Once again, Bassem al-Karbalai al-Radoud (singer) al-Husseini, the most famous in Iraq, raises controversy with the words of a poem that the Parliamentary Endowments and Tribes Committee considered transgressions, “seeking to perpetuate division and division and deepen the sectarian differences between Muslims.”
One of the phrases in the poem sung by Karbalai, in the Iraqi vernacular and published eight months ago, describes the Companions as “the gang.”
The poem quickly spread after the committee’s angry statement, and it was widely circulated on social media, causing a storm of reactions, most of which rejected the phrase that came in the poem, while some tried to justify the phrase as referring to those who participated in the killing of Hussein and his companions in the incident of Tuff or the Battle of Karbala.
The strongest reactions were to the Sunni Endowment, which demanded an investigation into the case, bringing the perpetrators of this “offense” to justice, and tightening control over the content of poems.
The Adhamiya Imams and Preachers Association issued a statement saying that “offending the nation’s symbols is a manifestation of extremism and extremism that does not differ from the crimes committed by ISIS extremists.”
For his part, the head of the Sovereignty Alliance, Raad Al-Dahlaki, called for the issuance of an arrest warrant against Bassem Al-Karbalai and preventing him from setting up Husseiniya councils, to enter the Iraqi Fiqh Council on the line of the crisis, waving to resort to the Iraqi Penal Code, specifically Article 372 that punishes imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years. Anyone who publicly assaults the beliefs of a religious sect or degrades its rites, or deliberately disturbs a religious rite, or who publicly insults a symbol or a person who is the object of sanctification, glorification or respect for a religious sect.
– Omar Al-Janabi (@omartvsd) September 12, 2022
These events bring to mind the scenario of similar events, during which Karbalai angered Kuwaitis in 2016 with a poem titled “Al-Jibt wa Taghut,” after which he was banned from engaging in any activity inside Kuwait, after his poem was considered provoking sectarianism and discrimination between Sunnis and Shiites. Some disaffected Kuwaitis launched the hashtag #Expel_Sectarian_Radoud_from_Kuwait
Bassem al-Karbalai is considered the most famous and popular in the Shiite world, thanks to his distinguished voice and his modern way of reading the obituary during the Ashura rituals, which are commemorated annually by millions of Shiites around the world, in memory of the killing of Imam Hussein and its center in Karbala, where the Battle of Tuff took place, which ended with his death.
As well as the man’s fame, his controversy comes with poems or behaviors that expose him to sharp popular criticism from time to time, the most recent of which was his appearance in a funeral council held by the leader of the Wisdom Movement Ammar al-Hakim, in the remarkable presence of a number of armed faction leaders and members of the coordination framework, which is engaged in a strong struggle with the movement. Al-Sadr, led by Muqtada al-Sadr, which some considered siding with one political party against another.
Three years before that, Karbalai sparked a lot of reactions after being given the title of “Sultan of the Al-Minbar Al-Husseini”, crowning him with a golden crown called “The Crown of the State”, and placing an embroidered mantle on his shoulders in the Husseiniya of Qasr Al-Zahra in the city of Kadhimiya, central Baghdad. This sparked a wave of criticism because of what was considered a violation by Karbalai of the legal prohibition of men wearing gold, not to mention a gold-encrusted crown, which forced the famous Radod to gift the crown to the al-Abbas’s (p) threshold.
Karbalai’s road to the crown began in 1980, the same year that saw him and his family exiled from Karbala after the outbreak of the first Gulf War, under the pretext of the Iranian origins of the family, which later settled in Isfahan. There, specifically in the Husseiniya Karbalai and during his attendance at the funerals, one of his uncles discovered his amazing vocal capabilities, and prompted him to read poems on various religious occasions, and then helped him to learn the principles of chanting at the hands of Mullah Taqi Karbalai in Iran, where he lived for 13 years, before moving between Gulf states, marry an Omani girl, and settle for ten years in Kuwait.
With the increase in his popularity through cassette tapes in the nineties of the last century, Karbalai traveled around the world, and set up mourning councils in the United States, Britain and many European countries, all the way to China.
This movement between countries allowed Karbalai to develop new phases in diction and rhythm, and enabled him to collaborate with different composers and arrangers. Sharp criticism was raised about this update, which opened the door to a “legal debate” about the use of musical instruments in singing. It is a controversy that has not ended to this day.
Not only did Karbalai change the prevailing modes of reciting poems, but he also changed the profession of al-Radoud al-Husayni. Years ago, he launched a perfume bearing the first two letters of his name in English (BK), only to be subjected to a wave of criticism, this time related to imitating celebrities and confusing trade and pulpit service.
– Mohammed bin Jassim (@a_lkhalifah) April 3, 2021
Criticism also extended to the wages of his work in the Husseini councils, which amount to thousands of dollars, but when asked in one of the television interviews about the amounts he receives in return for attending the mourning councils and singing there, he denied his request for money or specifying any amount of money in exchange for his participation in the chanting of the Husseini mourning councils.
Al-Karbalai achieved wide fame among young people who are not inclined to the old Iraqi singing styles that were prevalent decades ago and depend on the voice of the vocalist and participants in mourning councils.
The man is very popular on the communication sites in which he is remarkably active. His YouTube channel has achieved three billion and 200 million views, followed by 9.76 million people, while his Facebook account is followed by more than three million, and his followers on Twitter exceed one million people, so his fans call him many titles. Among them are “The Legend of Al-Husseini Love”, “Sultan of the Minbars”, “Pistol of Al-Hussein”, “The Servant of Al-Hussein”, “Sawt Al-Shi’a”, “Voice of Al-Hussein”…etc.
Doctrinally, Bassem al-Karbalai belongs to the Shirazi movement, which was founded in Karbala by Muhammad al-Shirazi (1924-2001), and it is one of the Shiite currents that are accused of exaggeration, and is active in the media through a large number of satellite channels and the media, and socially through religious organizations and associations around the world.
The Shirazi movement defends religious rituals that provoke disagreement among Shiite jurists, such as defending al-Tabbir (beating the head with a sword in Ashura ceremonies and killing it), which it supports in the name of al-Karbalai himself.
The new controversy raised by a poem recited by Karbalai coincides with the Iraqi commemoration of the forty days of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who was killed in the Battle of Taff, in 680 by the soldiers of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid bin Muawiyah, in Karbala.
This memory sometimes fuels sectarian tensions in a number of countries in the world, including Iraq, Pakistan and India. What makes the situation more difficult in Iraq this year is coinciding with a stifling political crisis that has been going on for ten months between the components of the Iraqi Shiite house, and fears of a civil war, this time Shiite-Shiite, that could plunge the country into a dark tunnel that repeats the scenario of the civil war between 2006 and 2007.