AuthorSakai, Keiko

DURING THE DECADE AFTER THE GULF WAR, the opposition forces in Iraq have received worldwide attention focusing on possible future leaders after Saddam's regime. Among the various groups and organizations receiving such attention, those representing Islamic organizations are numerous. The perception of the US administration regarding these Islamic political organizations, however, is to recognize them as representatives of Shi'i Muslims residing mostly in southern parts of Iraq. This notion is borne out by the choice of a Shi'i high 'ulama as one of the three members of the Leadership for Iraqi National Congress, which is obviously supported by the US administration, the two other Leadership members being a Kurdish nationalist and a Sunni ex-military officer. [1] It is also common for outside observers to divide Iraq into three districts -- Kurdish, Arab Sunni and Arab Shi'i, represented by Kurdish nationalists, Arab nationalists, and Islamists. Each of the three areas is regarded as an integrated ethnic-like unit which in turn tends to damage the cohesion of the State of Iraq.

Such a perception poses the following questions; (1) Is the Shi'I community integrated into a kind of regional independent power against Sunni society? (2) Do Islamic organizations represent the Iraqi Shi'i community? Regarding the first question, here we find many scholars who deny this possibility. This is quite a different position from their Kurdish counterparts within the opposition movement, who constantly demand autonomy -- though not independence -- and recognition as a national entity. No exclusive Shi'I political party has claimed independence nor autonomy separate from Sunni society. [2] As for the second question, we may break it down as follows; (1) Is the Shi'i population represented exclusively by Islamic organizations? (2) Do Islamic political organizations represent Shi'i interests only? The historical facts seem to deny the former question -- the large percentage of Shi'I membership in the Iraqi Communist Party and the Ba'th Party in its early stages, as well as representation within other secular political parties.

In this article I will discuss the latter question, analyzing the basic ideology of each Islamic group, formation of its political organization, and its socio-cultural background. Here, I especially focus on the universality of the Islamic thought of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, the founder of most Islamic political movements in Iraq. Despite the trans-sectarian/universal factor of his ideas, however, it cannot be denied that the Islamic political activities based on his teachings have not extended much beyond the Shi'i community. If we do not premise a priori ethnically-independent Shi'i society in Iraq, what has confined Iraqi Islamic movements only to the Shi'i community? What kind of social and political boundary lies beneath sectarian differences? What caused the gap between its ideology and the actual sphere of its activities?

To answer these questions, I will briefly observe the history of al-Da'Wa Party established on the basis of al-Sadr's thought, and compare it with other Islamic organizations and its offshoots.


Hizb al-Da'wa al-Islamiya (al-Da'wa hereafter) was established at the end of 1957 in Najaf, based on the Islamic thought of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr. Recent analysis shows that the following forerunners affected the emergence of al-Da'wa; [3] (1) The reform movements of madrasa in the 1930s, led by Muhammad al-Muzaffar; (2) Islamic movements in Sunni society such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb al-Tahrir; (3) Islamic movements in Shi'i society in Iraq such as Munazzamat al-Shabab al-Muslim [4] and Hizb al-Ja'fari. These socio-political circumstances encouraged the foundation of the political party among the Shi'i population in Iraq.

The direct motivation for establishing al-Da'wa was, however, the serious decline of the roles of the 'ulama (religious intellectuals) and hawza (academic circle) in the process of secularization of the judicial, education and social welfare systems within the modern state system. Establishment of al-Da'wa was a clear reflection of the 'ulama's fears vis-a-vis the rising tide of Communism and other secular developments in Iraq -- fear against isolating umma from Islam, as Murtada al-'Askari describes, [5] -- especially in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. Grand maria' Muhsin al-Hakim was also one of those 'ulama who felt strong anxiety regarding the future of Islam and argued the necessity to re-establish its hawza and marja'iya. Various attempts to stimulate religious and cultural activities had been tried, such as the formation of Jama'at 'Ulama, and the publication of the journal al-Adwa'. Muhsin al-Hakim, as a grand marja', tried to reinstate and reform his marja'iya, reestablishing the 'ulama's netw orks by sending wakils (representatives) of marja' to various area, and strengthening youth activities in Islamic rituals such as mawkib al-talaba (students' march).

Observing the above Islamic movements which preceded al-Da'wa, we can classify them into two different phases of Muslim society's response to Westernization and secularization. One was a general trend of Islamic political movements not only among the 'ulama but also among laymen against secularization in the Middle East, regardless of sectarian differences. The other was a specific response limited to the 'ulama community among Shi'i in Iraq. Both tendencies are closely intertwined but they often contradict each other. Al-Da'wa can be located at the crossing point of these two tides. In al-Da'wa, the first trait can be seen as an influence coming from the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb aI-Tahrir (Liberation Party). In Iraq the Muslim Brotherhood was founded as the Iraqi branch of the movement founded in Egypt in 1948, and Muhammad Mahmud al-Sawwaf and Muhammad Faraj al-Samarra'i, leading members of Iraqi branch, initiated its activities in Mosul, Baghdad and Basra in the 1950s. Al-Khursan mentions that Sayyid T alib al-Rifa'i in aI-Da'wa was influenced by the Islamic thought of the Muslim Brotherhood. [6] As for Hizb alTahrir, several Iraqis participated in it in Jerusalem including Shi'i members such as 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Badri and 'Arif al-Basri, as well as Muhammad Hadi al-Subayti, who turned out to be one of the leading figures in the early stages of al-Da'wa. Both of them afierwards however withdrew from Hizb al-Tahrir because of sectarian tendencies among the party leadership, [7] and joined al Da'wa. al-Khursan also pointed out the theoretical influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Sunni Islamists, especially that of Sayyid Qutb and Mawdudi. [8]

Considering the number of Muslim Brotherhood members that were laymen, the faction traced to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb al-Tahrir can be understood to symbolize the popularization of Islamic movements throughout the Muslim world in that period. 'Popularization' here means that the 'mood of crisis' brought about the rise of the consciousness among laymen to the necessity for Islamic reform.

What happened parallel to the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and in other Sunni societies was a movement for the modernization of madrasa in Iraqi Shi'i society in 1930s. Muhammad Rida al-Muzaffar established Muntada al-Nashr in 1935 and started his educational activities, founding many modern types of madrasa. His purpose was to "narrow the gap between secular state-controlled education and the old madrasa, and .... to bring the religious and secular components of Iraqi Shi'i society closer," where Nakash pointed out "the existence of a bitter struggle between two opposing groups" i.e. between "radical modernist" and "extreme conservatives." [9] Though al-Muzaffar was an 'ulama (mujtahid), his efforts can be recognized in the context of popularization of Islamic reform movements, when we see the reaction of the Shi'i religious establishment in Najaf toward Muntada, which "did not recognize the Muntada as a true madrasa" until Isfahani issued a fatwa for its recognition after several years. [10 ] Many of the founding members of al-Da'wa were students of al-Muzaffar such as Murtada al-Askari and Sayyid Mahdi al-Hakim. Muhammad Sadiq al-Qamusi, also one of the founding members, had worked in the secretariat general in Muntada.

The emergence of Muntada in Shi'i society filled the vacuum of political consciousness following the withdrawal of politicized ulama in the 1920s. Here we can shed light on the role of Shi'i 'ulama intervening onto the political stage through its history. Needless to mention the important role of Shi'i ulama in the Najaf revolt in 1918 and the 1920 uprising against Britain, [11] Shi'i 'ulama played a significant role in leading society politically, especially utilizing their religious and social influence within the community. This is an obvious difference with Sunni 'ulama, whose "door of ijtihad" had been closed. Many scholars have taken politicized 'ulama for granted as a kind of 'traditional' characteristic among Shi'i 'ulama, such as Kelidar, who takes the examples of Muhammad Taqi al-Shirazi or Shaykh Mahdi al-Khalisi as "[t]he activists among the Mujtahids" who "rel[ied] on their powers of interpretation, and the deployment of the philosophical approach, to justify an energetic, even a violent campaig n in the quest for good government." [12] Except for the rare case of achieving solidarity among Sunni and Shi'i 'ulama in the 1920 uprising in Iraq, these efforts of Shi'i ulama to lead the community were usually confined to Shi'i society, to the extent that their personal influence and charismatic powers are effective.

This trait of locality in politicizing the society, i.e., personalization of politics, can be seen as the second phase of Iraqi Islamic movements among Shi'i, in contrast to the first general and universal phase. Al-Hizb...

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