Dubai-By going back to the history, we can say that sectarianism in the Islamic and Arab world was almost non-existent during the first and second Abbasids reign. Ever since, religious institutions evolved and co-existed.
During certain exceptional times, differences aroused between sects as part of political struggle as during the Safavid dynasty in its fight with the Ottoman empire during the 10th Hijri century.
Despite what Khomeini’s revolution claimed of being Islamic, missionary and international, it created militias all over the Arab region and maintained good relations with other sectarian militias.
After the Syrian revolution, Iran started threatening of a regional sectarianism strife in an attempt to cause struggles of Sunni and Shi’ite extremisms. It wasn’t just a general schism between both sects.
As we can see, the talk about a Sunni-Shi’ite strife in the area is nothing more than an Iranian political usage of reality and history. To be more precise, it is an Iranian-Arab strife over key issues including the Syrian Revolution, Houthi coup in Yemen and many others.
The existence of Shi’ite Arabs came before Iranian Safavid in the 16th century AD yet most of its tribes are of Arab descents are most of them come from tribes like: Rabie’a and Bakr bin Wa’el. Others have Iranian ancestry in Gulf countries where they gained their Arabic cultural identity.
When Shah Isma’il Safavid converted to become a Shi’ite, Iran also changed from Sunni to Shi’ite in the face of the Ottoman empire in 1501. This attracted many scholars including Ali bin Abul’al al-Karaki who immigrated with 63 others to support this state that had no backing from Shi’ites of Iran and Iraq.
Despite attempts of Guardianship of Islamist Jurist to use sectarianism to cause strife, most Shi’ite Arabs disagree with its orientation. Guardianship of Islamist Jurist doesn’t represent them as many institutions call for non-Iranian and non-Safavid Shiism, who were once called by Hassan Nasrallah “Shi’ite of American Embassy” or as ridiculed in statements.
Saudi Shi’ites issued a statement on November 08, 2014, days after ISIS terrorists attacked a husainiyah in al-Ihsa’, stressing the importance of fighting terrorism and rejecting any assault on the state.
Scholars like Jalal Eddine Rumi, Ibin Arabi, and Mohammed Iqbal overcame the differences between Islamic sects. In 1919, the Egyptian revolution led by Sa’a Zaghloul and Abdul Aziz Fahmi united the Egyptian community in the face of occupation, demanding a constitution and independence. In 1915, the Iraqi revolution led by poet Mohammed Sa’id Al Habboubi also united the Iraqi community.
Arabic renaissance was and continued to be a uniting movement for all Arabs. Many prominent figures took part in it. They are Sayyid Jamal Eddine Abadi al-Afghani from Tehran who became famous in Cairo and Istanbul, his students Sheikh Mohammed Abdo, Adib Is’haq, and Shibli al-Shumayel, not to forget Shakib Irslan, Ali al-Wardi, Ali Shariati, Shibli Mallat, and sultan al-Atrash. All those examples prove that the Arabic renaissance was transcontinental. Not to forget writers, poets, and artists that no one asks about their sect or who they belong to.
Many members of different sects, including Shi’ites, played an important role in the formation and support of many of their countries in the Gulf. Founder of Saudi Arabia King Abdulaziz al Saud, may he rest in peace, used the expertise of Foua’d Bik Hamzah “Abu Samer,” who belongs to a well-known Druze family from Lebanon. Also, many Shi’ite sheikhs supported Founder of Saudi Arabia King Abdulaziz al Saud into entering al-Sharqiyyah area in 1913.
Sheikhs like Moussa Boukhamsin called his followers not to resist King Abdulaziz’s forces, making it easier to control the areas. King Abdulaziz then signed a treaty with Shi’ite leaders in al-Ihsa’ that insures the safety and religious freedom of the civilians in the area in return of allegiance for the king.
In Qatif, Shi’ite leader Ali Abou Abdulkarim al-Khunaizi showed no resistance to the king’s forces and thus making the region a secure part of the kingdom. King Abdulaziz then signed several security treaties with people in the area and assigned Sheikh Khunaizi as highest judge in the area.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 and Arab uprisings in 2011 were two important moments in history where sectarianism became an issue in the Arab world. Iran succeeded in both cases to fail the awaited “Arab Spring.”
We can’t deny that there is a problem within all sects and religious affiliations due to overheated struggles like the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is crucial to protect the national unity and protect societies from hatred and struggles.
Those who say there is a problem fail to see three things:
1. Sectarian differences between Arab Shi’ite and Iranian-Safavid Shi’ites.
2. Patriotism and political differences of most with the Guardianship of Islamist Jurist
3. Structural differences within the Shi’ite sect itself like those of Sunni.
One of the dangerous results of religious policing and speaking on behalf of Shi’ites is that it gives excuse for all movements and sectarian militias like “al-Qaeda” and “ISIS” to rise against them.
In Iraq, followers of al-Zarqawi found it suitable to initiate their work because of the denominational policies of Nouri al-Maliki, which were rejected by some Shi’ite themselves.
Similarly, the invasion of Iranian militias of Syria against the peaceful protests, was the reason for the formation of al-Nusra Front and ISIS later on.
Iranian positions shifted from welcoming revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia to considering the revolution against the Assad regime in Syria as new a Sykes-Picot. Iran considers the war in Yemen as an aggression and occupation.
Iran may have killed the expectations of the “Arab Spring,” but it revived the Sunni extremism of “ISIS” and now speaks in the name of al-Zaydiyah through Houthis in Yemen, and Arab Shi’ites through Safavidism.
In reality, Iran is the biggest loser. The so-called Hezbollah lost its popularity among the Arab people once it turned its weapons on Lebanese and Syrian people rather than fighting the Israeli occupation.