Monitor archives:
Copyrighted material

Saddam Turns To Mosques To Rally Support

by Nasreen Al-Rafiq

Attendance at the mosques has been rising steadily
(IPS) BAGHDAD -- The Adhamiya and the Kadhamiya mosques stand on opposite sides of the Tigris river, about a couple of kilometers apart. On Friday both are preparing to receive more than the usual number of the faithful.

Word went round after the missile attacks that killed and maimed at least 30 people in the run-down Al-Sha'ab district this week that important announcements will be made in the mosques Friday.

It was Friday of last week that saw the first heavy bombing of Baghdad. By Friday of next week it could be too late to call so many people together at one place because many have left the city.

"Our elder people will decide what we must all do," says a bank clerk. He will go to the Adhamiya mosque, which draws mostly Sunni Muslims from the Hanifi sect. This was the mosque that was investigated by United Nations inspectors as a possible site for the storage of weapons of mass destruction. Feelings against the U.S. run high at this mosque.

The recently refurbished mosque stands close to government housing. The mood at this mosque will be a clear indicator what the U.S. might expect to run into if it tries to administer Baghdad.

Kadhamiya is a Shia mosque. Nothing indicates so far that the Shias are about to turn against Sunni residents, or that they are more keen to welcome the U.S. troops than the Sunnis.

The bombing on Wednesday of the largely Shia Al Sha'ab neighborhood must have destroyed any last American hopes of that. Here too, the message of the day will be telling. It could be the last chance to decide how many Shias should receive the alliance troops.

Shia or Sunni, Muslims in Baghdad are turning to the mosque more and more it seems, day by day. The muzzein's call to prayer has worked to different schedules from the usual in recent days. The call has gone out from mosque after mosque every time an air raid siren has sounded.

Those air raid sirens are fewer now, but the bombing goes on. As that system too fails, as the faith in the precision of the supposedly smart bombs too fails, people have only prayers to turn to after they have stored what food they can. And more importantly, as much water as they can.

"We Iraqis have never been a very religious-minded people," says a hotel manager. "The young particularly hardly ever go to the mosque. But these days we are seeing members of families going to the mosque, whom we have never seen before."

The manager says he himself has taken to prayer that he was far from regular at. "What else can we do?" he says. "People know that if they are going to be saved, only Allah can save them, no one else."

Not everyone is waiting for Friday either. Attendance at the mosques has been rising steadily in recent days. Not everyone goes to pray. But it is where you can meet others, and talk about what might happen, about what they might do.

Attendance might fall again one day if the crisis ends. But everything suggests that if there is one thing the war on Iraq has achieved so far, it is at least the first steps towards a growing Islamisation.

Iraqi television is beginning to strengthen this shift with more shots repeated now of Saddam Hussein at prayer, and with more leaders appealing to Arab unity and to Muslim unity against the invaders.

Leaders of the Ba'ath Party, which came into power in 1968 as a party of Arab socialist resurrection, and which has been running the country de facto as a secular state are also turning to religion to rally support. These rallies spring up every time there is a gathering. Party supporters carrying guns talk of fighting in the cause of Allah, and of their faith that Allah will defend them.

The growing signs of Islamisation go with a growing anger against the invading forces. The hearts and minds campaign so far seems to be taking a lot of people towards the maulvi, not towards the U.S. military.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor March 28, 2003 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.