In Baghdad, the calls to prayer follow one another but are not alike ~ #REUTERS:
“The Sunnis come for our celebrations and we go to theirs, there is no difference,” said AFP mullah Mountadher, muezzin of the Abu al-Salaouate mosque.
However, there are differences, at least in the ritual.
Ahmed al-Azzaoui issues five calls to prayer per day, Mullah Mountadher, only three: at dawn, at midday and at sunset.
The Sunni launched the movement and the Shiite echoed it several minutes later: the two communities did not pray at the same time or with the same gestures.
The more than millennial sentences of the two muezzins are also different.
To the Sunni text, the Shiites add two sentences, one of which evokes Imam Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and the most revered figure of Shiism precisely buried 200 km away, in the holy city of Najaf.
– Difficult mix –
Mullah Mountadher and Ahmed al-Azzaoui, in their thirties, started almost at the same time in their neighborhood of al-Rahmaniya, the historic heart of the west bank of the Tiger in Baghdad.
The first in 2007, the second in 2008, at the time of the worst sectarian violence in Iraq, then under American occupation since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Despite the tens of thousands of dead, they remained at their posts.
With its 10 million inhabitants, Baghdad has seen its denominational distribution change: at the height of the violence, families decided to flee their hometown, couples divorced in order to stay in their religious community.
But the mix remained in al-Rahmaniya, a popular district where the mosques flourished first under the impulse of the “campaign of faith” launched by the Sunni Saddam Hussein, then of the rise of the monks after his fall.
For Mr. Azzaoui, the Hajj Rachid Daragh mosque, built in 1957, where he officiates, is “a historic symbol for the locals and a sign of cohabitation that must be preserved”.
In Iraq, the cradle of Babylonian or Sumerian civilizations and the scene of great episodes in Islamic history, Shiites represent two thirds of the population. Sunnis are a settled minority in the West and the North.
And their coexistence has led to the best and the worst.
– Caliph on trial –
Baghdad was from 762 to 1258 the capital of the Abbasids and it was under this Caliphate – Sunnite – that it experienced its golden age.
Previously, Kerbala, 100 km south, was the scene in 680 of the founding battle of the schism between Sunnis and Shiites when the men of Caliph Yazid confronted those of Imam Hussein, grandson of the prophet.
Since then, the two communities have lived together and the other minorities have shrunk like a skin of grief: the Jews who have left for Israel, most Christians and Sabaeans in exile since the violence of the 2000s, the Yazidis and other Kakaïs and Chabaks decimated in 2014 by Sunni jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) group.
Confessional tensions have sometimes led to mind-boggling situations: Shiite clerics have sentenced a Sunni Caliph to death for the murder of a Shiite figure … a case dating back centuries!
On the Sunni side, between 2005 and 2009, the Al-Qaeda group killed in Baghdad anyone with a supposed Shiite name or a large ring in their right hand, a jewel yet just as well sported by Sunnis.
“When we were little,” recalls Hussein al-Joubouri, a believer in the Hajj Rachid Daragh mosque since 1977, “we didn’t even know if it was a Sunni or Shiite mosque, all that mattered was meet up with people from the same neighborhood. “
– Call for containment –
Shia opponents and students of the seminary of the holy cities remember that under Saddam Hussein, their community had to keep a low profile. Pilgrimages and other collective prayers were done in hiding.
Today, in a country ravaged for 40 years by conflicts, Sunnis and Shiites share the feeling of being abandoned by their leaders.
The authorities of Religious Goods, both Shiite and Sunni, never have the funds to renovate mosques, even those that are historic gems such as al-Ahmadiya, an Ottoman work over 200 years old.
Sheikh Omar al-Tai, one of the guardians of this crumbling temple, prays to see the good Samaritans flocking. And, he says, one of the biggest donors to this Sunni mosque has so far been a … Shiite businessman.
Usually near al-Ahmadiya as everywhere in Baghdad, the last voice that everyone hears is the call of the Sunni muezzins to the prayer of the night.
But they now have unprecedented competition in the history of Islam.
Once the prayer ended, at 8:00 p.m., a new call arises, spitting: it is the civil defense which exhorts to remain confined.
Because for prayer too, the new coronavirus is playing spoilsports.