The Shia Revival

Posted: September 3rd, 2013





The Shia Revival


The military action of the United States and the post-Saddam building of the state in Iraq have released old blood feuds and sectarians, which were otherwise suppressed. In February of the year 2006, a number of Sunnis were engaged in the bombing of the Golden Mosque located in Samarra, Iraq. This is one of Shiite’s holiest places. Other Muslims were in riot due to the cartoons drawn by the Danish people depicting Prophet Mohammad. The United States has begun actions to enlarge the Persian Gulf democracy, which could make possible the collapse of the governments backed up by the Sunnis. These are open to the western countries thus they will unify the Shia resistance. By the look of things, the latter act of the United States makes news as compared to the former act. As his thesis statement, Vali Nasir depicts his feelings of unity, greatly emphasizing on the coexistence of the Shia resistance and the Sunni Muslims through and expanded democracy. This is depicted in his book The Shia Revival.

In the book, the author feels that the shaping of the Islam land will be done through the wars taking place. This refers to the Muslim against Muslim wars taking place in most of the countries in the Middle East. The author, Vali Nasr, is a professor at Naval Postgraduate School. He is also in the Department of Security Affairs chairing research in the same place. As the author states that in the years to come, Sunnis and Shias will fight for power. This will first take place in Iraq and then take place all over the region. The general conflict will play a major part in the Middle East definition (p.24). It is significant that a solution be sort out as soon as possible, striking a lasting balance between the Shias and the Sunnis, before further and deeper damage is done.

Origin of the Conflict

At the initial stages of the book, the author begins by analyzing the origin and the differences between the two Muslim groups. The conflict is estimated to have started in the year A.D 632. This was after the death of Prophet Muhammad. The Sunnis believed that the Prophet died before he had appointed the one to succeed hi as Prophet. Since there was no successor, the existing confusion led to the appointment of Abu Bakr, who was the father-in-law to Muhammad and his close friend. On the contrary, the Shia believed that Prophet Muhammad had appointed a successor prior to his death. They believed the appointed Caliph, who was the prophet’s cousin, was Ali ibn Abi Talib. However, Abu Bakr succeeded the prophet.

This initial conflict did not end with the appointment of Abu. Three of the four prophets who succeeded Muhammad were murdered. These assassinations brought a quest for stability. This came at a price of tyranny. Even after thirty years sine the prophet’s death, the conflicts were still present. In fact, a civil war known as the Fitna arose. These involved most of the prophet’s companions and relatives. The war was stabilized by Syria’s governor known as Mu’awiyya. He became the Caliphate.

With Mu’awiyya’s reign, came the Umayyad dynasty. By the time the civil was concluded, three sect of Islam had emerged. These were the Sunnis, the Shia and the Khwarij. However, the Khwarij sect is not considered by the other Islam sects, as part of the Islam community. This sect is mostly found in Oman and Yemen. Additionally, those Islamic sects, which originated after the Fitna are not considered as legitimate. This perception is most evident on the Sunni Muslims.

In order to emphasize on other areas of conflict involving the Shias and the Sunnis, Nasr analyzes the areas of conflict in matters relating to the Sharia. This law has four different interpretations in Sunni Islam. These interpretations are the Hanbali, Shafi’I, Maliki and Hanafi traditions. A part of the Sunni community believes that one should take one interpretation and then follow it to the end. There is another part of the Sunni community, which believes that mixing the interpretations is acceptable. This means that one can take the advice of one interpretation on one issue then take another advice of another interpretation regarding a different issue.

While the Sunnis view the hadith also known as the Islamic oral law in one way, the Shias view it in a different way. The hadiths are incorporated in a number of collections. The Sunnis perceive some of the collections holier and more authentic than others. This more so on the Bukhari collection. Similarly, the Shia follow some hadiths that o no much significance to the Sunnis. Such differences have played a major role in the development of the conflicts.

There are a number of rifts in the Sunni community. The liberal Sunnis believe that the Sharia has an individual basis interpretation. They also reject any religious edict or fatwa done by authority figures in the religious Muslim. On the other hand, there are other movements, which persecute and even torture the liberal Sunnis as they feel that they are in compromise of the values in the Muslim religion.

Relationship of the Past and the Present

Nasr gives a deep account of this history in the initial stages of his book so that he is able to give a good foundation on his argument. He also gives a background of the division and conflicts in the diverse sects of the Muslim community. In summary, the author explains that the Sunnis consider the sign of Allah’s favor to be worldly prosperity. Additionally, religious callings include empire building and engagement. Shiites, on the contrary, emphasize on the moral victories as compared to political victories. Due to this and other causes, the Shiites find meaning in personal martyrdom, social exclusion, material loss and physical hardship. The interesting thing about the two sects is that the Shiites’ Islamic essential values are the Sunnis’ post-prophet corruptions. For this matter, Nasr states that Saudi textbooks, which are criticized for their advocacy against Semitism, are as hostile to the Shia as any other works. They depict faith as a heresy form.

From a liberal Sunni’s perspective, it is all about striking a balance in the sects. However, these conflicts will never end. The Shias expose how the Shiite-Sunni power trickles from the classroom and affects the ground Muslim life. Nasr notes that Shiites were forced to fight for the cause of the Palestinians in Lebanon. This also included sacrificing the lives of their children, their own and their property. The fantasy of Ayatollah Khoimeini (which was about vengeance to the Sunnis’ arrogance) made him to appoint many boys from the village as martyrs in the 1980s’ war between Iran and Iraq.

Nasr identifies that the growing influence (through out Middle East) of the soldiers under Khoimeini’s authority, made the Saudi Arabians to form an ‘axis’ with the Pakistanis. These people insult the Shiites as mosquitoes. The goal of the ‘axis’ was to underwrite the conquest of the Afghanis by the Talibans. They would exploit this as a training arena for a number of the holy war attires. Nasr further exclaims that it was the worrying about the axis, which included the Baathist’s threat, which brought about Iran’s interest in nuclear weapons.

Nasr notes that the presence or absence of Washington’s interference does not deter the Muslims’ ability to conspire against each other. Since the book was written during the George W. Bush’s reign, Nasr feels that the government was underestimating the Sunni-Shiite rift. This was especially so in Iraq. Although he had adopted many slogans relating to secular nationalism, Saddam Hussein was a Sunni chauvinist, which was common in the majority of the Arab leaders. Nasr makes this statement by giving the incident where Saddam approached the Iranian shah, whom he asked for permission to execute the Khomeini. Khoimeini was then living in Paris an exile. The shah did not take up the offer.

Nasr feels that liberating the Muslim countries is not as straight forward as it may sometimes be explained. This is because their conflicts not only lie in political matters but they are also in both religious and other social matters. It is not a matter of winning or loosing, but rather a matter of finding a balance that will get the traditional Sunnis, the liberal ones and the Shiites to sit around one table and strike a balance. From a liberal’s point of view, the interpretation is the most significant as compared to the traditions and the questions underlying what was done or what was not done.

Liberating the Shiites of Iraq has stirred up their hopes of dominating the Middle East. This is no longer about representation. This might be the upstart of the Hezbollah and Iran’s militancy alliance. Nasr’s concern is that there might be a showdown between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which are representatives of the Sunnis and the Shiites. He predicts that the religion’s character will be decided in Sunni response and the Shia revival’s crucible.

Nasr addresses ways in which the American Mideast policy can be advocated as human rights, transparency and the rule of law. This are formed as the democracy’s cornerstones. This is mostly and omission in an analysis that is quite riveting. For most, United States is depicted as a super pawn despite being a super power state. Nasr feels that the Unites States can do little in stabilizing the conditions in these Muslim countries. The answer does not lie with the United States or any European state. The solution to this conflict lies with the Muslims whether a traditional Sunni, a liberal one or a Shiite.

It is greatly evident that the Shias form the other party in this conflict. This is mostly because most of their attention is on the Sunnissince they constitute 90% of the Muslim population. Although the Sunnis may appear to constitute a majority part in the Muslim community, the Shias are not ready to give in to the fight. The solution of the conflict lies with these two sects. They can choose to come to a consensus based on the teachings of Muslim that are agreed upon by both sects or they can continue to fight, not only affecting their own communities, but also others in addition.

According to the author, the Shias painfully learned that the secular ideologies and regimes may be present or not, but the biases of the Sunnis will forever be present (p. 90). This interesting point related to the crescent countries democracy expansion with respect to the Shia’s political flexibility. Form a critical view, the author does not make this statement with the aim of glorifying or marginalizing one community/sect with the other but rather tries to show that both communities, if greatly analyzed, have a right to their views. Each sect looks at the other community as though they are the enemy yet they believe in the same foundations of the Muslim religion.

One might think that the Shia would have gained from either of the remaining system type. However, the greater issue comes to why all the movements were not advantageous to Shia. In putting more emphasis on this issue, Nasr states that neither systems of essential social change nor atheistic acquisitiveness hold much attraction for the Shia. They continue to remain devout at heart and rather traditional (p.116). However, such a belief did not mean that the whole Shia community was ready to follow Khoimeini leadership. It also did not mean that the political leadership was in Iran’s power. The deposition of the Shah led to the populist theocracy resulting from the emerging Shia. The Persian Gulf’s changing landscape had started becoming visible by the time Iran was making its foreign policy so that Hizbollah could be incorporated. The desire of Iran to send abroad its upheaval would send quivers all over the Middle East.

The author further states that Khoimeini built a state, which would be a bigoted theocracy. The law of Islam was deduced and implemented to bind the minority and individual rights and remove all societal and cultural influences from the west (p.134). Due to this kind of prejudice, the gap between the Shia’s and the Sunnis became wider. The author does not long for the western-influenced administration nor does he talk in deferential tones on matters concerning the nationalism in the Arab countries. In the author’s perception, Khoimeini placed the fight in the hands of the Wahhabists and proclaimed that he was the guardian of the Saudi Arabia’s holy sites. On the other hand, the Sunnis reaction to the Shias was very negative. In the Sunnis’ minds, it was better to have a king than hhave an ayatollah who was from Shia (p.152). Such perceptions did not portray ‘brotherhood’ and the love advocated in the Muslim religion.

The author points out that the first Arab state with Shias may be Iraq, but there are many signs showing that it does not mark the last on the list. The most expected result is would be a United States worst-case scenario. This is because it would affect democratic Shia governments, which are popularly supported and have hostility towards the interests of the Americans. They also own the majority share in the global oil reserves proven. In addition, the Pakistanis who are armed with nuclear weapons may not be sympathetic to the cause of the Shias. It would be worse if the Iranis who are armed with nuclear weapons would also get involved.

Nasr seems to be in conflict with the Bush doctrine. This perception might be shared by those who feel that the invasion from Iraq was not founded on the true intelligence relating to WMD or the fact that it was a way of reducing global terrorism. The author may be asking the concerned administrators and governments to reassess the policy or policies, basing them a better comprehension of the unintended repercussions of poor designing and inadequate policy implementation.


The author does not support the Shia or Sunnis. He has only greatly expounded on a community, which is focused on less as they are a significant part of the ongoing conflicts as the liberal Sunnis or the other Sunnis are. The author main concern is that the intervention of Americans, the Europeans or any other people will not play any major roles in ending this conflict, as they were not part of it when it started. If anything, their interventions are worsening the situation.

In some Middle East countries, the Sunnis are the majority. In other countries, the Shias constitute the majority. In other areas, they are almost of equal proportion. However, their rivalry has led to the conflicts between the states with the majority of either of the sects. The governments of the states need to sit down and find a lasting, permanent solution without the interference of the outside states. It is no matter of the one who was appointed to succeed, but rather it bends more to whether the teachings that were first taught by the Prophet are currently being fulfilled.

As the title of the book states, the conflicts within the Islam countries will shape the future. Unfortunately, they will shape them to the worse especially since they are the majority shareholders of the oil reserves in the world, oil being an important commodity as water. The other countries can only encourage them to solve their conflicts as meddling in the Muslim affairs is only worsening the conflicts. This has been most evident with the Invasion of the U.S military.

Work cited

Nasr, Seyyed V. R. The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future. New York: Norton, 2006. Print.

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