihadis across the globe from Somalia to East Turkestan to North Africa, though he is believed to be (or have been) operating out of Pashtun areas of Pakistan. It is believed that he pursued formal studies in Islamic law and other religious studies in Mauritania, though some analysts dispute this claim. Regardless, Abu Yahya is a respected "theologian" among AQC supporters and has even recorded aural exegesis (tafsir) of the Qur'an. Recent rumors of his assassination in a United States pilot-less drone strike proved to be untrue.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Maqtal Imam Husayn, an 'Ashura Majlis by the late Iraqi Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim

Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim in a traditional mourning ritual of rhythmically beating the chest while looking over the body of the fallen Husayn bin 'Ali.

*Post in the 'Ashura 1431 Occasional Series of posts about the annual Shi'i Muslim (all branches) commemoration of the martyrdom in 680 C.E. of Husayn bin 'Ali, the third Imam of the Shi'is.*

Featured in today's closing post for the 'Ashura 1431 Occasional Series is the late Iraqi Arab Ayatullah al-Sayyid al-Shahid (the Martyr) Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, who was assassinated on August 23, 2003 by a massive vehicle bomb, believed to have been set by the then-fledgling organization of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi (then called Tawhid wa'l Jihad, or "[Absolute] Monotheism and Struggle," and later renamed al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers. Baqir al-Hakim was leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), then named the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, an anti-Saddam Husayn and Iraqi Ba'th party composed primarily of Iraqi Shi'i exiles living in Iran.

In the video below, Ayatullah al-Hakim delivers a traditional Shi'i lamentation, in front of a large crowd while he was living in exile in Iran, for Husayn bin 'Ali, the third Shi'i Imam, who was martyred in 680 C.E. on the barren plain of Karbala in southern Iraq. For historical background on the 'Ashura events, see this previous POST. A short biographical sketch of al-Hakim follows the embedded video; it's based on an encyclopedia article I wrote.

"Maqtal Imam Husayn," Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim

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Baqir al-Hakim was an Iraqi Arab ayatullah (1944-2003; some sources say he was born in 1939) and founding leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI, (since renamed and hereafter referred to as the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, SIIC), one of the two largest Iraqi Shi‘i political parties. His father was Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim (1889-1970), the preeminent Shi‘i religious scholar and authority in Iraq from 1955 until his death in 1970.

The al-Sadr family is one of Iraq’s preeminent Shi‘i scholarly families with roots in southern Iraqi shrine city of al-Najaf, where the first Shi‘i Imam, Ali ibn Abi Talib, is buried. The family originally came from the Jabal ‘Amil region of historical Syria, in present day southern Lebanon. Muhammad Baqir was one of three sons, the others being his younger brother 'Abd al-'Aziz (1950-), the previous SIIC leader, and Muhammad Mahdi (1940?-1988), commonly known just as “Mahdi,” who was assassinated in Khartoum, Sudan, probably at the behest of the then ruling Iraqi Ba‘th Party under President Saddam Husayn.

From top left, clockwise: Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid 'Ali Husayni Sistani, Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, al-Sayyid 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Hakim, and al-Sayyid 'Ammar al-Hakim. Leadership of the SIIC has passed from Baqir al-Hakim through 'Abd al-'Aziz, who died of cancer in August, to the latter's son, 'Ammar, who is the current leader of the SIIC.

All three of the al-Hakim brothers were born in al-Najaf and studied under both their father and Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (1935-1980), one of their father’s premier students and an activist scholar who was one of the intellectual founders of the Islamic Da‘wa Party (Hizb al-Da‘wa al-Islamiyya), Iraq’s other large Shi‘i political party. Both Muhammad Baqir and his brother Mahdi were both involved in the formation of the Da‘wa Party and the latter was also active in the Jama‘at al-‘Ulama, a clerical association formed in Najaf during the 1950s to combat the rising popularity of communism among Iraqi Shi‘i youth.

Muhammad Baqir was a well-known Shi‘i activist throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and was arrested, tortured, and imprisoned in 1972 and again from February 1977 to July 1979. He left Iraq for Iran with his brother 'Abd al-'Aziz and thousands of other Iraqi Shi‘is, mainly political activists, in 1980 following the execution of Ayatullah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and his sister, Amina bint Haydar al-Sadr (also known as Bint al-Huda), in April and the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) in September. In November 1982, he announced the formation of the SIIC, which initially was envisioned as an umbrella organization which brought together the various Iraqi exiled opposition movements. The SIIC eventually was transformed into its own political party, as other parties broke away over policy and ideological disputes. Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s revolutionary leader, was actively supportive of the new group, seeing it as a tool to harass Saddam Hussein. In 1982-83, the Badr Corps was founded under the leadership of 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Hakim, forming the paramilitary wing of the SIIC. Officers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps provided military training and equipment for the several thousand Iraqi Arab exiles and prisoners of war who filled Badr’s ranks.

Baqir al-Hakim delivers a speech in Iran at a podium lined with photographs of his family, including his father (large painting), the preeminent Arab Shi'i religious scholar in the 1960s and 1970s, Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim.

During his 23 years in exile, Muhammad Baqir built up the SIIC’s networks among the tens of thousands of Iraqi exiles living in Iran. On the eve of the U.S. and British-led invasion of Iraq and subsequent toppling of the Iraqi Ba‘th government in April-May 2003, SIIC officials claimed to have 10,000 armed fighters in the Badr Corps. The organization’s networks inside Iraq were not as developed as SIIC propaganda claimed, since Ba‘th security forces were largely successful in limiting its growth inside the country. Badr agents carried out attacks on Iraqi government targets both inside and outside of Iraq, and Badr fighters were active participants in northern Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan) during the Iran-Iraq War. Muhammad Baqir and the SIIC were criticized by segments of the Iraqi Shi‘i community for siding with Iran against Iraq during the war, and many Iraqi Sunnis have alleged, inaccurately, that the organization is controlled by the Iranians.

Muhammad Baqir and 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Hakim, together with other SIIC leaders and members returned to southern Iraq on May 12, 2003. He delivered a rousing speech in front of an estimated 100,000 Iraqis in the main soccer stadium in the southern Iraqi port city of al-Basra, publicly thanking Iran for its longtime support in resisting Saddam Hussein and rejecting U.S. postwar domination of the country. The al-Hakims were soon joined by thousands of SIIC members and Badr fighters who flooded into southern Iraq’s cities, towns, and villages.

An Iraqi Shi'i woman holds a poster of the then-SIIC leader 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Hakim during 'Ashura.

In his public pronouncements and interviews, Muhammad Baqir was supportive of the role of the Marja‘iyya, the informal council of Iraq’s five senior grand ayatollahs based in al-Najaf. He also did not call for his followers to fight the U.S. and British forces in the country, though he remained opposed to their long-term presence in the country. He called for the establishment of an Islamic state in Iraq, but did not seek to implement the Iranian model in Iraq, instead envisioning believing that the Marja‘iyya should occupy a major advisory role. Muhammad Baqir was assassinated by a massive car comb on August 29, 2003 following Friday prayers, before which he delivered the requisite sermon, at the Imam Ali Shrine in al-Najaf. Between 84 and 125 other people were also killed and scores more were wounded in the bombing. This attack is believed to have been carried out by the Tawhid wa’l Jihad organization, later renamed al-Qa‘ida in the Land of the Two Rivers, led by the Jordanian Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi.

Hizbullah Leader al-Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah 'Ashura Speech about Imam Husayn

Hizbullah artwork for 'Ashura 1431 showing Husayn's horse, Zuljanah.

*Post in the 'Ashura 1431 Occasional Series of posts about the annual Shi'i Muslim (all branches) commemoration of the martyrdom in 680 C.E. of Husayn bin 'Ali, the third Imam of the Shi'is.*

Al-Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of the Lebanese Shi'i socio-political movement, annually delivers a speech on the tenth day of the Islamic lunar month of Muharram, the day of 'Ashura, in commemoration of the martyrdom of the third Shi'i Imam, Husayn bin 'Ali who was killed in 680 C.E. on the barren plain of Karbala in Iraq in the culmination of a brief, failed revolt against the Umayyad caliph Yazid bin Mu'awiya (Yazid I). In the videos below, Nasrallah delivers a speech on 'Ashura, Imam Husayn, and politics in the Islamic year 1428 (2007).

Al-Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah

Part 1

Part 2


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Friday, December 25, 2009

Afghan Taliban Release New Video of American Soldier & Prisoner Bowe Bergdahl on Christmas

The Afghan Taliban's media outlet, Al-Emarah [The Emirate] Jihadic Studio (sic), has released a second video of Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl, 23, a United States soldier from the First Battalion of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment's Fourth Combat Team (part of the 25th Infantry Division). He was captured on July 3 and was featured in a Taliban video released in late July (I wrote about this video in a PREVIOUS POST).

The release of the second video has been teased on web forums used by jihadi-Salafis for the past week. Its release on Christmas Day seems to be a strategic decision in order to increase its symbolic power.

The new video begins with a narration detailing the ongoing U.S. and NATO military campaign against the growing Taliban-led insurgency before transitioning into a videotaped portion of Bergdahl. As he did in the first video, Bergdahl says that he has been well treated as a prisoner of war, unlike "Muslim prisoners" have been treated by the U.S. government and military at places such as Abu Ghrayb and Guantanamo Bay. The narrator also says that the Taliban are treating Bergdahl well because of the requirements of Islam.

He also once again urges an end to the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, saying that the conflict may become the "next Vietnam" if it does not end. Bergdahl says that the Taliban and other Pashtun groups allied to it, such as the groups commanded by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani, are an "organized guerrilla army." He also discusses the long history of Afghans' resistance against foreign occupation. The claims of the U.S. government and military frequently made about the Taliban and other Pashtun insurgents, namely that they are mindless "terrorists," is also dismissed. U.S. and NATO casualties have also been artificially deflated, says Bergdahl.

In the middle of Bergdahl's statement, video quotes from former U.S. military personnel who are opposed to U.S. president Barack Obama's recent Afghanistan "surge" are shown.

Video of IED attacks is also shown. In the last several minutes of the video, Bergdahl reiterates that the Taliban are treating him well, saying that he is allowed to exercise and is well fed. He says that the Taliban are treating him as a prisoner the way "their God" tells them to treat prisoners. He tells his family not to worry about him, saying that he's "safe."

The better treatment of prisoners by the Taliban than by the U.S. was a theme of the first video as well. Photographs of humiliated prisoners held by the U.S. military closes the video. The Taliban's well thought-out media strategy with this video contrasts starkly with the shortsightedness of groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq, which has released many videos of its members executing prisoners (particularly Iraqi government personnel, who it considers to be apostates).

A prisoner exchange is suggested, Pvt. Bergdahl for captured Taliban insurgents. The U.S. government and NATO have, as expected, condemned the video and its release on Christmas.

The new video featuring Pvt. Bergdahl is embedded below in the interest of allowing Occident's readers to view it for themselves rather than rely on often lackluster coverage in the mainstream media, particularly in the United States. It should not be taken as an endorsement of the Taliban's media strategy, which is in violation of the Geneva Accords and the generally agreed-upon rules governing the treatment of prisoners of war. All instances of such abuse are condemned.

'Ashura Artwork: Part II

The third Shi'i Imam, Husayn bin 'Ali, cradling his son 'Ali Akbar who was killed at the Battle of Karbala which ended the former's rebellion against the Umayyad caliph Yazid bin Mu'awiya (Yazid I) in 680 C.E.

*Post in the 'Ashura 1431 Occasional Series of posts about the annual Shi'i Muslim (all branches) commemoration of the martyrdom in 680 C.E. of Husayn bin 'Ali, the third Imam of the Shi'is.*

For a brief historical overview of the origins of the annual Shi'i commemoration of 'Ashura and the first post in this two-part artwork series, see my previous POST.

Imam Husayn mourns his son 'Ali Akbar, who has been mortally wounded by Umayyad soldiers. Notice how both of their faces are obscured in this particular piece.

Husayn's sister Zaynab, who was responsible for ensuring that his message continued even after his death.

"O' Lord of Martyrs," Husayn bin 'Ali

Aftermath of the Battle of Karbala

Husayn's half-brother, 'Abbas, who was his standard-bearer and one of the casualties of the Battle of Karbala

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Grand Ayatullah Khumayni on 'Ashura

*Post in the 'Ashura 1431 Occasional Series of posts about the annual Shi'i Muslim (all branches) commemoration of the martyrdom in 680 C.E. of Husayn bin 'Ali, the third Imam of the Shi'is.*

Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khumayni (Khomeini), a key anti-Pahlavi shah activist, oversaw the Islamization of the Iranian Revolution upon his return to the country from nearly two decades in exile. Specifically, Khumayni and his supporters oversaw the implementation of his political theory of "Islamic" governance, wilayat al-faqih (vilayat-e faqih in Persian), "guardianship of the jurist," which essentially called for a governmental system headed by the "most learned" of Iran's Twelver Shi'i religious scholars (which Khumayni was not).

With key grassroots networks in mosques and religious centers, and the backing of skilled politicians such as his former student Ayatullah Muhammad Beheshti, who headed the pro-Khumayni Islamic Republican Party, the grand ayatullah was able to successfully marginalize his clerical critics. These included the popular Ayatullah al-Sayyid Mahmoud Taliqani, who called for the establishment of a true parliamentary democracy, Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Shari'atmadari, who opposed Khumaynist doctrine, and Khumayni's one-time heir apparent, Grand Ayatullah Hossein 'Ali Montazeri, after he criticized the mass execution of several thousand political dissidents and militant activists in 1988, which was approved by Khumayni.

For more background on Khumayni, see this previous post, which is based on a forthcoming encyclopedia entry I wrote.

Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Ruhollah Khumayni on 'Ashura (in Persian)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan, "Bloodshed & Revenge"

Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan senior leaders Hakimullah Mehsud (center) and Wali al-Rahman Mehsud (left) in a still from the October 2009 video release from al-Sahab, "Message from Hakimullah Mehsud & Wali al-Rahman Mehsud."

Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP; sometimes transliterated as "Tehreek-e Taliban" and "Tehrik-e Taliban") is a Pakistani Pashtun jihadi group that is made up primarily of militiamen from the Mehsud tribe. It was founded in 2002-2003 by Baytullah Mehsud (Baitullah Masoud), who died of wounds suffered in a United States pilot-less drone missile strike in late August, and is composed of at least several thousand fighters. Baytullah was succeeded by Hakimullah Mehsud (Hakeemullah Mehsud), who is aided by a cousin of Baytullah, Wali al-Rahman Mehsud (Waliur Rehman Mehsud/Masoud). For more information on both, see my previous POST.

Hakimullah is identified in the group's communiques as the its amir ["leader"] while Wali al-Rahman is identified as the head of "Mehsud tribal forces." The Pakistani military has been waging a massive offensive against TTP since October 17 and the group has responded with a string of attacks on military and government targets. There have also been numerous attacks in civilian population zones, which have been blamed on Blackwater and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency by TTP and al-Qa'ida Central (AQC).

Video still of TTP commander Wali al-Rahman Mehsud (center) and chief spokesman 'Azzam Tariq (left) from an interview video produced by AQC's Al-Sahab Media Foundation and released two days ago.

In July, TTP's media outlet, 'Umar Studio, released an almost hour-long video entitled "Bloodshed and Revenge" about its conflict with the Pakistani state. A version of the video with English subtitles was released a couple of months later. The video includes footage of alleged Pakistani military atrocities in the Pashtun-majority Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and North West Frontier Province (NWFP), particularly in TTP's main base of operations, South Waziristan. It also includes footage of fighting between TTP and the Pakistani military, TTP attacks and ambushes on the latter, a martyr will, and footage of captured Pakistani military equipment. Finally, the video also includes an interrogation of a captured Pakistani soldier from the "Baluch regiment", who is then executed (the execution is not shown).

"The Amir [commander] Hakimullah Mehsud, God protect him: Taliban Amir in Pakistan," with a photograph of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of Islam's most revered shrines

I have just started to take advantage of the opportunities for blogging that BlipTV provides and have embedded a copy of the video with English subtitles. It is only the second video that I have uploaded to BlipTV, but I hope to make much more use of the site in the future. Hopefully it enhances the usefulness of Occident.

Watch "Bloodshed & Revenge"

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Criticizing Arab Autocrats & Muslim Apathy in Two Nasheed Videos

As I have written previously, anasheed (singular: nasheed, religious and, in the case of jihadis, political-themed songs) are an important part of political communication, both for Muslim and non-Muslim political groups. In the case of jihadi-Salafis, anasheed, although they rely on catchy melodies and rhythm (and effects such as echo), do not generally include the use of instruments. Religious-nationalist anasheed, such as those produced by the Lebanese Hizbullah and Palestinian HAMAS movements, on the contrary often do include the use of instruments such as drums, strings, brass, and even bagpipes (in the case of one Hizbullah nasheed video that I've seen). Anasheed are useful because they include widely-held critiques of Arab and Muslim rulers (they they're autocrats more concerned with remaining in power than serving there people), calling on potential supports and supporters to take critique to the next level, open rebellion.

(From Left): Somali interim president Shaykh Sharif Ahmed, Syrian president Bashar al-Asad, Sudanese president 'Umar Hasan al-Bashir, Saudi king 'Abdullah I, and Tunisian president Zayn el Abidine ben 'Ali (Zine El Abidine Ben Ali).

Below is a jihadi-Salafi nasheed entitled "Ummat Ahmed" (pronounced in Arabic as "Ummat Ahmad/Ahmed", "Nation of Ahmed"). The title refers to the "nation of the Prophet Muhammad," and says that the Muslim Ummah ["nation"] of today is not a worthy successor to him. Although the lyrics are applicable to the entire Muslim world, which jihadi-Salafis see as mostly being ruled by apostate Muslims in the service of foreign powers, chief among them the United States, the images and footage used in this video montage clearly focus on the Arab Muslim world.
Saudi King 'Abdullah bin 'Abd al-'Aziz ibn al-Sa'ud shaking hands with former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Images of Arab autocrats flash by, including the kings and amirs ["princes"; "rulers"] of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and the Arab Emirates, as well as the autocratic presidents of Syria, Algeria, Sudan, the Fatah Palestinian authority, and Egypt. Many of them, particularly the Saudi king, 'Abdullah, the Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faysal, and the Fatah Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud 'Abbas, are shown as clients of the U.S. Also shown is the secretary-general of the Arab League, 'Amr Musa, and the president of Libya, the eccentric Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi.

Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faysal, meeting with former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Lyrical references are made to the historical legacy of the Prophet (such as the Battle of Badr) and key Salafi concepts (such as al-Bara', "disavowal" of those who are not Muslim or those Muslims who have become or are close to becoming apostates). The video nasheed montage is well constructed

Watch the nasheed video montage

The second nasheed video criticizes Arab and Muslim rulers and the majority of Muslims who do not, the speaker says, oppose their subjugation by foreign powers, namely the U.S. and other "new Crusaders." The apathy of most Muslims to the suffering of their fellow Muslims is also a central theme (watch the segment from the 3:30-mark to 4:40-mark, which shows wealthy and middle class Arabs wasting time on expensive baubles while their coreligionists in Palestine, Iraq, and East Turkestan are violently persecuted). A bandaged and crying little boy and footage of injured and dead Muslims in the Middle East and East Turkestan is juxtaposed with Arabs and Muslims celebrating mindlessly unimportant events such as sports and worldly possessions.

For a good idea, visually, of this nasheed's theme, also watch from the 4:45-mark until the end, about 1.5 minutes. The "tyrants of (the) White House" are shown in the form of former U.S. president George W. Bush and Federal Reserve chairman Benjamin Bernanke, followed by images of Muslim religious leaders who have "sold out," such as the popular Egyptian preacher 'Amr Khaled and the head jurist at Egypt's famed al-Azhar University and Mosque, Shaykh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi.

Calling for Muslims to take up the struggle [al-jihad], footage of United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon reacting to a powerful bomb blast while visiting Baghdad, Iraq in March 2007 and an Iraqi Shi'i cleric ducking from another bomb blast are shown. A hand covered in blood, possibly from Palestine or Iraq, is shown before footage of "mujahideen" ["warriors of faith"] marching is shown, probably filmed in Chechnya or the Caucasus. Several of them point their index finger up, noting their belief in the absolute unity [Tawhid] of God. The background nasheed's melody is quite beautiful, adding to the power of the video.

Watch the nasheed

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'Ashura Artwork: Part I

'Abbas bin 'Ali, a son of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, the first Shi'i Imam, and half-brother of Husayn bin 'Ali. He was Husayn's standard bearer. His shrine is located in the southern Iraqi city of al-Kufa.

*Post in the 'Ashura 1431 Occasional Series of posts about the annual Shi'i Muslim (all branches) commemoration of the martyrdom in 680 C.E. of Husayn bin 'Ali, the third Imam of the Shi'is.*

Today's "'Ashura 1431" post is made up of two parts: (1) a brief historical summary of the death of the third Shi'i Imam, Husayn bin 'Ali, and many of his male companions at Karbala in 680 C.E. (taken from this POST from the last 'Ashura, with minor edits) and (2) popular Shi'i artwork about the Karbala events and personalities which is produced and displayed in areas with large Shi'i populations such as southern Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Kuwait, Pakistan, and Bahrayn.


We are presently in the month of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The first ten days of the month have a particular importance to Shi‘ī Muslims, as well as many Sunnī Muslims, who mark the martyrdom of Husayn ibn ‘Alī, the third Shi‘ī Imam and son of the first Imam, 'Ali ibn Abi Talib. The role of the Imam in this case combines both religious and temporal (worldly or, for lack of a better term, “political”) social roles. In short, Shi‘īs view the Imams to have been both the legitimate leader of the Muslim community, a leader who holds the reins of both religious and temporal authority.

"'Ashura," the shrines of Imam Husayn (right) and 'Abbas (left)

For the largest group of Shi‘īs, the Ithna ‘Ashariyya or “Twelvers”, the line of Imams runs to 12, the last of whom is believed to be in occultation, a concealed/hidden state beginning in the tenth century in order to safeguard him from his worldly enemies. This twelfth Imam, the “Hidden” Imam or the Imam al-Zaman (“Imam of the Age”), will return at a time decided by God, and upon his return, he will establish absolute justice. It is my hope to raise several questions in this short essay about the nature of the actions taken by Husayn, in that year 680 C.E., that were themselves raised in my mind during a conversation several days ago with a couple friends and a few others. First, for the benefit of lay readers, I feel it is necessary to provide a brief background of the events in question. However, what follows is just that, a brief background of the relevant historical events. It is not meant to be a comprehensive retelling of events. Hopefully, I have found the correct balance.

Mourning by survivors of Husayn's band, which included his sister Zaynab bint 'Ali and his daughters, in a famous modern Iranian Shi'i painting, "Evening of 'Ashura."

Husayn holds a place of particular importance to Shi‘īs, Twelvers and others, who view him as the most important of their martyrs, of whom there have been many throughout history. He is given the popular title, “Sayyid al-Shuhada” (“Lord of Martyrs”), a title that clearly denotes the esteem in which they hold him and, as importantly, the story of his and his companions’ actions on the barren plain of Karbala, in present-day Iraq. His father, ‘Ali, the first Imam, and brother, Hassan, the second Imam, did not challenge Mu‘awiya ibn Sufyan, the first caliph (roughly, “king”) of the Umayyad dynasty, the first monarchical dynastic line following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 C.E. The reasons as to why this was are the topic of debate to this day.

The tomb of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina (bottom left) and a minaret from Husayn's shrine in Karbala (bottom right) mixed with the "Evening of 'Ashura."

Unlike his father and brother, Husayn not only refused to give allegiance to Mu‘awiya’s son and successor, Yazid I, but attempted to answer a call from supporters of his father in the Iraqi city of al-Kufa, who promised to fight with him if he would come from his refuge in the city of Medina in modern-day Saudi Arabia to lead them. However, before Husayn and his small band reached al-Kufa, the Imam’s representative and cousin, Muslim ibn Aqīl, was arrested and executed on the orders of ‘Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad, the governor of Iraq and a loyalist of Yazid’s.

Barren plain of Karbala with a part of the portrait "Evening of 'Ashura" and a banner dedicated to Husayn and the "martyrs of Karbala." The mourning women surround Husayn's horse, Zuljanah, which, like many objects/relics connected to Husayn and the other Imams, is now revered by Shi'i Muslims.

Soon thereafter, a large Umayyad military force sent by Ibn Ziyad, led by the general ‘Umar ibn Sa‘d, cut off Husayn’s band from reaching al-Kufa, stopping them at Karbala, now a city not far from al-Kufa. The Kufans, who had promised to aid the Imam, reneged on their promises, perhaps out of fear, and effectively abandoned him and his companions and their families. In a siege and battle lasting several days, the Umayyad soldiers killed all but one of Husayn’s male relatives and companions, and, on the tenth day of Muharram, the Imam himself. Only Husayn’s ill son, ‘Ali ibn Husayn, better known as Zayn al-‘Abidīn, survived, of the Imam’s male relatives and companions. His sister, Sayyida Zaynab, and his daughters were among the survivors of his band. They were all taken back in chains to Damascus in Syria, the base of Umayyad power. Damascus was the Umayyad capital and the stronghold of the late Mu‘awiya.

Zaynab bint 'Ali, the daughter of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, and the individual responsible for the survival of her brother Husayn's message following his death at Karbala.

Shrine of Imam Husayn at Karbala with a red sky; Some Shi'i sources say that the "sky wept blood" on the day of his martyrdom.

Imam Husayn and his son 'Ali Asghar, who was killed at Karbala

"Lord of Martyrs"

Shrine of Imam Husayn and a portrait of his horse, Zuljanah, and the fallen helmet and banner of the Imam.


Imam Husayn and his youngest son, 'Ali Asghar, who was killed at Karbala by an Umayyad arrow. Many readers will see this portrait's resemblance to imagery used in Christian painting, particularly the symbolic act of "offering" one's son as a sacrifice for a message or cause, à la Jesus in Christian theology.

See the first 'Ashura 1431 series post HERE.

See the second 'Ashura 1431 series post HERE.