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Tuesday, March 06, 2007
In addition to belief in the same god, Iraq's Sunnis and Shi'ites have a great deal in common: ethnicity, language, cuisine and apparel. The ways in which they differ are subtle and vary from region to region. There are some unwritten rules that govern how each sect practices its faith, names its children and decorates its homes. But differentiation is not an exact science, and mistaken identity is commonplace.

Here are some examples of how Iraqis distinguish the two:

The vast majority of Islamic names are common to Sunnis and Shi'ites. But some names carry sectarian markers. Abu Bakr, Omar and Uthman were early Caliphs who, in the Shi'ite version of events, were hostile to the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law Imam Ali. Men with those names are almost certainly Sunni. Those called Abdel-Hussein and Abdel-Zahra are mostly likely Shi'ite. Some tribal or family names tend to be Sunni (Dulaimi,Samarrai,Bakri) or Shi'ite (Sa'aedi, Moussawi, Rubaie). But there are also many large tribes that have members of both sects - like the Januri, Shammari and Khfaji.

Typically, Sunnis pray with one arm folded over the other, just below the rib cage. Shi'ites prefer to keep their arms straight down at their sides. During prayer, members of both sects kneel, bend and touch their forehead to the ground. Devout Shi'ites touch their head on a small clay tablet, known as the turba and made in the holy city of Najaf. Over time, the turba can make a small callus on the forehead. Some Sunnis develp calluses from rubbing their forehead agains the prayer mats.

Islam requires Muslims to say their prayers five times a day. Sunnis have five separate prayer times. Shi'ites have the option to pray three times, doubling up on the prayer on two occassions.

When calling the faithful to prayer, Sunni mosques invoke God and the Prophet Muhammad. Shi'ites additionally mention Ali, the prophet son-in-law.

The call to prayer is made at different times, with Shi'ites typically a few minutes behind the Sunnis. During the fasting month of Ramadan, in Iraq the sects break their fast at slightly different times too. And they observe the 'Id celberations a day or two apart. (The Shi'ite dominated Iraqi government earned Arab condemnation for hanging Saddam Hussein on Dec. 30, the first day of 'Id al-Adha for Sunnis; for Iraqi Shi'ites, the festival didn't start until the following day.)

There are other differences in the way the two sects practices their common faith. The somber ceremony of Ashura is uniquely Shi'ite: it commemorates the killing of Alo's son Hussein by Sunni enemies. On this occassion, many Shi'ites beat their chest in mourning. Some flagellate themselves with swords and whips, a practice Sunnis consider distasteful.

Shi'ites required to pray two kinds of tithes - khums, or a fifth of their income, and zakat, a smaller payment. Sunnis pay only zakat.

Sunni mosques tend to have domes and minarets. Shi'ites often worship at Husseiniyas, which combines the function of a mosque and community center and don't necessary have domes. Shi'ite places of worship in Iraq are usually festooned with traditional green and black flags and are decorated with protraits of Ali and someimtes of Hussein. Sunni mosque tend to be more austere, and portraits of any kind are regarded as a form of idolatry.

Shi'ites clerics in Iraq are often more elaborately attired than their Sunni counterparts, wearing white , black of green headgear. The Sunni clergy usually wear white headgear.

The Shi'ites fondness for portraiture extends to their homes, where the image of Ali often hangs on the walls of their living room. Sunnis tend to favor calligraphy - quotations from the Koran. During important religious occasions, Shi'ites may unful colorful flags on their roof. Some Sunnis in Iraq display a white flag when theur have returned from the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Since southern Iraq overwhelemd Shi'ite, in Baghdad anubody speaking with a pronounced southern accent is automatically assumed to be Shi'ite. The patois of the Anbar province identifies the speaker as Sunni.

As with their homes, devout Shi'ites will often have pictures and stickers of Iman Ali on their cars, especially in their rear windows. They may hang religious amulets (like the Alek, a strip of green cloth) from their rearview mirror.

In Iraq now, such overt sighs of faith can be fatal: Sunni insurgents have been known to stop cars with stickers of Ali and murder the passengers. Vehicles are also given sectarian designations by their license plates - cars with plates from Anbar are assumed to be owned by Sunnis, while those with plates from Basra or otehr southern provinces are automatically believed to be driven by Shi'ites. The safest plate to have is from Baghad.

(Source: Abstracted from;TIMEMAG by Bobby Gosh)
posted by infraternam meam @ 11:24 AM  
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Name: infraternam meam
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About Me: I am now at the prime of my life and have been married for the past 25 years. Sickly at times, but wants to see the elixir vita, so that I will be able to see my grandchildren from my two boys.
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