Dubai, Asharq Al-Awsat- Sayyid Dheya Al Musawi, a Bahraini Shiite cleric and one of the country’s most prominent Shiite thinkers talks to Asharq Al Awsat about the concept of Wilayat al Faqih, Iran, and nationalism.
Sayyid Dheya travelled to the Iranian city of Qom to study theology instead of going to Europe to complete his university studies. After three years, in the early 1990s, he returned to Bahrain and became known as a preacher who would deliver fiery sermons. He was arrested in 1994 during what was then known as the ‘events of the nineties’, and returned to Iran after he was pardoned. After seven years of his expatriation in Iran and with the launch of the reform project by the King of Bahrain in 2001, Musawi returned to Bahrain. This time however, he integrated with the reformist project and launched a strong attack on what he deemed as extremists in his country and elsewhere. He rejected the standpoint of a number of Shiites who boycotted the parliamentary elections.
Q) Is the Shiite ideology summarized by the concept of Wilayat al Faqih?
A) It is important that the Shiite ideology is not viewed only in the context of Wilayat al Faqih. This concept has been placed under the spotlight because a strong state, namely Iran, supports this notion. However, we have dozens of scholars who do not believe in this concept, and they have their reservations about it, such as Sheikh Mohammad Jawad Mughniyah who rejected the concept based on structural terms. An Iranian theologian named Mohsen Kadivar wrote a book entitled ‘The Theories of State in Shiite Jurisprudence,’ and looked at the views of jurists within nine theories. Not all Shiites in the Islamic world or in the Gulf adhere to this theory. Millions still follow Sayyid Al Khoei, who does not believe in absolute authority, and Sayyid Al Shirazi, who believes in collective leadership as well as Sheikh Mohammad Mehdi Shamseddin, who believes in man governing himself. This is in addition to many religious references that have their reservations upon the theory in terms of breadth and powers. They have millions of supporters. The majority of scholars of Najaf as well as ancient and modern scholars have their own points of view regarding this issue.
Q) Are there specific Shiite orations that are based upon loyalty to the homeland rather than the concept of Wilayat al Faqih?
A) I would like to refer to the work and speeches of Sheikh Mohammad Mehdi Shamseddin, and especially his last book entitled ‘Al Wasaya,’ in which he focused upon national discourse and national integration. He was able to attract the Shiite intellectuals and a large part of the public to the idea of stabilizing the country. The concept of citizenship in the book invites young Shiites to join national integration and to take part in national projects. In his book, he focused upon the necessity of aborting private projects that aim to work against the state, as well as abandoning the concept of establishing a state within a state. He further invited the youth to join the democratic framework in their homelands. He calls upon rejecting any sectarian political project against one’s native country. He called upon governments to include the youth in political and economic systems.
Q) What about Shiite intellectuals?
A) Many Shiite intellectuals and the upper class, especially in the Gulf States, believe in man governing himself. Each individual has his own opinion and involves himself in the projects of their homeland. We believe in the modern state and act in accordance with the framework of the state and government, and reject foreign orders whatever they may be. We are not responsible for regional conflicts and we refuse to be players in this game. We believe in the legitimacy of our systems and we integrate with them. In the Gulf, we have Shiite ministers, agents, traders and intellectuals who can only be loyal to their homelands. We believe in the modern state and not in the trusteeship of the clergy or the theocratic state. This is a stance that we declare clearly to everybody.
Q) What are the effects of the Arab-Iranian conflict upon Shiites in the Gulf?
A)I hope that there is no conflict, and that there would be alliance between these countries. But if we assume that such a conflict exists then it will unquestionably have an impact upon some people, as people are different in their nature. But the question is where will the majority stand?
I do not want to simplify matters, and to be objective, we must understand the political arena clearly. Shiites in the Gulf have had to face major issues and they have taken nationalistic stands for example, the position taken by Shiite traders in Kuwait during the invasion of Saddam Hussein as summarized in Dr. Sami Al Khalidi’s book entitled ‘Islamic Parties in Kuwait’. On page 124, al Khalidi talks about a businessman called Abdul Wahab Al Wazzan, who opened a warehouse for food commodities to support the people of Kuwait.
Since the war on terror was waged a few years ago, Shiites in Kuwait have been martyred during operations to defend their homeland. We are not responsible for the Iranian conflict. Iran has its own agendas, and its own stances, and we will not relent in our position to defend our homeland. Our country comes first.
In the 1970s, the Iranian Shah wanted to annex Bahrain, however, the people of Bahrain from various sects stood against him and defended the Arab identity of Bahrain and its ruling family and we are proud of this position. Bahraini people had supported the King’s reform project, which we consider the source of safety for our national unity. If a party makes a mistake, this should not cause generalisations to be made as it is only natural to make mistakes.
Q) Have Shiites in the Gulf aligned themselves with Hezbollah?
A) First of all, the term “align with” is somewhat exaggerated. There is sympathy because of the existing hostility towards the Arab nation against the Zionist entity, which is not restricted to one party or sect. Whichever party undertakes this role, it will receive the same share of sympathy.
The entire Arab nation is against the slaughtering of civilians and stands against the Israeli aggression on Lebanon. Everybody was grateful for the role that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries played in offering aid and support to the Lebanese people. Each had expressed their assistance in their own way. Some made significant donations, sought diplomatic endeavours, whilst others launched fundraising campaigns. The issue here is that there is an Arab community that is being slaughtered.
Q) Therefore was the alignment justified as it was against the enemy?
A) As Shiites or an Arab community, we interact with any movements that stand against the Zionist entity but we are not bound to any notions or any other actions outside this framework. They do not ask us to be committed to any external framework, nor are we committed to any accomplishments. This is a clear stance. We live in countries in which we have historical and political roots. We shelter under the umbrella of the protective state that is represented in this civil component. From our point of view, there is a sense of belonging to the homeland; we abide by the laws, the constitution, sovereignty and the legitimacy of the regime. This must be endorsed in the minds of our children who should be raised with the idea that our homeland comes before any other. The sense of national belonging, patriotism and loyalty to the homeland is an integral part of faith. This is based upon the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) who said, “Loving one’s land is a component of faith.” Furthermore, Imam Ali said, “Yearning for one’s homeland is part of the happiness of an individual.”
In the Gulf, as citizens, we are obligated to comply with the political, security and economic decisions that would preserve the interests of the country, sovereignty and the sense of belonging. We must stand firm with regards to this. For this reason, we find that the Shiites of the United Arab Emirates are backing the state’s position on the issue of the three islands and this is the way it should be. This is a purely patriotic approach and in Iraq, Shiites are committed to the Arab identity of the country.
Q) Would supporting Hezbollah be considered a condition of the Shiite doctrine?
A) Neither Shiites nor the religion or even Hezbollah claim so! We are all human beings and all make mistakes. Shiites in the Gulf and in the Islamic world have their reservations upon the fighting that broke out between the Amal movement and Hezbollah. This was a historical mistake that both parties had acknowledged this. Hezbollah had disagreed with Sheikh Sobhi al Tufayli on cooperating with the Lebanese state. Hezbollah had adopted the authority of Khamenai, however, despite this, in Lebanon, and even within Hezbollah, there are people who follow Al Khoei, Fadlallah or Al Sistani. Not everything that is put forward by Hezbollah is imposed upon everyone.
Q) Is it not the case that doctrinal support is considered interference in the Lebanese affairs?
A) We must not mix matters up. I explained that we are not responsible for the escalation of the crisis in Lebanon. No country should interfere in the internal affairs of another country; nor should a movement interfere with the affairs of another. Every society is obligated by the national interest, its political agenda and social benefits. There is no relationship between conditions and national belonging and there is nothing in our creed that states that. I reaffirm that we are committed to the decisions our countries, similarly Hezbollah is committed to the rules and regulations of Lebanon and is also committed to the conditions governing the country. We must remove this fear and phobia in order to interpret clearly the Shiite scene in the region. We should not confuse issues. What I call for and what I am committed to is the national agenda of our homelands and we are currently working to embed this culture in the minds of the youth.
In the Gulf, we have supported the official position by backing the relief efforts. We should think about how to reconstruct Lebanon, heal its wounds and strengthen its legitimate government represented by Siniora, which is a unanimous government on national and democratic levels. Strengthening the government and the integration of all spectrums of society is the only guarantee for the unity and future of Lebanon.
Q) Don’t you think that connecting the destiny of the Shiites to the political position of Hezbollah is a gamble, especially as the circumstances of the Shiites in Bahrain, Kuwait or Saudi Arabia differ from those in Lebanon and could contradict the interests of Hezbollah?
A) Yes, both the circumstances and the interests are different. This is why we must separate between these two issues.
Q) Do you agree with the concept of national fusion for the Shiites?
A) National fusion would be realized through strengthening the internal front, reinforcing the concept of and working on the integration of young people from various political and development projects working towards the overall development process of their countries. The introduction of youth to developmental projects endorses their sense of belonging. We must create cultural projects based on enhancing national affiliation. This requires effort, perseverance and vision, as well as an examined approach and further support.
Following the Israeli aggression on Lebanon, there are many concerns about the future. Some of these fears are justified, however, we should never exaggerate these reactions and we should work on creating balanced educational projects to bridge any gaps that might cause any national disorder in the future. Secondly, we must not place all Shiites under one umbrella, as we do not generalise with regards to Salafis, Sunnis or other doctrines. The question is how we can maintain the Shiite components that had succeeded to achieve this fusion, and that have throughout history endured political twists. Shiites must not feel that they need to prove their patriotism or that there is constant doubt of their level of nationalism. Relying on them and strengthening them would ensure this fusion. With all other orientations, there are also errors but generalization is an impractical method. An example of this is terrorism which has engulfed the region. Terrorism has no identity and is not confined to one doctrine, and not all people should bear its responsibilities.
Q) What would be the position of Shiites in the Gulf if the confrontation between Iran and Gulf countries were to escalate?
A) We hope that there will be no confrontation, however we are obligated to stand firm behind the interests of our homelands.
Q) Sectarian conflict has escalated between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq. How can the dilemma of civil war be avoided?
A) We must learn from history. Spain destroyed itself by civil war, as well as America. In the Arab and Islamic world, the Ottoman Empire and the state of the Safavid dynasty survived the massacres of Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq and Anatolia. In Lebanon, the civil war had devastated the state and eliminated the national consensus, where different states chose to settle their conflicts in Lebanon. Sectarianism is a devilish seed that sets the ground for civil war.
To avoid this dilemma, the culture of tolerance in the Arab world needs to be strengthened. We must be united by humanitarian and national ties and not divided by religious differences. We must eliminate any provoking discourse that aims to produce suicide bombers and ideological clashes that usually result in armed militias that kill people in the name of religion whether the “other” is a Muslim or a Christian. We must preserve our homelands, our national unity and the sovereignty of our countries from any regional or international attempts of infiltration.
Q) Was the program that focused upon reforming the discourse of the revolution in Iran demolished following Ahmadinejad’s assumption of power?
A) The reform project that was put forward by Sayyid Khatami was terminated and reformists in Iran did not cry over it. I am not surprised by President Ahmadinejad’s speech as it was prepared in the political backstage. No president can captivate a whole country with such a Guevarian speech without having been granted approval for his actions beforehand. The radical line in Iran supports his discourse. The question is would this discourse be suitable for the Arab world?
Q) Would it be suitable to the Arab world in your opinion?
A) No. It may even increase the state of anxiety that Arab countries are now witnessing. Iran is in need of the Khatami discourse and the reformist trend because the world has changed and power is granted to the most democratic and economically prosperous countries and civilian states that work on establishing modern society and not one that is haunted by resounding ideologies and slogans.
Q) Do you not think that it is appropriate to organise a conference to bring together Shiite intellectuals and clerics to resolve the issue of national belonging and patriotism with relation to jurisprudence, especially as it has been put forward that the concept of Wilayat al Faqih contradicts that of citizenship?
A) The issue of national belonging and patriotism in the Shiite jurisprudence is already fixed and the media must express this clearly. Shamseddin as well as others had promoted this idea but unfortunately nobody had highlighted this matter before.
Q) It has been said that sectarian militarization exists in Bahrain on both sides; do you agree?
A) There is no sectarian militarization in Bahrain. It is true that some features of the Iraqi crises can be found in Bahrain; however it has never reached the level of militarization. In Bahrain, we enjoy the best collective social climate. Members of the two sects inter-marry and there are joint social and official ventures. Bahrain established a supreme Islamic council, in which it gathered a number of both Shiite and Sunni scholars. These are considered attempts to create a unified national front.
In Bahrain, we will reject any discourse that seeks to provoke sensitive issues. We do not want another Afghanistan, the Balkans or Lebanon in the Arab or Gulf region. The King’s reform project and public awareness are the sources of safety against the dangers of sectarianism.
We are relying upon common factors as well as supporting the civil state and the establishment of genuine citizenship, and we are working upon strengthening national ties.