The Prospect of Normalization





The Prospect of Normalization



When distinguishing Wahhabism from Shi’ism, it is significant to note that Wahhabist theology has an unyielding commitment to bringing back the glory of the past Islamic civilizations. Shi’ism, on the other hand, with the emphasis of justice and the betterment of the future, differs from this theology and is targeted by Wahhabi community for ‘being wrong’ in their beliefs.
Hamid Algar states in his essay ‘Wahhabism’, Abdal Wahhab was impressed by the teachings of Ibn Taymiyya, a conservative Islamic scholar who opposed Christian, Sufi and Shi’i ideologies in his search for causes of failure in his own society. As Algar clarifies, however, while Ibn Taymiyya had not entirely rejected Shi’ism; Wahhabis have been more than eager to annihilate Shi’i communities. We have noted in class that the alliance between Wahhab and the Saudi family is an intriguing combination of politics and religion, that enabled the Wahhabis tor ise as a regional power.
Another argument put forward as to the causes of Wahhabi-Shi’i conflict is the historical root of the matter that polarizes the two parties. Lee makes the argument in his work Religion and Politics in the Middle East that the wrong doing by Prophet Mohammad’s companions toward Ali, that later led to Ali’s defeat by the Syrian governor and loss of the caliphate is at the heart of the animosity between these two theologies. Adding this to Lee’s emphasis on the common thread of charismatic leadership in Shi’i doctrines, one can understand the Shi’i community’s persistence in remembering their leader’s fate. The author’s depiction of the special status given to certain individuals (Imams) today in Iran is a violation of the Wahhabi understanding, as well.
Deeper insight and knowledge of Wahhabi-Shi’i encounter can be reached in the previous stages of Islamic history. Algar points to the declaration of jihad against non-Wahhabis as a crucial event that has instigated violence and turmoil between the two religious communities, which led to the massacre of thousands of Shi’i religious men. Furthermore, the Saudi-backed Wahhabis’ connection to the British and American governments that looks to create one single sustainable power in the region disrupts the understanding of ‘balance of power.’ I have learned from our earlier readings that the Shi’i minorities revolting in Yemen are illegally suppressed and killed by US troops and Yemen forces trained by them, I believe a solution can only be reached if the main actors are regional Wahhabi and Shi’i groups. Algar goes so far as to imply that the Wahhabi conquest of Aarabia in the 19th century could be linked to the Napoleonic Invasion of Egypyt, which underscores the need to break free from foreign pressure and avoid public anger especially after the notion of ‘Anti-Americanism’ has become a reality in the Middle East.
When political and religious authority was separated under the Umayyad Rule, the ideological differences between Ulama were exposed. While justice and continual divine guidance are top priorities for Shi’a, Sunnis believed that tyranny could ‘justify’ certain acts as long as it prevents civil strife and that whoever is fit should rule. If any solution to this vital encounter to be found today, the first proposition that comes to mind would naturally be within the boundaries of democracy and ideally far from war. In this sense, a solution that addresses the problems of the Shi’a for example in Saudi Arabia could possibly be provided through an autonomy of the Shi’i people in the region. Although I have learned in our class that this resolution would first be set back by the Saudi’s cultural and traditional view to possess an isolated community, the news of torment toward Shi’a appears to be alarming and requires action. It can be predicted that the Saudis would heavily oppose an autonomous administration in Saudi Arabia. One should remember the hostility shown toward American troops who were said to be deployed in the region to fight terrorism globally. Even if the Saudi government were to accept and facilitate a resolution for the issue so that the Saudi people do not revolt (such as by not recognizing the autonomy of the Shi’a region officially but still working with the administration); the governing of the region would requires particular Imams to be politically active just like in Iran.
As I have learned from our class lecture and Lee’s work, hard-war is not the only way to remedy dilemmas such as. Just as the clerical rule has gained power in Iran after the revolution through good works and charity , the initiation of Shi’i led Ikhwan could help ease the factional tension in places such as Saudi Arabia. The idea of Ikhwan was proven to be highly effective in Egypt, Iran and Turkey to ‘conquer the hearts of the people’ and focusing on the spiritually guided aid given to those in need. Gülen, a cleric in Turkey has gained considerable power through his many schools especially in Northern Africa in which the poor can be educated and given the opportunity to lead a decent ligfe rather than engaging in wars. This aspect of Ikhwan that has come to be successful in Egypt and elsewhere could surely change Wahhabis’ views of the Shi’i from ‘a threat’ to our society to ‘a boon.’ Drawing conclusions from Lee’s work, a possible half-autonomous Shi’a rule in Saudi Arabia would be eager to take Iran as an example and possess political pluralism that can satisfy the Sunni community in the territory, as well as the Shi’a.
It is still a concern and important to bear in mind, however, that the current Saudi administration does not allow the Shi’i community to be educated as they wish, which is a prerequisite of the solution put forward.


Lee, Robert Deemer. Religion and Politics in the Middle East: Identity, Ideology, Institutions, and Attitudes. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2010.
Nasr, Seyyed Vali Reza. The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future. New York: Norton, 2006.
Algar, Hamid. Wahhabism: A Critical Essay. Oneonta, NY: Islamic Publications International, 2002.

i: Algar, 8
ii:Mahallati lecture, October 10,2016
iii: Lee, 174
iv: Lee, 177
v: Lee, 203