Dec. 8, '05
Sectarianism Bedevils the Muslim World
The rain was coming down hard when the 55-year old pediatrician Dr. Zehra Attari walked out of her Oakland clinic in Northern California on November 7 after sunset to drive to a medical conference a few miles away.
She never made it to her destination. In spite of the best efforts of the Oakland and San Jose police departments, she remains missing.
The Sunday following her disappearance, my son and I were among about 400 Muslims from the San Francisco Bay Area who gathered near her clinic to distribute flyers to pedestrians, local businesses, motorists and bus drivers for leads.
As we anguished over Dr. Attari’s inexplicable disappearance and held candlelight vigils for her, the news of Sunni suicide bombers killing at least 65 Shias (or Shiites) in two mosques in Eastern Iraq during the Friday congregational prayers on November 18 came as a numbing blow.
I found this crime particularly inhuman in light of the fact that Dr. Attari is a Shia and a significant number of us trying to trace her whereabouts are Sunnis.
Some of us like to bury our head in the sands but it is a fact that Muslims have been killing each other for years, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and elsewhere.
But when someone we know disappears in our own backyard and Muslims of all sects – Shias, Sunnis, Sufis and any other label familiar to you – spontaneously gather to pray and search for her, the sectarian strife that bedevils the Muslim world sticks out in glaring contrast and becomes that much more reprehensible.
On the Friday of the Sunni suicide bombing in Iraq, the imam at the mosque I attend in Northern California lashed out at the perpetrators during his sermon. (Iraq is 11 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time, so the news had already reached us.) “I have said this before and I say it again,” the imam said, his voice trembling with anger. “The suicide bombers and their planners are murderers, not martyrs. They are the real enemies of Islam. We must confront and defeat them, wherever they may lurk.”
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UPDATE: On December 21, six weeks after she disappeared, divers discovered Dr. Attari's car in an Oakland estuary and her body trapped in it. The same ramp - easy to mistake for a bridge, particularly at night and when it is raining - that led to the estuary had claimed two lives three years ago. No barrier was ever erected to prevent a lost driver from driving right into the ocean. Dr. Attari's funeral was held at the OakHill Cemetery in San Jose, on Thursday, December 22, and attended by about 500 grieving family and community members.