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DURING THE DECADE AFTER THE GULF WAR, the opposition forces in Iraq have received worldwide attention focusing on possible future leaders after Saddam's regime. Among the various groups and organizations receiving such attention, those representing Islamic organizations are numerous. The perception of the US administration regarding these Islamic political organizations, however, is to recognize them as representatives of Shi'i Muslims residing mostly in southern parts of Iraq. This notion is borne out by the choice of a Shi'i high 'ulama as one of the three members of the Leadership for Iraqi National Congress, which is obviously supported by the US administration, the two other Leadership members being a Kurdish nationalist and a Sunni ex-military officer. [1] It is also common for outside observers to divide Iraq into three districts -- Kurdish, Arab Sunni and Arab Shi'i, represented by Kurdish nationalists, Arab nationalists, and Islamists. Each of the three areas is regarded as an integrated ethnic-like unit which in turn tends to damage the cohesion of the State of Iraq.

Such a perception poses the following questions; (1) Is the Shi'I community integrated into a kind of regional independent power against Sunni society? (2) Do Islamic organizations represent the Iraqi Shi'i community? Regarding the first question, here we find many scholars who deny this possibility. This is quite a different position from their Kurdish counterparts within the opposition movement, who constantly demand autonomy -- though not independence -- and recognition as a national entity. No exclusive Shi'I political party has claimed independence nor autonomy separate from Sunni society. [2] As for the second question, we may break it down as follows; (1) Is the Shi'i population represented exclusively by Islamic organizations? (2) Do Islamic political organizations represent Shi'i interests only? The historical facts seem to deny the former question -- the large percentage of Shi'I membership in the Iraqi Communist Party and the Ba'th Party in its early stages, as well as representation within other secular political parties.

In this article I will discuss the latter question, analyzing the basic ideology of each Islamic group, formation of its political organization, and its socio-cultural background. Here, I especially focus on the universality of the Islamic thought of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, the founder of most Islamic political movements in Iraq. Despite the trans-sectarian/universal factor of his ideas, however, it cannot be denied that the Islamic political activities based on his teachings have not extended much beyond the Shi'i community. If we do not premise a priori ethnically-independent Shi'i society in Iraq, what has confined Iraqi Islamic movements only to the Shi'i community? What kind of social and political boundary lies beneath sectarian differences? What caused the gap between its ideology and the actual sphere of its activities?

To answer these questions, I will briefly observe the history of al-Da'Wa Party established on the basis of al-Sadr's thought, and compare it with other Islamic organizations and its offshoots.


Hizb al-Da'wa al-Islamiya (al-Da'wa hereafter) was established at the end of 1957 in Najaf, based on the Islamic thought of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr. Recent analysis shows that the following forerunners affected the emergence of al-Da'wa; [3] (1) The reform movements of madrasa in the 1930s, led by Muhammad al-Muzaffar; (2) Islamic movements in Sunni society such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb al-Tahrir; (3) Islamic movements in Shi'i society in Iraq such as Munazzamat al-Shabab al-Muslim [4] and Hizb al-Ja'fari. These socio-political circumstances encouraged the foundation of the political party among the Shi'i population in Iraq.

The direct motivation for establishing al-Da'wa was, however, the serious decline of the roles of the 'ulama (religious intellectuals) and hawza (academic circle) in the process of secularization of the judicial, education and social welfare systems within the modern state system. Establishment of al-Da'wa was a clear reflection of the 'ulama's fears vis-a-vis the rising tide of Communism and other secular developments in Iraq -- fear against isolating umma from Islam, as Murtada al-'Askari describes, [5] -- especially in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. Grand maria' Muhsin al-Hakim was also one of those 'ulama who felt strong anxiety regarding the future of Islam and argued the necessity to re-establish its hawza and marja'iya. Various attempts to stimulate religious and cultural activities had been tried, such as the formation of Jama'at 'Ulama, and the publication of the journal al-Adwa'. Muhsin al-Hakim, as a grand marja', tried to reinstate and reform his marja'iya, reestablishing the 'ulama's netw orks by sending wakils (representatives) of marja' to various area, and strengthening youth activities in Islamic rituals such as mawkib al-talaba (students' march).

Observing the above Islamic movements which preceded al-Da'wa, we can classify them into two different phases of Muslim society's response to Westernization and secularization. One was a general trend of Islamic political movements not only among the 'ulama but also among laymen against secularization in the Middle East, regardless of sectarian differences. The other was a specific response limited to the 'ulama community among Shi'i in Iraq. Both tendencies are closely intertwined but they often contradict each other. Al-Da'wa can be located at the crossing point of these two tides. In al-Da'wa, the first trait can be seen as an influence coming from the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb aI-Tahrir (Liberation Party). In Iraq the Muslim Brotherhood was founded as the Iraqi branch of the movement founded in Egypt in 1948, and Muhammad Mahmud al-Sawwaf and Muhammad Faraj al-Samarra'i, leading members of Iraqi branch, initiated its activities in Mosul, Baghdad and Basra in the 1950s. Al-Khursan mentions that Sayyid T alib al-Rifa'i in aI-Da'wa was influenced by the Islamic thought of the Muslim Brotherhood. [6] As for Hizb alTahrir, several Iraqis participated in it in Jerusalem including Shi'i members such as 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Badri and 'Arif al-Basri, as well as Muhammad Hadi al-Subayti, who turned out to be one of the leading figures in the early stages of al-Da'wa. Both of them afierwards however withdrew from Hizb al-Tahrir because of sectarian tendencies among the party leadership, [7] and joined al Da'wa. al-Khursan also pointed out the theoretical influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Sunni Islamists, especially that of Sayyid Qutb and Mawdudi. [8]

Considering the number of Muslim Brotherhood members that were laymen, the faction traced to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb al-Tahrir can be understood to symbolize the popularization of Islamic movements throughout the Muslim world in that period. 'Popularization' here means that the 'mood of crisis' brought about the rise of the consciousness among laymen to the necessity for Islamic reform.

What happened parallel to the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and in other Sunni societies was a movement for the modernization of madrasa in Iraqi Shi'i society in 1930s. Muhammad Rida al-Muzaffar established Muntada al-Nashr in 1935 and started his educational activities, founding many modern types of madrasa. His purpose was to "narrow the gap between secular state-controlled education and the old madrasa, and .... to bring the religious and secular components of Iraqi Shi'i society closer," where Nakash pointed out "the existence of a bitter struggle between two opposing groups" i.e. between "radical modernist" and "extreme conservatives." [9] Though al-Muzaffar was an 'ulama (mujtahid), his efforts can be recognized in the context of popularization of Islamic reform movements, when we see the reaction of the Shi'i religious establishment in Najaf toward Muntada, which "did not recognize the Muntada as a true madrasa" until Isfahani issued a fatwa for its recognition after several years. [10 ] Many of the founding members of al-Da'wa were students of al-Muzaffar such as Murtada al-Askari and Sayyid Mahdi al-Hakim. Muhammad Sadiq al-Qamusi, also one of the founding members, had worked in the secretariat general in Muntada.

The emergence of Muntada in Shi'i society filled the vacuum of political consciousness following the withdrawal of politicized ulama in the 1920s. Here we can shed light on the role of Shi'i 'ulama intervening onto the political stage through its history. Needless to mention the important role of Shi'i ulama in the Najaf revolt in 1918 and the 1920 uprising against Britain, [11] Shi'i 'ulama played a significant role in leading society politically, especially utilizing their religious and social influence within the community. This is an obvious difference with Sunni 'ulama, whose "door of ijtihad" had been closed. Many scholars have taken politicized 'ulama for granted as a kind of 'traditional' characteristic among Shi'i 'ulama, such as Kelidar, who takes the examples of Muhammad Taqi al-Shirazi or Shaykh Mahdi al-Khalisi as "[t]he activists among the Mujtahids" who "rel[ied] on their powers of interpretation, and the deployment of the philosophical approach, to justify an energetic, even a violent campaig n in the quest for good government." [12] Except for the rare case of achieving solidarity among Sunni and Shi'i 'ulama in the 1920 uprising in Iraq, these efforts of Shi'i ulama to lead the community were usually confined to Shi'i society, to the extent that their personal influence and charismatic powers are effective.

This trait of locality in politicizing the society, i.e., personalization of politics, can be seen as the second phase of Iraqi Islamic movements among Shi'i, in contrast to the first general and universal phase. Al-Hizb al-Ja'fari and Munazzamat al-Shabab, both of which were founded by notable families of 'ulama in Holy Cities, might have succeeded the tradition of local politics in Shi'i society to some extent. Hasan Shubbar, Sadiq al-Qamusi, and 'Abd al-Sahib Dukhayl, all of whom played prominent roles in al-Da'wa in its early days, are from Hizb al-Ja'fari. [13] From Munazzamat al-Shabab, Muhammad Salih Adib joined al-Da'wa.

In the figure that follows, the various factors composing the Iraqi Islamic movements, which paved the way for the political thought of Baqir al-Sadr and al-Da'wa are shown. The vertical line shows the Elite-Popularization factor in the movement, and the horizontal shows Locality-Universality of the thought. Mu'min describes those factors which compose the formation of modern Shi'i Islamic movements -- universality vs. locality and popularity vs. elitism -- relating to the framework of modernity vs. traditionalism as follows;

There were differences in the approach toward activities among the leaders of Islamic innovative consciousness in this century. Some of them adopted systematic methods, in the modern framework. ... The others are those who are content with using individual and traditional methods. The most prominent example for each is Hasan al-Banna and Muhammad Kashif al-Ghita. The former is based on organizational and innovative behavior and it adopts a combined and minute style, which continues until today. The latter are revisionists.... [14]

It is clear in this context that Mu'min places al-Da'wa in the line of "the school of Hasan al-Banna" i.e., the modern school of Islamic trends. Al-Khursan also refers to the fact that al-Da'wa was closer to the Muslim Brotherhood rather than to the existing local Shi'i organizations such as Munazzamat al-Muslimin al-'Aqa'idiyyin, which al-Da'wa finally failed to merge with.


When we turn to the particularity and personalization of political activities among Shi'i 'ulama, we cannot neglect the existence of marja'iya and its political influence. Litvak defined marja'iya, Supreme Exemplar, as follows; "it resulted from the development of the concept of general deputyship (niyaba 'amma) which enabled the 'ulama to claim charismatic authority inherited from and wielded on behalf of the Hidden Imam and through socio-political processes which culminated with the reinstatement of Usulism -- the rationalist school and methodology for deducing legal norms -- in the eighteenth century. The spiritual leader or the Supreme Exemplar was determined by his superiority in the three major qualifications for ijtihad, i.e. 'ilm (knowledge of the law), 'adl (justice in the practice of law) and wara (piety). Of the three, a'lamiyat (superiority in learning) was held as the most important." [15] In Shi'i society 'ulama are not only seen as holders of strong charisma for mobilizing the believers, but a lso are theoretically authorized as leaders of society, and marja'iya can be recognized as the most systematized leadership. Marja'i may decide the political direction of the whole community of believers when marja'i is politicized. In this way, it can be an alternative or even a rival for a political party, as Rawf mentions. [16] Shubbar also pointed out that the development of "the Islamic political movement was delayed in Shi'i society, where religious marja'iya and 'ulama had long been its leadership," comparing to Sunni society. [17]

Al-Da'wa depended for its membership and activities on marja'iya in the beginning, supported by prominent 'ulama at that time. In addition to the collaboration from marja'iya of ayatollah Mushin al-Hakim, al-Da'wa was welcomed by the higher 'ulama such as Murtada Al Yasin and Isma'il al-Sadr. Both sons of Muhsin al-Hakim, Mahdi and Muhammad Baqir, also joined the party at the onset. The membership of al-Da'wa was almost the same as that of Jama' at 'Ulama, which was solely composed of 'ulama. This cordial relation between political party and marja'iya, however, has been changed with the further political developments around them. Before discussing these transformations in al-Da'wa, we will point out the basic notion of Baqir al-Sadr on marja'iya first, and then observe how al-Da'wa has transformed its stance toward marja'iya.

Basic Idea of Baqir al-Sadr on Marja'iya

The mood of reformation and renovation of marja'iya started from the days of Muhsin al-Hakim, but it was Baqir al-Sadr that raised the idea of the systematic transformation of marja'iya itself. Al-Hakim's main purpose was, as Ibn Najaf mentions, to preserve the independence of marja'iya from the central government and the transformation of marja'iya to the political pivot. [18]

Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr went further than that in the institutionalization of the internal system of maria'iya. Aziz describes that al-Sadr's effort was to reform the marja'iya which "lacked the means of enforcing decisions on the rank and file of the 'ulama" and in which "marja' traditionally made policies and arrived at decisions using an inner circle of close associates and family members to gather information, issue statements, and distribute religious funds". Al-Sadr aimed to "transform what he called the 'subjective marja'iya' into an 'objective marja'iya'" [19] This notion of 'objective marja'iya', i.e. 'marja'iya mawdu'iya' in Arabic, can be understood as opposed to 'marja'iya fardiya [individual]', which "used to be followed though the history." [20] In order to realize and achieve this 'objective marja'iya', or in broader terms 'marja'iya salihiya' (proper marja'iya) or 'marja'iya rashida' (true marja'iya), he proposed the establishment of new kinds of executive and planning boards for systematic ma rja'iya; establishment of various councils, through which 'ulama can accomplish their leadership; and secure the continuity of marja'iya. [21]

His idea of 'objective marja'iya' is, in a word, the endeavor for the "institutionalization of marja'iya". This notion has been followed and flourished in the thought of Fadl Allah in Lebanon, who was a close colleague of al-Sadr in his days in Najaf. After al-Sadr's death, many of the members of al-Da'wa (especially in the branches in Damascus and London) believe that Fadi Allah is the best theoretical core for al-Da'wa after al-Sadr. Fadl Allah's notion of "complete marja'iya (marja'iya shamila)" contains the idea of "institution of marja'iya", which "has gone beyond the mere trait of traditional hawza, and should not be a sheer gathering of jurists and 'ulama". In its political role, he states that the society = umma depends on marja'iya in both social and political fields, and umma will be fragmented and scattered if various marja'is persist with their own opinions and personalities. That is why he proposes the introduction of "institution of marja'iya" instead of personal and individual marja'iya, thoug h he affirms multiplication of marja'iya which encourages variation of thoughts and ideas. [22]

The Retreat of the High 'Ulama from al-Da'wa

The idea of Baqir al-Sadr embraces overall restructuring in various fields; relations within marja'iya relations between marja'iya and society; and relations between marja'iya and the state. As a political party, al-Da'wa aimed at realizing al-Sadr's idea in the second and third fields, in coordination with marja 'iya led by al-Sadr. In the last field, however, pressure from the state forced retreat of marja'iya from the political sphere, and further political circumstances encouraged this trend.

The first turning point was the withdrawal of high 'ulama from party membership under the advice of ayatollah Muhsin al-Hakim in 1960. Though being tolerant of the political tendencies among the young 'ulama, al-Hakim himself was not free from the unwritten rule of marja'iya not to get involved in direct political activities. Since al-Da'wa was condemned by the Communists and the Arab Nationalists, al-Hakim advised al-Sadr and other 'ulama including his two sons to withdraw from al-Da'wa. This move was further accelerated by al-Sadr's order to the students and teachers in hawza to keep far away from the party in order to defend them from increasingly oppressive acts of the Iraqi regime at the beginning of the 1970s.

This opened the way for the ascendance of non-'ulama members of the party to its leadership. A mixture of laymen and 'ulama at its headquarters became one of the characteristics of al-Da'wa, as Wiley describes, [23] and it caused several ideological conflicts among them, though not serious enough to break up the party. A typical case was that of al-Subayti, who turned out to be one of the most important leaders in the 1970s. He put priority on joint cooperation with Sunni (or trans-sectarian) Islamic organizations, rather than its operation in Shi'i hawza. This tension that existed can be seen in the example which al-Khursan notices, saying that some 'ulama insisted on the necessity of recruiting ulama to the leadership of al-Da'wa for ideological and political purposes. [24]

Al-Khursan proceeds to show more significant examples regarding better understanding at which point they clashed with each other: this was the reason why Sayyid Sami al-Badri in Karrada Sharqiya in Baghdad left the party and established his own organization Harakat Jund al-Imam. Al-Khursan said that al-Badri had concentrated his work based on hawza and husayniya, and that this was not a priority for the leadership, represented by 'Arif al-Basri. For the political leadership of the party the main concerns were, for example, participation in the election of the teachers' union. [25] Al-Subayti admitted the necessity for specification of political activities in the party, and describes that "people in hawza are good at interpreting shari'a and other judicial matters, but not at specializing in politics." [26] Al-Khursan empathizes with the significance of this dispute, as it shows the divergence of the notion to what degree they believed they could expand their Islamic movements. Al-Badri's notion of a sphere o f activities was confined to the ulama's traditional field of hawza, while others believed that they could spread their operations not only dependent upon the networks of marja'iya but to the whole Muslim world. In other words, it was a contradictory case between Locality and Universality within the party.

Impact of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and the 'Ulama's Exodus to Iran

The second turning point for relations between al-Da'wa and marja'iya was of course the success of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 and the execution of Baqir al-Sadr in the following year. These successive incidents had rather paradoxical effects. Establishment of the Islamic republic in Iran based on the idea of wilaya al-faqih shook the relative dominance of laymen in the party leadership mentioned above. The loss of the founder/leader, Baqir al-Sadr, on the other hand, made the party members recognize that they could not depend on the sole marja'i any more.

The Islamic revolution offered a new opportunity for politicized 'ulama in Iraq to find a way out of the harsh oppression of the Iraqi regime, and to flee to Iran in order to pursue broader political activities there. Most Islamic organizations had to move their centers of leadership to Iran, and under the protection of the Islamic regime 'ulama regained their political role in Islamic movements. This brought about a relative decline in laymen's leadership, and a new structure for the party was put forward at the Basic Congress of the party in Tehran in 1980. In 1982, the Council of Jurisprudence (al-majlis al-fiqhi) was set up in the party as a higher central committee. Introduction of Khomeini's notion of wilayat al-faqih also encouraged the political activities of 'ulama.

During the Iraq-Iran War, however, the negative influence of the Iranian regime on the party through 'ulama cannot be ignored, especially when the Iranian regime frequently tried to exploit these Iraqi anti-government organizations to attack the regime in Iraq. This pressure from the Iranian government caused a widening of the gap between its branch in Tehran and others in London and Damascus, which were able to keep their distance from the Iranian regime. This was obvious after the Gulf War. Calls for cooperation between various opposition groups based in London and Damascus urged al-Da'wa to find their way to compromise with other secular or western-style organizations. Their location made their stance different from those who were protected in Iran.

Introducing an Election System in the Party After the Loss of the Sole Leader

Fearing the impact of the Islamic revolution, the Ba'th regime in Iraq executed Baqir al-Sadr and his sister Bint Huda secretly in 1980. In order to overcome this gravest disaster for the party, al-Da'wa reached two significant conclusions. One was to recognize that there would be no marja'iya who could embody the 'objective marja'iya' by himself other than Baqir al-Sadr. This encouraged the inevitability of institutionalization of marja'iya. Mu'min contendss that "Imam Khomeini, as well as Baqir al-Sadr, was a rare case as a standard for religious marja'i and jurist, and it is impossible for all the Islamic jurists to be like Imam Khomeini." [27] Faced with the difficulty of naming a single person that everyone could agree upon as the most suitable candidate for next leader, collective leadership became necessary to fill the vacuum of loss of legitimacy under the sole leader.

The second decision of al-Da'wa was to introduce an election system at its headquarters. [28] Through the reorganization of the party, its hierarchical system was modified as follows; the supreme body for the party is mu'tamar (the Congress) which is to be held every two years. There the Leadership is elected and its term of office is two years. Leadership is composed of seven Bureaus, and the major bureaus are the Political Bureau, Organizational Bureau, Military Bureau and so on. Decision making in the Leadership is carried out by the shura system. Under the Leadership, there are Local Committees, Mahalla Committees, and cells. [29] Members of the party can obtain the right to attend the Congress after 6 years full membership, and after 3 years in the Mahalla Committee. This restructuring made the command system in the party clear under the supremacy of the Congress. [30]


In the newly established party structure, the relation between the Council of Jurisprudence and the party's Political Bureau has been controversial. The Council of Jurisprudence is composed of 'ulama of higher rank, and is supposed to give advice to the Leadership from a judicial and religious point of view. This secures 'ulama's higher position in guiding the party, but at the same time it may limit 'ulama's interference in decisionmaking in the party to the level of 'guidance'. Closely watching the recent developments in al-Da'wa's discourses, we can observe a symbolic example in a dispute between the Political Bureau of the party and al-'Asifi in 1998, and victory of the former over the latter.

Muhammad Mahdi al-'Asifi, the party's spokesman residing in Iran, announced his bay'a (=allegiance) to Khamenei in his discussion on wilayat 'amr in his latest book. This caused a problem between the Political Bureau of the party and al-'Asifi, and some Arabic media commented that this was a sign of a crack within the party, especially among the leaders in Iran and those in London and Damascus. [31] The Da'wa branch in London denied the existence of a conflict between branches, but revealed that there was a problem on the al'Asifi side. According to the Political Bureau, al-'Asifi was to be criticized as he had insisted on his personal stance in the official circumstances on whom he thinks should be imitated (muqallad), without asking for any discussion or decision from the Political Bureau or the Congress of the party. The Political Bureau confirmed the supremacy of the Congress over the party, and al-'Asifi was obliged to freeze his activities in the party after this dispute. [32]

Concerning this argument, the Political Bureau explained to an interviewer of Sawt al- 'Iraq, its official newspaper published by its branch in London, how it recognizes its relation with marja'iya as "(al-Da'wa) is not the face of a certain marja'iya ... and various marja'iya complement each other." [33] Similar logic can be seen in another statement of the party leadership. Ibrahim Ja'fari, head of the London branch of al-Da'wa, mentioned the relationship between the party and marja'iya in an interview with the same newspaper. [34] He summarizes eight principles in this interview and those that are relevant to our discussion here are as follows, [35]

1) Do not make any propaganda or show contentment toward a certain marja' whom the members (of the party) follow.

2) Do not bring networks or discussion among marja'iya to the party

3) The Party is not a show window of any marja.'

In refuting al-'Asifi's bay'a to Khamenei, a significant point in the criticism of the party was that they insisted upon the supremacy of the political decision-making institution over religious or spiritual leadership, and their firmness of maintaining the party system. In the above-mentioned interview, the Political Bureau commented as follows; "the party is based on the principle of shura, and it is based on the idea of difference of points of views. ... This means voting is the base for the leadership structure of the party, the party's Congress system and local shura in any area. ... The will of the Congress of the party is superior to that of the Leadership." [36]


Al-Da'wa can be portrayed as "a political institution independent from marja'iya"; in other words, its basic stance is political independence from the social system of marja'iya. The uniqueness of al-Da'wa can be summarized as a transformation from a traditional pattern of socio-political control by personal charisma to institutionalization of political movements. This is clear in comparison with other major Islamic political organizations such as Munazzamat al-'Amat al-Islami ('Amal hereafter) and al-Majlis al-A 'la li al-Thawra at-Islamiya ft al-'Iraq (Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI hereafter).

The first difference between al-Da'wa and the other two is whether they define themselves as political parties or not. Al-Da'wa is the sole Shi'i political organization which claims itself as a party, while other organizations such as SCIRI and 'Amal rather deny their character as political parties, though they do not refrain themselves from interfering in politics. SCIRI, which started its activities among exiled Iraqi 'ulama who fled to Iran in 1980, insists that it is majlis (=council), and sticks to its original style as an umbrella organization over various Islamic political movements. 'Amal, on the other hand, emphasizes its social and religious activities mainly based on husayniya.

The second difference is its relation with marja'iya. Contrary to the process of al-Da'wa's separation from marja'iya as we saw above, 'Amal keeps its trait as Marja'iya Movement, as it used to be called before it was established as Munazzamat al-'Amal at-Istami in 1976. Its activities which developed around Muhammad al-Shirazi are based on marja'iya, and core leaders of its activities are dominated by close relatives (al-Mudarrisi brothers, who are related to al-Shirazi) within the 'ulama circle in Karbala.

As for SCIRI, it seems to have two roles, one as an offspring of al-Da'wa leadership, and the other political leadership mainly dependent on the reputation of the late grand marja' Muhsin al-Hakim. The latter role was strongly exposed especially after the son of the late marja', Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, became chairman instead of Mahmud al-Hashimi, wakil of al-Sadr to Iran. His charismatic character as well as the reputation of his family as notable 'ulama descendants is emphasized in the internal networks of SCIRI. This ostensible characteristic as an extension of Hakim's marja'iya was specially obvious in the popular reaction to the assassination of ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, cousin of the late Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, in February 1999. He was believed to have been assassinated by the Ba'thist regime because he tried to enlarge his religious activities for re-establishing hawza and to increase its relation with society through the Friday Prayer. [37] After his elimination, however, it was reported th at there was a demonstration among the supporters of al-Sadr in Qum against Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, who, in their eyes, didn't show enough sympathy to al-Sadr. Al-Watan at-Arabi commented as follows; "information coming out of Qum after Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr's demise, mentioned the shouting of slogans that were straightforwardly hostile to Baqir al-Hamim.... Most surprising, however, is one of these slogans -- 'the al-Hakim family are a family of traitors!'.... Information provided by al-Da'wa indicates that the Iranian authorities arrested a large number of demonstrators and issued orders to the republic adviser to detain Hujjat alIslam Ja'fari al-Sadr (son of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr), whose office was also closed ... and a number of clerics believed to be associated with al-Da'wa were arrested." [38]

This means that al-Sadr's elimination was interpreted as part of a power struggle among religious families, i.e., between al-Sadr's family and alHakim's family, however the political parties tried to explain it in the context of their political ideology. As for al-Da'wa's perception of Sadiq al-Sadr, it recognizes him as "al-Sadr the second" after Baqir al-Sadr who was "al-Sadr the first" in his effort to reform marja'iya, and claims that he was a member of the party, praising his works highly. Rawf also considers that he has the same approach as Baqir al-Sadr for the institutionalization of marja'iya. He interprets that the encouragement of wakil network was carried out as a system, not through personal relationship, and this was to realize the notion of Baqir al-Sadr's "institutionalization of responsibility of marja'iya". His emphasis on the gravity of the marja'iya/ umma relation also can be understood in the same context as Fadl Allah, who repeatedly claims the necessity of openness of marja'iya toward umma. What is important to note here is the way in which how any form of struggle between political organizations might be translated into traditional-patrimonial family rivalry among Shi'i 'ulama. The perception of segmentation of society, its fragmentation to the level of clan and family, as re-tribalization goes on in Iraq, [39] and is not alien among Islamic movements that are seen as universal and cross bordering.


Here we can summarize two different styles of activities in the recent development in Islamic movements in Iraq as follows; one is institutionalization as a modern political party, and the other as a de-institutionalized body based on the social and cultural network of marja'iya.

Thus classifying Iraqi Shi'i Islamic political organizations, Gellner's categorization can be adopted and useful for further analysis. [40] Gellner classifies two types of Islam, one is the syndrome of characteristics called P, which are represented by strict monotheism; Puritanism; stress on scriptural revelation and hence on literacy; egalitarianism between believers; absence of special mediation; minimization of ritual or mystical extravagance, etc. He proceeds to say that it is not incompatible with modernity, hinting its similarity with Christian Protestantism. The other category, syndrome of characteristics called C, are illustrated by a tendency toward hierarchy; priesthood or ritual specialization and a multiplicity of spirits; incarnations of religion in perceptual symbols or images; a tendency toward profusion of ritual and mystical practices; and an ethic of loyalty toward personality rather than respect for rules. By "C" he hints at Christian Roman Catholicism.

This division is meaningful when we consider the variety of political activities of these Islamic organizations. In his classification, we may say that al-Da'wa's institutionalization as a party and its theoretical orientation can be categorized in the first group, syndrome P. 'Amal and SCIRI in recent times, on the other hand, can be categorized as syndrome C, as they are based on a traditional type of marja'iya composed mainly from politicized 'ulama. They underline the patrimonial structure of society in mobilizing the people. This can be recognized as an extension of the political activities of Shi'i 'ulama in the anti-British uprisings of 1918 and 1920, or like Muhammad Kashif alGhita who sympathized with the nationalist movement and maintained close relations with Rashid 'Ali al-Gaylani. [41] Here marja'iya is utilized as a tool for wider mobilization. On the contrary, al-Da'wa can be classified as an Islamic ideological political party for which marja'iya reinforces the legitimacy or political doctrin e.

This distinction can be ascribed to the two different functions of marja'iya itself. Salim al-Hasani points out two sources of the power of marja'iya; one is the religious factor, affording theoretical or ideological legitimacy as an academic intellectual center, and the other is the sociological factor, mobilizing members of the umma. What al-Hasani indicates is that these two work individually and independently in giving power to the marja'iya. It does not mean that the most brilliant 'ulama in hawza is always famous and popular among umma. [42] If we adopt Gellner's framework of classification to alHasani's two types of power source, the religious academic factor of marja' can be categorized as P, and the social factor as C.

This brings us to a conclusion that the discrepancy in the styles of Islamic movements in Shi'i society come from the different functions of Shi'i marja'iya; al-Da'wa highlighted an ideological and academic function of marja'iya more than its socio-political function which 'Amal and SCIRI put an emphasis more in the other direction.


Secularization and Westernization-modernization of the 1930-40 period affected Muslim society in the Middle East and caused two types of reaction. One is popularization of the crisis of Islam, i.e., the spread of the consciousness of the fear of losing the existing value system. It was a rather general phenomenon in the entire Middle Eastern Muslim society. The second reaction was from the narrower community of 'ulama al-din, who feared the loss of their traditional position in society. This was more apparent in the academic hierarchy among Shi'i 'ulama.

Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr developed his Islamic thought reflecting on these two waves. His aims were (1) to activate Islamic political movements in the framework of the modern-type political parties (institutionalizing political movement), and (2) to modernize and institutionalize marja'iya instead of individual marja'iya. The first aim was pursued in the context of the enlargement and broadening of Islamic political activities to include laymen. The second aim, on the other hand, involved regulation and systematization of the intervention of 'ulama in politics, which had been observed in a sporadic and individual way throughout the history of Shi'i marja'iya.

Al-Da'wa was designed to achieve both purposes. Though it was established parallel to marja'iya and most of its founding members were from hawza, political circumstances forced them to withdraw from the party. Consequently, supremacy of the laymen was established in the leadership of alDa'wa in the 1970s, and they introduced the organizational set-up, election system and internal regulation after loss of their sole marja'i. This process led the party to the separation of political leadership from marja'iya. We may consider the feature of al-Da'wa as a symbol of modernity, and that it represents the ideological aspect of marja'iya.

In contrast to the political development of al-Da'wa, other Islamic organizations such as 'Amal and SCIRI are rather inclined to depend on social networks of marja'iya in their activities. This is a part of the reason why they do not name themselves as a 'party'; indeed for them it is rather important to enter the political sphere without using the name 'party', which carries with it imported Western images. This pattern in the Islamic movement emphasizes the effectiveness of the traditional network of 'ulama or sayyids based on their sacredness, nobility of origin, or salvation of the soul. It can be acknowledged as an extension of the traditional social welfare network of marja'iya.

Dependency on marja'iya is also a decisive factor for locality or universality of the activities of Islamic movements. The organization that is dependent on the network of individual marja'iya is more likely to behave as a local representative for the Shi'i population. What al-Da'wa tried to do in the beginning was to overcome the local boundaries of individual marja'iya and to develop its activities toward the whole of Muslim society. Its internal frictions, however, often resulted in it being perceived as traditional rivalry of local notable families of 'ulama.

To conclude from what al-Da'wa and SCIRI achieved -- as the advanced forms of Islamic movements on the basis of al-Sadr's political thought -- it is clear that the effort to institutionalize the political party was successfully accomplished but the institutionalization of marja'iya is yet to be achieved. This does not mean, however, that the attempt at institutionalization of marja'iya has abandoned. If we believe what is reported above on the assassination of Sadiq al-Sadr, there still remain some forces to proceed with the reform movement of marja'iya inside Iraq. Shubbar suggests that the delay of political movements among Shi'is is because of the presence of marja'iya, and that after 40 years of experimentation with the political party idea we again see marja'iya working as an alternative to the immobilized political parties.

Keiko Sakai is a Researcher in the Institute of Developing Economies, Chiba, Japan.


(1.) Names of these three are as follows; Sayyid Muhammad Bahr al'Ulum, high-ranking 'ulama from al-Najaf; Mas'ud al-Barzani, leader of KDP; Hasan al-Naqib, Arab nationalist military officer from Samarra'. This leadership was established at the INC general meeting in September 1992. Ibrahim and al-Samarra'i discuss that the origin of sectarianism in Iraq can be found in the British policy on Iraq during the days of mandate. See Ibrahim, Farhad, al-Ta'ifiya wal-Siyasa fi al-'Alam al-'Arabi; numuwdhaj al-shi'a fi al-'iraq (Cairo: Madbuli, 1996)/al-Samarra'i, Sa'id, al-Ta'ifiya fi al-'Iraq; al-waq' wa al-hal (London: Mua'ssasa al-Fajr, 1993).

(2.) Nakash in his discussion of the Nahda party during the monarchy has claimed a larger share of Shi'i representation in the government. Similar requests have been seen through history, but this never developed into separatism. Nakash, Yitzhak, The Shi'is of Iraq (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994).

(3.) See al-Khursan, Salah, Hizb al-Da'wa al-Islamiya; haqa'iq wa watha'iq (Damascus: Mua'ssasa al-'Arabiya lil-Dirasat wal-Buhuth al-Istratijiya, 1999)/Mu'min, 'Ali, Sanawat al-Jamr; musira al-haraka al-islamiya fi al-Iraq 1957-1986 (London: Dar al-Musira, 1993)! Nakash, op.cit.

(4.) Mu'min and Shubbar mention this organization as Harakat al-Shabab al-Muslim, which was founded in Karbala'. See Mu'min, op.cit./Shubbar, Hasan, al- 'Amal al-Hizbi ft al-'Iraq: Tarikh al-'Iraq al-Siyasi al-Mu'asir vol.1 (Beirut: Dar al-Turath al-'Arabi, 1989).

(5.) Shubbar, op.cit., p.369.

(6.) See al-Khursan, op.cit., p.67.

(7.) See al-Mu'min, op.cit., p.25.

(8.) See al-Khursan, op.cit., p.96.

(9.) See Nakash, op.cit., p.262, pp.265-6.

(10.) Ibid., p.268.

(11.) During British occupation of Iraq in W.W.I, several Islamic political organizations were established by 'ulama, such as Hizb al-Nahda al-Islamiya (1916), al-Jam'iya al-Wataniya al-Islamiya (1918). As for the political role of ulama in the 1920 uprising and other resistance against the British, see Shubbar, op.cit. / Wardi, 'Ali, Lamhat al-Ijtima'iya min Ta'rikh al-'Iraq al-Hadith (Baghdad: Matba'at al-Shabab, 1969) / Ruhaymi, 'Abd al-Halim, Ta'rikh al-Haraka al-Islamiya fi al-'Iraq (Beirut: al-Dar al-'Alamiya, 1984) / al-Nafisi, al-Fiqr al-Haraki li al-Tayarat al-Islamiya (Kuwait: Dar al-Nahar lil-Nashr, 1995).

(12.) See Abbas Kelidar, "The Shi'i Imami Community and Politics in the Arab East", Middle East Journal, 1983, vol.19, no.1, p.8.

(13.) Though Hizb Ja'fari is an exclusive Shi'i political party and adopted the authentic name of Ja'fari which exactly means 12 Imam Shi'i, it was less clerical in color, as most of those who joined al-Da'wa afterwards were laymen, or lower-ranked 'ulama. In this sense this background can be also recognized as a symbol of the popularization of Islamic movements.

(14.) Mu'min op.cit., p.29.

(15.) See Litvak, Meir, Shi'i Scholars of Nineteenth-century Iraq (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) p.5.

(16.) See Rawf, 'Adil, al-'Amal al-Islami fi al-'Iraq bayna al-Marja'iya wal-Hizbiya; qira'a naqdiya li musirat nusf qarn 1950-2000 (Damascus: al-Markaz al-'Iraqi li al-I'lam wa al-Dirasat, 2000), p.69.

(17.) See Shubbar, al-Taharruk al-Islami :Tarikh al-'Iraq al-Siyasi al-Mu'asir vol.2 (Beirut: Dar al-Muntada, 1990), p362.

(18.) Ibn Najaf, Ta'rikh al-Haraka al-Islamiya al-Mu'asira fi al-'Iraq (n.a: n.a., n.d).

(19.) Aziz, T.M., "The Role of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr in Shi'i Political Activism in Iraq from 1958 to 1980", IJMES, 1993, Vol.25, No.2. p.213.

(20.) 'Allawi, Husayn, Hizb al-Da'wa al-Islamiya; ishkaliyat al-sira'at (n.a.: n.a., 1999) p.190.

(21.) See 'Allawi, pp.183-194 / Baqir al-Sadr, "Utruhat al-marja'iya al-mawdu'iya", translated by Yasushi Kosugi, Islamu no Kakumei to Kokka (Revolutions and States in Islam; in Japanese), (Niigata; Kokusai Daigaku Chuto Kenkyujo, 1992), pp.71-79.

(22.) See al-Hasani, Salim, al-Mu'alim al-Jadid li al-Marja'iya al-Shi'iya (n,a: n.a., 1993).

(23.) Wiley, Joyce, The Islamic Movement of Iraqi Shia (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1992). See also al-'Abd allah, Hamid, 1997 Hizb al-Da'wa al-Islamiya; zuruf al-nash'at wa al-fiqr al-haraki (Kuwait: Dar al-Qartas, 1997), p.24.

(24.) Al-Khursan, op.cit., p.122.

(25.) In this period, vocational and student unions were an important power base for political parties. Arab Nationalists and Communists used to compete for more votes in the election of leadership in these unions, and this political atmosphere might have stimulated al-Da'wa to participate in the elections.

(26.) Al-Khursan, op.cit., p.138.

(27.) Mu'min, op.cit., p.390.

(28.) Introduction of elections in the leadership brought a serious debate among the members, and those who were against it left the party and established a new Islamic party called al-Da'wa al-Islamiya.

(29.) This type of party structure is similar to that of al-Ba'th party and Communist Party. It is possible that al-Da'wa learned its pyramidal structure from these secular parties.

(30.) According to author's interviews with several members of al-Da'wa party. Also see al-Khursan, op.cit., pp.539-624.

(31.) Al-Wasat, 20 July 1998

(32.) He did not resign as was rumored at that time, and he returned to party activities after several months.

(33.) Sawt al-Iraq, 4 June 1998.

(34.) Sawt al-Iraq, 7 July 2000.

(35.) Of course it does not mean that al-Da'wa denies the role of hawza or 'ulama. In the same interview of Ibrahim Ja'fari, he mentions as principles of the relation between marja' and his party, "the party tries to defend marja'iya generally and does not let its role weaken in umma; the party depends on the suitable marja' for each issue; keeps on the positive relation with marja'iya." Ibid.

(36.) Ibid.

(37.) According to various sources, Sadiq al-Sadr's main purpose was to concentrate on social activities in order to preserve hawza, away from any political affiliation.

What he attempted to do were as follows;

(a) emphasizing the importance of Friday Prayer and tried to revive it.

(b) criticizing negative attitude of marja'iya toward daily life of the people, tried to keep in touch with the society.

(c) maintaining a normal relation with tribal society especially, to which the Government started to adopt tribal customary law in order to manipulate them in its re-tribalization policy after the Gulf War.

(d) underlining activities of wakil of marja' to revitalize hawza through their network.

(e) reforming of hawza as an educational system by modernizing contents of lessons.

See Rawf, 'Adil, Muhammad Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr: marja'iyat al-maydan: mashuru'a al-taghiyiri wa waqai' al-ightiyal (Damascus: al-Markaz al-'Iraqi li al-I'lam wa al-Dirasat, 1999).

(38.) Al-Watan al-'Arabi, 19 March 1999.

(39.) See Baram, Amatzia, "Neo-Tribalism in Iraq 1991-1996", International Journal of Middle East Studies, 1997, no.29.

(40.) Gellner, E., "A Pendulum Swing Theory of Islam", Roland Robertson ed., Sociology of religion: selected readings, (Harmondsworth: Penguin Education, 1969), p130.

(41.) See Abbas, Hasan Ali Turki, Imam Kashif al-Ghita, the reformist Marji' in the Shiah school of Najaf (Ph.D dissertation, University of Arizona, 1997).

(42.) Al-Hasani, op.cit., pp.15-19.


(Religious Elite)

Muhsin al-Hakim's Reform of Hawza

Politicized Shi'i 'Ulama

Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr


Muntada al-Nashr

Shi'i political organizations such as Al-Hizb al-Ja 'fari


Muslim Brotherhood


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Author:Sakai, Keiko
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Jan 1, 2001

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