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Don't Confuse the Huthis with the Zaidis - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The biggest mistake that could be made with the Huthi crisis in Saudi Arabia is portraying these clashes as a confrontation between the Sunnis and the [Shiite] Zaidi sect.

In this article, I intend to speak about doctrinal and sectarian issues, rather than political issues, because the doctrinal or sectarian mentality is the mentality that dominates the Arab world. This issue should also be discussed because while it is not wrong to avoid broaching the subject of sectarian violence under the pretext of not inflaming the situation, the situation is already inflamed.

Therefore falling into the trap of initiating a Sunni – Zaidi conflict is exactly what those who have unleashed the Huthis wish to happen. The internal divisions in the [Shiite] Zaidi sect have escalated to the point that the Huthis have completely taken over the Zaidi structure that has existed in Yemen for centuries. The Zaidi sect has existed in Yemen since the Rassid Imamate, and the first Imam of Yemen, al-Hadi Yahya Bin al-Hussain Bin al-Qasim ar-Rassi, settled in Yemen in the 9th century AD. The Rassid Imam’s were the descendents of Imam Zaid Bin Ali Bin al-Hussain Bin Ali Bin Abu Talib, whose lineage can be traced back to Caliph Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law.

What is happening now is that the Zaidi sect has been taken over by the Huthis, with secondary juristic views of the Zaidi doctrine being brought to public attention at the expense of the sect’s more traditional features. Observers and researchers in Yemen are aware of this phenomenon, especially the Zaidi intellectuals.

As one of the Zaidi sects most notable figures, Mohamed Bin Ismail Bin al-Amir al-Sana’ani, explained many centuries ago, the Zaidi sect is not one that clings to its viewpoint, references, and traditions. It is a sect that is open to development and improvement, and even encompasses [the ideas of] Salafist clerics, such as Sheikh Mohamed Ibn Abd-al-Wahab and Muhammad ash-Shawkani. The Zaidi sect also encompassed religious figures who took the Zaidi doctrine to the extreme, such as Imam Abdullah Bin Hamza who massacred a group of his subjects known as the “al-Mutrafeya” because they argued that it was not mandatory that a ruling imam be a descendent of Al-Hassan or Al-Hussein. The Zaidi sect also includes independent jurists and freethinkers, like Mohamed Bin Ibrahim Bin al-Wazir, who died in 1437, and who advocated freeing oneself from all sectarian and doctrinal attachments and solely embracing the teachings of the Holy Quran and Sunnah. And so the Zaidi sect included freethinkers, as well as fanatics.

So the Zaidi doctrine is a flexible and wide-ranging one that contains the potential for progress and development in all directions. It’s most fundamental belief is the adoption of the Mu’tazilli doctrine of favoring the 4th Caliph Ali Bin Abi Talib, over Islam’s first two Caliphs, Abu Bark and Omar Ibn Al-Khattab. However the Zaidi sect does not sanction the abuse or insult of the first two Caliphs and disowns anybody that does so. Zaidi writings that date back to when Imam al-Hadi first settled in Yemen from Hijaz confirm this.

So where did former Huthi leader, Hussein Badreddin al-Huthi, who was killed in September 2004, get his [Shiite] Twelver doctrine regarding the Caliphs and the Prophet’s Companions, especially in light of the fact that the traditional Zaidi position on this lies somewhere between the Sunni and Shiite position?

Why did Hussein al-Huthi move even further towards the Khomeinist trend, instead of just being content with the traditional [Shiite] Twelver doctrine?

Before people begin to think that we are just theorizing, let me quote an excerpt from a series of booklets attributed to Hussein Badreddin al-Huthi and sent to me by my friend, the Yemeni researcher Naguib Ghalab. This literature is comprised of transcripts of lectures and lessons given by Hussein al-Huthi to his followers in Sa’dah and elsewhere. Most of these booklets deal with interpretations of the Holy Quran, and this literature continues to be circulated on a small-scale.

In these lessons, Hussein al-Huthi expresses an extremist ideology that latches onto [Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini’s radical vision of the world, but in an even more zealous manner.

In this literature, al-Huthi states that the Sunnis have been defeated throughout history because they failed to support Ali Ibn Abi Talib. In the booklet on the interpretation of Surat al-Maeda, Hussein al-Huthi said “It would be foolish to bind ourselves to them [the Sunnis] or even think that it is possible to unite with them. If we wanted to unite with them, they would ask us to go under their banner. They would never accept anybody from Ahl al-Bayt [descendants of the Prophet].”

Later on in this same booklet, al-Huthi describes the evolution of Iran, and Khomeini’s role during the reign of the Shah. He then specifies the ideal characteristics of a ruler, favourably comparing them with Khomeini and saying “Whoever holds these divine characteristics and qualities must be a man who can build a great nation. Those who possess such attributes…can build great nations. Today Iran is poles apart from the Iran of the pre-Islamic revolution era, although only a relatively short amount of time has passed since the revolution, an amount of time no longer than the reign of any of the Kings who ruled the country prior to the revolution.”

Al-Huthi added “The Muslim community will not succeed, and will not be rescued from the humiliations that it is suffering, unless it returns to them” by which he means Ahl al-Bayt.

I have scanned through many other similar booklets attributed to Hussein al-Huthi, and many of them include very extremist ideology. Just for the record, these texts were taught by the Huthis, and as we can see, they contain evidence of the Huthi rebels’ devotion to the Khomeinist revolutionary project.

Hussein al-Huthi’s father was the Islamic cleric Badreddin al-Huthi, who was one of the senior religious scholars of Sa’dah. Badreddin al-Huthi himself was an ambitious man who sought to revive Imamate rule in Yemen.

In an interview with the media, Yemeni politician and intellectual Dr. Qasim Salam said “Badreddin al-Huthi previously claimed the position of Imam during the reign of Imam Yahya Muhammad Hamid ed-Din (assassinated 1948). He received pledges of allegiance but was later imprisoned. Following the 26 September [1962] revolution, Badreddin al-Huthi claimed the position of Imam once again and fought against the Yemen Arab Republic in Sa’dah, but was defeated. What is happening now is a continuation of what happened before, but what is new is that this has entered a new phase with the [Huthi] leaders no longer claiming the title of Imam in the traditional sense, but rather they want to transform Sa’dah into a base for the Safavid doctrine.”

Badreddin al-Huthi was not sympathetic to the Sana’a government during the 1994 war, and instead sided with the southern separatists. He did this not because he supported the socialists, but rather due to his hatred of the government in Sana’a which had broken away from Imamate rule and allied itself with the Salafists who – according to Badreddin al-Huthi – are the enemies of Ahl al-Bayt. Badreddin al-Huthi also was involved in fierce conflict with Yemeni Salafist clerics, such as Sheikh Muqbal al-Wade’ei, who was a Salafist preacher in Sa’dah itself.

The Huthis are an extremist version of the Zaidi sect, and some researchers believe they are an extension of a well-known Zaidi offshoot, the al-Jarodiah sect. According to Yemeni researcher Zaid al-Wazir, who published an article entitled on this subject in the Yemeni magazine “Al-Masser” which is published by the Yemeni Heritage and Research Centre, the al-Jarodiah sect differ from the Zaidi sect in not stipulating that the ruling Imam must be a descendant of Al-Hassan or Al-Hussein. Al-Wazir also indicated that the al-Jarodiah sect contends that secret documents were provided to ensure that Ali Ibn Abi Talib became the first Caliph following the death of Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] but that Abu Bark and Omar Ibn Al-Khattab covered this up.

Zaid al-Wazir examined the circumstances surrounding the rise of the al-Jarodiah sect, whose emergence coincided with the emergence of the Zaidi sect. Al-Jaroud Al-Abdi who was a disciple of Imam Zaid Bin Ali, and who the al-Jarodiah sect is named after, was not actually a Zaidi. In fact Al-Jaroud Al-Abdi and his followers formed a separate sect which infiltrated the Zaidi sect and remained a part of it. Some Zaidi sheikhs, jurists, and rulers utilize the al-Jarodiah doctrine during critical moments. For example, Imam Abdullah Bin Hamza utilized this in order to establish the Imamate rule of the Alawite dynasty, whilst Zaidi jurists used the al-Jarodiah doctrine when engaging in fierce conflict with Sunni rivals, as the Huthi insurgents are doing now.

Iran’s cunning lies in its ability to cast its political influence on this sub-group within the Zaidi sect, stoking their anger, until they have taken over the entire sect itself. Iran also practiced this same policy of entangling neutral groups [in regional issues] with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

It is well-known that Lebanon’s Shiite community is originally from the traditional Shiite sect that follows the great Shiite jurist Mohsen al-Amali. They traditionally followed their own doctrine, and did not embrace Khomeini’s Wilayat al-Faqih [Guardianship of the Jurists]. However after Hezbollah had been established by Khomeini’s Iran, the party took over its [Shiite] opposition in Lebanon to become the symbol of the Lebanese Shiite community, and objections to the Wilayat al-Faqih decreased.

There is now fear that the Yemeni Huthis will be portrayed as Zaidis due to the publics lack of knowledge on the differences between them. Examples of this can clearly be seen in the mistakes made by some media who described the Huthis as Zaidis, or who believe that all Zaidis are Twelver Shiites, or who assume that all Twelver Shiite’s embrace the Khomeini doctrine. This reflects ridiculous misconceptions and is completely ignorant [of the reality], such mistakes serve to increase sectarian tensions which are fundamentally based upon ignorance and hatred.

This is a complex subject, and research experts, especially from Yemen, have a lot to say about this. This article is nothing but a signpost on the road, an attempt to ensure that we do not ignore what is happening and take the wrong path and insult an ancient Yemeni culture by being ignorant of the truth. We must help those who are not aware of the Iranian Mullah’s plans to tear the Zaidis away from their Arab surroundings. We must look for the Khomeinist finger-prints in everything that is happening in the Shiite [international] community, including the politicization and exploitation of certain issues, just as the Muslim Brotherhood have done in a Sunni-framework.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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