Iranian support for Bahrain’s Al-Da’wah movement

Following the failed 1981 coup attempt by the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, theShirazi current in Bahrain was massively weakened; both because of the arrest and exile of its members, but also because many of its supporters in Iran lost influence.

With the emergence of Iranian “pragmatic conservatives” like Ali Khamenei and Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and the eclipse of revolutionary “leftist” Iranian radicals; this led to a realignment of the entities which Iran gave support to overseas.

The Al-Da’wah movement in Bahrain led by clerics like Isa Qasim and Abdulamir al-Jamri, was a natural beneficiary from the patronage these Iranian pragmatists. These ‘pragmatists’ realized that supporting the traditional Bahraini clerical establishment was a much more likely route to gain long-term influence, than supporting revolutionary groups associated with the Shirazis which could be easily stamped out.

Probably as a result of the fierce factional rivalry between Bahraini Shia community, Al-Da’wah clerics had failed to support the Islamic Front’s coup attempt. From their perspective, if Hadi al-Mudarrisi had been made “Supreme Leader” of Bahrain; this would have represented a defeat for the Al-Da’wah clerics, vis-à-vis the Shirazis.

Despite distancing themselves from the Iran-backed coup attempt Al-Da’wah was supportive of the Islamic Revolution from the outset and was quick to congratulate Ayatollah Khomeini on its success. Bahraini Al-Da’wah leaders like Issa Qassim also endorsed Khomeini’s principle of “Welayat al-Faqih” (rule by the supreme Islamic authority).

“Gulf Da’wah movements had, since their inception, a different conception of “exportation of the revolution” than the Shirazis, which better corresponded with the way the pragmatic wing of the Islamic regime understood it. They were willing to promote welayat al-faqih and the good image of the Islamic republic” (Laurence Louer).

Moving into the Iranian ideological orbit

This process was reinforced as Bahraini religious students increasingly chose Iranian Qom as their preferred study destination, due to the repressive situation in Iraq. Consequently, Issa Qassim travelled to Qom in 1991 in order to continue his studies to gain Ayatollah status.

“Sheikh Qassim’s move to Iran indicated a greater Shi’a exodus to theological seminaries in Qom beginning in the early 1980s, when the Islamic Republic established Al-Athar Theological Seminary in Qom, which under Hojjat al-Eslam Abdulah al-Daqaq specialized in the education of Bahraini theological students” (Louer).

By 2009, the number of Bahraini theological students in Qom had reached ninety, ten of whom were female students. By comparison, only nineteen Bahraini theological students were studying in Najaf in 2009. This marks a major shift in ideological orientation, in comparison with the 1970s, when Iraqi religious authorities were the dominant influence.


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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