Friday, May 01, 2009

Cyber Da'wa: Spreading Sectarianism on the Internet: The Case of Sunnis in Shi'i Iran


'Abd al-Rahim Mollazadeh, a.k.a. Shaykh Abu Muntasir al-Baluchi, a radical Iranian Sunni Salafi religious cleric based in London. He is an outspoken commentator on discrimination against Sunni Muslims in the Twelver Shi'i-majority nation-state of Iran. This in and of itself is not a negative. However, al-Baluchi's virulent anti-Shi'ism and practice of takfir (declaring Muslims from other schools and modes of thought and practice to be apostates) is a negative.

In his fiery lectures, speeches, and interviews, he regularly describes the "Islamic Republic" (so-called) of Iran to be a "Safawi" state, referring to the Turcoman-backed Azeri family (the "Safavids," in the surname's Anglicized form) who established Twelver Shi'ism as Iran's state religion in the sixteenth century. He also calls Shi'is "Rawafid" or "Rafidah," meaning "those who reject ["true" Islam]."

"Shi'a Crimes [in Iran]"

These are two frequent accusations used against Shi'is of all schools, not just Twelvers, by Sunnis in the Salafi mode of jurisprudential and theological quasi-school of thought.

In this propaganda motif, the current supreme jurisprudent (leader) of the "Islamic Republic" of Iran, al-Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei, is identified repeatedly as the head of the "Radifi" (rejectionist) government and a successor of the Safavids. He is also identified not as an ayatullah (literally "sign of God"), a senior Twelver Shi'i religious scholar, but as ayatul-Shaytan, literally "Sign of Satan," another frequent and quite juvenile play on words used by some Salafis against Twelvers. In return, some Shi'is refer to Sunnis by the derogatory term Nasibi (plural: Nawasib), a term used by some Shi'i writers historically to describe those individuals with an implacable opposition, and really hatred, for 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, the first Shi'i Imam (religious and political leader) and the fourth Rashidun (Rightly-Guided) caliph ("successor" of the Prophet Muhammad). Shi'is who use this term as a blanket insult of Sunnis do so ahistorically as Sunnis do not in fact "hate" 'Ali, in the past or present.

View a video of Shaykh al-Baluchi, in Arabic with English subtitles, on satellite television, praising Saudi Arabia and "the [Arab] Gulf countries," and criticizing the sectarian Shi'i government in Iran.

View another TV interview with al-Baluchi in which he recounts the crimes he says the sectarian Shi'i government in Iran has perpetrated against "the Sunnis."

Al-Baluchi and his followers maintain a blog through which they broadcast their views, Sons of Sunnah Iran on Wordpress. Posts alternate between English and Persian language.

A note must be made here about how "orthodoxy" is decided, in Islam or any other religious tradition. The very term "Sunnah," or "tradition," is a term decided upon through the avenues of state power. The vast majority of the world's 1.2-1.5 billion Muslims (a rough estimate) are "Sunnis," a general term that groups together those who follow (somewhat) similar (but not the same, and more often than not, quite different) modes of theological and legal thought. The term used by Sunni scholars to describe "Sunnis" is in Arabic, Ahl al-Sunnah wa'l-Jama'ah, or roughly, "Collected People (Group) of the 'Tradition.' As the late great literary theorist and academic-public intellectual Edward W. Said notes in his seminal work Orientalism, terminology and narratives, historical and otherwise, are determined by those in power. To draw a comparison with a well-known English language adage, "History is written by the victors." In short, the determination of what "is" and "is not" Islamic "orthodoxy" is a subjective process. Sunnis claim to be the "true" (whatever this means) followers of "orthodox" (read: "original") Islam, the "pure" religion as it existed in the lifetime of the Prophet and those they recognize as his chief allies, the Sahaba (Companions). Likewise, Shi'is, and particularly Twelver Shi'is, make the same claim. Both martial religious and historical texts, and a healthy dose of apologetics and polemics, to "prove" the validity (they say) of their claim(s). This is not unlike, for example, Roman Catholic-Byzantine or Protestant-Roman Catholic polemics, or polemics between various Jewish religious groups who consider themselves to be "the best" practitioners.

"Those who Reject ["true" Islam]," i.e. the Shi'a and the Jews. Some Sunni Muslims have alleged that Shi'ism was created by a Jewish convert to Islam in the classical period, 'Abdullah ibn Saba, in an effort to lead "true" Muslims astray. Many Shi'is claim either that such an individual never existed or that he had no ties to Shi'ism, which they claim existed since the lifetime of the Prophet. Shi'i scholars have written about Saba as well.

The man in the center is Yona Metzger, the chief Ashkenazi rabbi in Israel (a government post), who in 2008 said the Palestinians in Gaza (over one million people) should be "relocated" to the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, claimed that Muslims have no connection to Jerusalem, and who thanked former U.S. "Decider" George W. Bush for the war on Iraq, which has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

On November 20, 2008, on Sons of Sunnah, a blog post was published entitled, "A Rafidi Shia Infidel Dies in the US Army...'Death to America?!' ". The post is largely comprised of large photographs of Mohsin Naqvi, 26, a Pakistani-American first lieutenant in the U.S. Army who was a Twelver Shi'i. He was killed on patrol in Afghanistan on September 17, 2008.

Mohsin Naqvi with weapon in Afghanistan

Sons of Sunnah
incorrectly records the date of his death as October 20 of that year. Naqvi was afforded a full Twelver Shi'i Muslim religious funeral, complete with janazah (funery) prayers at the mosque he attended, led by the mosque's director and imam (prayer leader).

Rafidi Shia - SonsSunnah

A religious legal question has been raised by some Sunni and Shi'i religious jurists about the validity, in Muslim jurisprudential thought (of which there are numerous modes and trends of thought and opinion), of a Muslim participating in military actions on behalf of a non-Muslim state power against other Muslims. Numerous different opinions exist with regard to this question. Sons of Sunnah reports that Naqvi was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED), which paramilitary groups in Afghanistan, such as the "old" and "neo" Talibans have been using more and more often with increasing success since 2006.

Naqvi with General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander who began to pay off Iraqi Arab Sunni and Shi'i tribal shaykhs to become allies with the U.S. military forces in Iraq, a tactic otherwise known as "the Surge."

Janazah (Islamic funery) prayers

Hassan Naqvi, the deceased's younger brother

Interestingly, Mohsin Naqvi's reasoning for why he, as a practicing Muslim, could participate in what some Muslim jurists would consider a legally (with regard to Muslim jurisprudence) impermissible war, was not, inherently and divorced of emotional reactions, so dissimilar to what those Muslims who "decide" who is and is not a Muslim do. Naqvi's reasoning rested on his belief that "they" (the Taliban and the foreign mujahideen allied with them in Afghanistan/Pakistan) were "not Muslims." The Poughkeepsie Journal quotes his younger brother, Hassan, thus: "As far as he was concerned, he wasn't fighting against Muslims." It should be noted that it was not only radicals like the authors of Sons of Sunna who questioned the validity of Naqvi's participation in a war that is perceived by many Muslims to be a war against the people of Afghanistan, who are Muslims. A thread on the popular Shi'i youth discussion forum ShiaChat reveals that similar sentiments and questions were shared by many English-speaking Shi'is.

Currently, the U.S. is preparing to withdraw many of its troops from Iraq while simultaneously beefing up what President Barack Obama, he of "change," has deemed the "good war" in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Now, on to the "real point" of this post. While doing research (and it seems that this is all I do during the evenings these days!) for my current project, "The Art of the Martyr & Mujahid," I ran across a new thread, posted four days ago, on the English language section of the al-Qimmah al-Islamiyyah online discussion forums (Somali language forums) that reproduced the Sons of Sunnah blog post from five months ago. It included the same text as the blog post.

Rafidi Shia - Alqimmah

However, two new photographs were tacked on to the bottom of the post by its author, Abu Hassan, who is the main poster on the English language forums: the first is a photograph of former U.S. President George W. Bush shaking hands in the White House with al-Sayyid 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, one of the largest Arab Shi'i political parties in Iraq; the second shows Barack Obama, then just a presidential candidate, meeting with al-Sayyid Hassan Qazwini, an Iraqi-American and prominent Twelver Shi'i religious scholar and leader in the U.S. who heads the largest mosque in the country, Dearborn's Islamic Center of America. The purpose of including these two photographs is clearly to further link Shi'is with the Americans, or, as the producers of these posts view them, those who occupy Iraq and Aghanistan and who continue to meddle in the affairs of Muslims around the world.

Both posts include the same quotation of a verse from the Qur'an, surah al-Nisa, v. 145:

إِنَّ المُنافِقِينَ فِي الدَّرْكِ الأَسْفلِ مِنَ النَّارِ وَلن تجدَ لَهُمْ نصِيرًا

Verily, the hyprocrites will be in the lowest depths (grade) of the Fire,
No helper will you find for them.

The "hypocrites" (the Arabic plural noun is pronounced "Munaafiqeen") are those who pretend to be Muslims, but who really are not. They pretend to be Muslims in order to lead astray and harm the true Muslims. In this case, Mohsin Naqvi is considered to be a munaafiq or "hypocrite" by some because he participated in a war against fellow Muslims, whether they be the Taliban and al-Qa'ida radicals or, perhaps more importantly, the civilian population of Afghanistan which has been greatly impacted, negatively, by the continued foreign occupation of the country.

Although this reposting of a post from Sons of Sunnah on the al-Qimmah al-Islamiyyah (Note 1) may seem like "no big deal," I think that it is an interesting and potentially important example of how the Internet has produced a new meeting place for radicals of all stripes and groups (in this case, radical Salafi Sunni jihadis). More specifically, this particular example shows how threads quickly are reproduced on a wide variety of forums. Other recent cases include the reproduction of a thread containing a link to a PDF version of Norwegian jihadi studies scholar Brynjar Lia's book Architect of Global Jihad, a study of the al-Qa'ida strategist Abu Mus'ab al-Suri, originally posted on the al-Falujah Islamic Forums, on al-Qimmah al-Islamiyyah.

Note 1: The Arabic word "qimmah" (قِمَّة) means "peak" or "summit." Thus the name translates to "Islamic Summit."

UPDATE: I have verified that the al-Qimmah al-Islamiyyah (Islamic Summit/Peak, القمة الاسلامية ) online discussion forums are in Somali, with smaller forums in English and Arabic.

No comments: