Bahrain, from Red and White to Black
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th December, 2008
When I landed in Bahrain a fortnight ago, Manama was a sea of red and white flags, marking National Day. Most buildings (and many boats!) were flying them and quite a number of the grandest edifices in the capital were illuminated with strings of red and white lights at night.
But last evening, I was taken to the Shia village of Sanabis, where every house was displaying a black flag and big banners hung over the road, with quotes from the Shia Martyr Hussein. All this is in preparation for Ashura, which marks the day the Prophet’s grandson was killed in the battle of Kerbala in present-day Iraq. I was taken into the new local mosque, with its gorgeous blue tilework, Iranian carpets and chandeliers. It was something of a shock to see giant pictures of the past and present Iranian spiritual leaders, Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, flanking the minbar (from which the imam preaches). No wonder the Sunni minority in Bahrain (which includes the royal family) are sometimes nervous about the Shias’ sense of belonging.
However, the Shia hospitality last night was superb (the fact that I had been to Karbala probably enhanced my status). Tea was being served free from tables outside the mosque and food was being prepared in the kitchens. On Ashura day itself, the whole village will be crowded with devotees in a state of spiritual exhaltation.