Criticism of political Shiism is not deconstruction of Shiism

Hassan Al Mustafa
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Some have reservations about any critical analysis of political Shiism, thinking that questioning its rhetoric equates an attempt to deconstruct the respectable and authentic Islamic dogma of Shiism.

On the contrary. The critique of the ideas of political Shiism is dissociated from any kind of incitement, accusations of treason, suspicions of collaboration with external regimes directed towards the Shia, for the latter are merely examples of oversimplification and misconception. Treason accusations of others based on their sectarian beliefs is a racial, inflammatory, and felonious act0, since all human beings are equal before fair law, add no discrimination of any kind should be practiced amongst them on religious, ethnic, sexist, or regional basis.

Sunni Muslims have their own political Islam, as Shia have political Shiism, and in both cases, these trends are manifested in fundamentalist organizations, armed militias, and radical personalities, which indicates how the sum of these societal environments of the two major Islamic dogmas represent a mixture of good and evil, enlightenment and ignorance, moderation and extremism. This is quite natural since both are the results of unholy and undivine human experiences that brought forth various layers of mindsets and action styles amongst its individuals and trends.

The critique of political Islam’s discourse stresses the need to dissociate religion – as a belief system practiced individually at one’s own full choice – from political Islam as a means for struggle amongst sides that compete for seizing power.

Hence, it is highly essential to accentuate the spiritual aspect of religion, which is identical with the core of human ethical values and serves the well-being of man and enhances his willingness to be benevolent. However, this can hardly be achieved without conducting critical analysis of political Islam among the Sunnis and the Shia, since in both cases it presents a distorted image of religion – confining it within the context of the bloody sectarian struggle that is incapable of accepting the different other.

The human nature of the religious experience was discussed by thinkers such as Abdolkarim Soroush, Mustafa Malekian, Mujtahid Shabestari, Abduljabbar al-Rifai, and was also elaborated through the deconstructive structure which regards the holy text as a mundane rhetoric, an approach applied by intellectuals such as Muhammed Arkoun, Adonis, Nasr Abu Zayd, and Ali Harb. All of these intellectual efforts – which might be regarded by some as elite-oriented – represent in their essence a genuine counterargument against political Islam, and the rendering of clergymen and Islamic movements’ rhetoric into holy scripture that enjoys the same sanctity of holy books, granting it impunity against any questioning or criticism.

The area of the Arab Gulf is in need of such intellectual momentum, especially during the current transitory stage it is going through in terms of its societal and cultural reality, since the reform of the state structure, its production methods, and economy does not only stem from the mechanical, practical, and legal aspects, but it is also based upon a modernist and illuminative vision which is disconnected from the conservative mindset that remains reluctant in front of change.

Coming to political Shiism, we find that some Shia Muslims in the Arab Gulf region are hesitant to include it in the big questions, not necessarily because they believe in it, but out of fear for the self – which stems from the minority mindset indicating that Shia comprise a smaller demographic proportion that is living among a Sunni majority, and thus they feel obliged to protect their entity through joining their ranks, even if these ranks included some erroneous sides. However, such a mindset is faulty, since the protective framework of both individuals and societal sectors is the state, rather than the sect.

This sense of existential threat is anticipated by all religious, sectarian, add ethnic minorities in the Arab World, such as the Shia, Alawites, Druze, Armenians, Kurds, Copts, and others. Moreover, this anticipation is exacerbated by the presence of hostile opponents of these minorities, as by the fundamentalist religious trends and Arab ultra-nationalist tendencies. This situation pushes these minorities to move to a unconscious seclusion, which was enhanced by a ghetto mentality which some of these communities are incapable of departing from.

On the other hand, the ongoing process of modernization and development in the Arab Gulf region in general, and in Saudi Arabia in particular, shall have a great impact on reducing that anticipation amongst the minorities, and would help them abandon their seclusion, particularly after the lawful ban of extremist voices that were enhancing that sectarian mentality, as now any act of holding the others for infidels is prohibited and prosecutable.

There is no doubt that through enshrining the concepts of all-encompassing citizenship, equal opportunity policies, and the engagement of all societal components in the state’s security, civil, military, and governmental institutions should dismantle these sectarian cantons, add make the criticism of political Islam an easier task. It should also urge additional numbers of intellectuals and social activists to take part in the serious and objective process of self-scrutiny. Such an approach would also weaken hostile external rhetoric, be it from the proponents of Wilayat al-Faqih concept [Shia creed that the ruler of the Shia nation is a direct representative of the Divine entity] or from the Muslim Brotherhood. This approach will surely diminish their capability to influence our societies.

However, this shouldn’t entail that Arab Shia communities in the Gulf region are void of intellectuals who have their own say on political Shiism. The Shia are a vivid society that has diversity and variety of trends and mindsets. Thus, it is no wonder to hear some of those Shia intellectuals voicing their illuminative and sometimes blunt opinions. A thorough glimpse at what is being published by newspapers and social media platforms, or at the guests hosted by satellite TV stations would reveal several of such daring personalities and their independent opinions on several levels.

In December 2021, Al-Arabiyah Satellite TV’s anchorman Khalid Madkhali hosted the Kuwaiti thinker Fakhir al-Sultan in “A Direct Question” episode titled “The Wilayat al-Faqih Concept Under Scrutiny”. In November of the same year, the critic Muhammad al-Harz was hosted by Abdulrahman Abu-Malih’s podcast named “Finjan” on the radio station Thamaniyah, and the theme was “Shia identity in Saudi Arabia, and the Ideological Conflict.” Both episodes contained a whole lot of earnest and objective discussions that tackled critical issues through a calm and logical analysis, afar from any passionate slogans, reactions, or populist discourse.

What was presented by Al-Sultan and Al-Harz in these two episodes proves that discussing sectarian taboos is not impossible, and that even the most thorny and critical of issues could be inquired upon and discussed, away from any quarrels, curses, or mutual disrespect.

The problem with several sides that criticize political Shiism is that they deal with it from an immature political and intellectual standpoint, which turn their discourse into a rejected populist one that falls into the trap of racism, sectarianism, and alienation of the other, instead of laying the foundations for an illuminated acceptance of diversity that relieves the mindsets from the grip of ‘political holiness’.

Genuine critique is one that stays away from hatred, sectarianism, populist discourse, and the settling of partisan and political scores. It is a critique that seeks to understand the issue before examining it, which is lacking by several of today’s intellectuals. Hence, one must remember that in order for an impact to last long, it must be governed by a deep philosophical vision in the discussion of the big questions, and a disconnection from fame or individual tendencies.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Lebanese news outlet Annahar al-Arabi.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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