“I recover here, remove my worries from my chest, recite prayers, plead for the imams’ mediation with God, and hope God will respond.”
She gave all her money and jewelry, as she believes asking a favor from Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and third Imam of the Twelver Shiites, who was killed in the battle of Karbala, may offer a solution.
The imams Hussein and Abbas, both grandsons of the Prophet Mohamed, are like a “ship of salvation, on which the faithful men and women from all parts of the world adhere to the Shiite doctrine.”
Near the tombs of Hussein and al-Abbas you will find hundreds of women clad in black cloaks, competing fiercely to reach the windows of the shrines, reciting prayers, and offering money, which goes to the religious authorities supervising Iraq’s many shrines.
Praying to the imams to treat a sick person, solve a family issue or avoid danger is common in Iraq, the country of shrines. With the rise of the religious tide in the country, combined with the increase in corruption and political division, Iraqis found themselves abandoned and saw no other way to solve their worldly issues than to visit the shrines.
They Know What It Means to Be Wronged
The journey begins with the women entering the shrine, their tears flowing as they recall the captivity and killing of the family of the Prophet Mohamed in the battle of Karbala on the tenth of Muharram (Ashura).
“When I enter this holy place, I recall the injustice and sorrow of what happened, and I feel that all my misfortunes are but a drop in the ocean,” said Umm Hassan. “I complain to them [the imams] about my concerns, because they know the meaning of being treated wrongly.”
Umm Hassan believes Hussein sees the wrongs of others and transfers them to the Lord to whom nothing is ever lost. Umm Hassan was subjected to a severe injustice by her relatives, who expelled her from her home by forging the ownership documents.
“My problem started two months ago,” she said. “I did not leave a door I didn’t knock on, but everyone in the state is corrupt. They gave the house to my relatives and let me move from one house to the next. At the homes of my daughters’ husbands, my soul grieves. So, I put on my abaya and go to ‘the master of the youth and people of Paradise’. I stay there for hours, crying and reading, and the worry is removed from my soul.”
According to another visitor, Umm Sajjad, most of the Iraqi men and women visiting the shrines “are helpless people clinging onto their belief that the imams will restore their rights.”
One of the most prominent rituals, which is part of visiting the imams in Karbala and Najaf, is the prayers with the aim of seeking blessings from the imams. This does not need to wait for the day of the imam’s death or the forty days of mourning for the killing of Imam Hussein. You can visit at all times.
Within the shrine people leave pictures of their loved ones, and donate money, valuables, or pieces of clothing. In the window of the mausoleum, where the imam is buried, you will find hundreds of photos of faces, including children and elderly. At times, they are removed only to make way for a wave of new images.
“We don’t put pictures of the oppressors in the shrine, but pictures of the poor and oppressed,” said Umm Ahmed, who is a regular visitor to the shrines of Imam Hussein and Abbas. “We put their pictures, so they may be trusted by the imams.”
As for the money, Umm Ahmed explained, it is a simple gesture female visitors make after their wishes are fulfilled.
The money goes to the authorities supervising the shrine, although it is not exactly clear how they spend it.
Another prominent ritual is to tie a piece of cloth, which is either green or black, representing the banners of the saints. As long as it is tied, “a wish is held.” When it opens on its own, the request is fulfilled. It can also be untied by another visitor who “solved the knot and the problem.” As the knot was untied, the wish of the owner of the cloth is fulfilled.
“I came to Al Abbas after they [the family] accused me of stealing my husband’s mother’s gold and forcibly divorced me from him,” said one woman sitting in the courtyard of the Imam Abbas shrine.
She believed this caused her mother-in-law to be robbed, while her son was shot in the foot when he tried to run away. “Al-Abbas loves the oppressed,” she said with the satisfaction of someone who saw her anger cured.
The Seven Sabbaths
Another popular belief associated with the imams is that a girl should visit the Imam al-Kadhim shrine in Baghdad seven times to fulfill her dream of marriage. This ritual is called: “The Seven Sabbaths,” as the visits take place on seven consecutive Saturdays. On the seventh and final visit, the girl must “make a vow that suits her capabilities, such as fasting or distributing food to the poor.”
In the shrines, visitors from Iraq and abroad find solace, hope and an answer to the problems for which they could not find a solution through the appropriate channels. In Iraq, most people and their problems are left to the shrines …