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Unprecedented Popularity of Shi’ite Festival in Gaza Flaunts Iran’s Influence

The Shi’ite festival of Ashura was celebrated by an unprecedented number of Gazans, underscoring the growing spread of Shi’ite-Iranian influence in the region.

This week, millions of Shi’ites around the world marked the anniversary of the death of Hussein Bin Ali, the prophet Muhammad’s grandson. Although Hussein’s killing marks the beginning of the Sunni-Shi’ite divide in the Muslim world, it was celebrated in the entirely Sunni Gaza Strip as well.

Several social media posts lauded the events as part of Iran’s ongoing attempt to bring the people of Gaza into their orbit. Jihadi organizations, for their part, have accused the Hamas government of turning a blind eye to the increasingly confident – and Iran-funded – Shi’ite minority in the Strip, so as not to raise the ire of the Islamic Republic.

Muhammad Mishmesh, an executive at Hamas’ Al Aqsa TV, came under fire for writing a Facebook post praising the festival using Shi’ite terminology. Mishmesh quickly deleted it, but it not before it went viral.

“Ashura is the day when the world went dark, and the nation started deteriorating and neglecting the prophet’s heritage,” he wrote.

“With the killing of the representative of the prophet’s tribe, the master of the youth of heaven, the Imam, the martyr, the revolutionary Hussein. Our Lord Hussein, blessed be the day you were born, the day you were killed, and the day you will be sent back by Allah. May a curse lie on Yazid, your corrupt killer. Hussein the martyr and revolutionary.”

For Iran’s detractors, the post was a smoking gun, revealing the extent of Hamas’ collusion with Shi’ites. Many elements in Mishmesh’s post disparaged Sunnis, from the insistence on Hussein’s lineage as the only successors of prophet Muhammad to the claim that Hussein has messianic qualities, as well as the curse on Yazid, a Sunni hero.

Iran’s detractors say that Gaza’s Shi’ites are no longer afraid to speak out, and Hamas has been instrumental in making this happen.

Another post that made the rounds was written by Muhammad Harb, a social activist who recently “came out” as a Shi’ite.

“Yazid, you lost,” Harb wrote. “See the memory of the prophet’s dynasty spreading. … See their divine message spreading and purifying the land from your and your criminal soldiers’ transgression, see the Imam Hussein leading the charge against your allies and the enemies of Allah, the Zionists and the Americans and the Saudi family and IS and the Wahabis, and all the lowlifes, the criminals, the cynical, and the uneducated who support them.”

Mithqal Alsalmy, another well-known activist, pulled no punches: “It’s a time of mourning for the spirit of the purest of men, for the spirit of the capital of honor, for the spirit of the state of heroism, for the planet of men, the hero leader, who defeated the devil, the Imam Hussein Bin Ali. It was a massacre perpetrated against the sons and daughters of the Prophet, peace be upon him. Ahura.”

Remarkably, Alsalmy shared his brother’s post, in which he declared that the family disavowed their rowdy relative for adopting Shi’a.

“My brother Wael, along with my brothers Suheil, Khader, and Mustafa, claim I am no longer a member of their family and that they reject my faith,” Alsalmy wrote. “As if someone told them they could undo my love for the prophet’s dynasty. I too declare that I have no part of their secular faith. I am at your service, Hussein. I will never let you go even if everybody leaves me and declares I am not their brother. I will not prefer them to the prophet’s sons and grandsons, who I think are ten times better than my mother and father. The prophet’s family also distanced themselves from him. I abide by your word, Hussein. You are my family, you are my love. You are my mother, my father, my grandmother, my entire life.”

The Gaza Strip has witnessed the establishment of a small Iranian-funded militia, Al Sabareen, after political and ideological differences drove a wedge between Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the one hand and Iran on the other.

Several attempts have been made on the lives of Al Sabareen’s leaders, who have been accused by jihadis of spreading Shi’a in the exclusively Sunni territory.

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