|Bin Laden gives Iraq an unlikely
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - A widespread perception in the West is
that the Salafi (Wahhabi) branch of Sunni Islam is the
breeding ground of anti-West sentiment, while Sufi
Islam, which is neither a sect nor a branch but a school
of thought dealing with spiritual values, is an
acceptable counterpoint to Salafi extremism.
However, this correspondent, after spending time
in Iraq, has a different perspective: Osama bin Laden,
the Salafi icon who theoretically should be branded an
infidel by Sufis, is a living legend for the Sufis of
Baghdad, and even further afield.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's pictures are everywhere
in Iraq, in the mosques, shrines, squares and even
as screen savers on computers at leading hotels.
What impact these pictures have had - and still have - on
the development of the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people
is difficult to assess as the society is such a closed
What can be judged, though, is the
influence that September 11, the Afghan war and the
global war on terrorism, especially against bin Laden,
has had. Ask any Iraqi about bin Laden and invariably
the eyes will light up, and the response will be along
the lines of, "Bin Laden is a Muslim, a faithful and a
warrior of Islam."
This is the ground reality
across Iraq, with the possible exception of the Shi'ites
in the south of the country. Whether or not people like
Saddam, they certainly don't like the United States, and
all thanks to bin Laden. Officially, though, comment on
bin Laden is strongly discouraged.
the heart of Sufi Islam. The three main Sufi schools,
Suharwardy, Qadri and Naqshandi, emerged from the city
and spread to other parts of the world. Although Sufis
do not like to be bracketed with any particular sect,
these three schools belong to the Sunni sect. Other
schools principally follow Sunni Islam.
Qadri school is the largest. According to Sheikh Bakar
Samaray, who is the prayer leader at the mosque at the
Sheikh Abdul Qadir shrine (Abdul Qadir was the founder
of the Qadri school) 80 million disciples are affiliated
to the Qadri school all over the world, of which 2
million are in Iraq.
Traditionally, the Qadri school and the
Salafis have been bitter rivals. The Salafis oppose shrines
and tombs. They believe that after death, interaction
of the body and soul with the world ends. The
entire philosophy of the Sufis, especially those of
the Qadri school, rotates around spirits and
souls, which interact with the world through shrines and
The Salafis believe in the
struggle against infidels and tyrants, while the
Sufis, especially the Qadris, believe in maximum
tolerance against such people, and teach that only love can
change hearts and souls, not swords. According to
Salafi jurists, Sufis, especially Qadris, misinterpret
and misrepresent the teachings of Islam with their
personal ideals, while for the Qadris, the Salafis have lost
the real essence of Islam with their extremist notions.
Syed Ahmed Gillani, a descendent of Sheikh Abudl
Qadir Gillani and custodian of his shrine, is a former
Iraqi ambassador to Pakistan. While reluctant to discuss
bin Laden, he says that although he cannot condone
civilian killings, as a Muslim he is sympathetic with
Riaz Al-Kilidar is the custodian of
one of the most sacred Shi'ite sites of Imam Hadi and
the tomb of Imam Hasan Askari, at Samara (about 40
kilometers north of Baghdad). He, too, believes that
since September 11 there has been a revolution in
thinking in the Islamic world, and that bin Laden is
indeed a sincere Muslim and a warrior for the religion.
Syed Sabah is a descendent of Imam Mosa Kazim and
custodian of Kazim's shrine in Baghdad (he is also a
member of parliament). He, too, says that bin Laden is a
"warrior of Islam, we all give our well wishes for him
and we always remember Osama in our prayers".
With a flourish, Syed Sabah pulls out a sword
from a sheath at his side. "This sword belonged to my
grandfather, Syed Ibrahim Al-Hussaini. He fought against
British forces, along with his disciples and students.
Once the US attacks Iraq, we will leave this shrine and
mosque and will fight alongside my disciples and
students against the US troops."
US Secretary of State
Colin Powell has linked the Pakistani militant group
Ansarul Islam with al-Qaeda, and says that Iraq has
forged ties with them (Ansarul Islam) in northern Iraq.
But Iraqi presidential advisor Lieutenant-general Ameral
Saadi describes this as a blatant lie, citing many
examples of how Ansarul has targeted Iraqi interests in
Baghdad and other places and claimed responsibility.
But times have changed and it is important to
note that northern Iraq is the home of the Naqshandi
school of Sufis. Local government official and spiritual
leader Sheikh Mostafa bin Abdullah lives in Arbil, where
Kurdish parties run a Western-protected enclave. Sheikh
Mostafa commands great respect among all Kurds. Taliban
leader Mullah Omar is also a devotee of Sheikh Mostafa.
Maulana Khalid of the Naqshandi school resides in
Baghdad, and he has good ties with Izzat Ibrahim, the
deputy leader of Iraq, who is himself a Sufi of the
Qadri and Rafahi schools.
What is evident is
that the various schools of Sufi Islam permeate the Iraq
regime, and that they are no longer mutually
incompatible with the Salafi bin Laden and the militant
Between them, they could band and
put up stronger resistance than might otherwise have
been expected should the US attempt to launch an attack
from the north of Iraq on the oil-rich region of Mosel.
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