Yesterday was the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram: Ashura. Despite the fact that all Muslims find significance in Ashura, the commemorative holiday is a major one for Shi’a Muslims.
For Shi’ites, Ashura is a day of mourning and reflection on the sacrifices of the Prophet’s family. This is the day that produces all the footage of self-flagellation, which makes all non-Muslims think that all Muslims (Shi’a or otherwise) are bloodthirsty, violent, and fanatical.
During this time, many pilgrims trek to shrines to observe rituals and pray. Many of the shrines central to Ashura are in Iraq, and their significance for Shi’ites means that sectarian tensions run high. This past week, a man (who reports earlier stated was a woman) blew himself up among Shi’a pilgrims at the shrine of Imam Moussa al-Kadhim.
Because of this, authorities have closed the shrine to women. Let me repeat that: because a man who everyone thought was a woman blew himself up at the shrine, authorities will not allow women to enter the shrine during Ashura celebrations.
Since female members of Iraqi security teams are low, there is no one to search female pilgrims, who may cause potential security threats because their clothing is loose and could conceal weapons or bombs. Despite the lack of security, the al-Kadhim shrine is the only shrine to be closed to women during the Ashura festivals.
While I understand the worry about security, closing the shrine to women disenfranchises women from their right to worship and participate in festivities at the shrines. And it’s just plain not fair to penalize them for what a man did. If you’re going to punish an entire gender for something one person did, then the shrine should be closed to men, since it was a man who blew himself up.
If the Iraqi security forces were really serious about security, they would train and hire more female officers. This would not only help solve the problem of how to reduce potential female suicide bombers during Ashura, but all year round.