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The Shirazis and the media

Hassan Al Mustafa

Published: Updated:

In 1968, a total of 40 people, divided into four groups, gathered to learn literary writing under the supervision of Sayyid Mujtaba Shirazi, the son of late reference Mehdi Shirazi in Karbala. This was part of their Resalah related work (treatise on practical law) led by Sayyid Mujtaba’s brother Sayyid Ayatollah Mohammad al-Shirazi.

Only four of these 40 people graduated from this course. One of these four men was Sheikh Ahmed al-Katib, the author of the book The Development of Shiite Political Thought, who later became critical of the Shiarzi Movement and the religious rhetoric’s nostalgia for the past.

What can be noted is that the Shirazi Movement was one of the most significant religious movements to use the media at an early stage. It was taken by the media and its guise, and it managed to promote its ideas, incense its opponents and recruit more followers through it

Hassan Al Mustafa

Early beginnings

In the 1960’s, a series of monthly books entitled The Sources of Islamic Culture was published over a period of 10 years under the supervision of Sayyid Sadiq al-Shirazi who is now the most followed reference among Shirazi Muqallideen (those who conformed to Shirazi’s teachings).

Back then, the Shirazi Movement, which was first formed in the city of Karbala, issued the magazines Morals and Ethics and Answers to Religious Matters.

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This early interest in writing and publication was addressed in Sayyid Hassan al-Shirazi’s book, Literary Work. Heads of the Shirazi school believe that Islam was presented to people in an old and unattractive way, which forced them to be distant from it. Therefore, it was necessary to formulate a new and beautiful rhetoric that carries the message of Islam and influences the nation.

Revolutionary media

After the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, the Shirazi Movement gained more prominence in the media, especially after it established good relations with the regime in Tehran and raised Arabic-speaking cadres. This made the Shirazi Movement among the top participants of the “revolutionary” media work.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Katib, who had strong ties with Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammed al-Shirazi, was one of the main contributors in establishing the Arabic-speaking Voice of the Islamic Revolution radio station in Abadan. He also presented a program called Today’s Iraq is looking for a Hussein for a year.

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People who did not belong to the Shirazi Movement helped establish this Arabic-speaking radio station, such as journalist Masoud al-Fak and others who belonged to the movement in support of Imam Khomeini. Some of these individuals later become opposition figures against the guardianship of the jurist and were interrogated and imprisoned.

Iraqi members who belonged to the Islamic Action Organization, such as Doctor Mohsen al-Qazwini, Sheikh Sadiq al-Abadi and Sheikh Saheb al-Sadiq were engaged in media work since the beginning of the revolution, either via radio stations, television channels and magazines and newspapers.

Education and training

In 1985, Ahmed al-Katib established the media institution which operated for few years and contributed to teaching media studies to young men who were not skilled at professional writing. Sheikh Katib believed that the Shirazi Movement – although it began dealing with the media in the early stages – did not know the real and professional meaning of journalism and relied on a literary tone that addresses instincts. He criticized this rhetoric’s “superficiality and lack of depth in analyses.”

The seminary of the “rising Imam” in Tehran, which included cadres and religious students who followed the reference of Sayyid Mohammed al-Shirazi, did not have a negative stance towards the media and did not prevent students from reading newspapers and magazines, like some traditional seminaries did. It even published its own magazines and bulletins, such as the magazine Insights. It also organized workshops on journalism and media. Attending these workshops was obligatory for the movement members and elective for clerics.

Political media

For over 30 years, the Shirazi Movement was active in the media and produced a number of magazines, dailies and bulletins, hundreds of books and thousands of cassettes. Then it began launching religious satellite television channels.

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The movement’s work in print media tackled three major fields which were politics, culture and heritage. Politics provided rich material for writing and these products acted as a propaganda tool in the conflict between organizations which operated under the Shirazi reference and opposing political regimes specifically in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Financial support from the Shirazi reference and Shirazi supporters as well as the facilitations which the Iranian regime provided - until disputes escalated with the Shirazi Movement and eventually led to severing ties in 1987 - helped produce this printed work.

The most important political publications are:

1. The monthly Martyr magazine, which began issuing its prints in 1980, followed up on the Islamic Revolution in Iran and its revolutionary rhetoric which it was in support of. Several men held the post of editor-in-chief there such as Sheikh Sadeq al-Abadi, Sheikh Saheb al-Sadeq and Nizar Haidar. The magazine included different movements operating under the Shirazi reference.

2. The weekly Islamic Work daily whose editor-in-chief was Nizar Haidar. It was issued by the Islamic Action Organization affiliated with the movement of Sayyid Mohammed Taqi al-Modarresi.

3. The monthly Islamic Revolution magazine which was issued by the Organization for the Islamic Revolution in the Arabian Peninsula. In the beginning of the 1990’s, the magazine’s name was changed into The Magazine of the Arabian Peninsula. Its editor-in-chief was Dr Hamza al-Hassan.

Changing the name of the magazine reflected a political transformation in the organization’s intellect. This was accompanied with editorial change as the magazine publications adopted a softer and more realistic rhetoric to suit the transitional phase which witnessed intensified dialogue and negotiations for the return of the Reform Movement members to Saudi Arabia and the suspension of their opposing political activity in 1993.

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4. The magazine Saudi Affairs, which later became a website, was publishing from London under the supervision of Dr. Hamza al-Hassan, who did not stay in Saudi Arabia for long after the Reform Movement was dissolved. Hassan returned to Britain and resumed his opposition activities from there. The magazine included political and legal studies and it formed the intellectual framework of Reform Movement members who defected and opposed the movement of Sheikh Hassan al-Saffar and his new political rhetoric in support of communicating with the Saudi government. The magazine which is no longer published cannot be categorized within the Shirazi Movement projects because its godfather had left the movement’s framework and adopted his own political orientations and intellect and eventually a more strict rhetoric following the Arab Spring developments in 2011.

5. Al-Baqi' Magazine was a Persian monthly publication affiliated with the Organization for the Islamic Revolution in the Arabian Peninsula. Said Khakrand was its editor-in-chief for some time. The magazine’s publication was also discontinued.

6. Al-Ahdath newspaper was a political daily printed six days a week from London. It began publishing in 1988, around 3 months before Al-Hayat newspaper began publishing from London.

The newspaper marked a transformation in the methodology of youths who were raised in Al-Shirazi school as they began to think in a more realistic way, to expand the scope of their concerns and sought to be present in the entire Arab media arena and not just the Shiite one.

Al-Ahdath adopted an approach that kept away from political propaganda as much as possible. According to those who followed up with the publication of this daily, the latter did not take opposing and strict stances towards Arab governments. The team included people from different countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Bahrain. The newspaper thus gained the interest of many, especially during the war to liberate Kuwait in 1991 as it covered the developments in details.

An editor at Al-Ahdath said the daily was printed late at night, thus it was capable of publishing more news from dailies which had concluded the editions for the day, like Al-Hayat newspaper. He added that Al-Ahdath did not compete with Ash-Sharq al-Awsat and Al-Hayat but sometimes it did a better job at spreading the news faster. He added that at the time, Al-Ahdath surpassed other dailies like Al-Arab newspaper that was published from London.

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Al-Ahdath’s publication was also discontinued in the 1990’s.

7. Al-Resaliah Culture magazine, a monthly political publication affiliated with the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain.

8. Al-Hoda magazine, a monthly publication that addressed political and cultural affairs and which was published in Iraq by Dar Al-Hoda for Culture and Information. It represents the thinking approach of the reference - Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammed Taqi al-Modarresi. The magazine is extant to this day.

Criticism and support of Shirazi publications

Some observers view these magazines and dailies as part of a historical era that was characterized by conflicts between opposition organizations, both leftist and religious, with governments in the region and as a normal product of change following the Iranian revolution in 1979 – despite the experience’s adverse or positive aspects. Others think these magazines and dailies contributed to forming political awareness, even if relatively, among Arab Shiite. However, some intellectuals and writers think these publications contributed to a political rift between Shiite populace and the regimes in states where they lived, which complicated problems and deceived young men into joining these movements “whose political ideology was immature.”

These different perspectives are based on one’s partisan political and intellectual stances. However, what can be noted is that the Shirazi Movement was one of the most significant religious movements to use the media at an early stage. It was taken by the media and its guise, and it managed to promote its ideas, incense its opponents and recruit more followers through it. However, this same movement fell into the trap of narcissism which inflates the self.

Jurisprudential, intellectual and cultural magazines, related to the Shirazi Movement or figures and their contribution to conceptual changes will be the next topic of my discussion in this series of articles.

This article is also available in Arabic.

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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.

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