Shirazi-Movement 39ivrydi

See Part One on the origins of Daw’ah and the Shirazi movement in Iraq

See Part Two on the Da’wah movement in Bahrain

By the 1970s Shia organizations were increasingly predominant as a Bahraini political force, with a visible presence during the Parliament of 1973 following independence. However, Shia clerics and activists were increasingly divided into two factions; Al-Da’wah and the Shirazis.

These factions were directly descended from Shia Islamic trends in Iraq. Al-Da’wah took its lead from the traditional sources of authority in Iraqi Al-Najaf; while the Shirazis looked to Mohammed Shirazi from the Iraqi city of Karbala.

Origins of the Shirazi current in Bahrain

The Al-Da’wah/Shirazi divide wasn’t immediately obvious in Bahrain in the early 1970s. Although different Bahraini religious figures may have looked to different sources of emulation, like Grand Ayatollah Abulqasem al-Khoei or Sayyed Mohammed Shirazi; little significance was attributed to this at the time.

Mohammed Shirazi’s nephew, Hadi al-Mudarrisi (director of the Iraq-based Islamic Action Organization), was a predominant figure in establishing a “Shirazi” orientation in parts of Bahrain.

Initially, it was widely assumed that this high-profile relative of Mohammed Shirazi was just passing through Bahrain, and that “Shirazi-ism” as a distinct trend would quickly fade. However, in 1974 Al-Mudarrisi acquired Bahraini citizenship. It thus became obvious to Al-Da’wah activists that Al-Mudarrisi was in Bahrain to stay and was therefore a key rival.

“A fierce struggle for the Shi’a khums money erupted between the two factions. Sheikh [Isa] Qassim and Al-Mudarrisi competed with each other from Mosque to Mosque and ma’atam [Shi’a religious institutions] to ma’atam to attract the greatest number of followers and greatest amount of khums.” (A. Alfoneh)

Al-Mudarrisi and other Shirazis were active in recruiting supporters in the urban and less traditional areas, like the island of Al-Muharraq and Manama. Although they attracted many “Bahraini” Shia; they were particularly successful amongst the “Ajam” – Bahrainis of recent Persian origin.

The Shirazis gained many supporters among wealthy Shia traders and businessmen, such as the influential Alawi family; and through these gained access to Bahraini elites.

The establishment of the Islamic Guidance Society in 1969 was a further indicator of a new phase of religious-political activism. It was formed after Mohammed al-Alawi travelled to Iraq and met Mohammed Shirazi, who had a major influence on him.

The Islamic Guidance Society succeeded in forming the first nucleus for an organized Shirazi movement in Bahrain and achieved a wide membership for meetings and religious festivals.

In 1972 the Social Hussaini Fund was founded as an expansion of the Islamic Guidance Society and led by Shirazi figures like Jaafar al-Alawi, with support from Hadi al-Mudarrisi.

The Social Hussaini Fund recruited from among students, intellectuals and businessmen and built its cadres for its organized secret action. Its aims included both building support and preparing the ground for political revolution in Bahrain.

Consolidation and radicalization of the Shirazis

As a result of this activity, the two main strands of Shia activism (Da’wah and Shirazi) became relatively permanent and stable features on the Bahraini political landscape.

However, this situation would be transformed in 1979 by the Iranian Islamic Revolution; with Ayatollah Khomeini’s supporters providing massive support for clandestine Shirazi organization, with the aim of spreading the Islamic Revolution to Bahrain and other Gulf states.

Although the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain was only openly declared after the 1979 Iranian revolution, activists stress that its networks were already being secretly constructed within these predecessor organizations prior to 1979.

So although the Islamic Front’s sudden prominence can be attributed to Iranian backing, the roots of Shirazi political radicalism were already in place.

Table showing differences between the Da’wah & Shirazi factions in Bahrain

Da’wah / Islamic Enlightenment Society

Shirazis / Islamic Front for Liberation of Bahrain

Looking to the Grand Ayatollahs of Al-Najaf as the source of authority

Looking to Mohammed Shirazi in Karbala as source of authority; with his nephews Mohammed Taqi al-Mudarrisi and Hadi al-Mudarrisi as highly influential

Conservative and traditional in outlook; centred around established clerics

Radical and innovative; inspired by charisma of leading figures

Centred around rural Bahraini areas

Centred around urban areas & more newly established religious institutions

Membership mostly among “Bahrani” community; didn’t recruit among urban “Ajam”

High proportion of “Ajam”; of Iranian origin

Tendency to be secretive & inward-looking; organizationally influenced by Al-Da’wah’s hierarchical & cell-based structure.

Sometimes clandestine; but open in seeking close ties with traders & elites in order to gain influence

Relying on its traditional popularity & strength in order to force concessions from authorities & encourage reform

Revolutionary aspirations – particularly after 1979

Became closer to Iranian Conservatives like Ali Khamenei during early 1980s; but initially benefitted less from Iranian support after 1979

Close to Iran’s revolutionary leadership; supported by Iran’s ‘leftist’ current who believed in spreading the revolution abroad. Lost influence after Mohammed Shirazi fell-out with Ayatollah Khomeini

Tended to support the idea of a Bahraini nation state

Committed to revolutionary ideology of spreading Islam round the world; against the idea of the nation state



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

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