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.
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.”
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.”
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.