Salam Alaykum: Finding peace at Arbaeen in Najaf, Iraq

Abathar Alkudari reports that after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, fear is replaced with peace and hope for the people of Najaf, Iraq.


NAJAF, IRAQ, November 26, 2015 – Salam Alaykum, which is the Islamic greeting “Peace be upon you” carrying hopes that you are all doing well. Najaf, Iraq is a wonderful place however under Saddam Hussein, it was not such a great place to be.

There is a feeling of being safe and secure, roaming the streets and driving around from one city to another without any security issues.

Jalal and me, en route to Najaf

Speaking with one of the Najaf Governorate’s council members, Khalid Al-Jashami, he says that there are thousands of security personnel deployed to facilitate traffic and ensure the safety of the visitors along the way.

Al-Jashami added that on normal days, police officers receive approximately 100 reports ranging from simple law violations to crimes committed.

During the Arbaeen season, the 40th day following the seventh-century martyrdom of the third Shia Imam, Imam Hussein, that number surprisingly drops to an unbelievable zero.

“During the Arbaeen season, the visitors get along and resolve their disputes peacefully. It’s remarkable to see that people just find a way to avoid any confrontation and even when a dispute arises, they are willing to forgive and move on,” explained Al-Jashami.

Another police officer facilitating traffic told us with a smile, “It’s the love of Hussein. It brings all of us together.”

One of most striking experiences so far was visiting the Intelligence Agency in Najaf, which is basically Iraq’s FBI equivalent where there is a personal story behind our visit.

I was born in Iraq in 1990 to a middle-class family in a small village called Khudr in the Province of Muthana.

My father was forced to drop out from the College of Engineering at University of Basra because he refused to join the ruling Baathist party. Consequently, he opened up a clothing store. My mother was a teacher.

From Lebanon to Najaf: Pray for us there

In 1991, there was a national uprising against the brutal and murderous regime of Saddam Hussein. Due to political reasons, the uprising failed.

Many of the rebels were tortured and executed. My father was detained for a short period but he managed to escape and flee to the deserts of Saudi Arabia.

If you were arrested in Najaf, it was likely you would have been tortured and executed in the building we visited. The director of the agency welcomed us with open arms.

He was impressed with our project

“As you know we are facing serious security threats. But we are determined to do our job and provide security for the visitors” he shared.

Then he came forward and smiled,

“This was not the case before 2003 and the toppling of Saddam Hussein. This place used to be a torture house, a hub for oppression and injustice.”

My father always told me that during Saddam’s dark era, people were horrified by anything related to law enforcement. People would go far to avoid walking by government buildings and making eye contact with police officers.

My father would be proud to know that I went to that once upon a time torture house yesterday and sat with officers that represented a regime that the people Najaf feared. Fifteen years ago, my father never imagined that could ever be possible.

Today it is. I need to call him and let him know.

Salam Alaykum


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Abathar Alkudari is a law and public policy analyst at Humanize Global. His research has focused on the significance of the rule of law and nongovernmental organizations in contributing to civil society as it relates between the United States and Middle Eastern nations. Alkudari earned his Juris Doctor degree from Wayne State University, where he also graduated cum laude with a dual degree in Economics and Political Science. In addition to his academic studies, he has worked in the public sector of NGOs and nonprofit organizations for over seven years in various capacities. Alkudari is the Director of Initiatives at the Mainstay Foundation.