||"dawnbreak in the west"|
Monday, May 09, 2005
A certain Jane, blogging on her site Armies of Liberation, has recently shone a light onto the Yemeni corner of the Jihad, heretofore ignored by the US since the Cole bombing in 1997. Yemen is divided between the self-styled "normative" sort of Muslim - i.e. Shafi'i-inspired Sunnis, who are radicalising to Wahhabism - and a faction of the other sort who are usually first to die when the former sort take charge.
Yemen's minority Muslims, as far as I can tell, are a remnant from the early days of Shi'ism: the Jarudiyya sect of Zaydis. I figured I may as well lay out what I know of Jarudism, which isn't much, so feel free to email me with corrections and clarifications.
We tend to think of Shi'ism in terms of Sufism and Iraqi / Iranian Shi'ism, or at the least Ismailism, for whom there was an orderly procession of Imams with a lineage reaching back to 'Ali. 'Ali was the honorary "brother" of Muhammad, Aaron to the Prophet's Moses, and caliph of the East from 37-41 AH. These Shi'a share mystical and gnostic undertones, to varying extent. They also appeal in theory or in practice to a living or occulted Imam of 'Ali's line.
But to be "Shi'a" literally means only to adhere to the "party" of Muhammad's family. One needn't be Ismaili or a follower of, say, Ayatollah Sistani. Before the latter-day Shi'a dynasties had crystallised, Shi'ism typically meant little more than "organised Arab rival to the Umayyads".
One early branch opted for the sons of Muhammad b. Hanifiyya, said to have been a son of 'Ali; when he died in 81 AH his followers formed a messianic movement called the "Kaysanites". Another branch soon afterward opted for the sons of al-'Abbas, an uncle of the Prophet; this branch allied with Iranian Kaysanites and other Shi'a to drive the Umayyads out of the Near East and to found the 'Abbasid dynasty. Even the Umayyads claimed kinship with the Prophet, through their shared (pagan) ancestor 'Abd Manaf. During the first century AH, there were rival "people of the House" all claiming to be Muhammad's kin, and all claiming to be "Shi'a" more or less.
In the second, "Marwanid" era of Umayyad rule, one such Shi'a line was that of Husayn who was martyred in Kerbala (61 AH). (Again, note that this was not then the strongest Shi'a nor even strongest 'Alid movement; the proto-Kaysanites under al-Mukhtar were far more powerful and successful. The 60s AH Syrian Christian historian John b. Penkaye said a lot about Mukhtar and nothing about Husayn.) Husayn's descendents survived by keeping their heads down. Husayn's son was another 'Ali, nicknamed "Zayn al-'Abidin" (d. 94 AH); and his son was in turn Abu Ja'far Muhammad, "al-Baqir" (d. 116 AH).
Al-Baqir had a brother, named Zayd. Where al-Baqir wished to continue to leave the Umayyads alone (although he delivered many anti-Umayyad traditions, of which more below), Zayd felt that the Umayyads were a corruption in the land that needed shaking off. Later Shi'a claimed that Zayd argued with al-Baqir, although this is unlikely to be historical. At any rate Zayd and a friend, Abu'l-Jarud Ziyad b. al-Mundhir, rebelled against the Umayyads in Kufa. Zayd further received the support of Islamic legal specialists, most notably Sunni Imam Abu Hanifa, 700 - 767 CE (it is notable that just as the Shi'a were more "Sunni" by contrast with today, so proto-Sunnis like Abu Hanifa opposed Umayyad leadership with Shi'a rivals). However in 740 CE the Umayyads put down this revolt at the cost of Zayd's life.
Abu'l-Jarud lived on, and founded the Jarudiyya movement. He apparently continued to rank himself a "Zaydi" by contrast with other Shi'a, who followed al-Baqir and his son Ja'far instead. But Abu'l-Jarud still transmitted a number of al-Baqir's traditions. These can be found in many early Islamic collections, and also in Shi'a tafasir (Qur'anic commentaries), e.g. of al-Qummi and al-Tabarsi.
In Jarudi thought, Husayn's descendents deserve the Imamate but his line need not. For example (or so I must presume) al-Baqir was certainly wise, honest, and worthy of trust; but he was also docile, and so unworthy of the political deference due his brother.
The Zaydis, like Sunnis and unlike other surviving Shi'a groups, do not believe that their Imams are infallible. Zaydi law further shares with the Hanafi branch of Sunnism a high respect for al-Baqir and adherence to the legal precepts of Kufa as of the late Umayyad era. Some non-Jarudi Zaydis go so far as to accept the caliphate of 'Umar, on the grounds that 'Ali had voluntarily abdicated - implicitly separating the duties of faith (Imam 'Ali) and command (Amir 'Umar). As a result, there are those who consider Yemeni Zaydism a "fifth school" of Sunnism; although that particular site is vague as to whether the Zaydis say this of themselves.
The Zaydi support for rebellion against tyranny seems violent on its face; but keep in mind that the American system of elections is a means for rebellion as well - and kept nonviolent only by threat of the Second Amendment. If the Zaydis "domesticated" this ethic by means of a constitutional system, this would allow for a more democratic form of politics than is traditional to more monarchical forms of Shi'ism such as, e.g., the 'Abbasids (if you count them) and Fatimids.
The Zaydis ended up in Yemen and there ran an Imamate, a sort of caliphate, until a revolution upended their rule in the 1960s. Apparently the Zaydis are now considered "un-Islamic" and slated for destruction.
This would be a shame for those who prefer their Islam pluralistic. It would be tragic for historians; because the Zaydis probably have an extensive and ancient literature, mostly independent of other Shi'a and Sunni movements, and I doubt it's all been published yet.
UPDATE 5/16: reciprocal link from Jane (thanks!). This post is revised to keep current with better information received since then.
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