A report in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times is a chilling reminder of the utter absurdity of out-of-control sectarian violence in Afghanistan.

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan —
A suicide bomber blew himself up Friday at a public bathhouse in southern Afghanistan that was filled with men washing themselves before the main prayers of the Muslim week. At least 17 were killed and 23 injured, provincial officials said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in Spin Boldak, in Kandahar province. The district, a main crossing point to and from Pakistan, is a longtime nexus of drug and weapons smuggling.

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, claimed the explosion had killed the deputy commander of the province’s border police force. Abdul Razak, the border police commander, said a lieutenant colonel on the force was killed, but that the man was not his deputy. Two other police were among the injured, he said…

President Hamid Karzai condemned Friday’s attack, calling it un-Islamic. Although mosques have sometimes been targeted by suicide bombers, an assault on men making their pre-prayer ablutions was shocking to many Afghans. Nearly all the dead and wounded were civilians.

Man’s inhumanity to man is certainly not unique to any one particular religion or ideology, and it is important to note that this particular horrific act of violence is shocking to sensible Afghans. Those who hate everything Islam stands for will see this latest act of terrorism as further proof (as though such prejudice needs “proof” to validate it) that the problem is with Islam as a religion. Such a mentality would have to acknowledge that the vicious impact of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 16th century France is proof that Catholicism is evil. Indeed some of the most ardent Islamophobic critics of Islam, like fundamentalist Jack Chick, are equally intolerant of Catholicism, even to the point of claiming that Islam is a Satanic plot hatched by the Catholic Church.

Blood spilled from Muslims preparing to pray or in a house of prayer is not unique to Afghanistan or Iraq, but provides a haunting reminder of the murder of the Prophet Muhammad’s nephew ‘Ali, said to have occurred in 661 CE, in a mosque in Kufa. Here is one spin on the story:

Abdur Rahman b Muljam al Sarimi, the designated assassin of Ali, reached Kufa well before the appointed date. Here he fell in love with a Kharijite girl Qataum by name. According to chronicles she was an outstanding beauty. She had a face as beautiful as the moon, and her flowing jet black tresses were most captivating. Her father and brother had been killed in the Battle of Nahrawan, and she was fired with the desire to avenge their death. She agreed to marry Abdur Rahman if he could present to her the head of Ali as her dower. As he was already committed to the assassination of Ali he readily accepted the condition laid down by his beloved. At the instance of Qataum, two more Kharijites joined with Abdur Rahman in the conspiracy to assassinate Ali. One of them was Werdan, who was related to Qataum. The other was Shaubib b Bijrah who belonged to the tribe of Anjah.

On the Friday morning of the seventeenth day of the month of Ramadan, the three conspirators went to the main mosque of Kufa just before the break of dawn. Here they took up their position in the narrow passage leading to the prayer hall. A little later Ali came, the mosque when it was still dark and there was no one else in the mosque. When Ali stood to pray, Werdan struck at Ali, but missed his mark. Then Abdur Rahman struck Ali on the forehead with this poisoned sword which penetrated on the brain through the scar of an old wound. Thereafter the assassins fled from the mosque.

When the faithful assembled in the mosque for prayers they found Ali lying wounded on the prayer mat. A hunt for the assassins was made. Werdan resisted being taken captive and was killed. Abdur Rahman was apprehended and taken into custody. The third conspirator escaped from Kufa. Abdur Rahman confessed his guilt. He said that he had struck his blow at Ali in the name of God for he considered that in seeking power, Ali had sinned and was guilty of killing thousands of innocent people. Ali cursed Abdur Rahman for his misguided views. He, however, instructed his men that the assassin should be kept in custody and should not be subjected to any hardship. He observed that if he recovered from the wound, he would himself decide what punishment should be awarded to him. If he died the assassin was to lose his life. He was, however, to be killed in one stroke, and was neither to be mutilated nor made to suffer languishing death.

The wounds of Ali proved to be fatal. No antidote could be found to counter affect the poison that had penetrated into the body of Ali. The condition of Ali steadily deteriorated and he breathed his last on the 24th of January 661 C.E. From God he came and to God he returned.

The story of ‘Ali’s death has all the stuff of legend, including a beautiful, revengeful woman demanding the head of ‘Ali just as Salome had asked for John the Baptist’s head from King Herod. But despite the heinous nature of the crime, at least from a Shi’a perspective, it is important to note ‘Ali’s response, which did not seek to cause hardship on his assassin, even though he would have to pay the penalty if ‘Ali died. I can’t help but think that every time a Muslim is killed by a fellow Muslim in the act of prayer, the lustre of the faith is tarnished, just as holds true for Christianity in its misguided persecution of so-called heretics, Judaism or any religion that posits a just and loving God. How small is the God of these bomb-laden Taliban that they think the puny partisan efforts of revenge further the call that Muhammad made to faith in the one true God.

Daniel Martin Varisco