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

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)

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Husain M. Albaharna, 1968: The Legal Status of the Arabian Gulf States: A Study of Their Treaty Relations & International Problems; Manchester University Press

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

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

Europa Publications, 2003 Political Chronology of the Middle East; Routledge

Thomas Fibiger: The role of shrines among Shi’a Muslims in Bahrain; University of Aarhus

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

Anissa Haddadi, 2012: Bahrain Uncovered: Divided Political Landscape

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Mohammed Gharib Hatim, 1997: Ta’arikh arab al-hawala; Al-Maktaba al-Wataniya

Clive Holes, 1987: Language Variation and Change in a Modernising Arab State: The Case of Bahrain

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Timothy Insoll, 2007: Changing identities in the Arabian Gulf: The Archaeology of Identities: A Reader; Routledge

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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

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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

Yitzhak Nakash, 2011 Reaching for Power: The Shi’a in the Modern Arab World; Princeton University Press

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

Katja Neithammer, 2007: Avenues of Political Participation in Bahrain

Mubarak Al-Otabi, 1989: The Qawasim and British Control of the Arabian Gulf; University of Salford

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

Madawi Al-Rasheed, 2005 Transnational Connections and the Arab Gulf; Psychology Press

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

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

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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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