Thursday, March 27, 2003

From the WSJ, a Guide to Shiite Iraq

The exotic names Karbala and Najaf, where coalition forces in Iraq are engaged in fierce combat, have little resonance for most Americans. But for Shiite Muslims they represent two of the holiest places on the face of the earth, about which we should probably know more.

The cities' shrines and sites of pilgrimage are equal in importance for Shiites to the pilgrimage to Mecca, their golden domes rising over a landscape of perennial sorrow and lamentation: Both Karbala and Najaf are indissolubly associated with the martyrdoms of Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law, and of his son Husayn ibn Ali. The deaths of these men at the hands of those whom Shiites still remember with curses gave Shiism its foundational myth as well as its distinctive stamp.