Early Wednesday morning, nearly seventy people were killed and more than 100 wounded in a flurry of road-side bombings targeted against Shi’a pilgrims. A redoubtable Sunni insurgency launched the coordinated wave of attacks as tens of thousands of their countrymen participated in a religious festival marking the anniversary of the death of the eighth century Imam Moussa al Kadhim, the seventh of the twelve Imams. The worst attack took place north of Baghdad, in Kadhimiya, where a great crowd had gathered to observe the occasion–but bombings in the Baghdad neighborhood of Karada and the town of Balad also claimed lives.
The fact that this attack occurred on the festival day of Moussa al Kadhim compelled me to learn a little bit more about the man; perhaps to see if any lessons from his life and times could shed light on present day Iraq.
To start with, I knew little more about him other than that he lived and died during the rise of the Abbasid dynasty, which decimated the Umayyad caliphate with the help of the Shi’a before turning their backs on their confessional cousins and assassinating the descendants of the Prophet. A preliminary search informed me that Moussa al Kadhim, himself, was murdered by the Abbasids. Both his son and his father met the same fate. He bore two prominent children–Ali ar-Riza–the eighth Shi’a Imam, and a daughter, Fatima, who remains revered for her grace and piety.
There was once a sect of Islam–the Waqifites–who believed in the Mahdism and occultation of Moussa al Kadim himself, although they split into a number of subgroups regarding his death and ascension to heaven. According to a website dedicated to the life and teachings of his son, the Imam Reza (A.S.) Network, the Waqfites were organized under suspicious circumstances relating to monies gathered in his name of Imam al Kadhim, while he was imprisoned by the Abbasid ruler. According to their historical investigation, Ali ar-Riza demanded a share of the tithes collected upon his father’s death, but the agents charged with collection denied his passing and refused payment–instead, they put the money to their own use and spread rumors of his occultation to justify their decision to keep the cash.
Consider the following, also from their website:
Imam Reza, peace be on him, condemned the Waqifites for their creeds. One of his followers (Shï‘ites) had written to him and asked him about them, and he, peace be on him, replied: “The Waqifite has deviated from the True Religion and persisted in his evil deed. If he dies for it, then his abode is hell; and evil is the resort.”
The Waqifites maintained their beliefs for quite some time, but the disappearance of their sect was ultimately obliged when they were convinced by Ali ar-Ridha that his father had died.
While his occultation was called into question, and ultimately invalidated, Imam Moussa al Kadhim’s legacy lives on in his teaching and sayings. The quote of his I found most relevant to his life and times, and present day Iraq, is taken from what I believe is the third section of the al-Kafi fi ‘Ilm al-Din (a Twelver Shi’a-specific collection of hadithic narrations): “The world is soft and beautiful like a snake, but there is a fatal poison inside.”
Given his assassination and the recent violence that plagued the holy march of pilgrims to his grave site, sadly, these remain words to live by.