Al Arabiya’s last two articles on the Shirazis which addressed religious satellite television channels sparked many comments by these channels’ audience and critics. This reveals the great role these channels play. It’s thus extremely important to monitor these channels’ rhetoric and analyze it.
“These channels drown us in lamentation,” said a reader from Qatif, east of Saudi Arabia, noting the deep psychological effect the Shirazi television channels have. These channels do not only affect the audience but also their families and social surroundings.
These religious channels that are loaded with grief broadcast material related to Imam Hussein, are backed by stories attributed to Ahl Al-Bayt but without authenticating them and adopt a metaphysical discourse backed by visions and dreams and irrational tales. All this mythology reaches its peak with tatbir (striking oneself with a sword on the head), flagellation and the ritual run. It’s as if we are before a scene from Doomsday!
If one watches Al-Anwar TV 2, he’d realize that it has deviated from the Shirazi Movement in plenty of details and has become closer to Iran’s mentality and political line. There are speeches that harmonize with the slogans of the Popular Mobilization and Iraq’s Kata'ib HezbollahHassan Al Mustafa
This grief and worry stains the Shiite character with bleakness that makes the person who lives in the 21st century feel responsible for a crime that happened around 1,338 years ago when Imam Hussein and his supporters died in the Karbala battle. It’s as if Imam Hussein’s appeal when he said “isn’t there anyone to help me” is still heard by the Shiites igniting endless pain and making them feel that they haven’t helped him or done enough!
Crying went on and new grief ceremonies were created, such as the event that commemorates the death of Fatimah. This is of course in addition to Ashura.
A sad character does not care about the future because it’s drowned in its problems which it views as endless. This is a negative character that does not think about building life and that actually looks forward to the afterlife because it thinks it has the cure as the murderers of Imam Hussein will be tortured in hell. It is then that sadness goes away and Fatimah, Mohammed’s daughter, who died while grieving her son will restore her smile.
Editor-in-chief of ‘Al-Sahel’ magazine Sheikh Habib al-Jumayaa thinks this lamentation “kills one’s spirit of life, obstructs the mind, makes the society lazy and (negatively) impacts its (ideas),” adding: “What Al-Bayt imams ordered us in terms of recalling their biographies and the disasters they endured does not mean living in the dark past but it actually means taking lessons to build the future and to be inspired by their values and morals.” He also said that what’s currently happening is plenty of “distortion to martyr Imam Hussein bin Ali’s biography and a distortion of his great values.”
In 2004, I met Sayyid Morteza Shirazi, the son of late reference Sayyid Mohammed al-Shirazi, in Sayyidah Zaynab neighborhood near Damascus.
Religious sciences’ students were among those at the meeting, such as Sheikh Habib al-Jumayaa, Sheikh Sami Bou Khamseen and Seikh Amin al-Ammar. Shirazi spoke about the project of Al-Anwar television channel saying it was for all of the Shiite and not just for one Shiite movement. He explained the difficulties which the channel’s team faced, including music and how they will replace it with something else. He said: “God helped them and they found a solution following months of trouble.” The solution he meant here is “sound effects.”
After he finished talking, I commented and said that Almighty God has nothing to do with this issue as it’s purely technical. I also said that not using music is unjustified because many Shiite scholars permit listening to music and do not prohibit it; therefore, there is no need to limit the options especially that the channel is for all Shiites and not just for the Shirazi Movement. The dear guest, however, did not like what I said.
This incident which happened around 14 years ago shows the minority-based mentality of those in charge of these channels. They claim that they do not only represent the Shirazis but even when it comes to a simple jurisprudential matter and a tiny detail, their views were still based on their own reference that prohibits music. So how can they be open to the rest of opposing and critical opinions?
This narrow-mindedness in terms of only accepting one opinion was opposed by Shirazi cadres from the beginning as they did not support the idea of satellite channels and thought it opposes what they were used to during the political and active work of reference Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammed al-Shirazi.
Al-Anwar which was first launched as representative of Sayyid Sadiq al-Shirazi’s reference adopted an approach that’s distant from politics. This created disputes among the team so Al-Anwar TV 2 was established.
Iraqi journalist Azhar al-Khafaji, who supervises Al-Anwar TV 2, told Al-Huda Magazine in June 2017 that the channel was launched “in response to necessary requirements in Iraq and the region.” He added that the channel “represents a platform for an honest and brave media outlet.” Khafaji also said that the channel was established at a “very dangerous phase when Iraq was under foreign invasion and when there were remnants of the former regime (affecting it).”
If one watches Al-Anwar TV 2, he’d realize that it has deviated from the Shirazi Movement in plenty of details and has become closer to Iran’s mentality and political line. There are speeches that harmonize with the slogans of the Popular Mobilization and Iraq’s Kata'ib Hezbollah. Due to its “revolutionary” approach, it gained a wider audience inside the Iraqi Shiite community as well as presence on social media networks.
Although most Shirazi religious channels kept away from political affairs, when the Iranian authorities arrested Sayyid Hussein Al-Shirazi in March, the channels Fadak TV and Imam Hussein TV spearheaded the wide media campaign launched by the Shirazi Movement against the Iranian authorities.
These two channels dedicated news segments and reports to follow up on developments on the matter. They also hosted Shiite religious figures which fiercely criticized Tehran and the principle of the guardian of the jurist and which also criticized Ayatollah Khamenei and his ideology and his predecessor Imam Khomeini.
The media campaign was accompanied with protests in more than one city and the Iranian embassy’s building in London was stormed and the Iranian flag was taken down and a flag associated with Yasser al-Habib’s group was waved on the embassy’s roof instead. This raises questions about whether it’s true that these channels keep away from politics.
Explaining the phenomenon
What made the reference which was viewed as a pioneer in the field of Islamic work intellectually decline and adopt this fragmented rhetoric?
The easy answer is that the movement’s thinker, i.e. Sayyid Mohammed al-Shirazi is dead. However there are also other objective reasons which are:
1. The fact that Sayyid Sadiq al-Shirazi lacks a cultural vision and an experience like the one his brother Sayyid Mohammed had. This is in addition to lacking the influential and charismatic character which was tantamount to an umbrella that all Shirazis gathered under despite their different ideas and orientations.
2. The domination of the movement as a reference over the movement as an active party: The roles of figures like Sayyid Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi and his brother Sayyid Hadi, who represent the political partisan party, declined and they no longer enjoy wide popularity and have followers. Therefore, the “active” members lost their momentum in favor of the traditional figures within the Shirazi family.
3. The end of the opposing political work projects: The Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain no longer exists. The Reform Movement in Saudi Arabia dismantled its structure and got involved in national work in the kingdom under the law. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation returned to Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Therefore, political efficiency was replaced by the rhetoric broadcast by religious satellite television channels.
The ritualistic discourse thus dominated most of the Shirazi Movement’s media wings except for few exceptions such as Annabaa network which is supervised by Sheikh Mortada Maash as its rhetoric is distinguished for its objectivity and moderation and its content is closer to the intellect of late Sayyid Mohammed al-Shirazi.
The voices of those who criticized the exaggerated ritualistic approach were not heard inside the Shirazi reference so they preferred to defect from the movement. This is what the next article of Al Arabiya English’s series on Al-Shirazis will discuss.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Hassan AlMustafa is Saudi journalist with interest in middle east and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters. His twitter handle is @halmustafa.