Revived Lament Tradition Makes Way for New Grief Shiite Muslims in Iraq publicly revived the ancient tradition of laments after Saddam Hussein was ousted from power more than three years ago. The songs recall the death of one of their saints, the Imam Hussein, and were banned under Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime. But the mournful chants that hark to past grief are now making way for new pain, and the killings every day of Iraqi civilians.
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Revived Lament Tradition Makes Way for New Grief

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Revived Lament Tradition Makes Way for New Grief

Revived Lament Tradition Makes Way for New Grief

Revived Lament Tradition Makes Way for New Grief

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Shiite Muslims in Iraq publicly revived the ancient tradition of laments after Saddam Hussein was ousted from power more than three years ago. The songs recall the death of one of their saints, the Imam Hussein, and were banned under Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime. But the mournful chants that hark to past grief are now making way for new pain, and the killings every day of Iraqi civilians.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

In Iraq, Shiite Muslims have publicly revived an ancient tradition long banned by the former regime of Saddam Hussein. Laments about the most beloved Shiite saint are now heard in mosques, on car stereos, and on the Internet. But the mournful chants that hark back to past grief are now making way for new pain and show how many Shiites still feel they face persecution at the hands of Iraq's Sunnis.

NPR's Jaime Tarabay filed this report from Baghdad.

JAIME TARABAY: The old laments commemorate the martyrdom of the Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, whose death outside Karbala in a 7th century battle solidified the split between the Shiite and the Sunni branches of Islam.

Haj Rizak Cardin al-Taie(ph) is the imam of a Shiite mosque in Baghdad. Here he sings part of a lament about the Battle of Karbala.

Imam HAJ RIZAK CARDIN AL-TAIE: (Singing in foreign language)

TARABAY: In the days of Saddam, al-Taie would have risked arrest or worse had he chanted that dirge during Friday prayers at his mosque.

Imam AL-TAIE: (Through translator) At that time, we could only go to the mosque once a week and we were afraid of spies inside the mosque, informants who would report you to the regime.

TARABAY: One of the first things al-Taie did after the fall of the regime was take down the portrait of Saddam Hussein that hung inside the mosque, like every mosque in Iraq, and set it on fire.

Imam AL-TAIE: (Through translator) I felt so relieved, as if I had let out a sigh that was smothered inside.

TARABAY: Once Saddam was gone, Shiites began to write poems describing the tyranny of his regime. They downloaded laments as ringtones for their cell phones. But the euphoria sparked by Saddam's fall was soon replaced by grief and anger, as Sunni extremists, some still loyal to the former leader, began attacking Shiite religious events. Suicide bombers killed hundreds of Shiites on pilgrimages to shrines in Karbala, Najaf and Cogmea(ph). Al-Taie, the cleric, says the people who carried out those attacks are just like those who fought Imam Hussein.

Unidentified Man: (Through Translator) I believe that the grandsons of the enemies of Hussein are those Saddamists who have turned into terrorists.

TARABAY: In February of this year, Sunni extremists blew up the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra north of Baghdad. It's revered among Shiites because it holds the tombs of two of their Imams or saints. It's also the place where the missing twelfth imam, al-Mahdi, vanished. Shiites believe he'll return on judgment day to rid the world of tyranny and injustice. Shiites describe the bombing of the mosque in Samarra as their 9/11. Within hours, Shiite militias began attacking Sunni mosques and the country was soon engulfed in the sectarian bloodletting that continues today.

(Soundbite of lament)

TARABAY: Bassan al-Carbolli(ph) is one of the most famous composers of laments in recent times. Here he and others grieve over the destruction of the Samarra mosque. He chants, We deplore all symbols of terrorism. How could they blow up the tombs of the good? Baghdad cleric Haj al-Taie lost his wife and son to sectarian fighting when Sunni gunmen attacked his home. He says Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the highest Shiite religious authority, asked him not to seek revenge because it would only lead to more strife. Al-Taie agreed, but he believes the violence will only get worse.

Imam AL-TAIE: (Through translator) But the clerics cannot control all the people. They can't tie everyone's hands and force them to follow their orders, of course they can't.

(Soundbite of lament)

TARABAY: Composer Bassan al-Carbolli wrote this lament for Shiite pilgrims traveling to the holy city of Najaf along what's become one of the most perilous roads in Iraq. We can only visit these places now, says the lament, if we're prepared to risk our lives. Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

(Soundbite of lament)

SEABROOK: NPR reporter Ethra al-Ruhbahi(ph) contributed to this story.

(Soundbite of lament)

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