Iraqi Muslims Put Faith in Praying Alone

On June 16, the day of another bombing, Iraqi soldiers studied photos of victims of the April attack on Baghdad's Baratha mosque.
On June 16, the day of another bombing, Iraqi soldiers studied photos of victims of the April attack on Baghdad's Baratha mosque. (By Muhannad Falaah -- Getty Images)
By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 24, 2006

BAGHDAD, June 23 -- In these new Friday mornings, Hussein Ali turns off the television. He asks his wife and five daughters to leave the room. He places a rug on the floor between two beds and a small refrigerator, faces southeast and, with deep regret, begins to pray in his bedroom.

Ali has left his mosque.

"God says, do not throw yourself into death," he said.

The attacks and suicide bombings that have ripped through hundreds of mosques and shrines across Iraq are affecting Muslims profoundly, causing some to abandon Friday group prayers in the mosques, one of the holiest Muslim rites. Prayer is one of Islam's five pillars, and the Koran encourages worshipers to pray in groups on Fridays.

Ali did not come lightly to his decision to stay home. For years, he said, he has had no more important appointment than Fridays at Baghdad's Baratha mosque, a revered Shiite shrine said to have been visited in the 7th century by Imam Ali, a cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad.

But after suicide bombers struck at Baratha in April, killing at least 70 people at Friday prayers, Ali's wife confronted him. "I told her I would go, but she said: 'Who will take care of us if you get blown up? You don't have a salary or a pension,' " recalled Ali, 46, who runs a small shop that sells cigarettes and candy out of his home in the al-Salaam neighborhood of northwest Baghdad.

Then authorities imposed midday Friday curfews in Baghdad, outlawing vehicle traffic. For a man with a heart condition, a one-mile walk to the mosque in 115 degree heat is no easy feat. And June 16, another bomber attacked Baratha, killing at least 11 worshipers.

"I hope God will understand that I am forced to do this," said Ali. "If I didn't have a family, I would have wished to be a martyr."

Baratha is now as much fortress as mosque. Concrete blast walls ring the compound, and machine gunners on turrets, metal detectors and a fleet of armed guards secure it. Jalaledin Saghir, the mosque's preacher and a member of Iraq's parliament, says that most of the thousands of weekly worshipers have refused to abandon their prayers, continuing to kneel side by side under the ceiling fans and chandeliers.

"We are in a battle against terrorism," he said. "The Shias proved after all of the attacks that they challenge terrorism, they don't surrender to fear."

The latest attacker at Baratha, who slipped in with C4 plastic explosive in his shoe and applied it to an explosive belt in the bathroom, made his way over the red prayer rugs to within about 10 yards of Saghir before blowing up, according to religious officials.

"I know that I am a target," Saghir said. "I am going to the mosque next Friday. And I believe there is going to be another explosion or a rocket attack, but I will not be scared."


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