Iraq’s religion, and fury, within the time of coronavirus

NEW DELHIEdited By: Gravitas deskUpdated: Sep 22, 2020, 11:25 PM IST

File Photo Photograph:(AFP)

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Every year since, Shia Muslims observe a 40-day grieving period for Hussein. Thousands of people visit Imam Hussein's resting place.

For centuries Iraqis leaned on religion to grieve the costs of war. Now a deadly pandemic and the deaths of young protestors have lent greater sorrow to their prayers.

Iraq's Shia majority is currently marking the apex of its religious calendar: a month of mourning that includes Ashura, the memorial of the seventh-century killing of Hussein, the Prophet Mohammed's grandson.

Every year since, Shia Muslims observe a 40-day grieving period for Hussein. Thousands of people visit Imam Hussein's resting place. The glittering city of Karbala is eclipsed by echoes of cries. Mourners pour out their heavy heart in front of the mausoleum's gates. 

This is an annual catharsis for a country plagued by grief. One whose history has showered its people with grief. If in the 1980s, it was the war with Iran. In the 1990s, the country was crippled by US sanctions. America invaded them in 2003 soon, Dictator Saddam Hussein was hunted and killed. When his statue fell to the ground in April 2003.A sense of hope rose in the hearts of the Iraqis. They dreamt of a new beginning.

A happy beginning but history had other plans for Iraq. The country was soon engulfed in sectarian infighting the Islamic state added to their sorrow.

The country lost it all its infrastructure healthcare education the only thing that remained -- was their faith it stayed with them though the rare highs and daily lows every year, when Iraqis flocked to Karbala. They carried with them a heart full of worries and grief.

Sheikh Hassan Dhakeri, Cleric in Iraq's shrine city of Karbala said that “They ask us, why do you cry, if Imam Hussein was killed 1,400 years ago? They ask us, isn't that enough crying? When someone dies, their relatives cry for one day, one week, ten days, a year - and they get bored. But the cause of Imam Hussein, the favour in the hearts of believers never dies down. Every year, every catastrophe, every martyrdom, we renew our vow to him. We say, we are committed to this pledge, in performing our rituals,”.

"Even if you don't have a beautiful voice, as long as you are mentioning the tragedy and the story of Imam Hussein, people will be spiritually moved. The story of Imam Hussein is among the greatest stories. It hasn't happened and won't happen again in all of time. Anyone who lost someone close to them, their father or their mother, when they remember the ordeal of Imam Hussein, in its greatness and enormity, they also commemorate their family members the martyrs, their own departed - their mothers, fathers, grandparents. It's normal to have this spiritual link between the two issues," said Mohammad Karbalai, a religious chanter.

The holy month of grieving this year is very different. Despite the ban on large gatherings. Tens of thousands are attending the Ashura rituals with masks, disinfectants and temperature checks. Iraq is once again leaning on religion. Iraq is turning to faith for consolation.

(With inputs from agencies)