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
A major divide within Shia Islam: Al-Da’wah and the Shirazis
Al-Da’wah and the Shirazis in Bahrain
The Da’wah current in Iraq
The Da’wah current in Bahrain
Why do Al-Da’wah & the Islamic Enlightenment society matter?
Origins of the Shirazi current in Bahrain
Consolidation and radicalization of the Shirazis
Differences between the Da’wah & Shirazi factions in Bahrain
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?
Who were the People’s Bloc?
Who were the Religious Bloc?
Religious Bloc versus the People’s Bloc in the National Assembly
Eclipse of the left
Politicization of Bahraini Shia
The influence of political Islam movements elsewhere
The influence of Ayatollah Khomeini
Politicization of religious festivals
The radicalizing influence of Iran’s Islamic revolution
Growing Shirazi radicalism
Exporting Iran’s Islamic Revolution
Al-Da’wah contacts with Iran’s revolutionary leadership
Changing Iranian allegiances
Saudi oppositionist movements
Announcing the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain
Islamic Front aims and ideology
1981 coup attempt by Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain
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
Iranian support for Bahrain’s Al-Da’wah movement
Moving into the Iranian ideological orbit
What is Welayat Al-Faqih?
Breaking with Shia quietism
Ayatollah Isa Qassim and Welayat Al-Faqih
A new generation of Shia clerics
Hezbollah in Bahrain
(Additional specific references can be found as hyperlinks within the text)
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About Muharraq pdf: http://eprints.port.ac.uk/7687/4/Ch-2_AboutMuharraq.pdf
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