Civil activity

In the Iraqi city of Najaf: Christmas trees are now being sold in the markets …

By June 24, 2021No Comments

The markets of the Iraqi city of Najaf do not usually turn green and red during the Christmas season.

When a group of civil activists held a simple New Year’s celebration in 2013, and decorated an orphan tree in Rawan Street, and Christian families were hosted to participate in the celebration, controversy increased in the city and a discussion arose among the residents.

That Iraqi city that includes the shrine of Imam Ali, and the largest cemetery in the world, the Valley of Peace Cemetery, which houses the bodies of millions, does not usually celebrate New Year and Christmas

No one in the province of Najaf, which is considered the holy city of the Shiites and the place of residence of the highest Shiite religious authority in the world, Ali al-Sistani, has dared to carry out any activity or activity that some considered “contrary” to Islamic law in the past.

But the scene has changed over the past four years. This year has been the most visible.

In the last days of 2017 in Najaf, the situation was different from the past three years: the orphan tree that was placed in 2013 is now everywhere, and those who previously refused this celebration became among the revelers this time.

The difference between Rawan Street, in Najaf Governorate, and the famous Karrada Street in Baghdad, which is decorated in the festive season with decorations, was not very big in the past weeks, unlike many years, in terms of the atmosphere of selling Christmas trees, Santa Claus dolls and his red clothes.

Shops began selling Christmas trees and Santa Claus clothes in Najaf Governorate, in addition to supplies for New Year’s celebrations.

 

Photography, Wissam Mutouq

 

Not only did the trees sell, but the pastry ovens made Christmas cakes and advertised them on social media.

Some civil society activists in Najaf told Raseef22 that last week the city witnessed “peaceful coexistence.”

 

First attempt – 2013

Photography, Wissam Mutouq

In 2013, Yasser Makki (24 years old) asked the owner of the mall, City Mall in Najaf Governorate, to put a medium-sized Christmas tree inside his shop for people to gather around on New Year’s Eve, but he refused.

Makki, a dentist and volunteer at Moja, was shocked and had a plethora of ideas.

Will we be attacked if we celebrate?

 

Will we see any negative result after the celebration?

 

Will this be the first and last time we celebrate it?

 

The young dentist and his friends in the Moja team had no choice but to carry out their activities on Rawan Street, which is one of the most famous streets in the governorate.

 

They put up a small tree and celebrated it, but they were attacked, accused and betrayed by “extremists,” according to what Makki described them.

The days or months that followed the celebration did not go well.

Some of what the young men were expecting happened, but it did not reach the stage of physical or armed attacks

The charges against the group of activists who organized the celebration were “harsh,” according to their description, and ranged from atheism, heresy, and Western support to abolish the identity of the Islamic city, while others described them as homosexuality.

The Moja team has continued to celebrate the holiday since that year on a small scale,

The criticism began to decrease year after year.

This year, the team entered the mall (City Mall) and was surprised to find a large Christmas tree inside. It is the same mall whose owner rejected the proposal of young volunteers four years ago.

The change that occurred since 2013 was not superficial or immediate, as it was the result of continuous work among young activists and the openness of some clerics to other religions, most notably the Supreme Leader Ali al-Sistani.

 

Prepared responses:

Najaf, the Iraqi city that houses the shrine of Imam Ali, does not usually celebrate New Year and Christmas. What has changed this year?

During the past two years, shops have started selling Christmas trees and Santa Claus clothes in Najaf Governorate

Najaf is no longer just a place for turbaned clerics or for death, it is originally a political, cultural and scientific center.

Najaf was the capital of Islamic culture in 2012, and it includes the city of Kufa, known for its scientific history, and it is the city of the greatest Arab poet, Muhammad Mahdi Al-Jawahiri. It has recently hosted conferences that seek to bring together religions and cultures.

The UNESCO Chair at the University of Kufa has also been very active in recent years in holding conferences and seminars on interfaith rapprochement.

Sistani’s supportive of the civilian state helped create enough space for Makki and his colleagues to work there with limited freedom.

 

Photography, Wissam Mutouq

 

The Christmas tree is a message to the extremists

At the beginning of December 2017, Makki and his colleagues in the Najaf governorate prepared to celebrate the New Year, which he considers the exercise of “personal freedoms.”

Makki told Raseef22: “The presence of Christmas trees and their sale in the markets of Najaf is a message to extremism and extremists who want to create a dry environment that is not multiple and of one color.” And it is reported that some clerics he met in the province of Najaf said: “They have no problem with celebrating the New Year.”

 

 

 

Objections to the celebration

Photography, Wissam Mutouq

 

Selling Christmas trees of different sizes and in several places does not mean that there is complete acceptance of such celebrations in Najaf, the “conservative” city. Rather, there are positions that reject the matter and consider it a “distortion” of the city’s purely Islamic identity.

A cleric with a white turban (Sheikh) and his name is Ali Al-Zirjawi (33 years old) told Raseef 22 in City Mall: “The celebration of New Year’s calendar does not have any connection to Islam, and the presence of these appearances in an Islamic city such as Najaf is not welcome.”

Although Al-Zirjawi does not have any objection or any position towards the Christian faith, his objection was to the spread of selling trees in Najaf and organizing some gatherings to celebrate New Year’s Day.

A woman in her fourth decade stands with her baby in front of a store, looking at Santa Claus’s clothes. Her child would insist on her to buy the man’s costume, until he forced her to do what he wanted

The woman spoke indirectly to Raseef22, about her happiness with the availability of Christmas requirements in her city.

“Years ago, my daughter was crying Santa Claus clothes and Christmas trees were not available in the province, and we were forced to order them from Baghdad. ”

The woman in her thirties does not find any contradiction between celebrating Christmas and her adherence to her Islamic religion, and believes that “Islam motivated us and pushed us to share their celebrations and sorrows with others.”

Mustafa Saadoun

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