Monday, February 28, 2011

The Caliphates - 7. The Ali Connection

Abraham and His Family
Abraham, father of the Jewish and Christian faiths, is also a prophet of Islam. Jews believe they are the descendants of Abraham through his second son, Isaac; Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad is a descendant of Abraham through his first son, Ishmael. Shiites thus believe the Twelve Imams are also descendants of Abraham.

Muslims believe Abraham visited present-day Najaf, Iraq with Isaac. Isaac argued with his father against his intention to settle there because he believed the land wouldn't support growing crops and grazing livestock, but Abraham held his ground, so to speak, saying one day there would be a tomb built there with a shrine where thousands of people would find entrance to Paradise.

Twenty-five hundred years later, Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid was hunting deer with dogs in Najaf when the deer ran onto a piece of raised ground, but the dogs would not follow them. The caliph tried to encourage his horse to follow the deer, but it refused as well. Finally, the caliph asked an old man why his dogs and horse would refuse to enter the ground and the old man told him it was the place Imam Ali was secretly buried 150 years earlier. The old man told him that when he was a boy, his father told him he had accompanied Imam Ja'far Sadiq, who was the Sixth Imam and thus a descendant of Muhammad, to pray over the spot and the Imam told him Imam Ali was buried there.

Imam Ali Holy Shrine
Caliph Harun had the story related to Imam Musa Kazim, the Seventh Imam, in Medina who confirmed it as the burial location of the Imam's grandfather, Imam Ali. The caliph then had a shrine built around the tomb in fulfillment of Abraham's Muslim prophesy.

On April 10, 2003, Sayyid Adbus Majid al-Khoei entered the Imam Ali Holy Shrine in Najaf, Iraq. "Sayyid" is a title given to the known descendants of Muhammad through his grandsons Hasan (the Second Imam) and Husayn (the Third Imam), both sons of the First Imam Ali and Muhammad's daughter Fatima.

As one might expect, Khoei was a "Twelver" Shiite cleric: a proponent of the belief that the Twelfth Imam who vanished several centuries ago would return to preside with Jesus over the Worldwide Caliphate. He was born in 1962 in Najaf, the home of the Imam Ali Shrine.

Sayyid Adbus Majid al-Khoei
In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, he was part of the movement that expected they would be able to overthrow a weakened Saddam Hussein, but as the movement collapsed, Khoei fled to exile in London. While in London, he remained an outspoken critic of Saddam and his injustices against Shiites. After U.S.-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003, Khoei returned to Iraq, having been warned of the many dangers that remained for him there. He told reporters that in spite of the danger, he wanted to see for himself whether events in Iraq were a repetition of the hollow prospects of 1991 or if they would finally be rid of Saddam.

A week after returning to Iraq, he entered the Imam Ali Holy Shrine with the hereditary keeper of the keys to the Shrine, Haidar Raifee. When Saddam's regime fell, Raifee went into hiding since many Shiites considered him a Saddam operative in the shrine and he feared for his safety. At the encouragement of American and British forces, Khoei tried to reconcile Raifee and those who were loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr so he escorted Raifee from his hiding place back to his post in the shrine.

Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr
In 2003, Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr was 30 years old and popular with young Shiites as the son of a Grand Ayatollah and the son-in-law of another Grand Ayatollah. Sadr's father, two of his brothers, and his father-in-law had all been murdered by Saddam Hussein. Like Khoei, Sadr bears the title Sayyid, tracing his lineage back to the Prophet Muhammad. In Sadr's case, his lineage traces back not only to Ali but also to two of the twelve revered Imams in the Shiite tradition, the Sixth and Seventh Imams. These are the same Imams involved in Caliph Harun's discovery of Imam Ali's grave.

The security detail that had been provided to Khoei for his safety as he approached the Imam Ali Shrine could not accompany him inside the shrine. As he and Raifee entered, therefore, they were quite vulnerable to the mob that confronted them there. As the mob approached and threatened the two, Khoei fired his pistol into the air to warn them off, but it didn't achieve the desired result. The group poured in on Raifee and hacked him to death with knives. Khoei was tied up, beaten, and dragged to the entrance of Sadr's compound.

Witness accounts of what happened next vary somewhat, but the prevailing view was that when Sadr appeared at the door and was asked by Khoei's attackers what they should do with him, Sadr told them to take him away and kill him. Unfortunately for Khoei, he didn't consider the extent to which Sadr regarded him as a rival, or perhaps the extent to which Khoei who was roughly Sadr's age might interfere with a destiny Sadr envisioned for himself.

Tomorrow: The Pan-Islamic Mandate