Saturday, December 26, 2009

Martyrdom Beckons

We know way too little about Islam and that is unfortunate, since understanding the culture of your enemy is critical to effectively waging the battle. The search for information need not be difficult, but we often get stymied by the difficulty in keeping the cast of characters straight, particularly when the names are a long way from Anglo-Saxon and many of the locations are dimmed in history. Compound the issue with various trans-literations of names over the years and we will tend to throw up our hands in frustration.

The labeling of Islam as a religion of peace may or may not be realistic. Certainly there is a lot of emphasis on charity, family and proper conduct in society; the sort of things that make any religion commendable. But one can also uncover some very self-serving pronouncements of various prominent proponents of the religion starting with the Prophet himself. Subsequent caliphs or successors to Muhammed were often more political than spiritual and even in the Arab world, politics ain't beanbag. It didn't take long after the death of the Prophet before regionalism, tribalism and quests for temporal power made the religion more bloody than blessed.

One of the most vexing aspects which I've found is understanding the critical distinction between the Sunni and Shi'a factions. Why such differences and animosity? I just finished a book that helps non-Muslims to gain some understanding of how the rift developed and who the major players were. The author also makes some linkages to the current jihad and the psychology of the fundamentalist warriors we are facing.

The book, After the Prophet by Lesley Hazelton, tracks the period from the death of Muhammed through the first half dozen caliphs and helps to generate some understanding of who the players were that shaped the early Muslim world. Complications arose because Muhammed didn't have a son. His favorite wife, Aiesha, was a powerful political figure and her brother, Abu Bakr was ambitious. He claimed the succession even as one of the Prophet's daughters, Fatima, was pointing toward her son, Ali as the proper heir to the leadership.

The story is complex and bloody and culminates four decades after the death of Muhammed at Karbala when Hussein, another grandson is martyred with his small band of loyal followers. The single combat battle of Hussein is the basis for the philosophy of martyrdom. The various deaths of the early caliphs is linked to the establishment of the various significant mosques which represent their burial places. None is more significant than Karbala.

Tomorrow, the 27th of December, is the second occurrence of Ashura in this year. The rituals and memorials will begin this evening as is the custom.

Look For Activity Similar to the Attempted Detroit Airliner Attack

Learn about the enemy. Understand what motivates him. Be aware of symbolic linkages. Consider the relevance of history. Only if we understand, can we hope for victory.

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