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Archive for the ‘shia islam’ Category

Qom

Qom or Kum (sounds like “come”) is the religious capital of Iran and one of the holy cities of Shia Islam. After Najaf in Iraq, it is the greatest seat of learning in the Shia Muslim world. These days Qom is much richer and safer than Najaf. It is a place to go if you want to study to become a mullah or an ayatollah. Ayatollah Khomeini once lived and taught there.

Many of the top people who run Iran and Hezbollah studied in Qom.

In Qom there are several universities and dozens of religious schools (madrasas). There you can wear robes and study the Koran, the hadith, Islamic law, theology, philosophy and logic. Its teaching of philosophy is very thorough. It takes 20-30 years of study to become an ayatollah, at least six for a mullah.

Qom has been a centre of Shia learning since at least the 1500s.

Qom is an hour south by car from Tehran on the road to Isfahan. It stands at the edge of the Great Salt Desert.

Qom is also a place where ten kings and 400 saints have been laid to rest in beautiful buildings from another time.

The most famous of the dead is Fatima the Pure who died in Qom in 816. She was the sister of the eighth imam and has made Qom into a place of pilgrimage. Her body now lies beneath a gold dome.

Outside of Qom is a well. People drop messages in it for al-Mahdi to read. No one knows where he is, but they say that at the end of the world, al-Mahdi will come up out of the well and bring justice and Islam to the whole world.

If you go to Qom you will have to dress so that your arms and legs and everything in between are covered. Women must cover their hair. It is a strict Muslim town.

In addition to religious education, Qom also has centres for computer science and medicine. It is one of the two places in Iran that tests long-range missiles.

Qom is not just a town of schools and beautiful buildings. It also has industry. Oil has been discovered in the area, but it is not high quality.

Qom has been destroyed several times over in its history: by the Mongols in the 1200s, by Tamerlane in the 1300s and the Afghans in 1700s.

A town has stood there since ancient times. Qom first became an important city under the Arab empire. The Arabs planted their armies at the edge of the desert. This made Qom the perfect place to station their army in Iran. In fact, “Qom” with a “Q” is the Arab spelling of the town’s name.

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Muhammad al-Mahdi

Muhammad al-Mahdi (868- ) is the twelfth imam of the main Twelver branch of Shia Islam. He is also known as the Hidden Imam. He is the messiah of Shia Islam. At the end of time, when God will bring him out of hiding, al-Mahdi will spread Islam to the east and to the west and rule the world with justice, just as Muhammad had promised long ago.

Although he was born over a thousand years ago, Shiites say that al-Mahdi is still alive, living among us. No one knows who he is because God has been hiding him. God has kept him alive and young looking. Some say that each believer will see al-Mahdi at least once in his life before he dies though he will not know it is him.

He was last seen at the age of four or five when his father, the eleventh imam, was laid to rest. For 70 years he talked to believers through four trusted middle men. Since then he has been silent.

Al-Mahdi is from Samarra, Iraq, north of Baghdad, where he still has a house. His father’s mosque is there too, but it was partly destroyed by Sunnis in 2006 in the violence there.

How do we know all this about al-Mahdi? It is pieced together from the sayings of Muhammad and the imams that came after him. Unlike the Shiites, the Sunnis do not follow the imams and their set of Muhammad’s sayings (the hadith) is not quite the same as what the Shiites have. But even the Sunnis believe that a man known as the Mahdi will come at the end of time and bring justice to the world. They just do not believe in hidden imams or that that a man born in 868 is still alive and will become the Mahdi.

As you can imagine, many have claimed to be the Mahdi. There have been at least nine so far. One fought the British in the 1880s and set up an empire in Sudan.

After al-Mahdi comes out of hiding, Jesus will come back and “pray behind him”. Jesus will defeat the Antichrist and then settle down, get married, have children and live out his life. There is a grave being saved for him in Medina right next to Muhammad’s.

When will al-Mahdi come out of hiding? It is up to God. There are certain signs to watch for, however.

Of these signs, the most noticeable concerns a man called Sufiani, who will become al-Mahdi’s great enemy. Just as al-Mahdi comes from the bloodline of Muhammad, so Sufiani will come from the line of Muhammad’s enemies. He will arise in Palestine and take over all the countries in north Africa and the Levant. Then his army will march on Medina and Mecca. By that time al-Mahdi will be in Mecca.

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Shia Islam

shiamap

Shia Islam is the lesser of the two main branches of Islam. Its followers are called Shiites and account for one Muslim in seven, the rest being Sunnis.

Shiites live in Iran and nearby countries. Most Muslims who live in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, Oman and Azerbaijan are Shiites. Hezbollah is Shiite.

Shiites are led by religious scholars, known as mullahs in Iran and sheiks in the Arab world. The highest of these are called ayatollahs. They receive the taxes that believers pay (one fifth of profits).

Their holiest city, after Mecca and Jerusalem, is Najaf in Iraq. The golden mosque of Ali, the first imam, is there. Najaf and Qom in Iran have the top religious schools.

Iran was not always the centre of the Shia world. It was once Egypt, which is now mainly Sunni. Iran did not become Shia till about 500 years ago.

Like Sunnis, Shiites follow Muhammad and his book, the Koran.

Unlike Sunnis they also follow the imams who came after Muhammad. Imam can mean the one who leads prayers in the mosque, but in this sense it means those who lead and guide the whole Muslim world. The Shiites say an imam must be a direct blood relation of Muhammad through his daughter Fatima and her husband Ali, the first imam. Their teachings are without error.

Because even Ali’s part of the family tree has many branches, Shiites are split three ways – Ismailis, Zaydis and Twelvers – about which is the true branch and how many imams they accept.

Nine Shiites in ten are Twelvers. They are called Twelvers because they accept twelve imams. They stop at twelve because the twelfth one, al-Mahdi, the Hidden Imam is still alive. God has kept him alive and hidden among us for over a thousand years. Before the world ends, al-Mahdi will come out of hiding at the right moment and bring Islam and justice to the whole world, as Muhammad had promised long ago.

Only one imam has ever ruled the Muslim world: the first one, Ali. Ali was murdered and Muhammad’s enemies took over. Hussein, Ali’s son, Muhammad’s grandson and the third imam, tried to set things right. He was defeated and killed at the battle of Karbala in 680. Shiites still remember this terrible day and mark it each year on a day called Ashoura: it is the day the world went wrong, when the forces of darkness took over.

The religious divide between Shiites and Sunnis is not deep. In the mixed cities of Baghdad and Beirut they even get married. The Wahhabis along with other extreme Sunnis play up the differences to create trouble for their own ends. They are the ones who have been bombing the mosques of the imams to pitch Iraq into a civil war.

The Alawis and Druze of Lebanon and Syria are not Shiites, but have Ismaili Shia roots. The Alawis believe that Ali was God on earth, which means they are not even Muslims.

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