Liberating the Mosque from its Doves and Iraq from its people

August 17, 2004 12:00 AM

Years ago, the Umayyad Islamic dynasty which ruled the Muslim world from 661-750 created a precedent they used to break the rules of Islam and justify their actions. It is a precedent that is still being used today.

When the Prophet Mohammed first arrived in Medina, he decided to build a mosque - one that would also be a university, a senate and a principle medium for broadcasting information.

Like the prophet himself, every one of the companions (his initial supporters) was required to participate physically in the construction. The companions came from different social backgrounds and the purpose of making them all work in the construction was obviously to create a sense of equality that transcended all their pre-Islamic social differences.

Othman Ibn Affan, one of the richest companions of the prophet and a member of the mighty house of Umayya was seemingly uncomfortable with the process - every time his gown caught a grain of dust, he swiftly brushed it aside. Ammar Ibn Yasser, a poor companion who came from a weak family, was enthusiastically working and singing: "How can you build a dome, if you were afraid of dust!"

The rich companion, convinced that the poor companion was mocking him, slapped him on the face. Ammar complained to the prophet who stood by his side. Ammar, joking, said he was afraid some companion might kill him for gaining such a favor. The prophet, turning serious, told him that none of his companions would harm him, but that he would be killed by a party of criminals.

Some 40 years later at the battle of Seffin, between Ali, head of the Hashemites and the fourth successor of the prophet and Muawyya, the impeached governor of Damascus and head of the Umayyads, Ammar was on Ali's side. The Umayyads killed him. When Muawiyya's generals knew, they panicked, for they knew the Prophet's judgment, that Ammar's killers are a doomed party of criminals. However, their cunning leader, and genius politician-by-birth, Muawyya, told them: "Well, we did not kill him; it is Ali who's responsible for his death because he allowed him to fight us."

A couple of decades later, after the Umayyads had established their empire, Abdullah Ibn al-Zubair started a rebellion in Mecca. The Umayyads sent their most ruthless commander Hajjaj Ibn Yousuf. Hajjaj laid siege to the city, Abdullah took refuge in the Noble Sanctuary around the Ka'ba, the holiest place in Islam. The Umayyads sent him an envoy asking him to come out.

Abdullah told the envoy: "Why do you want me to come out, leave me alone, consider me one of the doves of the shrine."

As bloodshed is forbidden in the shrine, doves there are not afraid of humans and they are allowed to fly around. The envoy did not say a word but instead simply called for his bow and arrow, aimed, and shot one of the many doves flying around. The dove fell bleeding and all the others flew away.

The point was made; the Umayyads decided to break the rules. Their justification, which by then was sarcastically known as "Muawyya's argument," was to blame Abdullah; it was the rebel who desecrated the Shrine by taking refuge there. In Umayyad literature, Abdullah was called al-Muhell, the word could be translated as "the transgressor," but it literarily means the "allower" or "he who allowed the forbidden to happen." They argued that it was Abdullah who "allowed" the Mosque to be desecrated by taking refuge there, just as Ali "allowed" Ammar to be killed by "allowing" him to fight along his side. It is unclear what name the poor dove was given or what transgression the bird committed to deserve its fate.

The predominant belief in the Arab world, is that the second Palestinian Intifada started after Ariel Sharon, then leader of the Israeli opposition, visited the Al-Aqsa mosque (the Noble Sanctuary of Palestine), provoking outrage amongst the Palestinians. The Palestinians drove him out and the next day, demonstrations broke out in the mosque resulting in Palestinian deaths from Israeli weapons. Like the Umayads, the Israelis blamed the Palestinians for the deaths and injuries because they were demonstrating in the mosque.

It has also been an essential part of Israeli political discourse, especially in international forums, to blame Palestinians for "allowing" their children to stand in the way of tanks - as if a child's presence in a street is not normal while the presence of the tank is. Again it is about "allowing" the children to be in the streets, to go to their schools, their relatives, their friends, or just to go wherever they want in their city. The humane course of action according to Israelis is for the Palestinians to chain their children at home, and when the home is bombed, it must be because someone somewhere forgot to lock the chain well enough.

When the Israeli labour government under Shimon Perez, committed the massacre of Qana by intentionally bombing a United Nations post in southern Lebanon in 1993, the children were not in the streets, nevertheless the argument was to blame Lebanese resistance, not Israeli bombs.

Today in Iraq, the siege of Najaf is not very different from the ancient battle of Seffin, the siege of Mecca, the storming of Al-Aqsa mosque and the massacres in southern Lebanon. And the discourses used by the American occupation and the very sovereign government of Iraq are quite the same as Muawyya's argument. Last Tuesday, microphones from American humvees, with blond soldiers inside, were telling the people of Najaf to leave, because they were going to cleanse Najaf from the transgressors.

In essence, this means the American soldiers are cleansing Najaf from the Najafis, liberating Iraq from the Iraqis, not unlike liberating Mecca from her Doves.

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