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Local Muslim leader questions timing of Saddam's execution

December 31, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

The timing of Saddam Hussein's execution, rather than the act itself, concerned Hagerstown physician Shahab Siddiqui, an active member of the Islamic Society of Western Maryland.

The execution occurred on the eve of the Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast of sacrifice, and at a time when millions of Muslims were making a pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

"The timing of this is very odd and wrong," Siddiqui said, comparing it to Westerners conducting an execution on Christmas.

Siddiqui wasn't questioning Saddam's guilt or whether justice should be done, he said - just when.

"The timing of this could drive divisions" in Iraq, he said.

A spike in violence in that already-splintered country had been predicted by many before the execution ever took place. But Siddiqui said reports highlighting sectarian differences in Iraq - such as between Sunni and Shiite Muslims - don't help, and that Westerners need to understand that the divisions are "not an issue of religion." The divisions are ethnic rather than religious, he said, noting that historically, there has not been a major religious conflict between them.

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"If you look at the history, Shiites and Sunnis have never fought a religious war," Siddiqui said. And in many areas of the world, including his native Pakistan, Sunnis and Shiites live peaceably side by side, he said.

As Iraq struggles for its future, "as Americans, we should keep our distance" from that nation's local political issues, Siddiqui said. For stability, the Iraqis need to have both Sunnis and Shiites in leadership, he said. Westerners should "try to be sensitive" to the real issue, which is "purely political, not religious," he said.

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