In February, 1979 thousands of Bahraini Shi’a demonstrated in support of Iranian Islamic revolution. Similar demonstrations also broke out in eastern Saudi Arabia. Much of the activity was centred around Shia Mosques and Ma’atams; many such institutions at this time became effective social and political fronts for Shi’a Islamic groups. These centres played an active role in mobilizing people against the government.
Prominent Shia clerics presented a petition to the Prime Minister demanding the application of Islamic law in Bahrain; including segregation of males and females in schools; and the imposition of “Islamic dress” on women. The proposals were similar to those advocated by Shaikh Isa Qassim’s Islamic Bloc during the 1973-75 National Assembly.
Al-Da’wah contacts with Iran’s revolutionary leadership
Sheikh Isa Qassim’s Islamic Enlightenment Society (the Bahrain branch of Al-Da’wah) supported the Islamic revolution in Iran materially and spiritually.
Before the start of Iran’s Islamic revolution, the leaders of the Islamic Enlightenment Society initiated their first communications with Ayatollah Khomeini. This was primarily during Khomeini’s time in Al-Najaf, where many Bahraini clerics had studied and sought guidance.
After the revolution succeeded, the Society sent a telegram congratulating Ayatollah Khomeini and the revolutionary leadership. Representatives from the Society were part of a delegation that visited Tehran to congratulate Ayatollah Khomeini on the establishment of the Islamic Republic.
From this moment on, giant portraits of Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran’s other revolutionary leaders have been a central element of Al-Da’wah public processions and Al-Da’wah leaders like Isa Qassim endorsed Khomeini’s principle of “Welayat al-Faqih” (rule by the supreme Islamic authority).
This ideological commitment to Iran’s revolution and to the governing principle of Welayat al-Faqih made it very clear what Al-Da’wah’s ultimate political goals were.
Changing Iranian allegiances
As we shall see; after the Shirazi faction fell out with Ayatollah Khomeini in the mid-1980s, Iranian attention would once again shift back to the more traditionalist Bahraini clerics associated with the Al-Da’wah movement.
The emerging Iranian pragmatic conservatives in the later 1980s – for example; Presidents Ali Khamenei and Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani – realized that in Bahrain it was the traditionalist clerics, not the Shirazis, who they could profit most by supporting.
They understood that figures like Abdulamir al-Jamri and Isa Qassim were respected and followed by tens of thousands of Bahrainis; and so it was only through such figures that Iran could hope to have a long term influence. Thus, from the mid-1980s, we find relations once again being intensively cultivated with the Da’wah leadership.
This was reinforced by Saddam Hussein’s repressive policies, which made Iraq unsuitable for study. As a result, Shia Bahraini clerics increasingly went to Qom to pursue their studies. Therefore, Isa Qassim spent much of the 1990s in Qom, Iran’s most important theological centre and the hub for propagating the principle of Welayat al-Faqih. This period of study brought Qassim and other Bahraini clerics further into Iran’s ideological orbit.
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
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