Najaf: In Iraq’s city of bookshops, theology and poetry rub spines

1 / 3
A customer scans a book at the Howeish book market in Najaf. (AFP)
2 / 3
A religious student looks at a book at the Howeish market in Najaf. (AFP)
3 / 3
A Muslim religious man walks among books shelves at the Howeish book market in Najaf. (AFP)
Updated 10 October 2018
0

Najaf: In Iraq’s city of bookshops, theology and poetry rub spines

  • Najaf’s 750-year-old market helps make it a ‘city apart’
  • ‘We want our students to view books as their primary source, ahead of the Internet’ for verified information

NAJAF, Iraq: In the covered alleyways of old Najaf in Iraq, poetry and philosophy books compete on laden shelves with economic treatises, the Qur'an and other theological tomes for students’ attention.
Since leaving his native Bangladesh for the Shiite holy city three years ago, religious student Mohammed Ali Reda has regularly frequented secondhand bookstores.
There are many like him in Najaf.
Some wear turbans — black for descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, and white for religious scholars.
“I am still at the start of my apprenticeship,” said Reda, in one of the dozens of bookshops in the city’s Howeish market.
Wearing a simple white robe and scarf, he speaks in hesitant Arabic, like his Iranian, Pakistani and Turkish student peers.
“For the moment, we have lessons in Arabic, law and Islamic morals,” he added.
The 19-year-old avidly seeks advice on books on Islamic law, religious principles and other lessons of Shiite Islam.
While Iraq is majority Shiite, only a minority follow this strand of Islam in Reda’s homeland, like most of the rest of the Muslim world.
Several decades Reda’s senior, Mohannad Mustapha Jamal El-Din — a religious student turned teacher — also feels at home among the bookstalls.
Najaf’s 750-year-old market helps make it a “city apart,” he enthused.
Located 150 kilometers south of Baghdad, the city welcomes millions of Shiite pilgrims every year.
They come to visit the tomb of Imam Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and a founding figure of Shiite Islam.
Najaf “is like no other city in Iraq — (it’s) steeped in religion and literature,” said Jamal El-Din, sporting the black turban.
Among the crowds of religious students, there are also poetry lovers.
Some, like Jamal El-Din, have a foot in both camps.
“One can be versed in both fields — (knowledge of) one does not preclude the other.”
Iraqi poet Mohammed Mahdi Al-Jawahiri could be found in Najaf’s alleyways and bookstores in the 1920s, as he progressed from strict religious instruction to militant journalism in Baghdad.
Twenty-one years after his death, his collections sit on shelves that heave with a splendid array of titles, stretching to the arcane such as “Islamic economy — Marxist or Capitalist?”
Other one-time students have found their calling in the maze of Najaf’s old city, and become famous in their own right.
Examples include the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiite majority, and Mohammed Bakr Sadr, a great Shiite thinker.
Sadr was killed by former dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, and was an uncle of political heavyweight Moqtada Sadr, whose electoral list won the largest number of seats in Iraq’s legislative elections in May.
Until the 1950s, secondhand bookstores held weekly meetings for students in Najaf, according to Hassan Al-Hakim, an expert in history and Islamic civilization.
They “gathered near Imam Ali’s tomb and every Friday they sold works at auction, including many original editions,” said the professor of Kufa University, who has set up a heritage association for Najaf.
Famed British archaeologist Gertrude Bell “visited the Najaf book market” in the early 20th century, Hakim added proudly.
The academic contends that the city’s special status should not be threatened by the shift of much academic literature online.
“We want our students to view books as their primary source, ahead of the Internet” for verified information, Hakim said.
And “by looking for a book, we can find others that interest us,” he noted.


’Pig’ British tourists to be deported from New Zealand

Updated 16 January 2019
0

’Pig’ British tourists to be deported from New Zealand

  • The family have been involved in a string of incidents in the country, including accusations of littering, assault, not paying for restaurant meals and intimidating behavior
  • "They're worse than pigs and I'd like to see them out of the country," Auckland mayor said

WELLINGTON: Members of a British family have been branded “worse than pigs” and face deportation from New Zealand after a spree of bad behavior that left normally easygoing Kiwis outraged.
The family have been involved in a string of incidents in and around Auckland and Hamilton, including accusations of littering, assault, not paying for restaurant meals and intimidating behavior.
Auckland mayor Phil Goff led national outcry at the tourists’ antics, demanding the police take action. “These guys are trash. They are leeches,” he told a local radio station.
“If you say one time ‘I found a hair or an ant in my meal’ you’d believe it but they find it every meal that they have as a way of evading payment. That’s a criminal activity.
“They’re worse than pigs and I’d like to see them out of the country.”
New Zealand’s assistant general manager of immigration, Peter Devoy, said the family had been issued with a deportation notice on the grounds of “matters relating to character.”
One 26-year-old member of the family on Wednesday pleaded guilty to stealing NZ$55 ($37) worth of goods from a petrol station.
The family attracted extensive media coverage in New Zealand after a video showed them leaving beer boxes, bottles and other rubbish strewn on a popular beach.
When a woman asked them to clean up their litter, a child in the group can be seen on video threatening he would “knock your brains out.”
Stuff Media reported that one family member hit a journalist with her shoe after being approached for comment.
A member of the family told the New Zealand Herald they have now decided to cut short their holiday and will return home this week.
John Johnson insisted his family were of good stock, claimed his grandfather was the “10th richest man in England” and said he was made to feel “very unwelcome” in New Zealand.