Since 2003, there was an implicit accord between us, my generation of Iraqi youth, that what they had told us about our history in school is not accurate. After 2003 we started to be exposed to some new theories and facts about our country, about our history, about our identity.
I can say that the most of the “new facts” about us were coming from ignorant extremist. An Iraqi would know suddenly that his neighbor since ages must be his enemy, a fact based on religious purposes, but that neighbor may seem nice and respective. Hate would be postponed and replaced by some suspicious waiting.
“The Jewish Market Quarter” by Jamal Abdul-Razaq Al Bedri is not a novel, like the cover says, but is an autobiography of the writer who was born in Samarra early in this century in a Muslim family. He told us about his mother friend “Sit (=Teacher) Najeya” who is also their neighbor. Every time she visited them she would bring candies to the children who liked her very much. Sit Najeya and her family suddenly said one day that they would leave to Baghdad. They went in 1951 and never came back. They went to Israel because they were Jewish.
The book didn’t tell us about the cause of the leaving but it is clear from other references: “Al Farhood” and the governmental new law of withdrawing the Iraqi nationality from all the Jews.
Maybe the book was described as a novel because of its lovable non-systematic narration, something more close to a novel than to an autobiography. The book tells us many things that were really a revelation for me like the origin of the name “Samarra”. They told us in our schools that it is the abbreviation of “Surra Man Ra’aa (= who saw it became happy)” and that it was built by an Abbasid Khalifa. But the writer goes more deep in history and stated that the Abbasid Khalifa who is said to built Samarra to make it as his capital didn’t built it actually from nothing. There was already there an old city inhabitant mainly by Christians and Jews. He move to it, made it larger, and made it as his ruling capital. The book told us also that Shem, son of Noah was born in that same place and from his name came the name of the city since in Arabic he is called “Sam”.
I felt that what he says is strange, I googled the origin of the name of Samarra and found that it is ancient in origin, and came from the Aramaic language, and there are many theories about its meaning and root.
The writer told us also about the founding of an original Torah by German group of excavation in Samarra in the 1930s, a version which belongs to 2000 years ago.
The writer told us that he is a Sunni Muslim, but at the same time, his city of origin, contains the graves of two of the Imams of the 12 imams of Shia. His childhood had been spent around those big monuments and his prayers and Quran reading was done under their domes (Those are the same domes that were exploded in 2006).
The writer got some interest in the history of Jewish people and he told us that he believes what Hertzel said in his book “the Jewish State” in that the Jewish people are like salt and the world cannot live without them, is true.
The book is written with love, here is a translation of some part of it:
“….and there is nothing strange about that since the holy Quran tells us in three quarters of its suras (=chapters) about Moses, the Israelites, and the Jews. When I meditate about that fact I saw it is in resonance with the water to ground ratio, three quarters of water, and one quarter of land. And from this point of view I understand the relation of Moses the prophet and the Jews with the sea.. since the sea contain the salt which protect its water from getting rotten”.
Decades after Sit Najeya family left, the writer and one of Najeya’s son, Yousif (=Joseph) met. The second half of the book tell us what happened to Najeya family.
It was a pleasure to see that “new facts” about us are being told by some few educated men filled with love and acceptance. Iraq is still under the influence of the some bad cooks who forgot essential elements and Iraq is getting more and more tasteless. Hope Iraq would gain its original flavor someday.
The book is published by
Dar Al Hikam Publishing and Distribution in 2004 in its first edition