Interviewed by Al-Ahali Newspaper in coordination with Yemen Post
This issue’s interview is with Abdullah Al-Shamahi, professor of Islamic History at Sana’a University, who methodically divides Zaidism into three schools. Over its history, there was an ideological overlap between the movement and the ancient religions influencing the positive aspects of the Zaidi School which represents an open political and scientific movement. Below are the details.
Inducting the Shitism history, we find it focusing on both ideologies the Jewish the Promised Land and the Christian Redemption, the question is: what is common between the two religions, from one side, and what is common between them and Shitism from the other side?
Dr. Abdullah Shamahi: Ancient religions influenced each other, for instance, what happened during the Middle Ages in Europe, when religious beliefs such as the divine right enshrined in the Persian-Indian ideology had impacts on Judaism and Christianity. The belief stemmed from the sects of some classes that God entrusted them with politics, leadership, scientific leadership and religious reference.
The Islamic world then was not affected by the belief very much as were other nations, and that was because religious orders in Islam were strictly tied to the written text, which is the Quran that was delivered by Allah to Prophet Mohammed.
How did other faiths have an influence on Islam?
Shamahi: Through those Indians and Persians who embraced Islam. Some of them went mixing the Islamic culture and their old cultures. The Shiites were the first to do so.
Was Shitism a political movement that had no relationship with sects in its early emergence?
Shamahi: Shitism was not a religious movement at all. It started as a political group supporting ‘Imam Ali’ in his disputes. In other words, it was only a politically-focused movement. It, however, was not different from other Muslim groups in regard to main beliefs and conception. They believed in the caliphs Abu Bakr and Omer, and so did the Zaidi scholars.
How long did first Shitism line exist?
Shamahi: It survived for long periods. The movement experienced over time new influence factors because of the prevalence of the divine right concept and due to the majority of those who embraced Islam from orient countries which deeply affected the first Shitism foundation. Then the matter turned into an ideological issue. This happened because of the interaction and interrelationship among the groups.
How did the idea come at first?
Shamahi: Muslim and non-Muslim Historians mention that the overlap between Islam and Shitism occurred when the first Shiite met with the divine right believers and in the wake of conquests. The Shiite believed in sects but when Islam spread, the overlap took place. Al-Hussein Bin Ali also married the daughter of the Persian King Yaszd Jord (Shahr Bano). Then the Shiite said that those who should rule must be of the class of Arab-Persian blood, referring to Hussein and Shar Bano.
How did Imam Al Hadi come to Yemen?
Shamahi: Al Hadi arrived to Yemen in reply to the invitation of some tribes to reconcile them, and his arrival story is well-known. He brought soldiers and leaders with him and he even married some to his daughters.
Besides the impact of the Persian culture in regard to the divine right issue, can we say that Imam Al Hadi came to Yemen as a ruler and had political ambitions?
Shamahi: Why not? When Al Hadi entered Yemen, according to Zaidi historians, Zaidism had some changes. These historians claim Zaidism before him was different to the post-Hadi Zaidism.
How was it before he came to Yemen?
Shamahi: Pre-Hadi Zaidism was not like what we understand now. It was just a political and scientific movement school whose fans moved among Islamic states like other Muslim groups. It was not different from other groups, but its common characteristic was that it was a political opposition group.
Did the Yemeni old Zaidism and Hadism mix later?
Shamahi: Zaidism in Yemen was a political and scientific group like other Zaidi groups in the Islamic World, but when Al Hadi arrived in the country the movement acquired new ideological ideas such as the one limiting leadership to those who descend from Hussein Bin Ali and his Persian wife Shahr Bano. The idea has negatively affected the core Zaidism and seemed unfamiliar to Islam.
Is current Zaidism an extension of the Hadi School?
Shamahi: No it is not, but it is the extension of the three first Shiite schools.
What about the mentioning of (Al Al-Beit), those who descend of Prophet Mohammed, in Quran and the prophetic speech?
Shamahi: Al Al-Beit are the wives of Prophet Mohammed and the texts of Quran and prophetic speech clearly refer to them. This is misunderstood today.
What does the concept of Al Al Beit mean for you?
Shamahi: The concept carries the Muslim nation’s reference that has the right to select rulers. And the verse the Zaidis cite and take as a general rule that has the meaning of ‘But Allah likes to clear you Al Al Beit,’ was delivered for the wives of Prophet Mohammed. Moreover, Zaidis argue over the wives citing Prophetic Hadiths that were not approved by their predecessors.
The Saada crisis is a political movement based on an ideological foundation; hence, it can’t be compared to the situation in the south where the southern anti-government movement is an absolute political doctrine?
Shamahi; We should look into the Houthi movement carefully, because some have been exploiting disorders for special interests. This happens, but religious and national apostasy is unacceptable.
Do you think the war in Sa’ada is linked to external and regional interests?
Shamahi: Yes. The insurgency in the far north is tied to external interests and its main goal is not focused on Yemen alone.
Does your speech imply Iran’s involvement?
Shamahi: Iran is a Muslim republic and is experiencing an internal revolt. I expect the Islamic Republic of Iran to see many changes towards the best of its interest. Today, there is conflict between the divine right forces and modernity and reform forces.
Is Iran a dangerous state for the region?
Shamahi: Yes, it is, because its involvement in a sectarian conflict is unnecessary and presents a grave disaster.
Do you see Wahabism, in Saudi Arabia dangerous for the region, because it exports an extreme ideology?
Shamahi: As I said before, my speech is never within sects. The Arab World is experiencing backwardness that is not expected to continue the way it is; hence in the near future any thought that carries backwardness and isolation will be unacceptable whether it comes under Shitism or by Sunnis.