Understanding Al-Qaeda in Yemen is alot more difficult than say, understanding Al-Qaeda in Egypt or Lebanon. The simple reason is that its alot easier to get around in these relatively open countries. And due to strong scholarly interest over the years, far more has been written about these countries, thus its fairly easy to get a pretty good grasp of “what’s going on.” Much harder to gain a similar level of comprehension of Yemen, due to its isolation and conservatism and I haven’t seen a lot of great literature on its Jihadist or Al-Qaeda movements. However, in the last week IslamOnline has published two very good pieces. Here’s the first which was published shortly after last week’s Embassy attack. I highly recommend the second (9/27) by Yusuf Al-Dini which looks at conflict and tension between the old generation (those who fought in Afghanistan) and new (those who fought in Iraq) .
I highly recommend readers check out Mr Egypt’s post on Qaradawi. I write an introduction here because we have major copy and paste issues with Mr Egypt’s computer and I didn’t want to risk making it worse.
One of the things I wanted more of when reading about the Qaradawi case was the Islamic background and motives, meaning serious religious context from someone who is a Sunni Muslim. I saw very little of this in the English or Arabic press, So MediaShack turns to Mr. Egypt for some explanation. Mark my words, in a decade or so, Mr Egypt will be as well known to MediaShack readers as Fahmy Huwedi or Dia Rashwan. The coverage in the Arabic press focused on whether Qaradawi should have made these comments or whether they will create disunity between Shias and Sunnis. Noone seemed interested in explaining “why did he do it?” The second to last paragraph is the best analysis of what is driving Qaradawi’s comments that I’ve seen written in English or Arabic.
Al-Qaradawi’s statements, concerning the “Shiite invasion” to the Sunni societies, still arouses a huge controversy. Understanding his statements necessitates putting them in a bigger picture, where we can situate the importance of this issue with regard to the Arab and Muslim world.
First, let’s take a brief look on the Sunni-Shiite split. This split is 1,400 years old, and started with a fight over who should lead the faithful after the Prophet’s death in s632. However, this fight did not transform into a fragmentation between the Muslims until the death of Ali ibn abi Taleb, the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law. After the death of Ali, one side believed that the direct descendants of the prophet should take up the role of the caliph, and they were known as the “Shiat Ali”, or the Partisans of Ali. As for the Sunnis they believed that no one is worthy of taking up the role, regardless of lineage, and this matter is resolved by “Shura” (consultation). Up until this moment we are talking about a conflict or a sectarianism that’s taking place inside the Islamic state, something more like an intellectual difference, and the Islamic state preserved its political unity despite that. This status remained till 1502 when Ismail safawi, the founder of the Safavid dynasty, started his campaign till he unified Iran by 1509. Ismail was a Shia Muslim, and after seizing power in Iran he declared Schism as the official doctrine for Iran, before that Iran was a Sunni state. The importance of this glimpse was to point out that Schism was a political movement basically, and not a religious one, that started to intertwine with the spiritual or the religious aspect later on.
At this stage there was a new conception to the post of the caliph, according to the Sunni theory, it sought to rationalize the post of the caliph, he was elected and
“Shura” was the main principle of ruling the Muslim states. The Shiite theory, on the other hand, theologized the conception of the caliph, and the post is confined to Ahl el-Bayt (the people of the house) who are the descendants of the prophet’s family and they are called Imams, note here that the Shia maintain that Ali was the first DIVINELY sanctioned Imam. Consequently, the Imam is immune to error since it is a religious position, further; the Imam is equated to the Prophet he does the same role, the only difference is that the sacred texts were revealed to the Prophet by God (Allah) other than that, they perform the same task.
The Shia’s believe in the religious authority of the Imams erupted the necessity of religiously re-interpreting the sacred texts, in order to determine who should lead the Muslims. The Shiites started to refer that the problem actually existed in the Islamic revelation itself, and that there was an exoteric and esoteric interpretations from the very beginning, and they went further by saying that only the Imam who could possibly posses these two aspects, they are basically united in him. Now, the debate has shifted, its not about who should be the successor of the Prophet, rather what’s the function of the Imam and his qualifications. Note here something, according to the Sunni vision only the Prophet is the infallible person, as for the Shiites the Imam is as infallible as the Prophet. The issue is significantly sensitive for the Sunnis because their teachings and obligations are derived directly from Sunnah (the sayings and the actions that were instituted by the Prophet), but in the Shiite envision Sunnah – and according to some Shiite schools but not all the Quran also – is incomplete, and here comes the role of the Imam who the two aspects of authority are united in him. Anyway, in the day-to-day practices Sunni and Shiites share similar understanding of basic Islamic beliefs and exhibit no difference in performing their obligatory prayers.
Basically the main issue here was re-interpreting the sacred texts; Sunnis consider the sacred texts complete and tight, and thus the attempts of revamping or re-interpreting done by the Shiites were not accepted and the Sunnis considered them heretics however, they never judged them as infidels. On the other hand, Shiites considered those who don’t believe in the Imam‘s rule are infidels, however, they throwback this judgment later on in order to create some sort of convergence with the Sunnis.
Now let’s shift to Iran. Iran is imposing itself as the Shiite sponsor, and in the same time, it’s developing its role regionally. The main force that is directing Iran is its Shiite belief, therefore, it’s logical and normal that the Arab world represents the domain of its extension; in the region lives the majority of the Shiites in the world, historically it was part of the Persian Empire, it controls massive resources that are lumped and controlling these capacities promises not only a regional role, but an international one as well, but most important of all spreading the tenets of the Islamic revolution. Iran is aware of the Political vacuum that attributes the Arab world, its political and regional influence is remarkable through supporting and backing specific groups and parties, the thing that would be more inveterate when sharing a common understating and here comes the role of Schism, anyway, it’s working on 3 fronts: firstly, Its engaging in cooperative relationship with the Gulf countries, nevertheless, tainted with a parade of strength showing who’s the dominator. Secondly, Sponsoring and supporting the line of resistance in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon. This point is conspicuously interesting, since, in my opinion, Israel isn’t the main threat facing Iran, unlike the Kurdish case; for instance, about 8% of Iranian population is Kurds, they inhabit the areas bordering Iraq and Turkey, and they represent a problem to the government especially with the Kurdish autonomy in Iraq. Thirdly, Adopting an obscure strategy towards Egypt. From one side, trying neutralizing its role, basically by replacing its role as the main support for the line of resistance and inherently criticizing it, and from the other side presenting itself as paragon in the region, especially by challenging the US and Israel, while Egypt maintains its alliance with them.
Inside the region, there are two trends. Those who advocate cooperation with Iran, as it offers a crucial depth and a broader space for maneuver in dealing with the US and Israel, especially, over critical issues like Palestine, Lebanon…Fahmy Huwaidi represents one of the leaders of this trend. The other trend is composed of those who are suspicious of the Iranian intents and believe that its aspiring regional ambitions and not just simply defending the Arab causes, adherents of this trend are Arab governments mainly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and secular and leftist intellectuals.
So, how did Al-Qaradawi get into the middle of all that? Actually, he did not. The problem with Al-Qaradawi’s statements did not erupt because of him, but, because the statements were exposed to different interpretations; for those who are pro the cooperation with Iran, Al-Qaradawi’s statement were deemed disastrous for the attempts of unifying the efforts. For those who are suspecting the Iranian intentions, his statements represented an assurance to their fears. What fueled the situation even more was the interference of Islamic scholars, not only defending Al-Qaradawi, but attacking the Shiites fiercely. Nevertheless, the Iranian response to Al-Qaradawi was very harsh and offensive, remarkably, most of the responses focused on tainting the man’s reputation without real trail to refute what he said, in addition, there was no real study for this response in the Arabic media, the main concentration was on taking sides in the dispute, without really explaining what does his statements mean or what’s really referring to?
Let’s use Al-Qaradawi’s viewpoint to correctly answer that question. Al-Qaradawi is considered as a moderate Sunni scholar, however, he’s aware that his major role, not just interpretations of Quran and offering Fatwa (religious edicts), rather it is defending the sanctity of the sacred texts, and fortifying the society from any attempts of distorting its understanding of the religion.
According to Al-Qaradawi defending religion is priority, and cannot be subjected to any negotiations or bargains, thus he declares that he advocates the cooperation and alliance with Iran, yet he’s aware of the Iranian/Shiite aspirations and believes that they are not in the best interest of the society, for him, Iran is utilizing the religion for achieving political interests. Those who interpreted Al-Qaradawi’s statements feared that it could lead to a rupture with Iran, and then the Arabs would lose a substantial ally that not only share their concerns, but also, their beliefs, history and partially their culture. Al-Qaradawi, on the other hand, witnesses a severe weakness in the Arab societies, politically, economically and even socially, this situation would foreshadow a crisis for the religious convictions. For instance, Egypt is corrupted politically, in the citizens’ eye it is subject to the US foreign policy, and tightening its grip inside, the economy is in turmoil and the way its functioning is increasing the gap between the rich and the poor, as a result, the levels of corruption within the society increases in order to face the stance they are living in. On the other hand, Iran is representing itself as a successful paragon to this society, and most importantly, it’s a successful religious state, the thing that becomes attractive especially to the youth. So, Al-Qaradawi is calling for fortifying the Sunni societies, and his call was not intending to provoke or offend the Shiites, rather to act as a wake up call for the Sunnis, who, in his eyes, are impressed with the Iranian role and convinced that it represents a chance to balance their position in the region. He understands that the calls for unity cannot lead to anything except turning a blind eye towards the Iranian intentions, unity comes only between equals and he is aware that this is not the case between the Arabs and Iran, and that’s the point that most of his interpreters, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say, his adherents missed to understand.
Notwithstanding, the people would support and back Al-Qaradawi, although I cannot claim that they are totally aware of the meanings, but it is the position that the religion holds in their lives, moreover, Al-Qaradawi’s credibility is unquestionable in the Sunni/Arab world. Thus his calls were met with sentimental and strong support. This issue is directly related to the Arab character, religion holds priority, it’s a stable elements and its sanctity should defended by all means and at all costs.
Adrian’s posts on North Africa opened me up to a good_blog on Western Sahara and North African politics called Western Sahara Info. I especially liked his most recent post Preaching_Pointless_Ultraviolence_to_the_Choir, which looks at militant complaints about the presence of an Israeli embassy in Mauritania:
Especially potent here, of course, is the charge about the Mauritanian government having political connections with Israel — it being true and all. This is not the place and time to whine about how Washington has shoved a profoundly pointless Israeli embassy down the collective Mauritanian throat as a prerequisite for its aid and support, but, let us just note in passing that it is counterproductive idiocy. It doesn’t advance the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one iota, but it does hand Islamist loons the silver bullet of Mauritanian politics.
On the other hand, chopping up surrendered Muslim soldiers during Ramadan is most emphatically not how you win hearts and minds — not in Mauritania, not elsewhere — and it will be hard to convince anyone otherwise, no matter how many times you remind them that Mossad rules the world. AQIM, being the bastard child of the GIA, has a long and proud tradition of alienating its own base by senseless violence, and it seems they’re still not quite done with it.
I would agree that there is nothing to be gained for the US by enticing/coercing Mauritania into opening up an Israeli embassy. Its not as if relations between the two states are signifigant, politically or economically. But opening up an embassy just gives conservatives more fodder. Maybe its a victory for Israel, but it does not advance US interests.
Also, another new blog I recomend is Friday_in_Cairo. The author is a Cairo-based journalist whose posts offer some uniqe insight into Egyptian politics and society.
AL-Masri Al-Youm today has a new interview with Sheikh Qaradawi, plus extensive interviews with experts such as Dia Rashwan and Amr Showbaky. For some reason the new stuff doesn’t seem to be available on the website. Here is the original interview and here are the parts related to what he had to say about Shia:
أما الشيعة فهم مسلمون، ولكنهم مبتدعون وخطرهم يكمن في محاولتهم غزو المجتمع السني وهم مهيئون لذلك بما لديم من ثروات بالمليارات وكوادر مدربة علي التبشير بالمنهج الشيعي في البلاد السنية خصوصاً أن المجتمع السني ليست لديه حصانة ثقافية ضد الغزو الشيعي فنحن العلماء لم نحصن السنة ضد الغزو المذهبي الشيعي لأننا دائماً نعمل القول «ابعد عن الفتنة لنوحد المسلمين» وتركنا علماء السنة خاوين.
للأسف وجدت مؤخراً مصريين شيعة، فقد حاول الشيعة قبل ذلك عشرات السنوات أن يكسبوا مصرياً واحداً ولم ينجحوا، من عهد صلاح الدين الأيوبي حتي ٢٠ عاماً مضت ما كان يوجد شيعي واحد في مصر، الآن موجودون في الصحف وعلي الشاشات ويجهرون بتشيعهم وبأفكارهم. الشيعة يعملون مبدأ التقية وإظهار غير ما بطن وهو ما يجب أن نحذر منه، وما يجب أن نقف ضده في هذه الفترة أن نحمي المجتمعات السنية من الغزو الشيعي، وأدعو علماء السنة للتكاتف ومواجهة هذا الغزو لأني وجدت أن كل البلاد العربية هزمت من الشيعة: مصر، السودان، المغرب، الجزائر وغيرها فضلاً عن ماليزيا وأندونسيا ونيجيريا.
* هل الخلافات الدينية بيننا وبين الشيعة بسيطة أم أنها في أصل الدين؟
ـ الخلاف في الأفرع ليس مهما لكن الخلافات في العقيدة هي المهمة. فكثير منهم يقول إن القرآن الموجود هو كلام الله ولكن ينقصه بعض الأشياء مثل سورة الولاية، نحن نقول إن السنة سنة محمد أما هم فلديهم سنة المعصومين محمد والأئمة الأحد عشر، ويعتبرون سنتهم مثل سنة محمد.. نحن نقول أبوبكر رضي الله عنه وعمرو رضي الله عنه وعمر رضي الله عنه وعائشة رضي الله عنها وهم يقولون لعنهم الله.. فهم يرون أن الرسول قبل أن يموت أوصي علي ابن أبي طالب أن يكون الخليفة من بعده.. ويعتبرون الصحابة خانوا الرسول ووصيته واختاروا آخرين.
* كيف يكون هناك خلاف في العقيدة وهي أصل الدين ومع ذلك يكونون مسلمين؟
ـ هم يؤمنون بالله والقرآن والرسول.
* إذا كان الشيعة ينكرون أصولاً في العقيدة ومع ذلك تعتبرهم مسلين فلماذا لا نفعل الأمر نفسه مع القرآنيين بدلاً من تكفيرهم؟
ـ من قال إنه لا يؤمن بالسنة كافر، لأن معني هذا أنه لا يؤمن أن الصلوات خمس وصلاة الظهر أربع ركعات، والصبح ركعتان وإلا كيف عرف فهي تفاصيل لم تذكر في القرآن بل في السنة.. من ينكر السنة فهو كافر.
Nick Blanford has a good great article on the Lebanese Salafi movement in the CSM. See a recent MediaShack post on this topic. Are these groups peaceful like they say or are they merely in a formative period, waiting to build up their strength? That’s the million dollar question.
Although the feuding factions in Tripoli formally reconciled two weeks ago, Rifaat Eid, son of the leading Alawite politician in Lebanon, says that, as a member of a pro-Syrian minority in Lebanon, he fears the potential of the Salafis. “The Salafis are like kittens when they are weak, but when they are strong they become like tigers,” he says.
Egypt’s Nabin Ad-Deen says “hell no these groups aren’t peaceful.” Last week, he had a piece in an Egyptian paper arguing that the Egyptian Salafi movement is going to eventually reveal its true character- Al-Qaeda style fanaticism, so the Government should stop cultivating them as a tool against the Muslim Brotherhood before its too late.
This is what Fahmy Huwedi, a major Egyptian commentator, says in a September20th op-ed in Al-Dostor newspaper. He points to specific economic and security coordination agreements that Turkey has recently signed with the GCC (I had not heard about this in the English press). And says that Turkey “has now became a player in Gulf security, a development welcomed by the Americans.” He then sarcastically criticizes the Egyptian foreign minister for trying to deny that Egypt is a member of the same front when, in fact, it actually slavishly follows along.
This is a major and often-repeated theme of Huwedi’s 5-6 weekly op-eds: Rather then defend Egyptian and Arab interests, the government is more concerned with making the US and Israel happy.