Ithnaasharia Sect in Yemen [Archives:2002/02/Reportage]
The term Islamists is still a vague one and this necessitates that Islamists movements should categorize themselves in a drive to build up coalitions amongst themselves. Unfortunately, the Islamic movements still make the same mistakes as they used to do in the past by presenting themselves as preaching bodies rather than political ones.
I believe that if these movements presented themselves as civil society organizations and actively took part in the social life they would be in a better situation, particularly in Yemen. These movements have taken advantage of the available democratic atmosphere in Yemen. Though their activities are still restricted to preaching, they have benefited, in some ways, from the available democracy by keeping themselves away from the hegemony of the other influential movements existing in Yemen.
I have written many articles about the Islamic movements in Yemen and their relations with power, but I stopped writing about them owing to the pressures exerted on me. In the present article I will attempt to spotlight the Shiite sect, namely the Ithnaasharia sect in Yemen, its activities and relations with power.
Ja’afarid Shiite in Yemen
The word Shiite in Arabic means to follow. The Ja’afarid Shiite sect is traced back to Ali bin Abi Talib, the third Islamic Caliph after the death of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him.) The word Ithnaasharia means, in Arabic, twelve and they were given this name because they believe in twelve imams starting from Ali bin Abi Talib down to the twelfth Imam, Mohammed bin al-Hussein al-Asskari. Al-Asskari was born in Samura in 256 according to the Islamic calendar. The Ithnaasharia believes that Imam al-Asskari would come back to earth to bring justice and to kill al-Massikh al-Dajal. I do not like to go deeper regarding the beliefs of this sect but I d’ like to draw the readers attention to the different beliefs of the different Shiite groups in Yemen.
Emergence of the Ithnaasharia sect in Yemen
It is difficult to specifically trace back the beginning of the Shiite sect in Yemen, but it properly started its activities in the 1980s when a group of students traveled to both Syria and Iran with the view of learning the Shiite teachings at the Shiite schools there. These students took advantage of the Imam Khamini’s willingness to spread and support the Shiite doctrine in the Arabian peninsula.
Some of the students who received their study in Syria formed a political party called the Revolutionary Islamic Forces Union in Syria which was headed by al-Hathiri and Ahmad Abdulla al-Zaidi was the Secretary-General. The party used to have its own mouthpiece under the name Justice. After the adoption of the political pluralism in Yemen in 1990 the party started its political and preaching activities in Yemen; however, it halted its activities in the late 1995 due to unspecified reasons.
The preaching activities of the Shiite group in Yemen began in the mid 1990s depending on publicly holding its religious celebrations and establishing their own religious centers. A large part of the funds disbursed on the activities of this group has been provided by some Iranian religious institutions. Some of the religious institutes established by this group are: al-Hussainiah Center in Serwah – Mareb, al-Kawthar Islamic Cultural Center, in Sana’a 1999, and al-Thakalin Center in Sana’a in 2001. Further, there are many bookshops that deal with the books and publications of this sect, like al-A’akidah House, al-Kalimah al-Taybah and others. Yet, the activities of this sect are still limited in comparison to the other Islamic sects and it does not have its own authoritative resources.
Although the activities of this sect have been halted after dissolving the party, this sect still have a progressive vision about democracy, and it also has the freedom to practice both the political and preaching activities. Many of the leading figures of this sect have left the country, especially after they had undergone several acts of harassment by the people in authority. However, they supported the People General Congress during elections against the Islah Party because the latter holds strong opposing beliefs to that of this sect.
Aziz Hassan al-Zaidi noted that the dissolved party of the Ithnaasharia sect used to depend on both political and religious principles, adding that the current activities of the sect were more cultural. The deep loyalty to the relatives of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) has vital importance in the beliefs of the Ithnaasharia,” he added.
Answering a question about the funding sources of the institutions of this group, Aziz al-Zaidi said they depended on the assistance provided by some societies run by the people of the sect. He denounced the way Islamic textbooks in the new school curricula have been presented, which he described as undemocratic. The different Shiite groups have objected to the new school curricula, except for some entities that benefited from it. We call on the government and all the committees which produced that curricula to review it and reproduce it in a new way that does not bias towards any group and keeps solidarity amongst the different Islamic groups, he concluded.