Thursday, February 23, 2006

Nothing New

Sunni fundamentalists demolishing a Shi'ite holy site? It's nothing new. The Wahhabi-Saudi state, as one of its first acts, marched up to Shi'i territory in what is now Iraq and sacked the city of Karbala and massacred its population.

Wahhabis had the tendency to refer only to themselves as "Muslims." That put all other Muslims outside the protective circle of dar-al-islam and made them legitimate targets for jihad, robbery, and enslavement. Shi'ites were special targets of the Wahhabist purification; their veneration of holy sites like the tomb of Husayn in Karbala earned them a virulent attack, unprovoked.

The raid on Karbala came in 1802 (year 1217 of the Islamic calendar), even before the Wahhabi-Saudis had conquered Mecca and Medina. This account is from the Saudi chronicler 'Uthman bin 'Abdullah bin Bishr:

In the year 1216, Sa'ud [son of Saudi ruler 'Abd al-'Aziz] set out with his divinely supported army and cavalry that he had recruited from both the citydwellers and nomads of Najd, from the south, from the Hijaz, Tihama and elsewhere. He made for Karbala and began hostilities against the people of the city of al-Husayn. This was in the month of Dhu'l-Qa'da. The Muslims [i.e., the Wahhabis] scaled the walls, entered the city by force, and killed the majority of its people in the markets and in their homes. Then they destroyed the dome placed over the grave of al-Husayn by those who believe in such things. They took whatever they found inside the dome and its surroundings. They took the grille surrounding the tomb which was encrusted with emeralds, rubies, and other jewels. They took everything they found in the town: different types of property, weapons, clothing, carpets, gold, silver, precious copies of the Qu'ran, as well as much else -- more than can be enumerated. They stayed in Karbala for no more than a morning, leaving around midday with all the property they had gathered and having killed about two thousand people. Then Sa'ud departed by way of al-Ma' al-Abyad. He had the booty assembled in front of him. He deducted one fifth for himself and then distributed the rest among the Muslims [i.e., the Wahhabis], giving a single share to each footsoldier and a double share to each horseman. Then he returned home." ['Unwad al-Majd," pp. 121-122, quoted in "Wahhabism," by Hamid Algar, Islamic Publications International, 2002]