Ignited Iraq | The Nation


Ignited Iraq

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When he had completed his prayer service, the imam of Abu Hanifa, Sheik Mouyad Al-Adhami, sat with us on one of the prayer rugs. He is a vigorous, rocklike man in his early 40s, from a line of imams in a 600-year-old family that measures its descent from Mohammed himself. He had been more or less exiled from this mosque until the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, after which the former imam disappeared and Sheik Al-Adhami returned. I asked if Saddam had worshiped here regularly, and he said, "Saddam Hussein is the devil, and devils cannot worship." The imam has not seen one of his brothers for twenty-three years. "They made it a crime if your relative flees from Iraq," he said, "and my brother went to live in England. I was arrested and beaten, and after they let me go I remained under surveillance."

Peter Davis was on assignment in Iraq this summer for The

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Peter Davis
Peter Davis is an author and filmmaker who received an Academy Award in 1975 for his documentary on the Vietnam...

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We asked the imam what he tells his congregation now. "I am trying to find a way to help them recover from psychological wounds brought on by the American war," he said. "There are other ways to change even this bloody regime, not through war. I have told high-ranking American officers we need security and settled conditions. The people need jobs. They feel the Americans are not serious and don't work for their betterment. The officers promise to do something, but we have seen nothing." As for the newly appointed governing council, the imam was skeptical. He did not feel it was truly representative of Iraqis. This seemed to be the moment to ask Sheik Al-Adhami, who is considered a moderate, whether politics and faith each have distinct places in the life of Iraqis. "Islam is not confined to the mosque," he said, "but is linked to economics, politics, every field of life. I tell my people, 'Do not store Islam in the mosque.' Some of those on the governing council want a separation of mosque and state. This is wrong and unacceptable. Iraqis do not want a secular regime. We will be questioned one day by God about all these matters of religion and politics. In Islam there is no right to separate policy from faith."

That seemed to invite no further clarification, so I asked what kind of government he would like to see. "We do not accept any dictatorship," he said, "any unjust group of men who want to impose principles on us or to limit our freedom. But there is a big difference between the Islamic idea of democracy and Western democracy. An election based on money and propaganda is wrong. We believe in controlled freedom, and freedom in the Western world is not controlled. The looting and burning that occurred here were accidents that happened because of unjust treatment and a lack of control. This is not the normal way of the Iraqi people. In Western society, crime is normal. Here it is an accident."

Are Islam and Western society destined, then, to be enemies? "The Almighty creates different societies in order to maintain life," said Sheik Al-Adhami, "and in the Koran all people are created as male and female. He who is good is closest to Allah. If the societies have bad will and are run by sick souls, they will clash with each other. If they have good will, they won't clash. It's simple."

This was surely a holy man of good will himself. But it was hard not to worry about power residing in true believers. Before leaving for Iraq I had gone to Washington, where I was briefed by a number of officials, including one at the State Department and one at a Defense Department think tank. To a man and woman, they all shook their heads at what one of them called our highly ideologized policies. We have our own true believers, and they currently have more power than ever before. If true believers come to power in Iraq, our two societies will have even less in common. Alicia and I decided to pursue the imam's social policies.

We asked Sheik Al-Adhami if a woman can be equal to a man in Islam. "Women in Islam are highly admired, autonomous, and a husband cannot interfere in his wife's property but must spend whatever he can on her to benefit her and satisfy her needs. She can become a doctor, an engineer, a teacher, whatever she wishes." This was protective, of course, but it did not add up to equality. The imam turned to Alicia, and though he didn't address her he seemed to be appraising her. Then he looked back at me and asked me how I like having Alicia all covered up. Before I could say, How do I know, she's barely visible, the imam answered his own question. "You like her better," he instructed. "You appreciate her more covered in this manner. This is how she should always be." I looked over at Alicia, wrapped and hooded, but for all I could tell she might have been Trent Lott and I wouldn't have known the difference.

Alicia asked why a woman has to be so completely covered. "To be covered gives a sign to all men," the imam said, "that they must be kind to women. There is no right for any man to enjoy a woman except only her husband. Women shouldn't be treated like animals and go around without cover." We let it go. It did appear, however, that the imam feels that men are so out of control they immediately turn predator if they see as much as an ankle of the opposite sex.

It was time to go, and I asked the imam if he had ever traveled abroad. "No, never," he said. Then he shook his head at himself, smiled, and added, "Well, yes, I went once to Syria, on my honey-moon." He smiled again. I said we were on our own honeymoon now in Baghdad. He raised his brows and looked from one of us to the other with a question mark. Really? Yes, just married. With a satisfied smile he congratulated us, and then he said, "You deserve each other." While we were left wondering how to take that, he chanted a verse from the Koran about Muslims doing no harm to non-Muslims. Then he looked up at us and said, "We will all meet in Paradise, all of us of different faiths." Not too soon, I hope.

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