Sunday, November 28, 2010

Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula Statement Claims Attacks on Houthi Movement & Brief Primer on Zaydi Shi'ism, Salafism, & Anti-Shi'ism in Yemen

Click on the statement image to magnify

Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP; Qaeda, Qaida) media outlet, the Al-Malahem (Epics, Epic Encounters) Media Foundation has released a statement today entitled "Statement about Operations in Defense of the Ahl al-Sunna (Sunni Muslims)." In the statement AQAP claims responsibility for recent bombings that targeted the Yemeni Zaydi Shi'i Houthi movement in the northern governorate of Sa'dah late last week. AQAP has previously referred to the Houthi rebel movement as not a Zaydi Shi'i movement (which it is) but a "Rafidah" (rejectionist) movement that is "wearing a Zaydi mask." The Arabic term Rafidah (plural: Rawafid) is a derogatory name used by some Sunni Muslims for Shi'i Muslims, who they do not consider to be Muslims.

The attacks occurred on 'Eid al-Ghadir, a day when Shi'i Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad during his final Hajj pilgrimage stopped at a place called Ghadir Khumm and named his son-in-law and much younger cousin, 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, as his successor. Sunnis believe that the Prophet simply identified 'Ali's excellent personal character and spiritual authority. In mixed regions, such as parts of Yemen, the day is a tense one, as Shi'is mark it with celebration but some Sunnis view it suspiciously. Additional readings from both Sunni and Shi'i authors on the contested nature of the Ghadir Khumm evens can be found HERE.

Zaydi Shi'is theologically fall in a unique position between elements of Shi'i and Sunni interpretations of Islam. Zaydi scholars use selections from both Twelver Shi'i and Sunni texts as well as their own books of theology, ahadith, and law. Zaydi Shi'is are believed to make up between 25-30% of Yemen's population of nearly 23.5 million people. A July 2008 report from the United Nations Refugee Agency puts the percentage much higher at 45%.

For a detailed discussion of Zaydi hadith scholarship, see the excellent book of a friend and colleague of mine, Prof. Jonathan Brown (Georgetown University), Hadith: Muhammad's Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World, a part of Oneworld Publications' Foundations of Islam series.

Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen, a Ph.D. candidate in Princeton's Department of Near Eastern Studies, has noted the possibility that AQAP has undergone or is still undergoing a "Saudization" process with the influx of a number of high-ranking Saudi jihadi-takfiri ideologues and leaders such as Ibrahim al-Rubaysh, Muhammad al-Rashad, and Sa'id al-Shihri. A part of this process may include the adoption of more anti-Shi'i views. Johnsen notes that the anti-Shi'i screeds from AQAP have been delivered by Saudi members, for whom anti-Shi'ism is more ingrained due to the extreme anti-Shi'i sentiment that exists in the kingdom.

Salafi interpretations of Sunni Islam emerged in Yemen in the 1970s and 1980s from Saudi Arabia. Yemeni students who traveled to the kingdom for religious education often returned having adopted Saudi Salafi views, views that include rabid anti-Shi'ism. A number of Yemeni Zaydi Shi'is, such as the influential Yemeni Salafi scholar Muqbil al-Wadi'i (died 2001), from lower social classes (non-sayyids, not descendants of the Prophet Muhammad and the first few Shi'i Imams) became Salafis in a challenge to the dominance of Yemeni Zaydi sayyids in northern Yemen. Salafism was particularly strong in traditional northern strongholds of Zaydis such as Sa'dah and Razih, as Yemen scholar Shelagh Weir has documented.

From my personal experience in 2007 in the city of Ta'iz in central Yemen, anti-Shi'i sentiments are also present there. I purchased a number of virulently anti-Shi'i books and multimedia CDs in the city and had discussions with several Ta'izi Sunnis who expressed anti-Shi'i (Twelver and Isma'ili) views. I regret, for academic reasons, not purchasing two texts on the "history of the Rafidah in Yemen." A number of Yemenis in several areas, though certainly not all or even most, I spoke with, both Sunnis and Zaydis, were virulently anti-Isma'ili and Twelver Shi'i.

The AQAP statement may be downloaded via these NON-militant URLs:

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