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The Arabs and Iranians
Published in Albawaba on 01 - 07 - 2015

The well-known Arab thinker and scholar Professor Ridwan Al-Sayed has published a new book in Arabic in May 2014, entitled 'The Arabs and Iranians: Iran - Arab relations in the present time'. The book is a collection of studies and papers he has presented at conferences and seminars in 17 years.
The author says in his introduction that he intended in these studies to follow-up and explore the Iranian policy towards the Arabs, and Iran – Arab relations since the early days of the Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in 1997 until the first quarter of 2013. He noted that the approach of these studies is the national and geostrategic angles that use power, religion, doctrine and culture, in the build-up or to impose facts on the ground.
In the first chapter, written between 1995 and 1997, the researcher has studied the political experiences of both Iran and Egypt during a hundred-year period and compared the effects of their regional and international surroundings.
The second chapter studies the historic tension between Sunnis and Shiites, and the strained relationship between the Arabs and Iran as a result of the Iranian role in the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Iran's interference within the Arab states, and its use of force in a certain way in Lebanon and Syria.
In the other four chapters, Al-Sayed follows the facts of the outbreak of relations between Iran and Arabs after 2005, as a result of Iran's use of religion, doctrine and force for the division and fragmentation in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Bahrain.
In a chapter entitled 'Shiites and Sunnis: The tension, its extent and fate', the author believes that the tense relations between Sunnis and Shiites dominate different parts of the Islamic world, and today it's in its third wave in this historical context.
He considers that the historical experience of the relationship between the two Islamic sects have witnessed noticeable tension in three eras, the first was between the fourth and seventh Hijri centuries, and the second period was between the ninth and tenth Hijri centuries. The third period of tension is the present one that started at the first half of the fifteenth Islamic Hijri century.
In the first period, the conflict was formative and complicated. Both Shia and Sunni sects were debating with groups within them to crystallize their own school of thought or Madhab. The Shiite Twelver School was in theological debate with the two other Shiite sects -- Ismaili and Zaidi. And on the other hand, the Sunni Ash'ari School was in debate with the Hanbali and Salafi schools.
Al-sayed said that there was no intellectual feud between Shiite Twelver and Sunnis in the fifth Hijri century; but the conflict was ideological, political, and military between the Sunni states and the Ismaili state that fell in the midst of the conflict between Sunni states and the Crusaders. Although, historical books have reported some clashes in neighbourhoods and areas between Sunni and Twelver Shia.
This period was characterized by three issues: First, it was the first time historians declare that there is a Shiite-Sunni conflict, or between the Caliphate and the Imamate. Second, it was the first time that the Abbasid state declares itself as a Sunni state. The third issue was that the influence of Ismaili and Zaydi schools considerably declined between the fifth and seventh Hijri centuries and the Twelver Shia benefited from that.
The second historical period of the Sunni-Shiite conflict began in the eighth century AH. The Abbasid Caliphate had fallen at the hands of the Mongols, and the Ilkhanidd/Mughal state appeared from the east of the Euphrates crossing Iran to Minor Asia. As for the Mamluki state it took place in the west of the Euphrates in Syria and Egypt. The two states worked to fill the geopolitical (and ideological) vacuum caused by the invasions of the Crusaders and the Mongols as well as the variables, which ended with the fall of the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad in 656 AH / 1258.
The Mamluks brought one of the sons of the Abbasid family to Cairo, where they proclaimed Caliphate, and have completed their leadership of the Sunni Islam by recognizing the doctrines of the four Sunni schools with the dominance of the Hanafi School; because the Mamluks (Turks) were Hanafi.
The Ilkhanids who have converted to Sunni Islam were between one of two options: either to remove the Mamluki state and embrace the Abbasids for legitimacy or to admit the Abbasid caliphate in Cairo, leaving them in the second degree after the Mamluks in the protection of Sunni Islam and its succession.
Since the Ilkhanids were unable to remove the Mamluki state after several campaigns; they have favored another option entirely, which is embracing the Twelver Shiite doctrine. By that, they showed the possibility of the establishment of a Shiite state in spite of the continued absence of the Twelver Imam, and they satisfied the aspirations of Iranian national intellectuals and administrators, and the name 'Iran – Zamin' returned to describe the new state; especially after the Twelver doctrine had become the doctrine of half of the population of Iran and Iraq.
Al-Sayed did not consider the decline of the conflict between the Mamluks and Ilkhanids the end of the second era of Sunni-Shiite conflict; because of the continued geographic and demographic offsets between the two sides in Iran, Iraq, Khurassan, Azerbaijan and other regions of Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The emergence of the Ottomans have prevented the Shiite Safavids in Iran from the dominance of the Islamic world.
The Safavid state fought defensive wars in the face of the Ottomans over more than a century, and the conflict has calmed only in the early twelfth century AH/seventh century AD. The military and strategic conflict, that lasted for nearly two centuries and a half century, has left ruins and shifts of population -- these wars were not less terrifying than the wars of Mughal.
The author noted that during this period of conflict, the sectarian texts and critics between the two sects have been completed, and the Salafis of the contemporary and modern times, from Ibn Taymiyyah and Muhamad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab students, did not add much to these texts.
Al-Sayed considers that this long era of conflict and military battles (between the eighth and tenth centuries, and the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries) has identified the strategic lines of the Shiite Islam, and not the Sunni Islam.
The Twelver Islam was limited in Iran and its environs, with the steadfastness of the Shiite enclaves in different parts of the Islamic world with the exception of Southeast Asia. The scene has not changed much in the colonial era, until the Islamic revolution in Iran, in the wake of a parallel religious Shiite and Sunni revival over the half of the past century.
The author said that in the modern times the conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims has calmed down following the end of the Ottoman –Iran wars, and Sunni and Shiite elites continue to communicate and cooperate, giving the example of Sheikh Jamal Al-din Al-Afghani, which was originally Shiite Iranian, but he inspired both Sunni and Shiite reformist clerics and intellectuals in the nineteenth century.
Another example of this Sunni-Shiite tolerance was the fact that we still read the books of Muslim Indians and we could not distinguish between Sunni and Shiite authors. Shiite and Sunni clerics and tribes have collaborated to face the British colonialism in Iraq. In 1965, the author Al-Sayed went to study at Al-Azhar university, he studied three books, two of them were Zaydi, and the third was Shiite Twelver.
Al-Sayed explained that these examples of tolerance do not mean things were all just fine between Sunnis and Shiites, because Salafism was growing in Najd, Yemen and India.
The author also cited three fundamental factors that affected the relation between Sunnis and Shia in the last century: The emergence of the national state or the modern nation, the religious revival movement on both sides, as well as the Cold War and the effects of international politics during it and after its end.
The emergence of the national state has caused fears and sensibilities to minorities (including Christians, Shiites, the Kurds, and Berbers).
Also, the establishment of an Islamic state in Iran by the traditional religious establishment, Al-Marja'eyah, under Velayat – Al-faqih, the rule of jurist, has left a huge impact on the rest of minorities (and majorities) in the Shiite Arab and Islamic worlds.
The eight years' war launched by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein on the Islamic republic of Iran that resulted of nearly a million of killed and millions of wounded, mostly from the Shia, along with the sectarian anti-Persian and anti-Shia discourse of the Iraqi regime has raised again the sectarian conflict between Shiites and Sunnis.
After the end of the in 1988, it seemed that things between Sunnis and Shiites, and between Arabs and Iranians subsided somewhat, especially following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The Iranian leaders Ayatollah Khamenei and Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami decided an openness policy toward the neighbouring countries, and the world. Arabs and other Muslims, and Iran made great efforts, to overcome the effects of the conflict. With the exception of Egypt; the official Iranian - Arab relations have improved. However, the author believes that Iran has continued working with Shiite groups in the Arab countries, especially Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Al-Sayed identified the Iranian interference in three forms: The interference on political and security level in Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen; the interference in the Palestinian cause by supporting the groups that oppose the peace process with Israel. The third form of intervention is in Iran's support of the Shiite minorities or the Political Islam groups in the Arab states, in an attempt to destabilize them.
The book of Ridwan Al-Sayed is very rich and deep in its approach of the historical and contemporary Sunni-Shiite conflict, from the Arab Sunni viewpoint.


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