Most parts of the world celebrate April Fools' Day with humor and laughter. The Middle East does it differently.
Amid the ongoing Sunni-Shiite wars, on the eve of April Fools’ Day, an audio recording was circulated online of the man who presides over the holiest site for Muslim around the world. The caption on photo accompanying the recording read, “Imam of the grand mosque in Mecca calls for all-out war against Shiites.”
“Our war with Iran, say that out loud, is a war between Sunnis and Shiites,” Sunni preacher Abdul Rahman al-Sudais says in the nearly seven-minute clip. “Our war with Iran...is truly sectarian. If it was not sectarian, we will make it sectarian... The Jews and cross” – meaning Christians – “I swear by Allah that they will have their days...The prophet said that Rome will be conquered ...Our disagreement with Rafidha” – another word for Shiites – “will not be removed, nor our suicide to fight them... as long as they are on the face of the earth....”
While cursing Jews is part of Friday prayers and speeches in many parts of the Islamic world, most Muslim imams avoid calling for all-out war with Shiites and Christians. Hearing that call from al-Sudais in the grand mosque in Mecca is an unprecedented escalation of hate speech (though, for what it’s worth, Al-Sudais' page on Facebook didn't confirm his alleged comments).
“Remember the date of 3/31/2015, the day the Shiite-Sunni war was announced. It will last more than the crusade wars,” said Ahmed Abul Hussein, the secular editor-in-chief of an Iraqi news agency, about the cleric’s speech.
On the same day as the imam made his call, Asharq al-Awsat, a prominent London-based and Saudi-funded Arabic language newspaper, published a story stating that Egyptian and Iranian battleships exchanged fire while trying to control the strategically important Bab el-Mandeb strait between Yemen and Africa.
It may look like the imam’s call was late and the entire Middle East is already on fire in a sectarian religious war. But the real picture is somewhat messier. The Sunni rebels in Syria are fighting ISIS as well as the Syrian government, which is hardly Shiite. The Iraqi government forces that are fighting in Tikrit have Sunni allies on the ground. Both the Iranians and Egyptians denied the battleship confrontation.
April Fool’s Day brought some other interesting news in the region. One headline suggested that all three Iraqi vice presidents — none of them has any real function — resigned to save money in a time of financial hardship. Another headline reported that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has married a German girl in Mosul. Both items might have come across as April Fools’ Day pranks, but they were apparently no joke. It is, after all, the Middle East, where things are only getting more serious.
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