Iraqi Shia wailer hit with lawsuits for poem allegedly stirring up 'ethnic strife'

Iraqi Shia wailer hit with lawsuits for poem allegedly stirring up 'ethnic strife'
A poem by Iraqi Shia wailer Basim al-Karbalaei is accused of cursing the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad and describing them in a poem as “gangsters”.
2 min read
12 September, 2022
About 3 million Shia worshippers arrive in the country to attend the Arba'een ceremonies in Najaf, Iraq on 11 September 2022. [Getty]

A poem by an Iraqi Shia wailer known as Basim al-Karbalaei, in which he allegedly curses the Companions of Islam Prophet Mohammed, describing them as "gangsters", went viral on social media platforms and led to condemnations and lawsuits for encouraging ethnic strife.

As the Shia Muslims across Iraq and neighbouring Iran march to the holy city of Karbala to commemorate Arbaeen, the poem has been trending high on Iraqi Twitter. Arbaeen marks the end of the 40-day mourning period for the seventh-century killing of Imam Hussein, Prophet Mohammed's grandson, by followers of Caliph Yazid. The occasion falls on 17 September this year.

"The Companions are gangsters", reads the poem and sung by al-Karbalaei during the traditional Shia self-beating ceremonies, was published in a video clip on his formal YouTube channel seven months ago.   

The Diwan of Sunni Endowment, a formal body related to the Iraqi federal government, called for an investigation into the video clip and bringing those behind the "slur" to justice. It stressed the need to uphold all religious fatwas that "bans cursing all the religious symbols, especially the Prophets and Messengers of God, Ahl al-Bayt (the Arabic term of the holy family of the Prophet Muhammad), and the Companions of the Prophet."

Three Iraqi lawyers on Monday raised two legal complaints against al-Karbalaei.

According to Article 2 of the Iraqi constitution, "Islam is the official religion of the State and is a foundation source of legislation" and Article 7 stipulates, "Any entity or program that adopts, incites, facilitates, glorifies, promotes, or justifies racism or terrorism or accusations of being an infidel (takfir) or ethnic cleansing, especially the Saddamist Ba'ath in Iraq and its symbols, under any name whatsoever, shall be prohibited."

Scorning religious minorities is punishable by no more than three years imprisonment according to Article 372 of the Iraqi penal code of 1969.   

Iraq's Anti-Terrorism Law, Number 13 of 2005, also stipulates that the "use violence or threat to stir up sectarian strife or civil war or sectarian infighting by arming citizens or by encouraging them to arm themselves and by incitement or funding."

According to official statistics, almost two million Iranian pilgrims have entered Iraq to attend this year's Arbaeen pilgrimage – one of the world's largest religious gatherings – in the Shia shrine city of Karbala.