Chapter 14 – Shi’a Political Islam

This is a serialization of the book titled ‘Crisis in Islam’. The full book and its Endnotes may be accessed here.

It should be evident for whoever read the previous chapters that I was talking about Sunni political Islam, and by this I mean Islamic political movements that were born in the doctrine of those who call themselves ‘ahl as-sunnah wa l-jamāʻah’, or literally ‘people of the tradition and the consensus of the Umma.’ This reality is born out of the political conflict in Islam which emerged since the beginning of Islam, which I have already explained as a political conflict between ‘the house of ‘Ali’ and “‘the house of ‘Aisha,’ where Muslims split in the political partisanship to one of the two houses. Later on, those who were called scholars detailed differences to confirm that divide. But the conflict was and continues to be, in essence, a political conflict between the two houses for power.

I can not dwell on the political Sunni Islam alone, despite its importance, because the entry of Shi’a political Islam into the political stage in an effective way, after centuries of Taqiyya (Religious dissimulation), became part of the complexity of the image and a partner in the crisis of political Islam in the present day, which is nothing but an extension of its inception too. When I talk about Shi’a political Islam, I mean Twelver Shi’a Ja’afari. This means avoiding talking about politics in other Shi’a groups such as the Isma’ilis, Zaidis and ‘Alawites for example, because these have political heritage as well but outside the influence of the Ja’afari. 1

Before dealing with the present political Shi’ism, we need to stop at two important phenomena in Shi’ism because of their relation with its development, namely ‘Taqiyya (Religious dissimulation) ‘ and ‘Taqleed (to follow a cleric) ‘. Taqiyya is an old policy which found its roots in the Umayyad rule when ‘Ali ibn Abi Tālib was being cursed from the minarets of Muslim mosques. The Shi’a of ‘Ali found life difficult if they declared their affiliation. In addition, since the essence of life is to protect it and not lose it, Shi’a Imams who were descendants of Hussein, ordered their followers not to show their Shi’ism publicly and went further by allowing them to show hostility to Shi’ism if in that lay the conservation of the soul, property and honour.  A saying of ‘Ali Ibn Abi Tālib had been narrated which states that a Shi’a is allowed to insult people of the House of the Prophet, descendants of ‘Ali, if he must do that but he must not disassociate himself from them, because the Shi’a must not disown the Imams of the House of Muhammad, as disassociation is from the idolaters only as stipulated by the Allah in Surat “at-Tawba (Chapter 9)”, which was originally known as (Bara’a) ‘Disassociation’. The Shi’a expanded on that and narrated a saying from the sixth Shi’a Imam, Ja’far As-Sadiq, that ‘Taqiyya is the religion of my fathers and grandfathers. He who has no taqiyya has no faith’ 2, and other sayings in the same direction. Thus, Shi’a followed Taqiyya for centuries. The need for Taqiyya was increased by the fact that the Shi’a were a small minority during the Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman rule. Had it not been for the success of the Turkic Safawids (and they were not Persians as propagandists say today) in making Iran Shi’a, today the Shi’a would be a negligible minority confined to those in Iraq, Pakistan and Lebanon! The adoption of the majority of the Shi’a of Taqiyya as described, led to a kind of submission, rather acceptance of caving and humiliation for centuries, bringing upon them denigration from some Sunnis and accusations of hypocrisy in showing other than what they conceal in their hearts.

The political reality is that Iraq, Syria and Egypt were, are and will continue to represent the intellectual and historical weight of the Arab nation, and all that happens outside them in the rest of the Arab World is the result of what happens inside them. Whoever wants to dominate the Arab Nation can do so by dominating these countries and their geographies or weaken them to the extent that they lose their role in the event.


‘Taqleed’ means that every Shi’a chooses a cleric as a reference to him for advice and guidance and as a model to be imitated in matters of religious and worldly affairs. This is not an old tradition in Ja’afari Shi’ism, albeit old for others like the Ismai’ilis, Zaidis and Alawites, and for non-Shi’as like the Ibadhis, for example. Taqleed for Ja’afari Shi’ia was born relatively late, but quickly turned to the largest force in political Islam generally. Taqleed also produced the ‘Marji’iya’, which represents the position of the followed or imitated cleric who has the authority to make legal decisions within the confines of Islamic law for followers. The number of Marji’s (followed cleric) varies as people choose to follow the cleric they trust in guidance and answering their queries. But the truth is that throughout time, there has always been one cleric followed more than others, which gave him power and recognition over his colleagues. This way he represented the Marji’iya in its religious and political meaning. This power was strengthened by imposing the Khums (literally one fifth of gain) to be paid by every Shi’a to the Muqallad (the followed cleric) in the Marji’iya, by giving one fifth of his money to that Cleric thus exonerating himself in front of Allah as paying his Zakat (alms) for that year.  It is a fact that the one who has the money has the power, and there is no difference between the dealer in politics and the cleric. Thus, Shi’a Marji’iya became an active force in the community sometimes exceeding its real size.

It must be evident how serious the power of the Marji’iya is, because all that is required in order to influence or control millions of Shi’a is to infiltrate the Marji’iya either through that Marji’ himself, one of his sons or his immediate circle. The history of the Marji’iya during the past century is full of such examples that I do not want to mention or list, but it is enough here to understand the seriousness of the power of the Marji’iya. One example from the beginning of this century will suffice to show that power. The powerful Marji’ ‘Ali As-Sistani decreed in 2005 to his followers that the legal duty obliged them to vote on Iraq’s new constitution which was laid out by the US occupation, in order to establish a new political system in Iraq, based not only on accepting the occupation but also on accepting that all the laws enacted by the occupiers, including those that absolved them from all the crimes and responsibility for the blood of Iraqis that was unjustly shed. Needless to say, the majority of Iraqi Shi’a, including the highly educated among them, voted for the constitution without knowing what they were voting for.3  That is probably what ‘democracy’ is all about!

The political reality is that Iraq, Syria and Egypt were, are and will continue to represent the intellectual and historical weight of the Arab nation, and all that happens outside them in the rest of the Arab World is the result of what happens inside them. Whoever wants to dominate the Arab Nation can do so by dominating these countries and their geographies or weaken them to the extent that they lose their role in the event. A reader of the history of the region from the First World War until today will find this fact facing him. This fact is evident not only in major projects but evident even in the details. Hizbullah in Lebanon is part of a part of a part; it is part of Lebanon, which is part of Greater Syria, which is part of the Arab world. However, this party, despite its youth and the geographical limits of its activities, has an influence that surpasses its size exponentially, because it plays a major role in the heart of the event whose centre of gravity is represented by Greater Syria. In addition to that, the Shi’a political project in Iraq, despite its political backwardness having failed to provide any program for what it wants to achieve, has played a role disproportional to its capacity, not only in governance since the Zionist Imperialist invasion of 2003, but in the preparation and setup of the invasion of Iraq by the Imperialists. The presentation of these cases is of significance to what I am saying because it was born out of Taqiyya and Marji’iya cited above. The role of political Shi’ism in both Iraq and Lebanon makes it necessary to look at each of them, despite a difference in roots and attitude.

The credibility of the narrated event is not important, but what is important is that people believe it really happened because people act according to those accumulated convictions. The best proof of this is the belief of the Shi’as in Iraq in general of injustice that they have suffered. I will not indulge here into whether this belief and feeling has its reasons or justifications, because this will not change the important fact that most of Iraq’s Shi’as believe that injustice has occurred, and point to the discrimination that befell them during the centuries of Ottoman rule. Since Allah has blessed me and spared me witnessing the injustice of the Ottomans to the occupied peoples of Arabs, Armenians, Kurds, Serbs and others, I am not able to estimate the size of the injustice done to the Shi’as of Iraq.

But it may be worth reminding the reader of another important fact, namely that sectarian fanaticism among Arab Muslims is generally weaker than among non-Arab Muslims. The Persian Shi’a, for example, is more biased to his Shi’ism than the Lebanese Shi’a, and the Sunni Chechen is more biased to his Sunnism than the Egyptian Sunni. The reason I think is that the Arab considers Islam part of his identity, and not all of his identity, because he does not need to confirm it on every occasion. But for the non-Arab Muslim, Islam became his identity, and thus a Turk had no identity before Islam, and if he had it was long since lost; and the Pakistani has no identity other than Islam, without which he is Indian, and so is it to the Chechen, and to a lesser extent to the Persian.

The conviction of Iraqi Shi’as of this injustice reflected negatively on the political reality of Iraq after the collapse of the Ottoman rule at the beginning of the 20th century. Iraq’s Shi’as generally withdrew from active participation in the new Iraq, which was born at the hands of the British occupiers, with Taqiyya and the Marji’iya playing a major role in it. There was a prevailing belief that that new state was nothing more than an extension of the fanatic Ottoman regime, requiring caution in dealing with it, and to prevent subjecting oneself to harm. Thus being dormant was the safest way to protect oneself from professing and participation. Furthermore, the Marji’iya also played a greater role when its majority ruled that the regime, which was contrary to Islam, as it saw it and as it was installed by the occupier, should be boycotted.

Thus, the monarchy in Iraq began relying, in the majority of the administration, on Sunni officers from the remainder of the Ottoman army and on managers originally trained at the hands of the Ottomans. In other words, it was somehow an extension of Ottoman rule in colour although not necessarily in its sectarianism. This fact has led the military establishment to be transformed into an institution led by Sunni officers. As the military controlled the new Iraq for a long time, for even Nuri As-Sa’eed 4  was an extension of military rule, it necessarily meant the dominance of the Sunnis of the Iraqi political scene throughout the twentieth century.

But a change occurred in the Iraqi political scene between the two World Wars. Iraq’s Shi’as began to participate more effectively in public and political life, though not intentionally from a sectarian perspective, rather a natural result of their children’s learning and the birth of political movements in Iraq that exceeded denominational and sectarian lines. A new generation of college graduate professionals arose who played an important role in Iraq after World War II. Iraqi Shi’as entered the political arena, which was confined to the Sunnis who had outdistanced them. When the Revolution of July 14th 1958 ended the monarchy installed by the British occupier, Shi’as led three of Iraq’s largest political parties. The Secretary General of the Iraqi Communist Party was ‘Salām ‘Ādil’, the Secretary General of the national leadership of the Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party was ‘Fouād Ar-Rikābi’, and the leader of the Independence Party was ‘Muhammad Mahdi Kubba’ – all three Iraqi Shi’as. This reflects the amount of political change that took place in Iraq during the thirty plus years between the founding of the modern Iraqi state and the July Revolution. Iraq’s Shi’as have become part of the active political reality in Iraq, as required by the reality of their proportion in the community and their natural right to participate in the country and not as a matter of religious affiliation.

Parallel to the impact of Taqiyya, a new generation of learners was born who were no longer content to sit on the side-lines of the events. They were born and brought up, as is the case with the Shi’as all over the world, on the theory of the great injustice that was incurred in Islam on the ‘People of the House of Muhammad’ in the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson, Hussein Ibn ‘Ali. This theory necessarily means that injustice not only befell the People of the House, but it was inflicted on all their followers and loyalists throughout all ages, which means Iraq’s Shi’as in the twentieth century. Whoever is unable to comprehend the depth of this theory and its originality in understanding the structure of the Shi’a personality, cannot begin to understand the history of Iraq specifically and the history of the Shi’as in general. This is because the Shi’a is breastfed the story of the martyrdom of Hussein in the tragic way it is told, and learns that the Sunni Muslims either participated in the crime or abetted it. Even though the Sunni would reply that this is not true because most of the Sunnis condemn the killing of Hussein and consider him a martyr, the Shi’a counter question about the reason for the Sunni glorification of the Umayyad state will not produce a clear answer from the Sunni! A Shi’a generation rose in Iraq after World War II, which aspired, consciously or unconsciously, to confirm its Shi’a identity. If he were neither a communist to follow Salām ‘Ādil in the Iraqi Communist Party nor a nationalist to follow Fouād Ar-Rikābi in the Ba’ath Party, he was more likely to have been embraced by the Shah of Iran who was keen on reviving the glory of Persia which he expressed more than once. Perhaps the most prominent expression was in the luxurious and extravagant celebration in 1971 celebrating 2,500 years of the founding of the Persian Empire. 5 This way he contributed to the birth of a new Shi’a political movement, which had no political principle but Shi’ism. Because even if that movement talked about injustice in Iraq in general and the injustice imposed by the Ba’athists in particular, it did not provide a political program for the state it aspired to build. Thus what was born out of this political movement, which later turned to the Da’wa Party, is still a party without a political program.

The religious Marji’iya in Najaf supported this move and blessed it, for several reasons. First, the Marji’iya in Najaf was and still is of Imperialist tendencies, even if it claims that it does not interfere in politics. This fact was summarized in the fatwa of Mohammad Muhsin Al-Hakim in 1959 prohibiting dealing with the Communists.6  The Marji’iya found in its support for the emerging Shi’a political movement an enhancement of its position and a force it can use to bargain any political system, as did Abul-Qāsim Al-Khoe’i in 1991 7. The Marji’iya was for the most part, except for a few, either loyal to the Shah or content with him.

The Da’wa Party remained loyal to the Shah of Iran during the rule of the Ba’ath in Iraq. But when the Shah was deposed, the Da’wa Party found that its loyalty to Shi’ism is the only issue, and there was no objection to following in the footsteps of the rising Khomeini. And so it was, although it was not really a believer in the theory of Wilāyet Al-Faqih (Governance of the Jurist) nor in anti-Zionism whose ally it was until the fall of the Shah, and which alliance it went back to after Khomeini’s death, publicly showing that such alliance existed before and after the invasion of Iraq, when Zionism handed to it the rule of Iraq as its proxy.

Although the Shi’a political movement in Iraq goes beyond the Da’wa Party, that does not make a big difference in the outcome. This is because the Shi’a political movement, which erupted in Iraq after the Imperialist invasion in 2003, mostly shares certain characteristics, namely:

  1. They all came with the Zionist invasion either as an ally and employee, or with the Zionist consent and blessing. It would be insulting to human intelligence for someone to say, as it has indeed been said, that he participated in the government after the occupation against the occupier’s will!
  2. They do not have any political program for Iraq.
  3. They do not have any economic theory. Talking of Islamic economy based on the views of Mr. Muhammed Bāqir As-Sadr is nonsense, because the man did not draft an Islamic economic theory at all. 8
  4. They do not have any national project related to the Arab identity of Iraq and Arab unity. In fact most are hostile to any Arab unity because if that were achieved, it would mean the loss of the Shi’a identity in a sea of Sunnism!
  5. Their full support of the Zionist project in the Middle East is based on the new ‘municipality states’ or ‘petty kingdoms’. This was clearly reflected in the Iraqi government’s position on the aggression on Syria, where Baghdad asserted that it stands at equal distances from the Damascus government and the terrorist that it claimed to be fighting in Iraq! On more than one occasion, Iraq’s Foreign Minister stated that Iraq stands neutral regarding the conflict in Syria equating the Damascus Government with the terrorists who later invaded Iraq 9.
  6. Their contribution to the creation of administrative and financial corruption in Iraq during their years of rule; something Iraq had not seen in its darkest times, putting Iraq near the bottom of the list of corruption in the world, according to the classification of their American and European agencies. 10

We can continue in this characterization, but all of it will lead to one fact: That the objective of all Shi’a political movements in Iraq today is one; which is the possession of the rule to acquire as much as possible of Iraq’s wealth. Otherwise, how can the differences between these movements be explained if all were without any political or economic program and all want to build a Shi’a rule in Iraq? In other words, if the objective is one, why do they not agree on the sharing of power and relent and relax?

And where it is possible to talk about political Shi’ism in the Arab world separate from the theory of Wilāyet Al-Faqih and its role in the Arab political Shi’ism, I must reiterate what I said previously; that I believe that Islam is the religion of the Arabs and for them alone. I must bring this up again because I think that the role played by the Persians and Ottomans, and that played by the Albanian, Chechen, Indian, Pakistani and Pashtun newcomers is not true to Islam because it did not exist at the time of the original creation of Islam! But this does not change the fact that this intruder played and plays a major role in political Islam, Sunni and Shi’a alike. Part of that is the impact of Wilāyet Al-Faqih theory on the Arab political Shi’ism in Iraq and Lebanon.




Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

Leave a Reply

Reload Image