As the world prepares for the month long celebration that is the World Cup, certain Islamic factions in Iraq are working to shame and intimidate Iraqi soccer fans. As Riverbend outlines on her excellent blog (posted from Iraq when electricity allows), Muqtada Sadr recently issued a fatwa against soccer, urging his followers not to watch the World Cup or play the game:

"In reality, my father’s position on this topic isn’t deficient… Not only my father but Sharia also prohibits such activities which keep the followers too occupied for worshiping, keep people from remembering [to worship]. Habeebi, the West created things that keep us from completing ourselves (perfection). What did they make us do? Run after a ball, habeebi… What does that mean? A man, this large and this tall, Muslim- running after a ball? Habeebi, this ‘goal’ as it is called… if you want to run, run for a noble goal. Follow the noble goals which complete you and not the ones that demean you. Run after a goal, put it in your mind and everyone follows their own path to the goal to satisfy God. That is one thing. The second thing, which is more important, we find that the West and especially Israel, habeebi the Jews, did you see them playing soccer? Did you see them playing games like Arabs play? They let us keep busy with soccer and other things and they’ve left it. Have you heard that the Israeli team, curse them, got the World Cup? Or even America? Only other games… They’ve kept us occupied with them- singing, and soccer, and smoking, stuff like that, satellites used for things which are blasphemous while they occupy themselves with science etc. Why habeebi? Are they better than us- no we’re better than them."

As Riverbend notes, there is no prohibition against sports in Islamic Sharia. Only Sadr feels a prohibition is necessary. If you think that he’s just a wind bag chattering on that nobody listens to and even a fatwa wouldn’t inhibit World Cup fans, read on for a chilling story.

A local shopkeeper she calls ‘G.’ had gotten a Brazilian flag to hang in his shop window for the World Cup. He was very excited and altered his displays to match the vibrant colors of his new Brazilian flag. Then some local clerics decided to send him a message.

It was up for nearly two whole days before the problems began. The first hint of a problem came through G.’s neighbor. He stopped by the shop and told G. that a black-turbaned young cleric had been walking past the shop window, when the flag attracted his attention. According to the neighbor Abu Rossul, the young cleric stopped, gazed at the flag, took note of the shops name and location and went on his way. G. shrugged it off with the words, "Well maybe he’s a fan of Brazil too…" Abu Rossul wasn’t so sure, "He looked more like the ‘Viva Sadr!’ type to me…".

A day later, G. had a visit at noon. A young black-clad cleric walked into the shop, and had a brief look around. G. tried to interest him in some lovely headscarves and abbayas, but he was not to be deterred from his apparent mission. He claimed to be a ‘representative’ from the Sadr press bureau which was a few streets away and he had a message for G.: the people at the above mentioned bureau were not happy with G.’s display. Where was his sense of national pride? Where was his sense of religion? Instead of the face of a heathen player, there were pictures of the first Sadr, or better yet, Muqtada! Why did he have a foreign flag plastered obscenely on his display window? Should he feel the need for a flag, there was the Iraqi flag to put up. Should he feel the necessity for a green flag, like the one in the display, there was the green flag of "Al il Bayt"… Democracy, after all, is all about having options.

G. wasn’t happy at all. He told the young cleric he would find a ‘solution’ and made a peace offering of some inexpensive men’s slippers and some cotton undershirts he sometimes sold. That evening, he conferred with various relatives and friends and although nearly everyone advised him to take down the flag, he insisted it should remain on display as a matter of principle. His wife even offered to turn it into a curtain or bed sheets for him to enjoy until the games were over. He was adamant about keeping it up.

Two days later, he found a rather dramatic warning letter slipped under the large aluminum outer door. In a nutshell, it declared G. and people like him ‘heathens’ and demanded he take down the flag or he would be exposing himself to danger. It takes quite a bit to shake up a guy like G., but the same day he had the flag down and the display was back to normal.

Read the entire post for a chilling look at how public displays are being dealt with and be glad you can hang your flags in support of your World Cup team without the threat of religious fundamentalists paying you a visit.

You can read more from Riverbend and her experiences in Iraq on her blog and in her recent book.