Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Shias ‘Metastasizing’ Throughout the Levant?

Is the much-feared ‘Shia Crescent’ turning into a Full Moon?

Elaph’s correspondent in Amman, Amer Hantouli, filed a story a couple of days ago about Jordanian fears of Iranian encroachment onto their home turf. The problem: some Iraqi Shia merchants had bought a piece of land for JD 4 million (about 5.6 million USD) in the posh Abdoun neighborhood (near the US Embassy) and plan to build a Shia mosque on it. The gossip that Hantouli cites has it that these Iraqi merchants are not Iraqi at all, but rather Iranians posing as Iraqis.

I guess the Arab world is still in denial over the existence of Arab Shias in their midst. Jordan has seen waves upon waves of Iraqi migrations since 1991, and there must have been some interaction and intermarriage among Jordanians and Palestinians on the one hand, and Iraqi Shias on the other. Actually, I am aware of plenty of such anecdotal information about unions and conversions, and at the Ashura (Shia religious commemoration) celebrations in al-Mazar in 2002, the crowd was a mix of Iraqis and Jordanian/Palestinians converts.

[The shrine in Mazar (southern Jordan) entombs Ja’afar Al-Tayyar, Imam Ali’s brother, who died on the nearby plains of Mu’ta during a battle with the Ghassanids, vassals of the Byzantine Empire. The shrine was rebuilt by the Indian Bohra Shia community a few years ago. The first Ashura celebration in Mazar took place in 1995, and was organized by Iraqis, but quickly broken-up by Jordanian police. Since then, a Najaf-trained cleric has been in residence in the nearby town of Karak to provide guidance to the Shia faithful. The first to hold this ‘job’ was Sheikh Ali Al-Baghdadi, followed by the late Sheikh Haitham Al-Ansari.]

However, I was surprised to learn of a couple of families from Ma’an in southern Jordan that had maintained their Shia faith for over a millennium; apparently there once existed a Shia settlement in the area of Humaima near Wadi Rum. Someone had once told me of a western travelogue that describes Amman as a Shia settlement some 500 years ago. There were even a few Shia Chechen families that had settled in Jordan 150 years ago, and newer arrivals from southern Lebanon during its civil war. The first openly Shia Jordanian convert was a lawyer from Jerash, Ahmad Hussain Ya’acoub, who wrote several books on the topic of his conversion and regularly contributed to the weekly Al-Hilal Newspaper.

In March 2004, Ahmad Chalabi expressed concern over the treatment of Shias in Jordan in an interview with Al-Hurra TV.

History does not record any Shia communities in Palestine, except for a few towns that are contiguous with Jebel ‘Amil in the north. But apparently there has been some missionary activity in the Galilee, where an Israeli scholar had recently recorded a mass conversion in some village there.

Palestine’s traditional immunity to Shia propaganda may explain why the jihadists are going crazy over Muhammad Shehateh, 45, a former leader in the Islamic Jihad, who is running for one of the Palestinian Legislative Council’s seats in Gaza. He is openly Shia.

These fears of a Shia ‘bogeyman’ are very real among the elite of the Middle East. I know of the story of a Cambridge-educated lady from a rich and liberal Jordanian family who was ostracized by her parents for marrying an Iranian Shia—even though he too came from a mega-wealthy background. But maybe the silliness of these fears is best expressed by the silliest commentator of them all, the Orthodox Christian marionette of Saudi royalty better known as Jihad Al-Khazen. (See it in English, too)

The times, they are a-changin’, man.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a beautiful article. respect, respect. does anyone know of any websites, names of people or places of newly converted shia in palestine, jordon and egypt???
thanks again

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