In the News…
Late last week in Lucknow, India, renowned Shia cleric and Imam-e-Juma Maulana Kalbe Jawwad Naqvi held a news conference and formally called for Muslims worldwide to protest Saudi Arabia’s military invasion of Bahrain.
Demanding a complete withdrawal of Saudi troops from Bahrain, the impassioned cleric strongly urged the United Nations to intercede in Bahrain’s latest civil conflict and as a deterrent against further Saudi invasion, impose severe restrictions on the Saudi Arabian government, in particular the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation.
Nine days ago at the request of Bahrain’s Sunni King, haikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, a reluctant Saudi Arabia (The Kingdom hates playing the role of Muslim cop) deployed an estimated 1000 Saudi troops to Bahrain in order to bolster a beleaguered Bahraini Army and crush Shi’ite demonstrations that called for a greater expansion of democracy in the tiny Island Nation.
Shi’ite protestors participating in demonstrations against Bahrain’s royal family / government for implementing laws that they believe are increasingly diminishing Shi’ite rights and callously promoting an unjust economic system that creates cyclical Shi’ite poverty, were met by a mixture of Bahrain’s police and Saudi armed forces, a fusion of ill-temperance that resulted in the beatings and in some cases fatal shootings of unarmed protestors.
To King haikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Bahrain’s Sunni minority, the aggressive and sometimes confrontational demonstrations orchestrated by the Shi’ite majority were both threatening and criminal in nature,…nothing less than instigations of revolution, à la the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and now Libya.
As far as the Al Khalifa royal family were concerned, there would be “no stinking” revolutions in Bahrain.
The United Nations Security Council…Missing in Action?
With coalition forces flying hundreds of sorties over Libya in an attempt to prevent Libya’s (has anyone recently seen him?) “Strongman” Moammar Gadhafi from massacring thousands of innocent civilians in Benghazi, eastward in Bahrain, protestors that are being beaten and shot in the streets under Sunni government order – for wanting a more democratic country – are scratching their head and wondering why their cries for international help have fallen on deaf ears.
The reality of being an “oil-poor” country without having any discovered mineral wealth that the rest of the world is interested in buying / stealing, has hit the psyche of the average Shi’ite demonstrator in Bahrain like a 1991 Mike Tyson punch to the gut.
Understanding that every Muslim country has its own unique populace which comes with its own brand of different problems and different gripes, let’s concentrate on what appears to be the common denominator for unrest and anger in the Muslim world.
Throughout most of the Muslim world there exist a “I’m mad as hell and I’m not taking it anymore” attitude towards cyclical poverty…simply, the “haves” vs. the “have nots”, and an ideological split in religion that morphs into politics, which ultimately morphs into “control” of a nation,…always keeping in mind in the background, interested parties in Tehran with their own agenda, watch, listen and often instigate.
A family feud: Sunni versus Shi’ite
To an outsider of Islam that rarely gets the chance to “peep through the window” of a Muslim country, there are two basic questions, (1) “Who are the Sunni and the Shi’ite and (2) why are they fighting each other?
In an attempt to accurately answer both questions it’s important for the reader to understand that first and foremost, Sunni and Shi’ite are both Muslim and that they share fundamental religious beliefs in Islam that unequivocally bind them together as “family”.
Research reveals the differences between these two main sub-groups within Islam initially did not cultivate from spiritual differences, but rather political ones. Over the centuries, these differences have given birth to a number of varying practices and political positions which have in turn created a “family feud” in the Muslim world.
(1) Understanding the Muslim Caste System in Bahrain…how the rich gets richer vs. how the poor stays poorer
The “highest tier” in Bahrain society is occupied (some say reserved) by the prosperous Sunni. Bahrain’s ruling Al-Khalifa family is Sunni in faith as is their cousins, the Saudi royal family. Although in population they are the country’s minority, the majority of Sunni in Bahrain are (as compared to the Shi’ite) prosperous and they hold the highest positions in government and business.
The second highest tier of Bahraini society is occupied by Bahrain’s Persian Shi’ite, known on the Island Nation as Ajam. The Ajam comprise the majority of the country’s upper middle class / professional careers and as a result have enjoyed special “privileges” even during British governance. At the bottom of the Bahraini social “totem pole”, is the native Shi’ite, also known as Baharna.
The Baharna occupy the lowest strata of society and constitute 90 per cent of Bahrain’s labor force. In reality, the two Shia communities live separately and there is little intermarriage between them.
Baharna strongly identify themselves as Arabs not Persian and because they feel the government treats them more like “third-class citizens”, they proudly oppose the Ajam as well as the ruling Sunni.
In the mind of the Baharna, it’s an unjust caste system amplified by unequal economic opportunities that drives them, even in the face of death, to protest against Bahrain’s government / Bahrain’s royal family, which in reality is nearly all the same.
(2) Understanding differences in religious ideology in Bahrain
A definition of a Caliph: A head of state in a Caliphate, the title for the ruler of the Islamic Ummah; an Islamic community ruled by the Shari’ah.
As previously stated, Sunni and Shia are both Muslims, devoted followers of the Prophet Muhammad. Approximately 80 percent of the Muslim world is comprised of Sunni followers with approximately 20 percent professing to be Shi’ite. They share the most fundamental Islamic beliefs and articles of faith. The majority of the world’s Shi’ite live in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.
History reveals that two decades after the death of the Prophet Muhammad – at the age of 63 on June 8, 632 AD – a “smoldering” 20 year difference in opinion on who should lead the rapidly expanding “Muslim world”, including major differences in religious ideology, began to divide Muslims that believed that the immediate rightful successor to the Prophet Muhammad as the global Muslim spiritual leader should have been his cousin / son-in-law Ali, against those that disagreed in that particular philosophy of leadership.
Interestingly, both Sunni and Shi’ite both agree that Ali was the second person ever to embrace Islam.
Shia doctrine identifies closely with the belief that the children born between Ali and the Prophet’s daughter Fatima would establish a direct ancestral lineage for future caliphates. However in contrast, there were large numbers of Muslims that disagreed with that particular vision of “inherited leadership position”.
Sunni Muslims agree with the position taken by many of the Prophet’s companions, that the new leader should be elected from among a short list of followers that were best capable of representing what the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad embodied.
Indeed shortly after the Prophet Muhammad’s death, his close friend and advisor, Abu Bakr, became the first Caliph of the Islamic nation. In fact the word “Sunni” in Arabic comes from a word meaning “one who follows the traditions of the Prophet.”
Most importantly, Sunni Muslims believe that the first four caliphs -Muhammad’s successors- were the rightful and legitimate religious leaders of Muslims worldwide. (Pretty much as the Pope in Vatican City is considered the rightful leader of Catholics worldwide)
In contrast, Shi’ite Muslims believe that following the Prophet Muhammad’s death, leadership should have passed directly to his cousin / son-in-law, Ali. Throughout history, Shi’ite Muslims have not recognized the authority of elected Muslim leaders, choosing instead to follow a line of Imams (religious leaders) which they believe have been appointed by the Prophet Muhammad or God Himself. The word “Shia” in Arabic means a group or supportive party of people.
Shi’ite Muslims believe that the Imam is without sin by nature, and that the Imam’s authority is irrefutable as it comes directly from God. Therefore, Shi’ite Muslims often revere the Imams as saints and often perform pilgrimages to their tombs and shrines in the hopes of receiving divine Blessings.
Although Ali eventually became a Caliph, his “slight” by the Sunni was the genesis that began a rip in the relationship between Sunni and Shi’ite and ultimately created political distrust between the two Muslim denominations.
Fast forwarding to today, Bahrain is a country divided by a caste system that many believe unfairly targets the followers of Shia, a system that creates a cycle of poverty. In the middle of this divide, there exists a distaste / distrust of opposing religious doctrine that polarizes a people who are actually brethren in Islam.
With oil consuming countries “seeing no evil, and hearing no evil” in Bahrain, it’s important for real lovers of democracy to stand up and point out to hypocrites that wage war for selfish reasons that their lack of sensitivity for the plight of the democracy seeking Bahraini is indeed a reflection of their honor, or lack of.
As always, the New Orleans Examiner is interested in what you think. Do the lack of oil in Bahrain and the fact that Bahrain is the homeport of the U.S. Navy’s fifth fleet, blind and deafens the United Nations ability to chastise the Bahrain and Saudi government for clear violations of human rights? Inquiring minds want to know. Sound off.
Until next time Louisianans, Good day, God Bless and Good Fishing.