A new generation of Shia clerics

During the 1990s a new generation of clerical figures came of age. The previous generation which had been politically active during the 1970s, like Isa Qasim and Abdulamir Al-Jamri had mainly been educated in Al-Najaf in Iraq.

A newer generation which came of age after the Islamic Revolution looked to the Iranian holy city of Qom as the most desirable location in which to study. Iraq under Saddam Hussein had become too repressive and unpredictable. Likewise, the elder Isa Qassim also spent much of the 1990s in Qom pursuing his further studies.

Naturally, the Qom-educated clerics imbibed many of the principles of the Islamic Republic, like Welayat Al-Faqih and a more activist role for the clergy.

Sheikh Ali Salman is an example of this upcoming leadership. Salman began by studying chemistry at University in Riyadh. However, during that period he decided he would prefer to study Islamic law. Consequently he ended up at one of the seminaries in Qom from 1987 until 1992. After that Salman returned to Bahrain.

As well as preaching and leading the prayers, Salman and others quickly became politically active. First within the 1992-94 petition movements, but then as political activism took a more violent turn.

Others, such as Sayed Haidar Al-Sitri and Hamza Al-Dairi followed a similar path. These younger Ulama came to make up a new clerical class that saw religion and politics as essentially linked and who were too young to have known a time prior to the Iranian revolution when Shia Islam followed a more quietist path.

In political demonstrations and Ashura processions these activists would proudly display their heroes on huge banners; Ayatollah Khomeini; President Rafsanjani; Ayatollah Khamenei and the leading figures of Hezbollah like Hasan Nasrallah.

Such an activist approach was very conspicuous in Bahrain at the time. The willingness of figures like Ali Salman to discuss political, social and religious issues interchangeably seized the attention of young Shia followers and challenged the more conservative old guard. This drive towards greater political activism was also understandably a matter of concern for the Bahraini authorities.

Hezbollah in Bahrain

Hezbollah has never had any formalized institutional existence in Bahrain. However, during the 1990s, Da’wah activists came to associate themselves with what they called the “Hezbollah Line”; or the “Imam Line; meaning faithfulness to the Imam Khomeini’s revolution.

For example; the Bahraini Hezbollah figure, Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Ansari explained that “Hezbollah is a concept in Bahrain and an organization in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia”.

From the late 1990s onwards Shia areas and processions were flooded with yellow Hezbollah flags and giant portraits of Hasan Nasrallah; Ayatollah Khomeini; and Ali Khamenei.

Other “Hezbollah” figures include Abdulwahab Hussein who was active in the 1990s uprising and became the head of the Islamic Enlightenment Society when it reopened in 2001.

During Ashura processions, giant portraits of Isa Qassim tend to be hung alongside those of Ali Khamenei; sometimes with a quote from Isa Qassim: “Keep the way of Khomeini until the arrival of the Mahdi” – a clear avocation of the welayat al-faqih doctrine.

 

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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