Dammaj: Zaydi Shias vs Al Qaeda – the story behind a siege in Yemen – by Theo Padnos
Related posts: A war that remains unreported: The Saudi Arabian war against the Houthis of Yemen
How Saudi Arabia has corrupted Yemen to spread Wahabism
Editor’s note: Apparently, not unlike Pakistan’s Shia Muslims (in Parachinar and Balochistan) and Afghanistan’s Shia Muslims (in Kabul, Bamiyan and Mazar-e-Sharif), Shia Muslims in Yemen too are fighting the Jihadi-sectarian militants of Al Qaeda, the violent children of Saudi Salafi-Wahhabi ideology who want to establish an authoritarian Islamo-fascist Caliphate across the globe. Sadly, Shia Muslims’ sacrifices against the Al Qaeda and other violent Jihadi groups remain grossly ignored by the international media.
Here is an interesting tale of how Saudi Wahhabis (the real mentors, creators, financiers and protectors of the Al Qaeda, Taliban, Sipah-e-Sahaba and other violent Jihadi-sectarian organizations) tried to establish a Jihadi madrassa, an Al Qaeda University, in Dammaj, a Shia village right in the centre of the Zaydi Shia region in North Yemen. Zaydi Shias comprise 45 to 50% of Yemen’s population and are estimated to be about 90% of the population in Northern part of Yemen. The aim of creating an Al Qaeda madrassa in Dammaj was not only to spread the Salafi-Wahhabi jihadism across the world including the Western world but also to start converting “infidel” Shia Muslims to true Islam (i.e., Saudi Salafi Islam) and to act as a strategic centre right in the heart of Zaydi Shia region. Not surprisingly, there are some news reports which suggest that Pakistan’s military establishment too helped the Wahhabi-Salafis in their war against Zaydi Shias.
Yemen, particularly its southern part, is an ideal venue for Al-Qaeda’s activities. This is bin Laden’s father’s homeland, and he has a significant following here. Al-Qaeda enjoys little support among the large Shiite (Zaydi) minority concentrated in the north, but elsewhere it is able to capitalize on popular Wahhabi-Jihadi agenda. It is able to exploit the fact that the current regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh is tightly aligned with the Saudi-Wahhabi government.(End note).
Source: Adapted from TNR
The worst moments in the siege of Dammaj came in late November and early December 2011. During those weeks, the villagers in this little-visited, extraordinarily pious settlement in the northwest corner of Yemen had no access to the only hospital in the region, and dwindling supplies of food. Meanwhile, from day to day, snipers in the hills picked off the citizens as they walked to their mosque.
The origins of this conflict lie in the Saudi Wahhabi agenda to Wahhabi-ise the Islamic world and to establish an Islamic Wahhabi Caliphate across the globe (edited). The attacking army is made up of fighters who adhere to a tradition within Shia Islam known as Zaydism. Most of the 10,000 villagers are students in an academy that considers itself one of the world’s foremost centers for the study of Wahhabi Islam (Majority of Sunnis Muslims in the world do not adhere to Wahhabi Islam). The students say they have come to this high-altitude valley to live as scholars and to memorize. The Zaydis reply that their “academy” is a conspiracy funded by Saudi-Salafi zealots, and that the zealots have established themselves here in order to advance their dream of converting the globe to their Saudi-funded Wahhabi Islam, which considers Shias as infidels and Shiism as a heresy version of Islam. On these points, the Zaydis may well be on to something.
ANYONE WHO has traveled in the region will know that Dammaj is an extraordinary feature in the Yemeni landscape. Most of the settlements on this desiccated, high-altitude plateau are ghost towns. Their young people have moved off to the cities or to nearby Saudi Arabia. With no one around to cultivate the land, the houses are being set upon by the advancing desert. Dammaj, in contrast, is a little jewel of grape vineyards, family garden plots, adobe neighborhoods, and makeshift mosques.
Its boom began in the early 1980s, in response to events that had occurred several hundred miles to the north, in Islam’s most sacred city. Most of the conspirators who were involved in the seizure of the Great Mosque in Mecca in 1979 were either killed within the mosque or beheaded soon thereafter, but one figure, a professor who was suspected of acting as a spiritual mentor to the conspirators, was only jailed. When this teacher, Muqbil al Wadi, was released, he returned to his native village, a hamlet of grape growers and tall mud fortresses in Northern Yemen. Soon a new academy, funded by whom exactly no one knew, was flourishing there.
At first, the academy did a quiet business catering to Saudi and Yemeni students, along with a sprinkling of ambitious seekers from North Africa and the Levant. In 2001, however, following Sheikh Muqbil’s death, a new sheikh permitted internet cafes to open in the village. He allowed the existing students to bring in wives and daughters.
Then came September 11. Far away, in Europe and America, Muslims began to complain of a climate of hostility, especially on airplanes and in subways. Many Western Muslims felt that their governments were expelling the best imams, and that their mosques had become second homes for agents in the state spy agencies. Meanwhile, rumors circulated in the mosques across the West: In a village in Northern Yemen, Islam was as it had been in the time of the Prophet—pure, uncompromising, and gathering strength.
Not long after September 11, cell phone service arrived in the village of Dammaj. Social networks spread across the internet. The students trickled in. When John Burns of The New York Times wrote about the village in 2000, he spoke of “dozens of Westerners, mostly of Arab descent.” Nowadays, the Westerners number in the hundreds—and they are not only of Arab descent but also come from Pakistani, Turkish, Nigerian, and Indonesian families who have been living in the West for generations. It’s not easy to put an exact number on the Westerners in Dammaj, even when one is living in the village, because the students’ wives and daughters, most of whom are not official students, rarely leave their homes. Not all the men have four wives, as Islam allows, but many of the Westerners have more than one.
During the past several weeks, trucks bearing food and medical supplies have made their way into the village, but the students remain in a precarious position. According to their own tally, some 35 of them, including an American called Abdur Rahman Wheat, have been killed to date. Who will protect the rest? In previous decades, this task has fallen to the Yemeni government, but its armies are now too busy falling apart to look after the academy. At present, the Yemeni Shia control all the supply routes to the village. They have superior numbers and heavier arms. They have not yet wiped Dammaj off the map, but if they feel like it, they probably can.
On YouTube, the students have been posting videos which show how they’ve accommodated to the new order. To hinder incoming sniper fire, they have bricked up the windows in their mosque and draped plastic tarps over alleyways. They have transformed the village pathways into a system of battle trenches, with parapets made from stacks of sandbags.
Meanwhile, to judge by accounts the students have been posting to the internet, they are winning the war, though oddly enough, they are not really fighting. According to the campus discussion board (at aloloom.net) the young people there have rather been busy with their prayers, classes, and ceremonies. Allah himself is taking care of the battle: “The night is shadowed by the sounds of the sniper,” writes Abu Laith al Britani in a dispatch from Dammaj that captures the dreamy quality of many of the students’ posts, “and when the morning comes, you can see the wonders of Allah and his supreme ability as the Houthies [Shia fighters loyal to the Houthi clan] lay motionless, destroyed, as Allah has caused many to perish, and the praise belongs to Allah.”
On this site, the students are always “the believers” and “the Muslims.” As for the Shia fighters, they are “dirty dogs,” “hypocrites,” “the enemies of Allah,” and often “raafidah.” This last term, “raafidah,” is a slur in Yemen which means “rejecters of Islam.” It is everywhere on the student website, for instance as follows: “The raafidhah are a group of cowards they just try to snipe from far distance. SO ASK ALLAH TO DESTROY THE RAAFIDHAH.” (Abu Fajr as Somali, November 7.)
IN JANUARY 2005, I took a job as a reporter for a local paper in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. During the year I worked at the newspaper, I often bumped into American Muslims at fast food restaurants and at the public basketball courts in Sana’a. The fact that we were hanging around in the same parks and at the same imitation Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in the same Yemeni city gave us an instant basis for friendship, I felt. They did not agree. Nor did they want to tell me how they were getting on in their studies, what they were learning, or why they had left America. This, I felt, was unfair. A clique of unfriendly basketball players meant to keep me from an education in Islam? How illiberal, I thought. I liked the Koran and was interested in studying it, even though I was not myself Muslim.
So, professing to share their faith, I enrolled in these students’ school. Right away, before the first moment of the first class, I found myself distracted by the crowds in my mosque. Not only did American and Yemeni Muslims study here, I discovered, but so did dozens of Belgians, French, Chechens, Bosnians, and Britons. In subsequent days I heard rumors of far more westerners—“thousands” was the operative word—in the mountains along the Saudi border, in a village of students called Dammaj. It took me about a year to learn enough about Islam to be permitted to travel to this village. I arrived in the fall of 2006.
At that time, the Yemeni government, rather than the student body in Dammaj, was battling the Houthi army. For the students, the war was a relatively distant thing—a matter of explosions in the hills and roadblocks on the highways. Nevertheless, whenever the subject of the surrounding villages came up, the students employed the same epithets they employ on their website now: “dirty,” “disbelievers,” “from the party of Satan”—and, because rumors circulated about their permissive attitude toward alcohol, “drunks.”
Though we were not officially at war with the Houthies, we were certainly not at peace. Every now and then, the Zaydi minarets threatened to send missiles onto the roof of our mosque. Every now and then, our sheikh broadcast speeches from his roof, directed to listeners at the Zaydi end of the valley, in which he denounced them as Shia unbelieving enemies of God.
Because Islam obliges believers to defend their homes, and because our village had recently lived through two other Zaydi sieges, all the students owned Kalashnikovs. It was thought possible that the Zaydis could attack during the night. Because of this the students went out on Vietnam-style patrols of the village periphery in the evenings. Whenever they felt the need for additional weaponry, the students asked one of the village arms dealers to bring in more guns. This was as easy for the arms dealers as it was for the students since, as it happened, we lived within a twenty minute drive of one of the Peninsula’s largest arms bazaars. Kalashnikovs there cost about $50.
IN THIS sort of academy, Allah is in charge. Anyone doubting its future stability and happiness doubts Allah himself. To doubt Allah is to make oneself into a disbeliever. One wouldn’t want to do this in public, but from the beginning, I doubted. I suspected that in addition to imparting Islamic wisdom, the academy’s leader, Sheikh Yahya al Hajoree, meant to reduce his students to sheep. I suspected he did this to give himself more power.
I was confident that my fellow students, meanwhile, many of whom were in badly over their heads, were capable of wandering into trouble on their own. In the years since I left Dammaj, at least one of my fellow students did just that. In November 2008, a dorm mate whom we called Abdul Hakim, but later turned out to be named Carlos Bledsoe, was arrested at a highway checkpoint in Yemen for having overstayed his visa. He was held in a Yemeni jail for a little while, then deported. The following spring, he turned up at a mall in Little Rock, Arkansas armed with 562 rounds of ammunition and two high-powered rifles. There, he murdered Private William Andrew Long, and shot but did not kill Private Quinton Ezeagwula, After his arrest, he wrote a note to Kristina Goetz, a reporter at theCommercial Appeal in Memphis, Tennessee, in which he regretted not having received proper military training in Yemen: “Had I got this training my story would have ended a lot differently than it’s going to end now. My drive-by would of been a drive-in, with no one escaping the aftermath!!” Later in the note, he expressed confidence in his future: “I knew this would end with the enemies of Allah killing me. But the good thing is—Martyrs don’t die!”
At some point during his stay in Yemen, the underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Mutallab,made a video in which, a gun at his side, he said into the camera: “Oh, brothers on the peninsula of the Arabs, you have the right to wage war because your enemies are in your land … against the Christians and the Jews and their agents because the enemies are in your land.”
I don’t know if Mutallab studied in Dammaj or not, but the first time I watched this clip, it jolted me back to my former life in the village. The English-accented Arabic, the script the kid wants to memorize but hasn’t quite been able to, the conviction in his heart, the uncertainty in his eyes, the nearby gun—in Dammaj one has dozens of friends who live for years in this state of mind. Listening to them at their recitations, I could hear the frustration in their voices. I watched them give up, search the mosque with their eyes, then try again.
Some had been frank with me. Some had told me that they wanted to go home but didn’t have anywhere to go to, or in the enthusiasm of migrating from the lands of unbelief, had burned their passports. I knew several students who had asked the sheikh for his view on the wisdom of a return to life among the unbelievers. He had advised against it. Even if he had given his consent, most students didn’t have the money for plane tickets. Most of us were pretty much broke.
There were days when I woke up, performed my ablutions, listened as the sheikh sang Koran over the village loudspeakers and thought: Whatever is happening here cannot end well. There were other days when I woke up, climbed into the hills above the mosque and thought: For some of the young people here, the easiest way out will be suicide.
I THINK part of the problem had to do with jilted expectations. Nothing in their experience of reading about Yemen had prepared the students for years of slow-motion memorizing, for depression, and for the isolation one feels as a student of the Koran in Yemen. The longer you’re there, the more you feel the world outside slipping away.
Since the students generally get their information from one another, and since the students never express such doubts about Dammaj, these emotions are not discussed. Among the students, there is really only one story about Dammaj to be told:
Damaj Akhi [brother], its the place to learn, it is intense and there will be many brothers there to help and teach you, whether you prefer one on one or group teaching, its a win win situation. i advise you to come and benefit from such a place which in this time and era is certainly a lighthouse in what is a dark time . you will learn how to read , how to right , infact if you work hard and with the tawfiiq [consent] of allah and allah’s will you’ll learn arabic less then a year inshallah.
This commenter, writing in 2009 at fearthedunya.wordpress.com, touches on the story’s most basic themes: the dark times, the lighthouse in Dammaj, the learned brothers who’ve united in Yemen in study. In a 2006 web essay intended for prospective students, an elder student in Dammaj, Abdallah Macphee, attended to the more advanced themes.
Dammaaj is the birthplace of the Reviver of the Sunnah, the Great Scholar Muqbil ibn Haadee Al-Waadi’ee. The Sheikh set up an institute of knowledge that by Allaah’s will has changed the face of Yemen … Now by Allaah’s grace the da’wah [teachings] of Ahlus-Sunnah [People of the Tradition] can be found in all parts in Yemen, stronger in some areas than others.
Here and in what follows, Macphee’s essay hints: Is it not odd that a great man should appear in an unknown village in an unvisited valley in northwest Yemen? Is it not interesting that the ancient faith should now be radiating from this village? Is it not a bit noteworthy that students and proselytizers from across the world should now be collecting on this spot?
No, none of this was odd—neither to Macphee nor to any of the other students with whom I studied in Dammaj. The revival is happening, they believe, because in the beginning of time, Allah directed his angels to write that it would happen—in this place, under this man’s direction, at this time.
Later in the essay, Macphee puts the big ideas aside in order to focus on the quotidian facts incoming students ought to understand before they turn up on campus. Not all was perfect in Dammaj, he wrote, and students should prepare themselves for nuisances. For instance, there was a trash problem in Dammaj and a sewage problem (resulting, he neglected to mention, in a typhus problem among the students). So newly arriving Westerners were often taken aback. “I advise the brothers and sisters that they read the history of our Prophet, May the peace and praise of Allaah be upon him,” Macphee wrote:
And I remind them that this dunyaa [life on earth] is not everlasting. We are all on a journey to our Lord and we will leave behind these belongings we have in this life. Our Prophet, may the peace and praise of Allaah be upon him has said: Be in this life as if you are a stranger or a traveler.
Something in Macphee’s writing must have struck a nerve because in the years since it was first posted, it has been passed from Islamic advice site to Islamic advice site, eliciting a flood of joyous responses along the way: “Salam aleikom dear brother!” wrote a correspondent who read the piece when it was posted to fearthedunya.wordpress.com in 2008. This writer hoped to bring his mother and siblings to Dammaj. “I am a young brother and I live in sweden. I want some god [good] advice and that u say me how much a house with 4 room and kitchen 2 toilets coast. I dont need luxery. … InshAllah Damaaj is my final homeland before Akhirah [afterlife].”
In America, Macphee’s description of life in Dammaj elicited similarly enthusiastic responses. “i pray ALLAH lets me meet you there and i get to benefit from you, your brother in Islam in CHICAGO, ” wrote Abu Yusef. Noting the enthusiasm of other blog fans, one correspondent addressed them all at once.
Please make sincere dua’a to Allah for your Salafi brother in the west, currently in the United States (California). I, too, am asking my Lord, but subhan’allah [glory be to god]—please ask the Lord of the Worlds to give me the means to leave Dar al Kufr [land of the unbelievers]. I am sick of this lifestyle, sick of the evils here, and sick of the kufur of these people. I want to make hijrah [immigration] … and Dammaj is on my mind!!!
MOST OF the westerners one meets in Dammaj are refugees from the urban ills of home. They’ve grown up in troubled neighborhoods, haven’t always succeeded in school, have lived through substance abuse issues, jail sentences, and have usually drifted a bit from city to city before coming to Yemen.
I’m sure they were remembering figurative rather than literal truths, but when they spoke of their earlier time in the West, they often seemed surprised to have escaped with their lives. They spoke of sinister forces, and of places that lived in darkness. At first, I thought the biggest threats in the West had been the violence and drugs of the inner cities, and perhaps also police harassment. They themselves spoke frequently about the wickedness of sex and commercial culture. Over time, however, I started to notice that in the background of these discussions there lurked an especially troublesome, impossible-to-escape force. In most cases, the name of this force was “dad.” The father-son argument fell out along these lines: The dads wanted the sons to get jobs, to respect authority, to give up the ridiculous pretense of Islamic scholarship, and to stop dressing like terrorists. If the sons couldn’t reconcile themselves to the West, they could get the hell out of the family. The sons told the dads to study the Koran.
By the time a student gets to Dammaj, he has traveled across the globe and backwards through the centuries. He has passed tests of endurance and Islamic learning. It won’t be easy for his dad—or any other authority figure from home—to bother him anymore because those authorities now live in a different universe, under different laws. The student himself is now embracing, even in the tiniest of actions, like peeing, the ancient, irrefutable laws. Every time he opens the Koran, he utters a tiny but musical (in Arabic, anyway) prayer: “I seek refuge in Allah from the Shaytan and from the djinn.” It would appear that he is now residing within the mother of all protective fortresses.
Now that the students’ sacred space is under a literal siege it ought not surprise anyone that the students are digging their battle trenches. Nor should it surprise anyone that they would like other Muslims to participate in their struggle. To this end, they have posted their sheikh’s most recent call to jihad on YouTube. This jihad, says Sheikh Yahya al Hajoree, is not merely an occasion to kill the Yemeni Shia, though of course it is that. This is a matter, he stresses, of Islam’s truest defenders versus its truest enemies, of aggression versus peace, of good versus evil. “You must use offense against the offensive,” he says, “and Allah the most high, declares, ‘Kill them until such time as Muslims are no longer divided among themselves.’”
*I HAVE been following news of this academy carefully in the press, have been held for questioning several times at U.S. borders, and once, for reasons I still don’t understand, was put in jail. Nothing in my reading or in my subsequent FBI interviews has given me the sense that the Western authorities know how many students are studying in Dammaj, what they are learning, or how the experience of studying the Koran in Yemen changes them. Nor do the authorities, in my view, understand how ready others are—those who are not in Dammaj yet feel themselves similarly hounded—to pour their emotions into the current battle.
This last point—the empathy around the globe—can be understood by anyone with an internet connection. “May Allah break their backs,” writes Muslimah Salafi of the Yemeni Zaydi, “and place them in the deepest level of Hell Ameen.” This woman posts on a Facebook page, Tottenham Da’wah, that was set up to spread Islam in London. Meanwhile, on Twitter: “Brothers need to take off their Call of Duty computer games and go fight in the real world #Dammaj,” writes Umm Abdul Wahhaab whose Twitter profile says she is in London. “Make dua [prayers] for our brothers and sisters in dammaj the filthy shia are killing women, children and the elderly Allahu musta’an [god help them],” says Mutah Beale, whose 5,588 followers probably have to do with the movie he has out about his rap career (Life of An Outlaw) and his interesting bio (“Motivational Speaker, Business owner, former member of 2pac Outlawz”). His Twitter feed says he has lately been touring in Australia.
It’s also clear that some of these internet observers have understood Sheikh Yahya’s underlying message: Everything is at stake in this battle because Allah’s truest sons are being attacked by his truest enemies.
We know who the truest sons are. Who are the truest enemies? “May Allah Destroy Those filthy dirty Mushrik [pagan] sons of the Jews, known as the SHI’AH,” writes a YouTube user, Nasir al Hamdani. “AMEEN and May Allah give victory to Ahl-us Sunnah [People of the Tradition].” Nabil’s YouTube profile says he is from Bradford, England.
When I was in Dammaj, I found that the students had absorbed this logic as well as could be expected: They were surrounded by a monstrous Other. Its powers were large but Allah was on the students’ side, and, by his will, the wicked people would die. The students would flourish.
During the first months of my studies, I thought that “flourish” meant “flourish here on earth.” In fact, this kind of flourishing is not the goal of a religious education in Yemen. One is rather meant to disassociate oneself from the things of this life, and to prepare for flourishing in the next.
What does it feel like to live within this state of disassociation? On November 26 of last year, in the hours after some 25 students were killed in an artillery barrage, an American Muslim in Dammaj delivered an hour-long sermon-by-phone to the Masjid Sunnah wa Tawheed in Durham, North Carolina. The imam of the mosque recorded the phone call and posted the recording to his blog.
The theme of this sermon was the excellence of a sinless, Islamic death. As he talked, this student, Abdul Hakeem, ranged through the sacred literature of Islam. Every assertion he made, he supported with an apposite quotation, memorized and recited, with fluid pronunciation, in the original Arabic. Some 50 students had been wounded in the artillery attack, and were now lying prostrate, beyond the range of any hospital. The Zaydis were threatening to move in with machine guns but Abdul Hakeem had other, more important news to impart. Because the hour of your death has been determined long ago, he told the congregants, you exercise no control over your end. Nevertheless, you should be preparing for it every minute of every day. He spoke with a dreamy, rhythmic affect in his voice, like someone having a vision. At the final hour, he said, the believers should rejoice: “When death approaches and he feels confident and he looks forward to meeting Allah, he doesn’t sit there in confusion and doubt. No! … This is what you live for. This is what you dedicated your life for.”
Theo Padnos is the author of Undercover Muslim.
A sample of Al Qaeda -Wahhabi propaganda from Dammaj against Shia Muslims
YemenOnline >> Special Report
Over 40 killed in sectarian clashes in Yemen
At least 46 people have been killed and dozens injured in clashes between Houthi-led Shia rebels and Saudi-backed pro-government Sunni Salafi gunmen in the northwestern Yemeni governorate of Hajjah, assistant head of Hajjah security department Atif Sulaiman told IRIN. Yemeni independent news website Barakish.net has also reported on the fighting and deaths which occurred there over the past couple of days.
“Houthi gunmen continue to increase their dominance over several areas and mountaintop positions in the eastern parts of Hajjah in what they say is ‘their effort to liberate these areas from mercenaries [members of the pro-government Islamist Islah Party]’,” Sulaiman said.
According to Abu Hamza Mohammed al-Sori, a Salafi leader, 40 of the dead are Houthis, and six are from his Salafi group, while more than 20 Salafis were injured, some of them seriously.
Al-Sori said the clashes began in Dhu Holais village, in the eastern part of the governorate, after Houthi fighters attacked a villager during a religious dispute.
“Tribesmen from Hajour District [in the adjacent Sa’dah Governorate, where most Houthis are based] backed residents of the village [Dhu Holais] in their fight against Houthis, inflicting on them heavy losses in equipment and personnel,” he said.
Dhaifallah al-Shami, a Houthi leader, said the clashes were still going on. He vowed they would “behead those mercenaries” who killed Houthis. “They don’t want to coexist peacefully with us. They receive support from the government and Saudi Arabia to kill us,” he told IRIN.
Many members of the Salafi Sect hail from the Damaj area of Sa’dah Governorate, but thousands of others live in Hajjah Governorate. Their leader is Muqpil al-Wadie, based in Sa’dah, and they are staunch supporters of outgoing President Saleh. The Houthis on the other hand have been fighting for more autonomy from central government for a number of years.
Salafis in Damaj released a statement on 24 January saying that Houthis had killed 71 of their people and more than 168 others had been injured over the past two months (not counting the most recent clashes) in the governorates of Sa’dah, Hajjah, Amran and al-Jawf.
Pakistan joins war against Shia Houthis in Yemen
Posted by DesPardes Guru on Jan 28th, 2010
Pakistan has reportedly sent an army combat unit to Yemen to join the war against the Shia fighters in the country’s north.
An informed source with the Pakistani daily Jang has said that a 300-strong unit of Special Forces has been deployed in Yemen.
US media reports say the US military and intelligence agencies are involved in joint operations with Yemeni troops.
Yemen launched a military offensive against the Houthi fighters in the northern Sa’ada Province last August. Saudi Arabia joined forces with the Yemeni government in November.
The conflict in northern Yemen started in 2004 between Sana’a and Houthi fighters and intensified in 2009 when the Yemeni army launched Operation “Scorched Earth” in an attempt to crush the Shia fighters in the northern province of Sa’ada.
Sana’a accuses the Shia fighters of violating terms of a ceasefire in 2009 by taking foreign visitors hostage.
The Houthis accuse the Yemeni government of violating their civil rights and marginalizing them politically, economically, and religiously.
The Shia fighters say the offensives launched against the northern regions mostly target residential areas and result in civilian casualties.
The Yemeni government claims that the Houthi fighters seek to restore the Shia Zaidi imamate system, which was overthrown in a 1962 coup–a claim rejected by the Houthis, who in turn accuse the Yemeni government of violation of their civil rights, political, economic and religious marginalization as well as large-scale corruption
Islamabad’s controversial decision is expected to cause public outrage
Dammaj (Arabic: دماج) is a small town in Sa’dah Governorate. It is notable since Shaikh Muqbil bin Haadi al-Waadi’ee established the Madrasah Dar al-Hadith in Dammaaj but after his death, Sheikh Yahya Al Hajooree took over Dammaj as Shaikh Muqbil gave him the permission to. This instance Dammaaj has become one of the most important educational institutions of Salafi Islam in the world. Dammaj is home to some 29,000 inhabitants, 4,000 of which are Salafi Sunni Muslims and the rest are mainly Zaydi Shi’a Muslims. In late 2011 the town became the scene of heavy fighting between Shi’a Houthi rebels and Salafi fighters from the Dar al-Hadith Madrasah.
Yemen’s forgotten war
David Keys takes a closer look at the history of a troubled state that is attracting the attention of Al‑Qaeda fighters.
In the remote south-west of the Arabian peninsula, some 5,000 people have died over the past five years in one of the world’s least known wars. Virtually all the fighting has been in the Arab world’s poorest country, Yemen, but now the region’s richest nation, Saudi Arabia, has joined the fray and Al‑Qaeda is circling the chaos eager to exploit any opportunities that might come its way.
Ironically known as ‘Arabia Felix’, Arabia’s ‘land of happiness’, Yemen has been hard hit by the war and other misfortunes. It’s a story, spanning at least 1,500 years, that involves everything from early Islamic politics and the Ottoman empire to Arab nationalism and the Cold War.
The present conflict is being fought between tribal rebels (associated with a Shia Muslim sect and allegedly supported by elements in Shia Iran) and two governments (military-dominated Yemenis and the deeply religious Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabians). In part, the war
mirrors the schism that has divided Islam almost since its inception.
More than 13 centuries ago, the Muslim world split over who should rule it. Should the rulers of Islam – the Caliphs – be direct descendents of Muhammad or could they come from other tribally-related backgrounds? The Shia, who have always been the minority denomination in Islam, took the former view, while the majority group, the Sunnis, took the latter.
The majority Sunnis became the establishment throughout most of the Islamic world –
and, as so often in history, many of their rulers (the Caliphs) turned out to be oppressive despots – a fact that allowed some Shia leaders to position themselves not only as Muhammad’s descendents but also as opponents of tyranny.
Some Shia sects began life as revolutionary movements – not least the one that ultimately established itself in Yemen, a politico-religious system known as Zaidism.
Named after a Shia scholar who rebelled against a particularly despotic caliph in AD 740, traditional Zaidism maintained that a Zaidi leader – an imam (who must be a descendant of Muhammad) – could ‘elect’ himself, so to speak, by carrying out two specific actions: calling the populace to arms and then leading them against tyranny and oppression.
One such dissident was a ninth-century descendant of the prophet Muhammad called Yahya who, in AD 893, was invited to sort out an inter-tribal conflict in Yemen and used the opportunity to establish a Zaidi state there under his leadership.
The circumstances which allowed him to do this were complex. Obviously his genealogical status conferred great authority, but there were other factors at play too. One was the fact that the Muslim world was in chaos, with a weak Caliphate facing multiple rebellions.
Another was that Yemenis would have warmed to Yahya because there were ancient links with Yemeni-originating groups in his home town, Medina – Islam’s second holiest city.
Another factor in Yahya’s favour was the probable long-standing ethnic links between Yemen and the only pre-existing Zaidi state, Tabaristan in northern Iran. (A segment of Yemen’s population originally arrived in the country several centuries earlier as an invading Persian army). What’s more, there was a tradition that Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, a figure revered by Zaidis and other Shias, had originally been responsible for converting Yemen to Islam.
For all these reasons, Yahya was successful in establishing a religious state, dedicated to
Zaidism, and which totally rejected the authority of the Sunni Caliphate, based in Baghdad.
Soon the original Zaidi state in northern Iran collapsed – and Yemen became the only Zaidi base left in the world.
In Yemen, a succession of Zaidi states (ruled by their own imams) rose and fell. In the late 16th, early 17th and late 19th centuries, Ottoman occupations of Yemen allowed the Zaidi rulers to become nationalist leaders, fighting foreign occupation. Northern Yemen was never colonised by a western power – and the Ottoman occupations were incomplete and temporary.
Thus, the imamate remained extremely conservative. Then, in the 1920s, it became a hereditary monarchy – a development that provoked a reformist and then republican political response. There were unsuccessful revolts in 1948 (when the imam was assassinated) and 1955 – but the imamate system was overthrown in an army coup in 1962. A bitter eight-year civil war between Saudi, UK and US-backed royalists and Egyptian-backed republicans then followed, costing at least 100,000 lives.
Some of today’s rebels are, no doubt, the sons and grandsons of the Zaidi royalists who lost the 1962–70 civil war. Republican distaste for their traditional political culture, their religious affinity with the ancien regime and their frequent unwillingness to obey central government has produced a situation in which some of the more traditional Zaidi tribes (once top dogs in Yemen) now see themselves as marginalised by an increasingly Sunni-influenced and ‘de-Zaidicised’ state. But significantly, extreme Sunni groups (including Al‑Qaeda allies and franchisees in Yemen) see the conflict between the republican government and Zaidi Shia rebels as an opportunity to wade in, unofficially, on the government’s side.
Counterbalance to communists
Some elements close to the Yemeni state, which is officially allied to the west in the War on
Terror, do not want to excessively persecute Yemen’s pro-Al‑Qaeda sympathisers because they have traditionally seen them as a counterbalance to the communist left. Although there is no current communist threat, many extant political attitudes in Yemen were forged at a time when there most certainly was.
During the Cold War (when Yemen was two countries – North and South), North Yemen faced multiple threats from the far left. In 1967, the left took control of South Yemen (which had been a British colony/protectorate for more than a century). Two years later, the South lurched further left and allied itself with the Soviet Union, China and Cuba. The Soviet bloc took over the military training of the South Yemen army – and the South Yemen capital, Aden, became a Soviet naval base. Then in the 1970s, the South – the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen – began arming and funding leftist rebels in North Yemen.
Despite this military build-up, peaceful relations were temporarily established, and in 1990 North and South were, for the first time in 300 years, reunited as one country. But four years later, southern leftists tried unsuccessfully to secede in a North/South civil war that cost several thousand lives.
All this helps to explain the Yemeni state’s complex attitude towards fundamentalist Sunni extremists. But there is one other ingredient in the background to the current war that is even more complex – namely the role of Saudi Arabia.
The conflict itself is taking place mainly on Yemeni territory, in the province of Sa’dah, immediately adjacent to Saudi Arabia – and occasionally the violence spills over the border. The problem is that the frontier is extremely porous. Indeed, on the Saudi side of the border, is 75,000 square miles of territory which used to belong to Yemen. Many tribesmen ignore the frontier – a fact that worries the Saudis. The problem, from the Saudi point of view, is that their geopolitical and religious antitheses, Shia Iran, is perceived by them, rightly or wrongly, as being behind Yemen’s Sa’dah Zaidi revolt.
The Saudi intervention (which started with lethal bombing raids on Zaidi villages in Yemen in November) internationalised the conflict. Yemen’s economy is being harmed not only by the Sa’dah war, but also by the world recession and by an increasingly serious water shortage.
As Yemen’s economy deteriorates, western observers fear that the country could gradually become a failed state which Al‑Qaeda and others could then use to destabilise the region.
Yemen: a brief history
610/620s: Muhammad’s ministry
661: Caliph Ali assassinated
736: Zaid, great-great-grandson of Muhammad, rebels
864: First Zaidi state formed in northern Iran
890s: Zaidi state set up in Yemen
1635: Yemeni/Zaidis defeat Ottomans
1839: British take over Aden
1870-1918: Second Ottoman occupation
1962: Republican revolution in North Yemen
1962–70: Civil war in North Yemen
1967: South Yemen independent from UK
1990: North and South Yemen unite
2004: Current war starts
2009: Saudis bomb Yemen rebels
A History of Modern Yemen by Paul Dresch (CUP, 2000);
The Birth of Modern Yemen by Brian Whitaker (e-book, 2009);
A Tribal Order by Shelagh Weir (Texas, 2007);
Yemen Chronicle by Steven Caton (Hill & Wang, 2006);
Peripheral Visions by Lisa Wedeen (CUP,2008)
Map: Martin Sanders
The Houthis (Arabic: الحوثيون = al-Ḥūthiyūn; alternately: (al-)Houthis) are a Zaidi Shia insurgent group operating in Yemen. They have also been referred to as a “powerful clan,” and by the title Ash-Shabab al-Muminin (Arabic: الشباب المؤمن, translated as Believing Youth (BY) or Youthful Believers). The group takes its name from Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, their former commander, who was reportedly killed by Yemeni army forces in September 2004. Several other commanders, including, Ali al-Qatwani, Abu Haider, Abbas Aidah and Yousuf al-Madani (a son-inlaw of Hussein al-Houthi) have also been killed by Yemeni forces. The Houthi brothers’ father Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi is said to be the spiritual leader of the group.
Membership of the group had between 1,000 and 3,000 fighters as of 2005 and between 2,000 and 10,000 fighters as of 2009. In the Yemen Post it has been claimed, however, that they had over 100,000 fighters. According to Houthi Expert Ahmed Al-Bahri the Houthis had a total of 100,000-120,000 followers, including both armed fighters and unarmed loyalists.
The Houthis have asserted that their actions are for the defense of their community from the government and discrimination, though the Yemeni government has in turn accused them of wishing to bring it down and institute Shia religious law (Houthis have told people they are “praying in the wrong way” by raising their arms, as is the custom among Sunnis in Yemen), destabilise the government and “stirring anti-American sentiment”.
The Yemeni government has also accused the Houthis of having ties to external backers, especially the Iranian government (as Iran is a Shia-majority country). In turn, the Houthis have countered with allegations that the Yemeni government is being backed by virulently anti-Shia external backers including al-Qaeda and the government of Saudi Arabia (despite the fact that President Ali Abdullah Saleh is also Zaidi).
Through their armed uprisings, the Houthis have managed to gain control over all of Saada Governorate and parts of ‘Amran Governorate, Al Jawf Governorate and Hajjah Governorate.
By November 9, 2011, Houthis were said to be in control of two Yemeni governorates (Sa’dah and al-Jawf) and close to taking over their third governorate (Hajjah), which would enable them to launch a direct assault on Yemeni capital Sana’a.
It seems that some graduates from Damaj are rather busy in reclaiming their Western life:
02. Devils And Angels
03. March Of The Gladiators
04. Without You
06. Leather Master
07. Clashes Of Steel
08. To The Bitter End
Some pictures of Dammaj
THE ZAYDIS OF YEMEN
In the rugged mountains of northern Yemen live some four hundred Zaydi tribes with a total of some five million members. For over one thousand years they have been the dominant community in the Yemen, often fighting against the Sunni Shafi’i tribes and the smaller Isma’ili and Twelver Shi’a communities. Their Imams were the heads of the Yemeni state until 1962.
The Zaydis are a Shi’a movement which split off the main group in the 9th century after the death of the fourth Shi’a Imam, ‘Ali Zain al-‘Abidin. The Zaydis recognised his younger son Zayd as Imam rather than his older brother Muhammad al-Baqir who was acknowledged by the majority. They accepted Zayd as their fifth Imam (which is why they are also called fivers), and the Zaydi Imamate survived from that time well into the twentieth century.
Zaydis are the most moderate of the Shi’a groups and the nearest to the Sunnis in their theology. They say that they are a “fifth school” of Islam (in addition to the four Sunni orthodox schools). Their religious moderation was however coupled with political extremism as they believed it their duty to rebel against any illegitimate ruler.
The Zaydis do not elevate ‘Ali and his descendants to semi-divine status as do the Isma’ilis and the Twelver Shi’a. They simply preferred his rule and that of his descendants through Fatimah to any other.
Zaydis established themselves in Yemen at the end of the 9th century and it is their only remaining centre today. Another Zaydi state existed for a while south of the Caspian Sea from 864 to 1126.
The question of the succession to Muhammad, the Caliphate or Imamate, lies at the heart of the Zaydi separation from the Sunnis. The Yemeni tribes were first converted to Islam by ‘Ali ibn abi-Talib himself and they naturally supported his claims to the Caliphate. Later they were happy to accept the Zaydi Imams of ‘Ali’s line and their teaching.
The Zaydis teach that Muhammad had secretly designated ‘Ali as his successor, a fact hidden from many in the early community. This ignorance excused the community from the guilt of infidelity when they appointed Abu-Bakr and ‘Umar as Caliphs before ‘Ali. As ‘Ali, the most excellent candidate for the Caliphate (Imamate), had not claimed his rights by force of arms, the Caliphates of Abu-Bakr and ‘Umar could be accepted as legitimate, though not the best. (‘Uthman’s claims to the Caliphate are however generally rejected).
Any suitable descendent of ‘Ali through Fatimah, Muhammad’s daughter, can be elected as Imam. He is not considered to be sinless and infallible, and he has to demonstrate his ability to rule by being an Islamic scholar and by actively claiming political power from the illegitimate rulers. Success in battle and the death of rival claimants is seen as a sign of God’s election. Special emphasis is placed on the candidate’s piety, moral integrity and courage. The Imam can lose his status by breaking any of the qualifying conditions. Rival claims to the Imamate have often divided the Zaydi community and there were long periods without a legitimate Zaydi Imam.
The long list of accepted Imams has never been fully agreed on by all Zaydi groups. Many Zaydi rulers did not claim the Imamate because they did not fulfill all the requirements, especially that of religious learning, They were seen as Da’is who represented the real Imam.
Zaydis believe it is their duty to revolt against unjust Imams and to establish right and justice by force. A new Imam’s claims become legally binding on the community by two actions that also constitute his bid for the support of the tribes: the issue of a call to allegiance (da’wah), followed by an uprising against the illegitimate ruler.
Many Zaydi Imams have been scholars who have written most of the sect’s religious writings.
Zaydis reject Sufism and it was outlawed in Yemen. They believe that the Qur’an was created. They do not believe in a hidden Imam who will return at the end of the age (their Imams were always visible). They also oppose the doctrine of Taqiya (dissimulation), accepted by all other Shi’a groups.
The Zaydi Imam was regularly elected from ‘Alid families until 1891 when the Imam Muhammad ibn-Yahya Hamid ad-Din started a hereditary dynasty which survived until 1962.
Zayd ibn-‘Ali, the brother of the fifth Twelver Shi’a Imam Muhammad al-Baqir, was the founder of the movement. He led a Shi’a rebellion against the Umayyads but was defeated and killed in 740. His son Yahya suffered a similar fate in 743.
The Zaydi movement was first based in Kufa, near to the ‘Abbassid capital of Baghdad. The Zaydis joined the various Shi’a rebellions led by descendants of ‘Ali which were all suppressed by the authorities. In the second half of the ninth century some Zaydis founded two states in remote mountainous regions which offered a refuge from the power of the central authorities.
The first was established by a descendant of ‘Ali, Hassan ibn Zayd, in 864 in the inaccessible mountains of Tabaristan (Mazandaran of today) on the southern coast of the Caspian sea. This state collapsed in 900 but was revived in 914 by the Zaydi Imam al-Nasir al-Utrush who succeeded in converting many of the Zoroastrian inhabitants of the regions of Daylam and Gilan (west of Tabaristan) to the Zaydi faith. The Zaydi Caspian communities survived until the sixteenth century, when they were forcibly converted to Twelver Shi’ism by the Safavid Persian Shah Tahmasp.
The other Zaydi state was founded in 897 by the Imam al-Hadi in Sa’dah in the mountains of northern Yemen. The Zaydi Imams brought about the real Islamisation of the northern tribes, who had previously professed a mere nominal allegiance to Islam. Even today some Yemeni tribes are fairly ignorant of Islamic law and retain heathen practices and pre-Islamic tribal laws that often conflict with the Shari’a.
In the mid-12th century a Zaydi Imam managed to extend his rule into north Arabia and southward to the Yemeni lowlands, but most of the time their control was limited to the highlands of North Yemen. During their long rule the Imams used the military force of the warlike Zaydi mountain tribes in their many wars of defence and expansion. The Zaydis fought for centuries against other local dynasties loyal to the ‘Abassids, Fatimids, Ayyubis and Mamelukes, surviving them all. Secure in their mountain fortresses they have ferociously defended their independence and fought off the foreign powers (Egypt, Ottomans) who controlled lower Yemen and tried to extend their rule to the North.
In the eleventh and twelfth centuries two Zaydi sects arose in Yemen, the Mu’tarrifiya and the Husayniya. This engendered strife amongst the various Zaydi factions until both sects disappeared in the fourteenth century. Relations with the Caspian Zaydis were sporadic, but most of the Caspian Zaydi literature had reached Yemen by the twelfth century.
There was also conflict between the Zaydis and the Isma’ilis who had settled in the Yemen at almost the same time. The Isma’ili power however dwindled after the fall of the Fatimids and only a few Isma’ili pockets remain in the Yemen today.
In 1536 the Ottomans invaded the country. Qasim the Great (Imam from 1597 to 1620) fought them, and under his son Muhammad the Zaydis expelled the Ottomans from Yemen (1635) and invaded south Yemen and the Hadramaut creating their greatest territorial expansion which however only lasted for a brief time. During the 17th century the Zaydi capital was removed from the northern city of Sa’da to the more centrally located San’a.
The Zaydi Imams ruled the Yemen as a medieval Islamic state under the Shari’a (Islamic religious law), doing their best to isolate it from all foreign influences.
The Ottomans invaded Yemen again in the middle of the nineteenth century, but their occupation of the north (starting in 1870) was never complete. In the Zaydi areas the Imams retained some political and spiritual autonomy. Imam Muhammad (1891-1904) of the Hamid ad-Din family renewed the fight against the Ottomans. He also changed the one thousand year old elective Imamate into a hereditary dynasty.
His son, Imam Yahya (1904-48) continued the war against the Ottomans. The modern state of Yemen acquired its independence under him in 1918, with the departure of Ottoman forces at the end of WWI when the Imam was able to impose his rule over the entire country. He succeeded in uniting and pacifying the quarrelsome mountain tribes by a mixed policy of punishing dissident tribes, clever political marriages and hostage taking.
Imam Yahya continued the insular policies of his father. During the latter part of his reign the economy stagnated, emigration grew, and merchants and intellectuals were alienated from the regime. Growing opposition to his rule led to the formation of the Free Yemenis, a nationalist movement in exile. In 1948 the Free Yemenis killed Imam Yahya, but their uprising was defeated by his son Ahmad (1948-62), who also crushed another uprising in 1955.
The independent Yemeni state came into territorial conflict with the growing power of Saudi Arabia. This led to war in 1934 in which the victorious Saudis dictated the treaty of Ta’if (1934) which forced the Imams to accept Saudi control over three provinces claimed by San’a – Asir, Najran and Jizan. This has remained a thorny issue in the relations between the two countries ever since.
During the 1950s and 60s, Britain initiated a policy of merging the Sultanates and Emirates of the Aden Protectorate into a single federation. This resulted in friction between the Imam and Britain over border demarcation. Looking for allies, the Imam turned to Egypt, and in 1958 North Yemen joined Egypt and Syria in forming the Union of Arab States (UAR).
Many Yemenis grew increasingly frustrated by the contrast between the stagnating poverty of their country and the political and economic development in other Arab states. On the death of Imam Ahmad in 1962 a group of nationalist officers seized power in San’a and proclaimed the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR). The royalists rallied around Imam al-Badr, Ahmad’s son who had escaped from San’a, and civil war broke out between the Republican government backed by Egypt and the Royalist tribes backed by Saudi Arabia. The Egyptian forces finally left after their defeat by Israel in the six day war of 1967.
There followed much intermittent fighting between various factions, several heads of state being assassinated. In 1979 Ali Saleh became head of state and he succeeded in reconciling the diverse groups and in bringing some stability to the country. Despite its republican form, Yemen remains a Zaydi stronghold where the mountain tribes still rule themselves under the umbrella of the central government.
In 1990 North and South Yemen were united in a Republic of Yemen creating a large geographical entity with 12m inhabitants of which 53% are Sunni and 46% Zaydi. There are also small Isma’ili and Twelver Shi’a communities.
Zaydi tribal society is still very conservative, with many pre-Islamic and Islamic traditions determining customs and behaviour. Houses in the fortified mountain villages are generally multi-storey buildings, quite different to the one or two storied houses common in most other Arab lands. Most Zaydi tribesmen carry the traditional curved dagger (Jambia) and a gun around with them at all times. Feuding is still endemic to their society. The chewing of Qat (a locally grown drug), usually sitting on cushions in a guestroom (Mafrai) at the top of one of the multi-storeyed houses, is a very widespread social custom with a negative impact on society. Much good agricultural land is used for cultivating Qat as a cash crop rather than for basic food products.
Yemeni oral literature has many proverbs, parables, and poems. The written literature deals mainly with Islamic theology, history, biography and poetry. Tribal dances of pre-Islamic origin are performed by men and boys alone, dancing with their daggers in their hands.
Some 2 million N. Yemenis work abroad, mainly in Saudi-Arabia and in the Gulf states, and their remittances help the country survive. During the Gulf War almost a million of them were deported by Saudi-Arabia who was angered by the pro-Iraqi stand of the Yemeni authorities.
In spite of attempts at modernisation, the civil wars have sapped Yemen’s wealth and impoverished the population. The country’s social welfare system is extremely underdeveloped, and many Yemenis still suffer from poor health and malnutrition, the infant mortality rate being one of the highest in the Middle East. Many diseases are endemic. Adult illiteracy is still high. There is a great need for improvements in health, sanitation, education, agriculture, infrastructure, etc.
The discovery of oil deposits has raised hopes of an improved economic situation in the coming decades.
In spite of having had strong pre-Islamic Christian and Jewish communities, Yemen has been one of the most isolationist and fanatic anti-Christian countries for 1300 years. It still is one of the most closed countries in the world, fiercely opposed to Christianity in any form.
All Christians were expelled from the Arabian peninsula, including Yemen, during the rule of the Caliph Umar in the 7th century.
In modern times, the American Presbyterians were the first to start work in Yemen in 1941.
Following the revolution of 1962, the new government in 1964 invited Christian agencies to start health and educational projects. The Baptists opened a clinic in Ta’iz and a hospital in Jibla. Discreet witnessing was at first allowed, but later strictly forbidden. Christian workers with other aid agencies are also forbidden to share their faith or to hand out literature.
Limited medical work has been almost the only avenue of outreach in Zaydi Yemen. Some literature distribution was carried out by solitary hikers moving from village to village in the highlands. Christian radio broadcasts from FEBA-Seychelles are clearly received and many listen. A new door opening up is that of “tentmakers” – Christians employed in needed secular jobs in the Yemen who have a burden for personal friendships with Yemenis.
There is a handful of Yemeni believers. Their only fellowship was closed by the authorities in 1974 and since then they are lonely and isolated.
Statement from Zaydi ‘ulama in support of the revolution
Posted on 03/17/2011 by Will
Our resident expert on Zaydiyah, James King, has generously shared with us his translation of a statement issued last week by a group of prominent Zaydi scholars, along with his own commentary on the statement:
The statement translated below was issued by twenty of the leading Zaydi scholars in Yemen today. To varying degrees, the signatories have historically situated themselves between the Salih regime and leaders of the Huthi movement. While a number of these men (most prominently Miftah and al-Daylami) have faced imprisonment and severe persecution for their criticisms of the regime’s actions during the Huthi conflict, they have not publically aligned themselves with the Huthis, although many of them undoubtedly maintain close ties. In other words, while there’s no love lost between this group, or the constituents they represent, and the regime, this represents a significant public defection. This is particularly true considering the prestige the ‘ulama hold in the Zaydi tradition.
Another important community has fully thrown its lots in with the revolution.
Furthermore, for a community that continues to face severe repression and marginalization, they are taking a major risk. If the revolution fails, this will only intensify. Of course, if it succeeds, they will likely enjoy some enhanced credibility in a future state. My sense, however, is that their statement reflects the signatories’ sincere commitments to peace and justice more than political calculations.
In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate.
A statement from those ‘ulama who fear God.
“Intentional killing is an unforgivable crime”
What has happened in the land of faith and wisdom is unthinkable! [This is a reference to the Prophet’s declaration that “faith and wisdom is Yemeni.” Protestors in Sana’a are camped out at Sana’a University near a monument that quotes this hadith.] Young and old, men, women and children – demonstrating peacefully, not carrying weapons, and demanding their rights – are being killed. Those who attack them in front of the world do not fear God, and they have no deterrent. They throw the laws of God behind them and disregard the Qur’an and its verses as if they have no relationship with Islam and its rules. The attack on [these protestors] is a sin and a crime.
Attacking these protestors is forbidden and it is impermissible for any soldier to attack a protestor or demonstrator, because this is considered an intentional killing.
God Most High said: “Whoever kills a believer intentionally has the recompense of Hell, where he will abide eternally. God has become angry with him, cursed him and has prepared for him a great punishment.” [Surat al-Nisa’ (4), verse 93]
God Most High said: “Whoever kills a soul – unless for murder or ‘corruption in the land’ – it is as if he had slain all of mankind. And whoever saves one, it is as if he had saved all of mankind.” [Surat al-Ma’idah (5), verse 32]
We not only call the military, security services and police to protect our brethren, but also to join them for the sake of bringing down this corrupt and unjust regime. We also call all sons of the Yemeni Muslim people to descend to the “Square of Change” – the square of honor and dignity – in order to support our brethren in repelling the discord [fitnah] that only happened due to some people’s negligence in coming out to protest, which encouraged the regime to carry out these attacks.
What humiliation! What shame, like what happened in the land of faith and wisdom!
The curse of God, the angels, and all people be upon the killers and whoever orders [the attacks] or silently consents. The ‘ulama condemn this disgraceful behavior and place all responsibility for these actions and their consequences on the regime.
God is witness to what we are saying. He is the best Lord and the best Defender. He is sufficient for us and the most Dependable.
The ‘ulama of Yemen:
Muhammad b. Muhammad al-Mansour
Hamoud b. ‘Abbas al-Mu’ayyad
Muhammad b. Muhammad al-Muta’
Qasim Muhammad al-Kibsi
Muhammad Ahmed Miftah
Abdul-Majeed Abdul-Rahman al-Huthi
Abdullah Muhammad al-Shadhili
Ahmed Dirham al-Huriyyah
Shams al-Din Sharaf al-Din
Muhammad Abdullah al-Shar’i
Yunis Muhammad al-Mansour
Muhammad b. Ali Luqman
Salah Muhammad al-Hashimi
Muhammad b. Qasim al-Hashimi
Yemen and ongoing persecution of the Shia
Shia children killed in Yemen
In Afghanistan the forces of the Taliban and Al Qaeda massacred many Shia Muslims and the same happened in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Sunni Islamists clearly have little respect for their co-religionists and some Sunni Islamic organizations claim that Shia Muslims are heretics and this hatred can be seen in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and other nations where you have Sunni-Shia tensions.
The current crisis in Yemen is clearly under-reported and many massacres have taken place against Shia Muslims. In the following link it clearly shows you the deaths of many innocent Shia Muslims and this applies to many young children who were killed during the chaos in this nation before a fragile truce was agreed in early 2010 (broken many times in the past).
Therefore, just what is happening in Yemen and what is the role of the central government? Also, if you have so much hatred within the House of Islam then what hope for non-Muslim minorities in mainly Muslim nations?
James Haider, Middle East correspondent for The Times (UK), stated on November 5, 2009, that the Shia “…accuse Saudi Arabia, a conservative Sunni Muslim country, of backing the Yemeni army, fearing the emergence of a strong Shia militia similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
“In turn, the Yemeni Government in Sanaa has accused Iran, a Shia theocracy, of supporting the Huthi rebels as part of a campaign to spread Tehran’s influence across the region. The Government said last week that Yemeni troops had seized five Iranians on a boat loaded with arms in the Red Sea”.
James Haider continues by stating that 150,000 people had been forced to flee the government offensive in late 2009. This applies to land and aerial bombardments and clearly many innocent civilians have been killed.
If we look at the bigger picture and take away current militias or organizations or terrorist networks in Yemen and throughout the Muslim world, irrespective if Shia or Sunni, or from the sub-divisions within both groups; then it becomes clear that the Shia have been marginalized for centuries. Therefore, do traditional Sunni power mechanisms just desire the status quo rather than bridging the gap and does this hatred within the House of Islam spill over to other non-Muslim minorities?
Rannie Amiri’s, whose article was published in the weekend edition of Counterpunch, (Feb 19-21, 2010) called The Shia Crescent Revisited, commented that “Should the Arab Shia be prohibited from freely airing their grievances and demanding accountability for past injustices? Stopped from speaking out against the crimes perpetrated against them under Saddam (in which many in the Arab world were complicit)? Prevented from attempting to lift the heavy hand of institutionalized discrimination levied against them in Saudi Arabia? Barred from seeking an end to their disenfranchisement in Bahrain – where they make up at least 70 percent of the population yet constitute no part of the government or security services? Forbidden from asking why the language of sectarianism was used to justify and amplify the carnage in north Yemen?”
It is a fair question and another question must be added and this applies to the global terrorist faith which was behind September 11th, Kenya, London, Madrid, Bali, Uganda, and a host of other terrorist attacks which have hit so many nations. Were these Islamists following the Shia faith or the Sunni faith?
The answer is obvious because all these terrorist attacks were done in the name of radical Sunni Islam. After all, Shia Muslims were not behind any of these attacks and the same applies to other Muslim groups like the Ahmadiyya and Alevi who are not involved in terrorism. On the contrary, the Ahmadiyya and Alevi suffer terrible persecution at the hands of Sunni Islamic extremists in their native lands and from the central government.
Even in Afghanistan and Iraq it is clear that Sunni Islamists and terrorist groups are the main problem because forces within the Shia have been much more accommodating. Yes, followers of Muqtada al-Sadr who is a Shia leader in Iraq and who supported the Mahdi Army taking on American forces, is a rare exception but on the whole it is the forces of Sunni Islam which are behind the vast majority of the carnage in both nations.
Turning back to Yemen, then is this the next brutal war which will drag in outside forces and lead to the growth of radical Sunni Islam? After all, it is clear that the al-Shabaab in Somalia desire to turn Somalia into a fundamentalist nation. It is also abundantly clear that Arab Sunni Muslims are behind this fanatical terrorist organization which beheads Christians and stones women to death for adultery or when women are raped but are blamed.
The linkage between the al-Shabaab in Somalia and radical Sunni Islamic organizations and terrorist networks in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and other nations, is obvious. After all, you only have to look at the dress code and the way of thinking because everything is Arabized and Sufi Muslims now face persecution at the hands of radical Sunni Islamists but for Christians it is a complete witch-hunt and brutal beyond words.
Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, February 11, 2010, stated that “Even as it fights a U.S.-supported war against al-Qaeda militants here, the Yemeni government is engaging Islamist extremists who share an ideology similar to Osama bin Laden’s in its own civil war, adding new complications to efforts to fight terrorism.”
The writer continues by stating that “Yemen’s army is allying with radical Sunnis and former jihadists in the fight against Shiite rebels in the country’s north. The harsh tactics of those forces, such as destroying Shiite mosques and building Sunni ones, are breeding resentment among many residents, analysts said, and given the tangle of evolving allegiances could build support for al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch, which plotted the Christmas Day attempt to bomb a U.S. airliner.”
However, America should be worried about this because America, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other nations, used radical Sunni Islam in order to topple communism during the Cold War in Afghanistan. Yet, just like the ongoing crisis in Pakistan, it is clear that obtaining radical Sunni Islamic support is a dangerous game because one day these very same Islamic jihadists will turn against their original masters in order to spread their global Islamic jihad and nations in the Horn of Africa, notably Ethiopia, must be watching events with great alarm and fear.
Abdel-Karim al-Iriyani, a former prime minister is clearly alarmed by current events in Yemen. He states that “Using these extremist people, if they are with you today, they are prone to be against you tomorrow.”
At the same time it is clear that the Shia are being victimized by central forces and with radical Sunni Islamists and Saudi Arabia joining the fray, then fresh massacres and greater alienation will take place if the truce breaks down in Yemen. Therefore, the future looks bleak for the Shia in Yemen and while extremists exist within the Shia community in this nation, it is clear that innocent Shia civilians are seen to be expendable.
It is clear that this is going to add to the Sunni-Shia divide throughout the entire region and stretching all the way to Afghanistan and Pakistan. This internal hatred is also infringing on how Sunni Islamists view non-Muslim minorities because daily attacks are taking place. Also, Sunni dominated governments are implementing draconian laws in order to oppress non-Muslim minorities and Muslim minorities like the Ahmadiyya who are suffering in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
Given this, Sunni dominated leaders and elites are mainly concerned about preserving their power base over the Shia and this hatred and marginalization also spreads to all non-Muslim minority groups.
Therefore, apostates face severe persecution in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Somalia, and this applies to state sanctioned laws and terrorist networks in Afghanistan and Somalia who behead apostates who convert to Christianity or any other non-Muslim faith.
To radical Sunni Islamists it is clear that non-Muslims and the Shia are both viewed to be infidels and worthy of killing. For example, when Raed Mansour al-Banna from Jordan did a suicide bombing in Iraq which killed 125 people he was deemed to be a Muslim martyr. This in itself implies that the Shia are worthy of killing in the eyes of Sunni Islamists in order to meet virgins in the Muslim heaven after waging jihad and killing innocents.
Therefore, will the Shia be protected from a fresh onslaught in Yemen if the current truce breaks down? If, and which is most likely, their plight is ignored then hatred will spread deeper and this hatred will be aimed at Muslims and non-Muslims.
If the House of Islam can shed the blood of their own on the grounds of sectarianism then clearly non-Muslims are going to face the consequences of this hatred. At the same time, greater marginalization of Shia religious minorities in nations like Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and many others, will only lead to more despotism and more persecution of all minority religious groups.
The Islamic faith fears equality, religious freedom, and the separation of mosque and central state. After this, the Islamic faith fears internal infidels and the Shia are deemed to be infidels in the House of Sunni Islam and Sunni Muslims also use the same mantra against the Ahmadiyya community.
Naturally, this hatred of diversity within the House of Islam also applies to that of non-Muslims and this can be seen by the brutal reality of modern day Somalia. Yes, another brutal nation where the Sunni al-Shabaab hunts down Christians and then beheads them slowly while shouting their allegiance to Allah.
Therefore, internal Islamic hatred is being whipped up against all notions of diversity and non-Muslims are suffering terrible persecution, alongside the persecution of Shia Muslims. This applies to the persecution of Assyrian Christians, Coptic Christians, Shabaks, Mandaeans, Yazidis, and other religious minorities.
However, coverage of dead Shia children in Yemen was rarely shown before the current truce which began in early 2010. The same applies to the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt, Assyrian Christians in Iraq, and Christians in Pakistan, who are also marginalized and persecuted.
All these areas are mainly being hidden by national governments and the mass media in order to foster the Sunni Muslim agenda of preserving power. Therefore, draconian laws which infringe upon all minorities are being implemented in the majority of Sunni dominated nations.
Given this, the internal hatred within the House of Islam and the preservation of Sunni political power is being whipped up against all outsiders, irrespective if against Shia Muslims or non-Muslims.
Lee Jay Walker
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