On the Margins of a Long Passage

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In the turbulent world of today, when politicians who seek world leadership are spreading war and enmity across the globe, people in Iraq from different ethnic groups and religions have started to sing a song of unity and harmony. Every year on Arbaeen Day, millions of Iraqis go on a pilgrimage to the holy shrine of Imam Husayn in Karbala to hold the biggest march in the world. As they get prepared for this long journey, lots of other people get ready to welcome them beside the roads and provide them with food and drink. All Iraqis, regardless of their ethnicity or religion, consider it a great honor to help pilgrims visiting the shrine of Imam Husayn in any way possible. This film shows how the third Imam of the Shiah has brought back unity and friendship in a land ripped with hostility after the US-led invasion in 2003.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: The biggest march in the world takes place on Arbaeen Day to mark the 40th day of mourning after the death anniversary of the third Shia Imam with the aim of visiting his shrine in Karbala. No institution organizes this march. It’s the devotion and strong beliefs of the Shia people in Southern Iraq that turns into such a great show of cultural and political power that no power in the world can ignore it. No organization or government can provide accommodation and facilities for 17 million pilgrims that travel hundreds of kilometers across fields and deserts for 20 days. But organizing such a complicated task is accomplished to the fullest in a simple manner by ordinary people in Iraq; un-organized units that hold the most organized crowded party in the world. Such a culture of generosity and bigheartedness in any religion and nation is exceptional and a cause for pride. And, fortunately, this honor belongs to the Shia and the devoted followers of Imam Hussein. Basra is one of the biggest cities in Southern Iraq; in the evenings, the sound of Azan coming from the mosques is a reminder of the city’s Muslim majority. And if you enter Basra on a Sunday evening like us, the bells of the St. Mary's Church will inform you of the presence of the Christian minority. The lovely sound of Christians’ prayers and Muslims’ Azan is a sign of unity and harmony between different ethnic and religious groups. But this melody of love and unity was never a sweet sound to the ears of the Takfiri’s bigoted and prejudiced factions. Saher Basri is a Christian believer that has come to the church with his Shia friend. Saher believes that this conflict has been imported to the country by colonizers. Those who do not wish to see an independent and strong Iraq. But they are sadly mistaken, because there have never been any feuds between him and his childhood friend.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Dr. Sa’d Mata Petrus: Different ethnic and religious groups live side by side in Iraq. This has always been the case for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, after the fall of the Baath regime, different ethnic and religious groups grew divided. Nevertheless, our love for Iraq is not just rooted in patriotism and being an Iraqi. It’s rooted in our monotheism. I’m not talking about the aberrant groups that are sowing the seeds of hatred, enmity and violence. I’m talking about mutual human interests.

Narration: Dr. Sa’d Petrus is another Christian who is of the same opinion as Saher Basari, and has been praised by his Shia brothers for his attempts to put out the fire of this blind enmity.

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Dr. Sa’d Mata Petrus:This plate is a gift from the Naba’ al-Azim Institute, because despite being a Christian, I always take part in the mourning events held for Imam Hussein. We haven’t celebrated the birth of Christ for the last three years, because it has coincided with Muharram. In order to thank me for my efforts and taking part in such events, one of the clergies in Iraq has given me this plate; it’s to thank me for my attempts at creating unity between Muslims and Christians.

Narration: This is the city’s main water treatment facility, where the Shia Sheikh Ala, Saher and Dr. Petrus’ mutual friend, works.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Sheikh Ala: My job is to attend to the electricity power of this area, to take care of the electric system of water pumps. For example if the temperature rises too high or there is another problem, it will be shown here. Then I quickly go to the main tanks to.

Narration: Aside from Ala, who is an engineer, other Sunni and Christian and Sabian workers also work here. It is true that they have serious religious discussions now and then, but all of them are of the same mind when it comes to serving Imam Hussein’s pilgrims.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown man, Local resident of Iraq: The Isa Ibn Maryam Mowkeb (a kind of center or camp) does not belong to a group of Muslims or Sabians or Christians or Sunnis. Working at this Mowkeb is not limited to any religious group. Christians, Muslims and Sabians decided together to make a Mowkeb for serving the pilgrims. Of course, most of the members of this Mowkeb are Christian. For example, Saher who is a Christian is one of our good neighbors. Saher is from a well-known and well-respected Christian family. He used to have a music club and performed at the club as a singer. That was his job. But when the Isa Ibn Maryam Mowkeb was set up, he started to work here. He started to serve the Imam Hussein pilgrims with us, and he’s serving Imam Hussein at the Isa Ibn Maryam Mowkeb at the moment. But he is a Christian and we’re Muslims.”

Narration: Dr. Sa’d Petrus is another close friend of Sheikh Ala’s. They met several years ago, when Sheikh Ala was a student at the University of Basrah. He’s been the man in charge of Basra’s religious minorities for several years now.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Dr. Sa’d Mata Petrus:Different tribes such as the Armenians, Seriacs, Caldeans, etc. live in Basra. In addition to seven Christian tribes, we have Sabians too. I don’t know the exact number of Sabians in Basra

Narration: Dr. Petrus has other responsibilities as well. He teaches physics to undergraduate students at the University of Basra, which is one of the best academic centers in Iraq.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Dr. Sa’d Mata Petrus:I have written more than 46 researches and scientific articles. I’m also a member of the electronic research board at Oxford University in Britain and a member of the electronic research board at the University of Brussels in Europe. This is a brief summary of my academic background.”

Narration: Sheikh Ala was Dr. Petrus’ student once, and graduated in power engineering from the same university.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Sheikh Ala: I graduated in technical engineering from the University of Basrah, and I’m working as an electrical engineer at Iraq’s Ministry of Industry and Minerals at the moment.”

Narration: Their friendship started at Dr. Petrus’ Physics class, and took on a new turn with Sheikh Ala’s special questions.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Dr. Sa’d Mata Petrus:What is your relationship with Imam Hussein? How can you define friendship and brotherhood between a Christian and Imam Hussein? How do you compare Imam Hussein’s martyrdom with Christ’s suffering? They share many similarities. When one of the monks saw Imam Hussein’s severed head, he protested, saying, “How can you treat your Imam like that?”

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Dr. Sa’d Mata Petrus:This incident is very similar to Jesus Christ’s suffering and tortures. This story is as painful as Christ’s crucifixion. Hearing the story of Imam Hussein’s martyrdom in Muharram is really painful to me, because Imam Hussein was a man of peace and was invited, but he was taken by surprise. What happened to him is so heartbreaking that it even upsets a Christian like me. There are many similarities between our beliefs and Imam Hussein’s movement. That’s why a Christian like Wahab al-Nasrani went to Imam Hussein’s assistance. It’s a great honor for me that many Christians in Iraq have accompanied Imam Hussein and been with him. Our contributions today are a continuation of our friendship in the past.

Narration: The Shia and Christians are somehow related. This comment is Sheikh Ala’s reason for his friendship with Christians. And his argument rests on the historical events that happened in Karbala. The first witness to that is Wahab al-Nasrani who is one of the most famous martyrs of Karbala. The second witness is the monk who washed Imam Hussein’s severed head at a convent near Aleppo. However, Sheikh Ala believes that the events that happened to Imam Hussein cannot be compared to Jesus Christ, because Christ was only one person and he stayed alive and went to heavens. But Imam Hussein and his household met with a bloody fate.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Woman, Local Resident of Iraq: “Oh, dear! What did they do to you, Ahl-al-Bayt (Prophet's household)? They called you Kharijite and took you from one city to another.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Woman, Local Resident of Iraq:Zaynab! My dear! Tell me in which city your dear Ruqayya was left all alone!

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Woman, Local Resident of Iraq:Shout, Abbas, because Zaynab shouts today. Dear Abbas get up and tell Zaynab where you’re glorious and great household lies in a pool of blood. Oh, dear brother. My burning heart will grieve for your loss till the judgment day.”

Narration: You must remember what Sheikh Ala said about Sahar Basari’s job, that Saher was in the business of providing wedding ceremonies with sound systems. But Saher says he changed his job three years ago, when he started to work at Imam Hussein’s mowkeb. Saher said if Wahab al-Nasrani could fall in love with Imam Hussein and sacrifice his life for him, his sound systems can be used in singing just for Imam Hussein. In the past few years, Saher’s sound systems have been used for Soaz in Imam Hussein’s Ta'zya.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Sheikh Ala: I believe every person, regardless of his religion, can serve Imam Hussein. Imam Hussein is not just for the Shia or Iranians or Iraqis. Imam Hussein belongs to all the people in the world. Even if a Jew decides to serve Imam Hussein, we’ll accept him with open arms; he can come here and do so. The people who serve Imam Hussein like this must know him very well. They know who Imam Hussein is and where he came from. Imam Hussein is not just for you or me; he belongs to the entire world.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Dr. Sa’d Mata Petrus:It’s really amazing. Your love for Imam Hussein is really amazing and cheering. I speak as a Christian, and I’m sure the Sunnis and Sabians are of the same opinion. You love him so much that it’s terrifying sometimes. I can’t really express it in words. As a Christian, I’m proud of what you do. I don’t think you’ll be able to find such a culture in any other country but Iraq. “

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Dr. Sa’d Mata Petrus:Here, even poor people have something to give. This is a sign of people’s love for Imam Hussein. I’ve studied abroad and have visited many countries. But I’ve never seen the Iraqis’ culture of serving anywhere else, and this is something that we’re proud of. As a Christian, I’m proud of my Shia brothers. I feel proud when I see them working like that. I feel proud when I see people begging the pilgrims to eat the food and drink the water they have prepared.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man, Local Resident of Iraq:The two halls that I told you about are here. These are the bedrooms. This is a Hussainia. This is the garage. Hello? Hello, Abu Yaser.”

Narration: What you’re about to hear are not uttered by a Muslim. This person is not a Muslim.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man, Local Resident of Iraq:Imam Hussein cannot be described with words. It’s as if he was a miracle sent by God. The Ahl-al-Bayt is people of knowledge and culture. No matter how hard you try, you can never describe all their accomplishments. Even if all the people spend their lives writing about their good points, it will only be the tip of the iceberg. I’ve travelled to Iran three times just to visit Imam Reza’s shrine in Mashhad.”

Narration: Can you believe that a non-Muslim loves Imam Ali even more than a Shia?

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Old Man, Local Resident of Iraq:The Ahl-al-Bayt was great people. They were generous and hospitable and loved their friends. Imam Ali was the philosopher of his time. He had a heart of gold, and he was the Prophet’s trusted successor. He let go of this earthly world and all its comforts, saying, “World, get away from me and go deceive someone else.” This is the gist of what he said. He was connected to the heavens. He was connected to the heavens in everything, and this is the height of his bravery and power.”

Narration: What you heard were the words of people who are neither Muslim nor Shia. But they love and believe in Imam Hussein, and respect his pilgrims so much that they give them gifts every day. The most melodious songs for them are Imam Hussein’s Nohas. During these 20-day visits, they find themselves committed to serving the pilgrims at one of the Mowkebs on the road.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Old Man, Local Resident of Iraq:Hopefully, you’ll be able to film a lot of things and get to know our friends at Imam Hussein’s Mowkebs. I hope you’ll see love and peaceful co-existence there. The people you see there are going to visit Imam Hussein. These people have come from the Iranian TV Channel 2 to film the servants and pilgrims of Imam Hussein. You’re on your way to visit Imam Hussein. What will you ask for from him?”

Narration: Don’t be mistaken. This man is not a reporter or TV host. But he’s decided to be Iran’s TV host today because of his love for Imam Hussein and to introduce these people to you.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Old Man, Local Resident of Iraq:Where do you come from?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man, Local Resident of Iraq: “Basra.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Old Man, Local Resident of Iraq:Which city?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man, Local Resident of Iraq:The Abu al-Khasib region.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Old Man, Local Resident of Iraq:They’re walking from Abu al-Khasib to Imam Hussein’s shrine. Welcome. Welcome. As you can see, many people are going to visit Imam Hussein on foot. The Imam who was the Prophet’s trusted successor.”

Narration: Moayyed Saleh Sa’eed is one of Iraq’s greatest Sabian clergies and a follower of the monotheist religion of Yahya Ibn Zakariyya (John the Baptist).In Basra’s fruit market, there’s an interesting way of dealing. If you shop for the pilgrims, the traders will give you big discounts in order to have a part in serving the pilgrims.

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

Narration: And this contribution is almost compulsory, but Abu Nasar’s store doesn’t enjoy any business because the time of mourning Imam Hussein has started and no one holds parties anymore.Making gold jewelry is one of the most delicate arts in the world. The Sabians are very skilled in this field. The Sabians in Iran, Iraq and Syria have always been the best experts in the gold trade.Abu Nasar puts his assistant in charge of the store every day at about 10 o’clock in the morning, and goes to Hazrat Ruqayya Mowkeb, where his wife and daughter spend their time assisting other Shia women cook for Imam Hussein’s pilgrims.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Nasar, Local Resident of Iraq:Imam Hussein’s martyrdom saddens every human being. Imam Hussein is like a spring; he’s a movement and a belief. Everyone who has his own beliefs will follow in Imam Hussein’s footsteps. That’s why all the Iraqi ethnic groups, whether Christian or Sabian, are like a family here. That’s why Iraq’s Sabian youths are in mourning and do not get married in Muharram and Safar, and do not participate in any celebrations out of respect for Imam Hussein.

Narration: Thousands of people who call themselves Sabians or Mandaeans live in Iraq, in the vicinity of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and in the cities of Basra, Amarah and Mosul, as well as in Khuzestan in Iran, in the vicinity of the Arvand and Karun Rivers.They have their own language and alphabet, which is a branch of the Syriac language. They have their own beliefs and holy books. The Mandaeans believe that Hazrat Yahya has told them Adam’s story, narrated by prophets such as Noah, Abraham, and Seth and Adam. Therefore, they call themselves the followers of Hazrat Yahya Ibn Zakariyya. They believe that Yahya has saved them from the Jews’ tyranny and turned them into Mandaeans through his teachings. Manda means knowledge and theosophy. Yahya baptized people at the side of rivers, so he was called the True Prophet by God. Much of this information can be found with a brief search on the internet. But if you want to know more about the honesty and kindness of Mandaean Sabians, you need to live with them like Abu Komeil. Abu Komeil has been living near one of the heads of this tribe, Mo’ayed Saleh Saeed, known as Abu Ali.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Komeil, Local Resident of Iraq: I’ve been Abu Ali’s neighbor and friend for years now. He is particularly close to my family. When his son, Ali, was a high school student, I was his teacher. He’s a doctor now. I didn’t know he’d become a doctor. I saw him by accident when I went to hospital one day. I told him, “Ali, I was your teacher at high school.” When I saw him in high school for the first time, I was surprised that his name was Ali. There was a story behind that. I’d like to hear it from you now.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Ali, Local Resident of Iraq: My wife and I had married a long time, but didn’t have a baby. My wife got pregnant 7 times, but miscarried. In the end, my father went to visit Imam Ali’s shrine to ask him to help us. He stood at the door, stated his request, and turned back. He didn’t even enter the shrine! We had a baby later on and my father named him Ali to show his gratitude to Imam Ali. And Ali is the name of God, because no one leaves his shrine empty-handed. When Ali was a child, my father took him to visit Imam Ali’s shrine.”

TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00

Narration: When it was time for daily prayers, Abu Ali excused himself and went to get ready for doing their own practices. The Sabians’ ablution, prayers, and other religious traditions bear a strong resemblance to those of Muslims.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Ali, Local Resident of Iraq:Our God is one and the same.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Komeil, Local Resident of Iraq: “What is your Qibla?

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Ali, Local Resident of Iraq:Quds. Sit here. I want to read our holy book for you. He is a glorious supporter, He is a compassionate judge, He is kind and generous and He has existed since the beginning, and is the creator of everything. Lucky are those who are generous, for they will be awarded. Lucky are those who clothe others, for they will wear clothes of light soon; and the beams of their light will encompass the whole humanity.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Komeil, Local Resident of Iraq: “I know that you’ve been serving in Imam Hussein’s mourning centers (Heiat) for several years. I want to know your opinion regarding the Ashura.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Ali, Local Resident of Iraq:There’s no catastrophe greater than Ashura. They killed a man whom they knew was an Imam; they had accepted the religion of his grandfather. And they didn’t just kill him; they crushed him under the hoofs of their horses. They imprisoned his household and took them from Kufa to Damascus. They were not Muslim. They were ruthless criminals. They will never be forgiven. There are three groups who are cursed: First, suppressors like Yazid; second, those who killed him like Umar ibn Sa'ad and his men; third, people who condoned such a crime. I hope you and I will never be a part of the third group, otherwise our ancestors will burn in hell. The battle of good and bad has always existed. Some people side with evil, and those who have sided with the good try to destroy them. But, unfortunately, followers of darkness have always outnumbered them.”

Narration: Although he looks old and frail, his soul is fresh and young. This is what Abu Komeil said about his kind Sabian neighbor, who’s called Abu Ali by other people since he’s named his son Ali. In addition to teaching language, Abu Komil is also in the business of poultry and fish sale. He’s thankful that God has provided him with the means to run three Mowkebs, where he serves pilgrims with his brothers. This is Abu Komeil’s Mouziq which has been at the service of pilgrims these days. Mouziq is the name of inns that look like this. Tribe sheiks and leaders use it to host guests or solve the problems and conflicts of their tribes. Today, Abu Ali is a guest in this Mouziq like Imam Hussein’s other pilgrims. Abu Ali kept asking us to attend to his Muslim neighbor. He said Abu Komeil is a treasure that you need to discover yourself. We took his advice and started to accompany Abu Ali this morning.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Komeil, Local Resident of Iraq: “From the first day I started up this aquaculture pond, I wished to use it for pilgrims. I wanted to build a farm for breeding poultry afterwards, and spend it all on the pilgrims. My friends and brothers believed that they had to sell all my products before the start of month of Safar because I would give them all away to the pilgrims and have nothing left.

TIME CODE: 30:00_35:00

Narration: What Abu Komeil’s friends said humorously was a truth that Abu Ali had already told us. That Abu Komeil would spend all his wealth for this purpose.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Komeil, Local Resident of Iraq: “I went to Mashhad last year to visit Imam Reza. I was wondering how I could make up for such a great honor. While I was there, I made a vow to prepare whatever food the pilgrims who travel on foot wish next year; whatever they want. I decided to prepare all kinds of foods and then ask the pilgrims, what would you like to eat, dear? Mutton, chicken, fish, Gheimeh, okra, all kinds of food. It’s fresh fish. I’ve prepared roast chicken for you as well. Please, come with me. Meat, Kebab, chicken. Come! Dear pilgrims, meat, Kebab, chicken and fish. We have roast chicken as well. Come on. Meat, Kebab, chicken and fish. We’re at your service. Sit down and rest for a minute. Let us serve you. I’m at your service. Welcome. Come on.

Narration: Abu Komeil achieved some of his dreams today and succeeded in making several dishes for the pilgrims. His problem is that there are too many people like him who wish to serve the pilgrims. Although the road is long and the number of pilgrims reaches several millions, the table of Imam Hussein’s munificence is so great that the assistants of this place have to beg the pilgrims to eat the food they have prepared.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man, Local Resident of Iraq:Have you eaten?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man, Local Resident of Iraq:Yes. I have.”

Narration: Such a culture of generosity and bigheartedness in any religion and nation is exceptional and a cause for pride.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Komeil, Local Resident of Iraq: “Meat, Kebab, and roast chicken. Please, come this way. This work is surprisingly sweet. I believe anyone who gets a taste of it can never give up. He will grow willing to work more. He will make this work a part of his life. He will borrow money if he doesn’t have any; he will sell his gold jewelries. It’s not just me. Everyone here is like that. In the 500 kilometer road from Basra to Karbala, Mowkebs have taken up all the space at the sides of the road.

Narration: Politicians seek power by occupying other countries, but real power lies in conquering hearts and souls.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Ali, Local Resident of Iraq:Christ and John the Baptist were of the same era, and Zachary (Zakariyya) was John’s father. The same hardships that happened to Zachary happened to Imam Hussein. That’s why we consider him our brother. Let me find someone for you to interview. Don’t you wish to interview the pilgrims? He always wished to serve Imam Hussein’s pilgrims, so he’s preparing food and water for them now. He’s at the service of pilgrims every day. He’s a steam turbine engineer. You can talk to him in English. He’s in charge of repairing and maintaining ship turbines. He’s come from Norway to serve Imam Hussein’s pilgrims. Why are you going to visit Imam Hussein’s shrine? What is your goal?

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man, Local Resident of Iraq: “Because I love him.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Ali, Local Resident of Iraq:What gifts are you gonna give him?

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man, Local Resident of Iraq: “My life. I want to accompany him.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Ali, Local Resident of Iraq:What have you learnt from him?

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man, Local Resident of Iraq: “Ethical values and compassion for other people.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Ali, Local Resident of Iraq:Give my regards to Imam Hussein, tell him a Sabian wishes to be granted good things. Look at these little children who have travelled hundreds of kilometers. They were good interviewees, nothing artificial about them.”

TIME CODE: 35:00_40:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man, Local Resident of Iraq: “My foot muscles are week and their nerves don’t function properly anymore, should someone who has a nerve tumor go to the doctor or not?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Ali, Local Resident of Iraq:Yes, he should see a doctor.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man, Local Resident of Iraq: “He’s my doctor. I’m going to see him.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Komeil, Local Resident of Iraq: “Someone who serves here is not after any kind of reward. I won’t deny that it was my motive when I first started to work here. We believed that if we work for Imam Hussein, we’d be awarded by God. When someone spends his money, he knows that Imam Hussein will give him double that amount, and, sure enough, he has always done that! But as God is my witness, I’m looking for damage right now, not a reward from God. I wish to go bankrupt and say I have nothing left, because I’ve spent it all on Imam Hussein.”

Narration: There are many people who give away their money to the last penny. There are even those who sacrifice their life for this purpose. But Abu Komeil believes no matter what you do, it’s never enough.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Komeil, Local Resident of Iraq: “Whatever you raise, you’ll get used to it and it will grow dear to you. For example, if you have a nightingale at home, you’ll grow fond of it. You’ll be upset if it dies. Selling it will be difficult for you. I wonder what Imam Hussein was feeling when he gave up everything he held dear, when he sent his Ali al-Akbar to the battlefield. His Ali al-Asghar, what fish? What chicken? Who am I? My life, my house, my car… they’re not important. You can’t compare them. Never! This is the living room. This is the kitchen. This is the bedroom. This is my daughter, Fatemeh’s room.

Narration: This house has been “about to be completed” for the last three years, but every time something comes up to prevent it. The first year, when the excavation was done, Abu Komeil sold all the rebars and cements bags and spent them on the pilgrims. This year, he’s sold his car and all the girders of the house in order to provide for his guests.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Komeil, Local Resident of Iraq: “This is the Hussainia, which is 12 square meters. It faces Imam Reza. We’ll build a special kitchen for the Hussainia. We’ll have a garden here. During Muharram, we’ll put a tent over it and join it to the Hussainia. This is the Hussainia, this is the garage. I always show her the pictures in the laptop and tell her this is our house. Look! She exclaims, “Is that really our house?” She can’t believe it. She’s living with the picture for now. We have no money at the moment. I spent it all. Everyone admonishes me, saying that the house will never be finished, because religious events never end. But it’s no problem. I will build it. I swear to God, Imam Reza knows I’m telling the truth. I don’t care where I live, but I wish to build a big house. Why do I want a luxurious house? It’s not because I’m an important person and want a grand house.”

TIME CODE: 40:00_45:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Komeil, Local Resident of Iraq: “No. The house I’m living in … well, you saw the state of my house. It doesn’t really matter where I live. Thankfully, God and Ahl-al-Bayt have given me a family that puts up with it. Otherwise, I’d have had a hard time. The ceiling is damp and is on the verge of collapsing. The dampness bothers my daughter. It is not that I want a good house. But I want to be able to serve. I’m at the service of the pilgrims. They can come to my house. There are things that connect me to Imam Hussein, like serving the pilgrims and holding events. That’s what I want the house for. I need to provide the best place for the pilgrims. I keep making promises to my family, saying it will be like this and that. We’re living with our dreams right now. I always show her the pictures in the laptop and tell her this is our house. Look! She exclaims, “Is that really our house?” She can’t believe it.”

Narration: Today is the 11th day that Abu Komeil has been unable to sleep comfortably for even 2 hours, because he has to attend to his guests every minute of the day. But today his guests are not pilgrims. They are two families from to the al-Sa’d tribe who have come here to ask Abu Komeil solve their disagreement as the head of the tribe. The head of a tribe is greatly respected, and even disagreements that cannot be legally solved are easily solved through his intervention. But Abu Komeil’s Mouziq is host to the followers of the great Prophet’s household and is no place for problem-solving today, just as Abu Komeil is a servant to Imam Hussein’s pilgrims and is not the head of any tribes today.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Komeil, Local Resident of Iraq: “I don’t wear Keffiyeh and Agal (the clothes worn by tribe sheikhs) during this period, it’s not right. I’m a servant here, not a sheikh. I only wear working clothes in Muharram and Safar. Therefore, I’m no use to people who come here to have their problems solved. But I allowed my brother Ahmad to go and solve their problem. Ahmad helps me with the tribe issues and I trust him very much.

Narration: He sends the guests to his brother’s house with all due respect and waits courteously for the pilgrims to arrive.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Komeil, Local Resident of Iraq: “Iraqi sheikhs are tied down by many chains, chains of arrogance and self-importance. It’s very difficult for them to come off their high horses and leave their ivory towers. Their greatness and identity is defined by their expensive clothes and Keffiyeh. It’s hard for them to pick up a tray and offer tea to others, or take off their Agal in honor of Muharram. Even crying is difficult for them, because they see it as a sign of weakness. They even have their own way of sitting. They have to sit straight like this. They’re not supposed to slouch. Even the tribes in the south of Euphrates are supposed to sit up straight. They need to sit up straight. Even our way of sitting is a weakness for them. I have no problem with such things, but we’re not supposed to put on airs in front of the Ahl-al-Bayt. Can’t they see how the poor Shias serve with love? When even the disabled are working, what are you sheikhs waiting for?! What are you looking for? For example, Habib Ibn Mazahir was a tribe sheikh as well. When Imam Hussein asked for Habib’s help in Karbala, Habib didn’t say he was a sheikh. He didn’t even inform his tribe. Couldn’t he sit on his seat and order his big tribe to do this and that and remain his tribe’s leader? He didn’t even inform his tribe. He didn’t want to waste any time. He was afraid it would be too late. You know, if I decide to gather my tribe right now, it’ll take me an hour. But Habib didn’t have any time. He was afraid it would be too late. He didn’t hesitate and he didn’t tell his tribe. He left. He abandoned his tribe and broke down all the limitations. He left to calm down Zaynab’s heart. There’s no doubt that if Habib had a Keffiyeh and Agal, he’d have taken them off in front of Imam Hussein. He’d have thrown them down like this when he arrived at Zaynab’s tent. If someone wants to take a shower, the water is ready. We also have clean clothes and socks. Please, allow me. You’re tired.

TIME CODE: 45:00_50:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Abu Ali, Local Resident of Iraq:The pillar of faith rests on love, love for God. When you have him, you don’t need anything else. Who can attain such level of love? One in every thousand people; two in every two thousand people, those who are exceptional in their beliefs, and that pure man (Imam Hussein) who came to enjoin good and forbid wrong, came to fight against tyranny and suppression. If we had been in Karbala at that time, we’d have helped him and fought alongside him. Because he was fighting for great causes like love and peace. Killing that infant was the height of cruelty and disrespect for earthly and heavenly values. Killing that infant was tantamount to apostasy in Islam. Not just in Islam, in any other religion! Depending on the amount of trust one has in God, their requests will be granted. God will give him whatever he wants. That’s what happens to any devout believer that treats others rightly and respectfully. So imagine the position held by the prophet’s grandson and the Imam who sacrificed his life for God.”

Narration: Seyed Sami is a Shia resident of Qatif in Saudi Arabia. He’s come to Karbala with his friend Ali Boqrein to make a film about foreign pilgrims who have recently converted to Islam. We asked their permission to accompany them after promising not to interrupt their work. Their first destination today is the Africans’ Mowkeb, where about 100 people work. They’ll go to Thais’ Mowkeb afterwards, and will then accompany a caravan of pilgrims who have come from all around the world.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man 1, Local Resident of Iraq: “Where are you from?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man 2, Local Resident of Iraq: “We have come from Ghana to Najaf to study.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man 1, Local Resident of Iraq: “So you’re living in Najaf?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man 2, Local Resident of Iraq: “For the past year.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man 1, Local Resident of Iraq: “What do you do there?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man 2, Local Resident of Iraq: “We’re studying at the Seminary (Howza).”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man 1, Local Resident of Iraq: “How many of you are there?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man 2, Local Resident of Iraq: “We’re 33 people from Africa; 6 people from Ghana, 4 people from Tanzania … The martyrdom of Imam Hussein may look like a simple incident, but it’s of great importance in the eyes of God. You can easily see his greatness. You can see millions of people coming from all over the world to visit him.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man 1, Local Resident of Iraq: “When did you become a Shia?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man 2, Local Resident of Iraq: “I started to see the light 5 years ago. Fortunately, the number of Shia people is increasing.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man 1, Local Resident of Iraq: “What made you come all the way from Senegal to visit Imam Hussein?

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man 2, Local Resident of Iraq: “When someone understands the value of something, he never gets tired of seeking it.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man, Local Resident of Iraq: “Welcome, Imam Hussein’s Pilgrims! Come and have some tea!”

TIME CODE: 50:00_55:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man, Local Resident of Iraq: “I want to taste your food. Give me a spoon. Have you made it with vegetable oil? Do your wives work here as well?

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man 2, Local Resident of Iraq: “It was just us at first, but then my friend got married last year. He went to Thailand last year and got married, and now his wife is here too.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man, Local Resident of Iraq: “God bless you. I’m from the Baqi’ Mourning center (Heiat). Where are you now? We’re by the sign 502. Where are you exactly? We want to accompany you.

Narration: No matter how many guests come to Karbala, they always have a place to sleep. Even if all the hotels are packed and no inns have any empty beds left, many people open their houses to the pilgrims, and are proud of a chance to be able to serve them.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man, Local Resident of Iraq: “It’s nothing. What we do is very little. If it was not for Imam Hussein, we’d have never grown to love God or the Prophet or our religion. Serving Imam Hussein is a great honor, and not everyone can say he’s Imam Hussein’s servant. Abolfazl al-Abbas was Imam Hussein’s servant. Habib Ibn Mazahir was Imam Hussein’s servant. People like me are servants to Imam Hussein’s servants. Perhaps God will grant us prosperity in life because of them.

Narration: 1400 years ago, they dishonored the grandson of God’s prophet in this land, and thought that victory was theirs. But God holds Imam Hussein in such a high esteem that after so many centuries; only a glimpse of it has been seen.

TIME CODE: 55:00_01:00:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man, Local Resident of Iraq: “These sheep are for the pilgrims. We need to prepare fresh and clean food for them. We don’t work out of habit or imitation. We have a reason for doing this which can be studied from different aspects. Even standing here over the pot is not without reason. I always tell my friends, “Just as soaz gatherings and mourning for Imam Hussein have their own rituals, cooking for Imam Hussein has its own etiquettes too. They are Imam Hussein’s customs and manners that exist in the heart of our religion. If the world has a beating heart that heart is Imam Hussein and the main aim of these customs are reaching the heart of religion, because real existence is found in religions, faith, and connection to God. These customs are like veins that carry the blood in the body of religion. Someone who wants to find the spirit of Shia and faith should come here in Muharram and Safar and witness the true spirit of Islam. When we move away from this period and return to ordinary life, we continue to live like a self-interested person again, which is not a good life. But someone who wishes to see our culture and understand our relationship to God and our religion should come and see us bending over these pots.”

Narration: What Seyed Hesham says is what he has learned since his childhood. When he was a kid, his father used to stand on the stage of the Hussainia and sing a soaz for Imam Hussein, and right after that he used to come down and work like all other people over the pots.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Seyed Hesham, Local Resident of Iraq:The most important thing that I learned from my father was serving Imam Hussein. Serving him has always had a special meaning. He stood on the stage at the time when Saddam cut people’s tongues. Imam said, “Even if there’s a probability of death in going to Karbala, don’t forfeit such a trip.” My father always talked about political issues behind the microphone. He always had a big audience. It’s a wonder he stayed alive, because he was greatly in danger. He took on dangerous political activities, as well as jihadist ones. He worked directly against Saddam.

Narration: After the start of Iraq’s invasion of Iran, Seyed Kazem’s political activities turned into commanding the Badr corps and conducting military missions in Southern fronts. When the 8-year war came to an end, he took part in important international conferences as a famous military fighter and disturbed the regime so much that the Baath intelligence service finally decided to have him killed.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Seyed Kazem, Local Resident of Iraq:With the efforts of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, my father was arrested in Turkey in 2000 and put in jail. Soon afterwards, his body bloated up. His whole body muscles were affected. He was in severe pain and could hardly suppress his cries. It was the first time I saw my father squirming with pain. They say his sickness was because of lethal radiation. I don’t know if it was because of radiations or he was poisoned. He’s been afflicted with this sickness since 2000. Moving is difficult for him and he sometimes groans in pain. But interestingly, he can easily move around and serve the pilgrims during the pilgrimage time. He is in pain, but pilgrims keep him so occupied that he forgets it. God knows I’m ashamed of asking for anything for myself. God knows I only went to visit Imam Hussein and made a request only on one occasion. I went near Zaynabia hill and said, “I don’t want you to cure me. Just don’t deny me two things, first, visiting you, and second serving your pilgrims. Let me do it as long as I can.

Narration: Since 20 days ago, when the first group of pilgrims arrived at Karbala, Seyed Kazem’s house has been like an inn that hosts the pilgrims and all his family members have contributed to serving them. But tonight is the Arbaeen and the number of Pilgrims will be more than usual, and Seyed feels embarrassed because pilgrims have to spend the night at this half-finished building.

TIME CODE: 01:00:00_01:05:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Seyed Kazem, Local Resident of Iraq:I ask all of you; pray for this place to get done as soon as possible. Otherwise, I’ll always be ashamed in front of the pilgrims.

Narration: No matter how many guests come to Karbala, they always have a place to sleep. Even if all the houses are fully occupied, Seyed Kazem’s heart is ready to accommodate them. But there’s only one person that this land did not treat with respect and honor, and had no qualms about harassing his family. Karbala only had swords and spears for Imam Hussein, and chains and manacles for his household. Hearts turned to stone and foreheads were broken. Hands turned to swords and spears cut the throat of a 6-month-old baby and put manacles on the Prophet’s household. This pain of a thousand years presses down on Seyed Kazem’s; heart and the aches in his feet and back are nothing compared to it.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Seyed Hashem, Local Resident of Iraq:I thank God that after years of political activity, he’s still fighting the enemies of the Ahl-al-Bayt. Today’s war is against terrorists and Wahhabis. Today’s weapons are copper spatulas and pots filled with Imam Hussein’s dishes. We’re fighting Imam Hussein’s enemies with this simple cooking equipment. I believe it’s an honorable task. It’s a serious war. It’s a war against our religion’s enemies and the evils inside us.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Seyed Kazem, Local Resident of Iraq:I’ve seen this life’s ups and downs. I’ve met many political figures in the world; even some governments officially greeted me. But as God is my witness, and Imam Hussein is my witness, I believe nothing in this world is more pleasurable than serving the pilgrims. The taste of serving them is sweet. I just cleaned up pilgrims’ bathroom. It’s a great honor for me, I swear. I regret the things I’ve done that had nothing to do with serving the pilgrims and were devoid of pleasure.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Unknown Man, Local Resident of Iraq: “In Karbala, when enemy forces had surrounded Imam Hussein from all sides, Qasim stopped the enemy in the south and Ali al-Akbar in the north. And Abolfazl al-Abbas was like a force that tied up the enemy’s hands in the east and west.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Seyed Hashem, Local Resident of Iraq:The last, but not the least is what I’ve inherited from my father and grandfather. I’ve grown up watching my father and grandfather singing soaz for Imam Hussein on the stage. It made me wish to get close to that stage. What I have, I’ve learned from my father, may he live a long life, and my grandfather and God bless his soul. This is the best legacy I could have, living honorably in this world and the next thanks to my father and grandfather. We’ve had soaz gatherings for years now, almost every night. My son, Seyed Hesham, has been singing soaz since he was only 6 years old. I taught him a poem that starts with this line: “If you have tears to shed, shed it for Karbala’s soil which is really thirsty. Let us cool down the graves of people, who are still thirsty.”

TIME CODE: 01:05:00_01:08:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Seyed Kazem, Local Resident of Iraq:The first time I stood on the stage, I sang this poem.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Seyed Hashem, Local Resident of Iraq: “It is interesting that I read the same poem when I stood on the stage for the first time.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Seyed Kazem, Local Resident of Iraq:My father asked me, “Why did you choose that poem?” It was my first time and I was very young. I said, “Why do you ask?” He said, “I read the same poem when I stood on the stage for the first time.” I had given that poem to Hesham to memorize. He was 6 when he memorized it. One day I asked him, “Don’t you want to go on the stage?” He did and started to sing.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Seyed Kazem, Local Resident of Iraq:Do you mourn too?

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Child: Yes.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Seyed Kazem, Local Resident of Iraq:For whom?

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Child: My father.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Seyed Kazem, Local Resident of Iraq:You mean Imam Hussein?

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Child: “No, I mean my father.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Seyed Kazem, Local Resident of Iraq: “I get it. You mourn Imam Hussein along with your father.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Child: No. but I cry. I cry for Imam Hussein.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Seyed Kazem, Local Resident of Iraq: “He says he cries for Imam Hussein.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Child: Come this way.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Child2: This way?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Seyed Kazem, Local Resident of Iraq: “Qasim, come here. They have made room for you. He’s trying to sit on my head, saying that he’s made room for Qasim. Who will sing to us about Imam Hussein? Do you want to wear your shoes first? I’ll sing for you, and you do the morning ritual. Dedicated with love and respect to all those great fathers who have kindled love for Imam Hussein in our hearts.You want to visit him? Visit who?

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Child: Visit Imam Hussein.”


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