One defition of shism is - " To cut off; to abrogate; to annul..."
Guess what ? This is exactly what's happened to some members of my family in Baghdad.
My cousin R calls me out of the blue. I have not spoken to her in ages since am in regular contact with my aunt and she usually gives me all the latest news.
So R calls me and she is always careful on the phone, she says they are tapped.
She starts off her conversation in a casual manner and then says
" I don't understand anymore, all those big turbans ruling us. What do they know about politics ?"
Then she casually adds " By the way we went for a "ziyara" (a religious visit), to Nejaf and Kerbala. It's changed a lot. Now they have a special corner for women and of course a more spacious one for men. "
I've visited Nejaf and Kerbala on more than one occasion during Saddam's reign, there were no divisions there for males and females - a side point. Let me continue...
I paused for a while. She was clearly trying to tell me something here.
Why would a Sunni family chose to go visit Nejaf and Kerbala now, during these times when people are still arrested, detained and killed because of their sects ?
Why Nejaf and Kerbala now ? When everyone knows that both these cities are literally swamped with the most fanatical, blind, insane sectarians, both from Iraq and from Iran.
We ended the conversation, and then it hit me.
A few months ago, another cousin of ours, who lives next to R in the same neighborhood, a neighborhood who has become "predominantly shia" when it was very mixed before and where we didn't know who is what, is now totally controlled by the Shiite militias from Iran. So this other cousin M, was arrested a few months ago, on false charges.
During his stay in prison which was no ordinary prison since it was tied to the Ministry of the Interior, we fervently prayed that M would have the intelligence not to reveal his sect. His name is not a giveaway. So the only cue that could reveal his sect is his way of praying. We earnestly prayed that he shows cleverness by praying the Shia way as opposed to the Sunni way. A minor detail but one that could save a life - his.
Thankfully M was smart and was finally released, after much angst.
M and R live next door to one another in the same neighborhood. I believe that both converted to Shi'ism to spare their lives and that of their families. Hence the visit to Nejaf and Kerbala at these dangerous times.
I have heard other stories of people changing sects to avoid death, now it has happened in my own family.
I did say I liked words. Shism = to cut off, abrogate, annul, vacate, void...
This is your new democracy Iranian-American style.
Painting : Iraqi artist, Ali Al-Najjar.