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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 March, 2004, 10:07 GMT
Indian Shias rest in hope
By Ram Dutt Tripathi
BBC correspondent in Lucknow

Karbala Malika Jahan graveyard in Lucknow
The Karbala Malika Jahan graveyard in Lucknow
Iftkhar Fatima's body has been lying in the northern Indian city of Lucknow, waiting for burial for the past 12 years.

It was her last wish to be buried in the Iraqi holy city of Karbala - like many Shia Muslims around the world.

But the situation in Iraq prevented her final wish being fulfilled.

So Fatima continues to lie in state, preserved in chemicals and stored in a steel trunk at the Karbala Malika Jahan graveyard in Lucknow.

But with the fall and capture of Saddam Hussein, she may yet find the final resting place of her choice.

Family tradition

Her son, Maulana Hameedul Hasan, a prominent Shia Muslim clergyman in Lucknow, says it has been a tradition in his mother's family to bury their dead in Iraq's holy twin cities of Karbala and Najaf.

"My mother made a will that her body should be taken to the holy city for burial. Her father and mother made similar wills and their bodies were taken to Iraq for burial," Maulana Hasan told BBC News Online.

"But the burial of my mother has been delayed. Every time I made an effort, I found that the situation in Iraq was not conducive."

MAULANA HASAN
Maulana Hameedul Hasan
I will make fresh efforts after the holy month of Muharram, and Inshallah [God willing] I will be able to perform my mother's last rites in the holy city
Najaf and Karbala, located deep in the Shia heartland of southern Iraq, traditionally opposed the Saddam Hussain-led Baathist rulers in Baghdad.

For years, the annual pilgrimage by Shia Muslims to these holy cities was banned.

Nobody is sure how many such bodies are waiting for their final journey to Iraq.

Some 300,000 residents of Lucknow, a city of three million people, are Shia Muslims.

Mohammed Khalil, a caretaker at the graveyard where Iftkhar Fatima's body is stored, says he knows of other bodies awaiting burial in Karbala and Najaf.

Other caretakers at other graveyards in Lucknow say the same thing.

Mr Khalil says one body at his graveyard was stored in a trunk for years, before the family buried it in Lucknow after giving up hope.

Maulana Hameedul Hasan recalls taking the body of one of his relatives to Karbala for burial in 1954.

He remembered that the authorities there had built multi-storey graveyards to accommodate bodies from all over the world.

Hopes rise

Things have improved now for Iraq's Shia Muslims.

All of us want to be buried in Karbala but since it is very difficult we bury our dead bodies here only
Mustafa Ali
Lucknow Shia Muslim
Last year thousands of them performed one of their key rituals for the first time in nearly 30 years - the pilgrimage to the great Shia martyr Imam Hussein bin Ali's shrine in Karbala, 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Baghdad.

A grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Imam Hussein died 1,323 years ago and was thus denied the leadership of Muslims that Shias believe was his right.

The return of religious freedom in Iraq gives some hope to Maulana Hasan that his mother's last wish will be fulfilled.

He says he contacted a Delhi-based travel agency to arrange for the body to be airlifted to Iraq, and was told to wait a while.

"I will make fresh efforts after the holy month of Muharram, and Inshallah [God willing] I will be able to perform my mother's last rites in the holy city," says Maulana Hasan.




SEE ALSO:
Iraq holds historic Shia festival
01 Mar 04  |  Middle East
Who are the Shia?
10 May 03  |  Middle East


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