Interview on SAHAR Satellite Television with Sayed Mahdi Almodarresi on their English language program Forum which was aired live on Wednesday the 27th of April.

Introduction by program presenter:

During the past few days, tens of thousands of Iraqi shi'ites have been on the march, to the central Iraqi city of "Karbala", carrying banners and placards which mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (Peace be upon him), the third Imam of Shi'ites and a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).

In Karbala, of course, the Arba'in mourning ceremonies were held this year, marking the fortieth day after the Martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussein ( Peace be upon him); unlike previous years , where during the entire reign of Saddam Hussein, Shi'ites were denied the holding of such religious ceremonies. During the past thirty years Iraq has been a
"closed society", meaning the Iraqi people have had no opportunities to express their political, religious, or social views freely, and openly.
The atmosphere of fear and the stifling political conditions which the Ba'athist Regime had created, and which prevailed for so long within the country, effectively prevented all Iraqis from expressing
their views freely, and the outside world was kept guessing as to what the Iraqi people really thought and really wanted.

But only two days after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime, and the fall of Baghdad, on the first "Friday of Freedom", Friday 18th April
2003, the people of Iraq held "joint Friday Prayers", attended by Shias and Sunnis alike, to celebrate their newly-acquired freedoms. They also sent some very important messages to the outside world. These were:

(a) The popularity of Islam within the Iraqi community, and the massive support which Islam had among ordinary Iraqis, and its pivotal role in determining the political and social destiny of the Iraqi people.

(b) The prompt withdrawal of all Foreign Military forces from Iraqi soil, and the take over of power and the formation of a new government by the Iraqi people. Perhaps the Americans, the British, and many within
the long-exiled Iraqi community, could never have imagined that in the first free gathering of the Iraqi people, the flag of Islam would fly proudly for all to see, and Foreign military forces, far from being regarded as saviors or liberators, would in actual fact be thought of as "Occupying Forces", which had to leave or otherwise expelled as swiftly / promptly as
possible. After the Friday prayers came the solemn mourning ceremonies of Arba'in, marking the fortieth day after the Martyrdom anniversary of
Imam Hussein (Peace be upon Him), the third infallible Imam of Prophet Muhammad's household. An unprecedented gathering of the Iraqi shi'ite
 community, numbering in their millions, on the occasion of Arba'in, during peaceful and highly organized ceremonies, unmistakably issued a
resounding / grand challenge to the foreign occupying forces which have invaded Iraq.



We are now joined via telephone by Hojjatul-Islam Sayed Mahdi Almodarresi who is a religious scholar and theologian and a native of Karbala, Iraq. Sayed Mahdi Almodarresi, I'll ask you first:

1. What powerful message was conveyed by the
millions of Iraqis who took part in the massive
and magnificent mourning ceremonies of Arba'in,
marking the fortieth day after the Martyrdom
anniversary of Imam Hussein (Peace be upon Him),
the third infallible Imam of Prophet Muhammad's

Sayed Mahdi Almodarresi:

Bismillah Alrahmaan Alraheem. First of all I'd like to say Salam to you and our viewers. As we all know Under Saddam Hussein, many of the Shia public symbols and rituals were banned. Religion was seen as poison and a cause of uncivilized behavior. In fact that has always been the case for over 700 years.

Saddam is a tyrant who has killed mercilessly, and without remorse, thus creating the “Republic of Fear” where people are “afraid not to be afraid of him”. Iraq had consequently been transformed into a military compound, a fortress, a big maximum-security prison.

Now long pent-up feelings and long-suppressed political views are coming out into the open. Iraq has now entered a new era. An era which holds many promises but also poses quite a few challenges.

In their massive and quite spectacular display of loyalty and passionate love for Imam Hussein, the people of Iraq proved that Saddam's regime with all his military might and brutal apparatus could not take away their faith.

I believe the single most powerful message sent by the massive turnout in the 40th of Imam Hussein was that despite years of oppression, injustice, and tyranny our love for Imam Hussein could not be uprooted from our hearts. To us, Imam Hussein is not just a revered religious figure but an inspirational symbol of hope and a reason to fight back all forms of oppression.

This was evident in the fact that people from all walks of life; men, women, children, and the elderly poured into the holy city of Karbala from every corner of Iraq, walking [not riding] bear feet while chanting "Ya Hussein".

The other important message sent by the faithful people of Iraq was that "we can take control of our own destiny" by performing a truly remarkable pilgrimage which was very highly organized to the extent that despite the colossal numbers there were no major problems reported. You can go anywhere in the world, even in the most modern civilized nations and find that such rallies are considered logistical nightmares for authorities, yet Iraqis proved their ability to take control and stay organized even in the absence of any type of authority.





2. How much damage is inflicted upon the
cause  of Iraqi Independence and democracy , by
the differences and rifts which exist among Iraqi
Muslims, in particular Shi'ites and Sunnis?
What is your assessment of the role played by the
occupying military forces in fomenting tension and
sowing discord among the various religious groups
within Iraq, and in particular divisions within the
the Shia community?


Sayed Mahdi Almodarresi:

I think we have to be objective when it comes to analyzing the position of Iraqi Shi'ites. Comprising some 70% of all Iraqis but long ruled by a Sunni elite, the Shia have long felt themselves to be an underclass. This perception doesn't come as a surprise considering the nature of politics which have dominated Iraq for centuries.

It is, therefore, natural to see that some Iraqis from the country's Sunni and Christian minorities are uneasy about the new mood of Shia resurgence.

Their fear, however, is unsubstantiated because our faith guarantees their rights and gives them much more than they expect. They have absolutely nothing to fear provided that they give way to the majority. They will be properly represented in government bodies and will be able to voice their concerns.

Essentially, the fact remains the factors that unite Iraqis will prove stronger than the factors that divide them.

Most Iraqis are indeed united by allegiance to a common faith - and by shared suffering under Saddam's rule. Both communities also share a sense of national pride.

If the Americans mishandle the post-war transition, this could create a lot of unrest - with potentially damaging consequences for both Iraq and the entire region.

Obviously no one wants sectarian violence at this extremely delicate stage, and the responsibility lies on our shoulders more than anyone else. The best way to avoid any such tensions is to give the majority Shi'ites their legitimate rights which begin with their recognition as a majority. If the coalition forces fail to do that, sectarian tensions are almost inevitable.



3. For how long will the Iraqi people tolerate
the U.S.-Run military administration, Headed by the
retired U.S. General, "Jay garner", which is
currently "running the show" in Iraq?


Sayed Mahdi Almodarresi:

I think that depends on whether the Coalition forces deliver their promises. The main priority for the people of Iraq seems to be the vital civil services such as the restoration of water and electricity supplies. The coalition forces need to do what they can to do just that and move on to hand over the government to a legitimate Iraqi leadership elected by the people of Iraq. The longer the Americans and the British stay the more difficult it will become for them to justify their presence.


4. How will the occupying U.S. and British
military forces react, if in a National
Referendum, the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi
people vote for the establishment of an Islamic

Sayed Mahdi Almodarresi:

I don't speak for the coalition forces, but I think that depends on the delivery of their promises of establishing a democratic system in Iraq. The other issue is that Iraqis don't really care about the title of the post-Saddam Iraqi government as much as the actual content. They want a system where Islam is not just a mere banner where politics capitalize on the people's faith, but a truly Islamic system where the government is more like a supervising body rather than a superior body which aims to maintain a strong grip on power. Rights of the majority as well as the minorities must be guaranteed and the national wealth equally and justly distributed. This can be done under any name or title, as long as freedom is granted to the people who have long been deprived of any level of freedom whatsoever.



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