Friday, July 17, 2009

baghdad nights

        Iraq is currently experiencing a religious undercurrent. Under Saddam, religious repression forced Muslims to practice in secret—especially those of Shia traditions (Sunnis also felt Saddam’s wrath. Nobody was safe). With the war, the quality of life fell dramatically for those lucky enough to hold onto their lives. Those of you who are not Iraqi or Muslim, don’t be alarmed—a proper religious current does not involve suicide bombings or any sort of violence. Rather, Iraqi civillians have dedicated their lives to praying and supplications. Rather than hello, “Peace/Salam,” rather than thank you, “May God bless your parents.”
        I was discussing this topic with my brother, and he asked how I came to my conclusion. "Simple..none of the girls wore hijab, and now they do...and all of the guys used to holler, and now they don't."
        Today marks the day of death for one of the Prophet’s grandsons (Imam al-Kadhium). Though, technically, a Shia tragedy, Iraqi Sunnis have also been known to partake in rituals. With religious freedom, Iraqis walk from all over the country, in a pilgrimage, to the mosque that the Imam is buried. My grandmother’s home is in Kadhimiyya, jokingly referred to as the Beverly Hills of Baghdad due to the 252 military gates and checkpoints throughout the city. “It’s a gated community,” my mom teases.
        Not willing to give up the opportunity to miss such a huge event or the chance to see Baghdad by foot with (near) guaranteed safety, we walked to Kadhimiyya from my aunt’s house 15 kilometers away. Throughout the way, Iraqis would feed us and give us drinks and tea for God’s blessings. We met people from Basra who had been walking for thirteen days to reach Kadhimiyya. Cars are not allowed in the city for days before the event due to a fear of car bombs. Those who walk are checked periodically for bombs. Tents were up throughout the streets for pilgrims to sleep or rest in. Islamic poems blasted on loud speakers throughout the streets, “raving, Baghdad style” I joked to Viyan. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims walked the streets. “Pilgrim, say your wishes to God!” After such a life of torment, Iraqis turn to God as the only entity who could protect them in this land of turmoil.
        There were plays throughout the streets and mock shrines. What surprised me was the scores of youth on the street. “Do you have anything like this?” My cousin Marwa asked Salar.
       “Halloween,” replied Salar.
        Hold on—momentary break to describe me at this exact moment. There is a military heli like 10 feet ahead that has been driving me crazy all morning, louder than life. I have been forcing myself not to go outside and take a picture of it—but I think I have decided to get a picture of its shadow on the floor. And T-Pain just came on and Haidoori just started doing the Harlem shake. I ain’t going to front like I didn’t join him, but seriously, this is hysterical.

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