The Shi‘a of Saudi Arabia at a Crossroads

by Toby Matthiesen | published May 6, 2009

Deep in the morass of YouTube lies a disturbing video clip recorded in late February at the cemetery of al-Baqi‘ and on surrounding streets in Medina, Saudi Arabia. An initial caption promises images of “desecration of graves.” Al-Baqi‘, located next to the mosque of the prophet Muhammad in the second holiest city of Islam, is believed to be the final resting place of four men revered by Shi‘i Muslims as imams or successors to the prophet: Hasan ibn ‘Ali, ‘Ali ibn Husayn, Muhammad ibn ‘Ali and Ja‘afar ibn Muhammad. The prophet’s wives, as well as many of his relatives and close associates, are also said to be buried here, making the ground hallowed for Sunni Muslims as well.

Debating Devolution in Iraq

by Reidar Visser | published March 10, 2008

In early August 2007, Jalal al-Din al-Saghir, a Shi‘i preacher affiliated with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, made headlines with striking comments to a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor. The cleric revealed in an interview with Sam Dagher that “a massive operation” was underway to secure the establishment of a Shi‘i super-province in Iraq, to be named the “South of Baghdad Region,” and projected to encompass all nine majority-Shi‘i governorates south of the Iraqi capital.

The Worldly Roots of Religiosity in Post-Saddam Iraq

by Faleh A. Jabar
published in MER227

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Israel’s War Against Lebanon’s Shi‘a

by Jim Quilty | published July 25, 2006

When Israel undertook its aerial and naval bombardment of Lebanon on July 12, one announced goal was to recover two Israeli servicemen seized by Hizballah in a cross-border raid earlier that day. The attacks upon civilian infrastructure—beginning with Beirut International Airport and continuing with ancillary airstrips, bridges and roads, as well as port facilities in Beirut, Jounieh, Amshit and Tripoli—were necessary, Israeli officials claim, to prevent Hizballah from smuggling the prisoners out of Lebanon.

Iran, the Vatican of Shi'ism?

by Roschanack Shaery
published in MER233

The Iranian state, controlled de facto by the conservatives in the government, promotes the idea that Iran is the center of Shi‘ism. It bases its argument on the fact that Iran is a Shi‘i-run state, whereas Shi‘i Muslims in other parts of the world live in states that are dominated by Sunnis, and so Iran is free to pay near exclusive attention to Shi‘i concerns.

'Ajamis in Lebanon

The Non-Arab Arabs?

by Roschanack Shaery
published in MER237

It is Muharram, the month of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, and the female-run husseiniyya in West Beirut is packed with women dressed in black. As the sounds of Lebanese and Iraqi Arabic dialects, as well as Persian, fill the hallways of this Shi‘i community center, the female religious performer (qari’a) signals that the ritual program (majlis) will begin shortly. She is an Iraqi, and while she reads from her thick notebook, a woman standing next to her reads the same text in Persian for those in the audience who do not understand Arabic. Some of these women are Iranians who have married into Iraqi Shi‘i families of Persian descent who settled in Lebanon after being expelled from Iraq by the deposed Baathist regime.

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Sanctioned Pleasures

Youth, Piety and Leisure in Beirut

by Mona Harb , Lara Deeb
published in MER245

Beirut is known internationally for a youthful jet set that likes to be identified with the world clubbing circuit, including such stops as B018, an underground nocturnal haunt reminiscent of a coffin built by Lebanese architect Bernard Khoury upon the remains of a war crime.

Basra, the Reluctant Seat of "Shiastan"

by Reidar Visser
published in MER242

On December 24, 2005, an Iraqi writing under the signature “Hammad” published a remarkable message on a website devoted to southern Iraqi affairs: