The Grand Ayatollahs of Al-Najaf like Muhsin al-Hakim (died 1970) and his successor Abdulqassim al-Khoei – who the traditional Shia clerical leadership of Bahrain looked to for religious authority – were advocates of the “quietist” path. “Quietism” commanded clerics to avoid politics in the absence of the Twelfth Imam; which explains why Al-Khoei was able to remain in Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s rule at a time when many schools of Shia Islam were being ruthlessly purged.

This ‘quietist’ approach was probably a major factor in why the traditional Shia leadership stayed out of politics at the time of Bahrain’s 1973 National Assembly; and it was the younger clerical figures like Isa Qassim and Abdulamir al-Jamri who became involved in the business of politics.

So why, in such a short space of time did the leadership of Bahrain’s Shia community go from quietist to activist? There are three factors that we could highlight here:

– The influence of political Islam movements elsewhere: The key figures within the upcoming generation of clerical figures like Isa Qassim and Abdulamir al-Jamri had been directly influenced by Iraq’s Da’wah movement which had mobilized largely in reaction to the growth of secularism and Marxism in Iraq. The ideology and political orientation of this organization of this group had in turn been strongly influenced by the political Islamist movement par excellence; the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ayatollah Hadi-al-Mudarrisi, was instrumental in indoctrinating a generation of Bahrainis to the Shirazi current of Shi’ism, which would become increasingly politicized and militant throughout the 1970s.

– The influence of Ayatollah Khomeini: Khomeini’s principle of Welayat al-Faqih was arguably one of the most significant innovations within Shia Islam in the last few centuries; it established the principle that the supreme religious authority should also be the supreme political authority. Khomeini’s Islamic revolution in Iran provided a massive source of inspiration to Shia activists everywhere.

However, also the Islamic Republic began efforts to spread the revolution to neighbouring states; Bahrain was a particular target, because of the belief of Iran’s leadership that Bahrain was rightly Iran’s “14th province”. We will study Khomeini’s influence in the coming chapters.

– Politicization of religious festivals: In particular, the festival of Ashura to commemorate the Martyrdom of Hussein has been exploited by militants to mobilize supporters to political ends and whip up strong passions against rulers.

Hussein was killed leading an uprising against the Sunni Caliph Yazid at the Battle of Karbala in 680AH. As the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed and the third Shia Imam, Hussein’s death is one of the central events defining the Shia faith; commemorated every year by religious processions.

It has been relatively straightforward for Shia radicals to put Hussein’s death within a contemporary context, emphasizing the duty of Shia to take up arms against Sunni leaders across the Muslim world. For example; Ashura banners in Bahrain carried a quote by Ayatollah Isa Qassim:

“The Battle of Karbala is still going on between the two sides in the present and in the future. It is being held within the soul, at home and in all areas of life and society. People will remain divided and they are either in the Hussein camp or in the Yazid camp. So choose your camp.”

Younger generations of Shia radicals have even more violently exploited Ashura rituals to mobilize their followers against the Monarchy. In the Ashura processions leading up to 2011 we find figures like Abdalhadi al-Khawaja effectively inciting violent revolution; calling on his followers to “Uproot the ruling gang, whatever the cost in effort and sacrifices”.

Over the coming chapters we will study the growing politicization of the Shia community in the shadow of the Islamic revolution in Iran and the increasing influence of Bahrain’s Da’wah and Shirazi clerics.


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)

Eds. Paul Aarts & Gerd Nonneman, 2005: Saudi Arabia in the Balance; Hurst

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

Nazih N.Ayubi, 2001: Overstating the Arab State; Tauris

Charles Belgrave, 1960 Personal Column; Hutchinson

Charles Belgrave, 1966:  The Pirate Coast; G Bell & Sons

David Blow, 2009: Shah Abbas; Tauris

Juan Cole, 1987; Rival Empires of Trade and Imami Shiism in Eastern Arabia, 1300-1800; International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2

David Commins, 2012: The Gulf States: A Modern History; Tauris

F. Gregory Gause, 2009: International Relations of the Persian Gulf; Cambridge

Anissa Haddadi, 2012: Bahrain Uncovered: Divided Political Landscape

Philip K. Hitti, 1937: History of the Arabs; Palgrave

Robert G. Hoyland, 2001: Arabia & the Arabs; Routledge

Marshall G.S. Hodgson, 1973: The Venture of Islam; Volumes 1, 2 & 3; Chicago

Faleh Jabar, 2003: Shi’ite Movement in Iraq, Saqi

Mansour al-Jamri, 2010: Shia & the State in Bahrain; Integration & Tension

Miriam Joyce, 2012: Bahrain from the twentieth century to the Arab Spring: Palgrave Macmillan

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

Abdullah Bin-Hamad Al Khalifa & Abdulmalik Yousif al-Hamer, 1969: Bahrain through the Ages

Fuad Khouri, 1980: Tribe and State in Bahrain, University of Chicago Press

Jane Kinninmont, 2012: Bahrain: Beyond the Impasse

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

Laurence Louer, Political Impact of Labor Migration in Bahrain; Centre for International Studies and Research

Dr Christin Marschall, 2003: Iran’s Persian Gulf Policy: From Khomeini to Khatami; Routledge

Toby Matthiesen, 2009: Hizbullah al-Hijaz: A History of The Most Radical Saudi Shi‘a Opposition Group; Middle East Online

Eric McCoy, 2008: Iranians in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates: Migration, Minorities, and Identities in the Persian Gulf Arab States; Proquest

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

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

Khaldoun Nassan Al-Naqeeb, 2012: Society and State in the Gulf and Arab Peninsula; Routledge

Katja Neithammer, 2007: Avenues of Political Participation in Bahrain

Lawrence G. Potter, 2009: The Persian Gulf in History; Palgrave Macmillan

Hassan Ali Radhi, 2003 Judiciary and Arbitration in Bahrain: A Historical and Analytical Study; Brill

Mohammed Ghanim al-Rumaihi, 1973: Social & Political Change in Bahrain Since the First World War; Durham University

  1. Rush, ed, 1991: The Ruling Families of Arabia

Jean-Francois Seznec, 2012: Is Reconciliation in Bahrain Possible? Middle East Institute

Brian John Ulrich, 2008: Constructing Al-Azd: Tribal Identity and Society in the Early Islamic Centuries; ProQuest

About Muharraq pdf:

Bahrain Wikileaks:

Guide to Bahrain’s politics

Reform in Bahrain: Mansour al-Jamri (re. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja)

Wafaa: New Shia rejectionist movement

Bahrain’s Shia opposition: Managing sectarian pressures

Some potential new leaders in Al-Wefaq

Bahrain al-Wefaq hails Iran Supreme Leader’s support


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