Islamic Movements among Sunnis, Shiis, and Kurds

Islamic Movements among Sunnis, Shiis, and Kurds

It is often forgotten that at the height of Iraq’s secularist “moment,” religiously inspired movements jostled for Iraqis’ attention as well. Among the most famous was the Daawa Party, a major Shii organization that emerged slightly before the 1958 revolution and whose rapid spread was helped, in part, by the clergy’s worry that the ICP was making inroads among Iraq’s Shii youth. Among the Sunnis in the 1940s and 1950s, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), spreading out from Egypt, gained rapid ascendancy in Iraq. The MB also infl uenced the first Islamic organizations in Iraqi Kurdistan.

All three Islamic movements, as well as those that followed in their wake, essentially started as Muslim reformist currents that aimed at the education and spiritual regeneration of their followers. Only slowly were they politicized. In 1946, the MB in Egypt sent several preachers to neighboring Arab countries to spread the word of Islam. Shaykh Amjad al-Zahawi became the fi rst head of the Society for the Salvation of Palestine; from that time onward, the MB in Iraq joined nationalist rallies against the Portsmouth Treaty signed in 1948 allying Iraq to Britain.

The MB also concerned itself with educational activities and sermons and lectures at mosques inside Iraq. Their chief bugbear was the ICP, whose members were seen as apostates with whom no true Muslim would form an alliance. Unfortunately for them, under the Qasim regime, the Communists became very powerful and, in fact, targeted the Islamic parties, who went underground for a while. Generally speaking, even though the MB fi nally received permission to become a legal party, it continued to be severely restricted under the republican governments.

The MB’s quiet activism even led to charges of collusion with the state. In the Kurdish case, for instance, the MB was criticized by later Kurdish nationalists because it had not called for armed struggle against the “infi del” Baathist government of 1963, with its “heathen nationalism and racism on one side, and communist socialism on the other” (quoted by Shourush in Abdul-Jabar 2002, 178).The Shii parties, however, had a longer history of Islamic resistance. As early as 1950, the Movement of Muslim Youth was established in Najaf; its example was followed by many other Shii groups, some of which grew in importance while others collapsed.

A new and much more forceful movement called al-Daawa (the Call) was founded in 1957, established by eight clerics and lay scholars. Its initial inspiration was Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim in Najaf, but later on, it attracted another important religious scholar, Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (1935–80). Because there was deep hostility to involving the Shii clergy in politics in the Shii shrine cities as well as elsewhere, the appeal of al-Daawa had to be buttressed by scholarly arguments.

Al-Daawa members worked to rejuvenate religious education and to revive rites and practices that formed an integral part of Shii faith-based traditions. After 1967, al-Daawa, like other religious parties, was suppressed violently by the state. In general, observers note that the politicization of religious movements and the overwhelming support for resistance against the state among the rank and fi le occurred most visibly after the 1970s, as the Baath regime began to stoke sectarian and ethnic rivalries and persecute religious communities.