Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saudia Arabia, Yemen and Shi'a-Sunni tensions

The Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram Weekly Online reports in Sectarian rifts appear by Omayma Abdel-Latif (11/19-25/09 edition) that Saudi Arabia's military campaign against Shi'a rebels in Yemen is really ticking off Iran and Saudi Shiites, the latter composing 1/3 or so of the Saudi population. It also says Al Qa'ida implicitly supported the Saudi attacks by issuing a statement condemning the Shi'a Al-Houthi group the Saudis are targeting.

Gee, hyper-Sunni cult Al Qa'ida hates Iranian-backed Shi'a group? Who could have guessed? (Yes, that's meant to be sarcastic.)

The Al-Houthis "are Zaidis, a branch of Shiism closest to Sunni doctrine". Like the other Shi'a, the Zaidis (also Zaidiya, Zaydīyah, Zaidīs, Zaydis) recognize the primacy of the fourth caliph ‛Alī ibn abī Tālib to follow the Prophet Muhammad as the leader of the Muslim community. But unlike most Shi'a, the Zaidis do not regard the first three caliphs, Abū Bakr, ‛Umar and ‛Uthmān, as usurpers.

The name of the sect comes from Zayd ibn ʿAlī (d. 740), the grandson of Shi'a martyr Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī (626-680), the son of the fourth caliph. The Zaidis are commonly known as the Fiver Shi'a because they recognize Zayd as the fifth Imam, which other Shi'a do not. Their interpretations of Islāmic law have often been close to those of Sunni jurists.

Oxford Islamic Studies Online gives this discription of Zaidi distinctiveness:

Although they have their own school of law based on the legal interpretations of Zayd and his successors, the Yemeni Zaydīs are otherwise the closest of all Shīʿī factions to the Sunnīs (and most particularly to the Ḥanafī school of Sunnī jurisprudence); this has often been interpreted by Western scholars to mean that they are “moderate” or practical. The Zaydīs differ from other Shīʿī denominations in that they accept the legitimacy of the caliphates of Abū Bakr, ʿUmar, and, at least partially, ʿUthmān. Moreover, in contrast to certain other Shīʿī groups, the Zaydīs do not view the imam as infallible, nor as a quasi-divine, inspired, or supernaturally endowed person representing God on earth, and, again unlike other factions, they do not require that he be divinely designated in any way. In Zaydī belief, the qualifications for the imamate include: descent from ʿAlī and Fāṭimah (though they do not require that it pass from father to son), absence of physical imperfections, and personal piety. The imam must be able to take up the sword, either offensively or in defense, which rules out infants as well as “hidden imams” of the type acknowledged by the Ismāʿīlīyah and the Twelvers. [my emphasis]
That latter point indicates that they also lack the messianic/apocalyptic element that characterizes Twelver Shiism. The Zaidis generally reject mystical approaches to the faith.

The article quotes the head of the Lebanese Hizbullah party on the sectarian implications:

Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah called for rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Nasrallah said there is a tendency today to put a gloss of sectarianism on every conflict in the region, and that this was meant to break up Muslim nations into small entities. This, he said serves Israel.

"Every conflict in our region is being interpreted only from the perspective of the Sunni-Shia divide," he said in his latest speeches commemorating the Day of the Martyr. "It is being said that Turkey, the Sunni state, is engaging in the Middle East to take the role of Iran, the Shia state." Nasrallah called on Iran to make a rapprochement towards Saudi Arabia and vice versa. "There should be an initiative from any Arab or Muslim nation to bring those two big and important nations together to dialogue in order to put out the sectarian fire."
The fighting has spilled over into Saudi Arabia, as reported in Saudi villages evacuated due to violence in Yemen, UNICEF says Today's Zaman (Turkey) 11/14/09.

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