Throughout the twentieth century Bahraini political and religious movements largely took their inspiration from political forces across the wider Arab world.

So, in the middle of the century we see Bahraini organizations emerging with Arab nationalist or leftist leanings, influenced by similar trends in Egypt, Syria and beyond. This was followed by the appearance of Islamic groups during the 1970s, sometimes with an explicitly political persuasion.

From the late 1960s religious Shi’a political groups became increasingly visible; often taking their inspiration and ideological leanings from religious currents in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon.

So, to properly understand the trends affecting Shia political organizations; we must begin by looking at the regional forces shaping and dividing these movements across the region; and in the 1970s it had long been the twin holy cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala which Shias around the world looked to for inspiration.

A major divide within Shia Islam: Al-Da’wah and the Shirazis

During the later 19th and early 20th century, the Shia centre of Al-Najaf in Iraq was predominant. Shiites across the whole region looked to the uncontested religious authority of a succession of Grand Ayatollahs; like Mohammed Hasan Najafi, Murtadha Ansari and Mirza Hasan Shirazi.

Theological centres like Qom in Iran were at the time much less influential and the clerics there also looked to Al-Najaf for leadership.

However, in nearby Karbala in the 1960s Mohammed Shirazi, from the distinguished Shirazi family of Iranian origin, announced himself as being a source of authority (marja’iyah).

This was ignored by Grand Ayatollah Muhsin al-Hakim, and also rejected by Al-Hakim’s successor Abulqasim al-Khoei in 1970. Mohammed Shirazi was seen as far too young, insufficiently ingrained in the Al-Najaf teaching traditions, and as rivalling the authority of Al-Najaf.

However, the young, learned and charismatic Mohammed Shirazi quickly gained an immense following inside and outside Iraq; particularly among Shiites disenchanted by the orthodox and less approachable authorities of Al-Najaf.

This religious division gave rise to two competing Shia political movements: Al-Da’wah; which was run by Al-Najaf clerics and looked to the authority of figures like Ayatollah’s Al-Hakim and Al-Khoei; and more radical “Shirazi” movements like the Islamic Action Organization, run by the Mudarrisi brothers and nephews of Mohammed Shirazi: Mohammed Taqi al-Mudarrisi and Hadi al-Mudarrisi – the latter who became central in the Bahrain context.

Back in Bahrain…

This Da’wah/Shirazi religious divide was translated directly into Shia political activism in Bahrain in the 1970s: A generation of young Bahraini clerics freshly educated in Al-Najaf, were to find themselves pitted against the rapidly emerging Shirazi trend; particularly after the arrival of Hadi al-Mudarrisi in Bahrain and his naturalization as a Bahraini citizen in 1974.


Origins of the Bahrain opposition: Other sections

Part 1

A major divide within Shia Islam: Al-Da’wah and the Shirazis

Al-Da’wah and the Shirazis in Bahrain

Part 2

The Da’wah current in Iraq

The Da’wah current in Bahrain

Why do Al-Da’wah & the Islamic Enlightenment society matter?

Part 3

Origins of the Shirazi current in Bahrain

Consolidation and radicalization of the Shirazis

Differences between the Da’wah & Shirazi factions in Bahrain

Part 4

Beginnings of labour activism and civil society movements

1953-56 unrest and the Higher Executive Committee

Emergence of left-wing, Marxist and Baathist parties

Whatever happened to Bahrain’s left-wing?

Part 5

Who were the People’s Bloc?

Who were the Religious Bloc?

Part 6

Religious Bloc versus the People’s Bloc in the National Assembly

Eclipse of the left

Part 7

Politicization of Bahraini Shia

The influence of political Islam movements elsewhere

The influence of Ayatollah Khomeini

Politicization of religious festivals

Part 8

The radicalizing influence of Iran’s Islamic revolution

Growing Shirazi radicalism

Exporting Iran’s Islamic Revolution

Part 9

Al-Da’wah contacts with Iran’s revolutionary leadership

Changing Iranian allegiances

Part 10

Saudi oppositionist movements

Part 11

Announcing the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain

Islamic Front aims and ideology

Part 12

1981 coup attempt by Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain

Part 13

Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain after the failed coup

The Shirazi movement loses favour in Iran

Declining influence: The Islamic front in the 1990s

Part 14

Iranian support for Bahrain’s Al-Da’wah movement

Moving into the Iranian ideological orbit

Part 15

What is Welayat Al-Faqih?

Breaking with Shia quietism

Ayatollah Isa Qassim and Welayat Al-Faqih

Part 16

A new generation of Shia clerics

Hezbollah in Bahrain


Major references

(Additional specific references can be found as hyperlinks within the text)

Ali Alfoneh, 2012: Between reform and revolution: Sheikh Qassim, the Bahraini Shi’a, and Iran

Anissa Haddadi, 2012: Bahrain Uncovered: Divided Political Landscape


Abdulhadi Khalaf, 1998: Contentious politics in Bahrain: From ethnic to national and vice versa

F.I. Khuri, 1980: Tribe and State in Bahrain, University of Chicago Press

ISBN 0-226-43473-7

Jane Kinninmont, 2012: Bahrain: Beyond the Impasse

Laurence Louer, 2008: Transnational Shia Politics; Columbia University Press

Falah al-Mdaires, 2002: Shiism & Political Protest in Bahrain’ism_and_Political_Protest_in_Bahrain

Helem Chapin Metz, ed, 1993.Persian Gulf States: A Country Study: The Constitutional Experiment

Katja Neithammer, 2007: Avenues of Political Participation in Bahrain

Bahrain Wikileaks:

Guide to Bahrain’s politics

REFORM IN BAHRAIN: Mansour al-Jamri: LEADING SHIA EDITOR (re. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja)




Bahrain al-Wefaq hails Iran Supreme Leader’s support

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