Najaf: Islamic statues in new Iraqi museum stir debate


An Iraqi Shiite prays during celebrations outside the shrine of Imam Ali in Iraq's holy city of Najaf on December 6, 2009.



Wax statues of major Shiite clerics to go on disply in a new museum in the Iraqi city of Najaf, known as the "Vatican of Shiite Muslims," are being denounced as idolatrous by some clerics there, reported the Associated Press (AP)

Statues might work for St. Peters, but some see plans for any counterparts in Iraq as blasphemous. AP cited one Sunni website proclaiming that “Idols reached Najaf" while another worried that “The pre-Islam era of paganism is returning."

The man pushing the Shiite statues in Najaf, however, may hope to one day be depicted among them. Shiite cleric Sheik Ali Mirza told AP he proposed the idea so that visitors “raise their hands to salute the statues as if they were alive.”  

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The figures, set to be displayed in the new The Museum of Celebrity soon, are already standing for a heated debate. Sunni clerics were quick to condem the initative, said AP

Some Muslims denounce all representations of Islam's holy figures -- a stance that has provoked criticism in the past, most famously in the controversial "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" initiative. 

A major Shiite cleric also spoke out against the proposed waxworks, with spokesman Ali Bashir al-Najafi telling AP that if the statues came alive, they would have "disapproved."

They might also cough at the project's $447,000 price tag

Mirza told Al-Arabiya that the funds were originally going to be spent on roughly 300 statutes "because Najaf has a treasure of influential cultural figures," and it was only "through a highly complicated and meticulous process" that the final figure was whittled down to 59 -- among them the firebrant anti-US cleric Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr.

All the statues depict notables that either were born, educated, or buried in Najaf, a city selected as the 2012 Capital of Islamic Culture by a prominent Islamic organization, said AP

The city is the burial place of Imam Ali, a sacred figure whom Shiite Muslims believe is Muhammad's true descendent in the sect's major point of dispute with Sunni Muslims.

The statues are being made by an Iranian company, Mirza told Al-Arabiya, adding that 10 figurines have so far been recevied. 

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