Saudi Arabia's Dangerous Sectarian Game

by Toby Jones | published January 5, 2016

When Saudi Arabia executed the Shiite cleric and political dissident Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday, the country’s leaders were aware that doing so would upset their long-time rivals in Iran. In fact, the royal court in Riyadh was probably counting on it. It got what it wanted. The deterioration of relations has been precipitous: Protesters in Tehran sacked Saudi Arabia’s embassy; in retaliation, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties. More severe fallout could follow—possibly even war.

Religious Ritual and Political Struggle in an Iranian Village

by Mary Hegland
published in MER102

The villagers of Aliabad do not presume political stability. They were not especially surprised at the fall of the Shah, nor at the demise of the most powerful person in the village, Seyyid Ibn Ali Askari, some months after the Iranian revolution. “One day the saddle is on the horse, the next day the horse is on the saddle,” they said. “Families become scattered. Families come and go. Ezzat va zellat. Honor and ruin.”

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The Significance of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr

by Hanna Batatu
published in MER102

Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr was born at Najaf in 1930 into an Arab family known for its learning through the Shi‘i world. His fundamental points of departure, and the chief clues to his entire work, are the traditional Muslim propositions that God is the source of all power, the only legislator, and the sole owner of the earth’s resources. From the principle of God’s exclusive supremacy and the related idea that man owes homage to God alone, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr infers that “the human being is free and that no other human being or class or human group has dominion over him.” Similarly, the principle of God’s sole ownership of the riches of nature involves, in his view, the prohibition of “every form of exploitation...of man by man.”

Iraq's Underground Shi'i Movements

by Hanna Batatu
published in MER102

This article is an abridgement, by Joe Stork, of a paper prepared by Hanna Batatu in May 1981 and published in the autumn 1981 issue of Middle East Journal.

Two Shi’i parties are active in Iraq’s underground: al-Da‘wa al-Islamiyya (Islamic Call) and al-Mujahidin. The Da‘wa is the older movement. It had its beginnings in the late 1960s in the holy city of Najaf. The Mujahidin were strongly affected by Iran’s popular upheaval, and emerged in Baghdad in 1979. In terms of material resources and popular support, the Da‘wa surpasses the Mujahidin. The latter, for their part, are distinguished by their energy, zeal and bold actions, and they are free of the taint of connection with the late Shah of Iran.

Roots of the Shi'i Movement

by Salim Nasr
published in MER133

Many saw the Shi‘i revolt in west Beirut and its southern suburbs in February 1984 as the sudden and unexpected mass uprising of a rapidly expanding social group in the midst of a tumultuous religious revivalism. But the February uprising was a significant social movement, with roots in the profound social transformation of the Shi‘i community over the course of 30 years, from Lebanese independence at the end of World War II to the beginning of the civil war in 1975.

Ajami, The Vanished Imam

by As'ad AbuKhalil
published in MER144

Fouad Ajami, The Vanished Imam: Musa al-Sadr and the Shia of Lebanon (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986).

Quetta's Sectarian Violence and the Global Hazara Awakening

by Zuzanna Olszewska
published in MER266

On a cold February day in London, over 40 Hazara men, women and children sat wrapped in blankets at the foot of the King George V monument opposite the Houses of Parliament. They were protesting the bombing of a vegetable market on February 16 in Quetta, Pakistan, that killed at least 91 of their brethren and wounded 190 more. It was the second day of their three-day sit-in and many had braved the freezing temperatures and the rain overnight. They had chosen to protest in this way as Hazaras -- a predominantly Shi‘i Afghan ethnic group with a large, long-standing community in southwestern Pakistan -- rather than joining the larger and more vocal crowd of diverse Shi‘i protesters outside the Pakistani High Commission two miles away.

The Iraqi Question from the Inside

by Pierre-Jean Luizard
published in MER193

To affirm the existence of an “Iraqi question” has certain implications. People usually speak, referring to the Shi‘a and the Kurds, of minorities and of the necessity of protecting them as such. But this misses the point concerning what is unique about Iraq.

A Clash of Fundamentalisms

Wahhabism in Yemen

by Shelagh Weir
published in MER204

During the past two decades, a proselytizing, reformist, “Islamist” movement -- mainly characterized as “Wahhabi” -- has gained increasing popularity throughout Yemen. Wahhabism actively opposes both the main Yemeni schools -- Zaydi Shi‘ism in the north and Shafi‘i Sunnism in the south and in the Tihama. It is closely connected with the political party Islah, a coalition of tribal, mercantile and religious interests that pursues a mixed social and political agenda. [1]

The Islamization of Law in Iran

A Time of Disenchantment

by Azadeh Niknam
published in MER212

The re-Islamization of law by the leadership of the Islamic Republic following the 1979 revolution immediately clashed with the realities of contemporary Iranian society. [1] This clash engendered divisions between the parliament and the Guardian Council (a body of faqihs [2]] tasked with safeguarding laws’ conformity to Islam and the constitution). [3] Numerous government projects and decisions adopted by the parliament were rejected by the Guardian Council on the grounds that they did not conform to shari‘a (Islamic law). The Council’s hard-line policy generated continuous conflicts, necessitating the intervention of Ayatollah Khomeini, Supreme Guide of the Islamic Republic.