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HARAKAT AL-TAWHID AL-ISLAMI. A militant Sunni movement, the Harakat al-Tawhid al-Islam (Islamic Unification Movement) emerged out of the political turmoil of the I98os in the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli. Tawhid, the term by which the movement was popularly known, was formed from a coalition of Islamic and Arab nationalist groups, which included Jund Allah, the Muslim Youth (Pro-Fatah), Popular Resistance, and the Lebanese Arab Movement. It came to power in the context of the Lebanese civil war in Tripoli through armed insurrection in October 1983 and October 1985.

Tawhid was part of a broader current of radical Islamic movements to emerge in the early I980s in Lebanon. As Imam Awada (1988) notes, the post-1982 period, the year of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, saw at least eight radical Islamic groups form in Lebanon. All shared a radical rejection of Lebanese confessional politics and supported the idea of creating an Islamic state. Although these movements drew on the Sunni and Shi’i radicalism of the period, the political climate created by the Israeli invasion was an important factor in mobilizing both popular local and international support for these movements.

Civil war and the collapse of the Lebanese state strongly influenced the character of Tawhid’s organization, as they had affected the secular Lebanese parties that preceded it in Tripoli. Although politically, militarily, communally, and geographically restricted, Tawhid was unique because it was a religious movement in the predominantly Sunni city of Tripoli, projecting a radical Islamic image and explicitly linking itself with the Islamic militancy of the Iranian revolution.

The movement was organized into five. districts, each controlled by an “emir.” These districts coincided with the traditional administrative and clientalist arrangements of the city quarters. Islamic ideology provided the basis for unity, but administrative responsibilities were shared between the different founding groups, each controlling separate districts.

The movement’s leader, Shaykh Sayyid Sha’ban, promoted the movement as an ecumenical one for both Lebanese Sunni and Shi`i Muslims. The tangible expression of this ecumenism was his membership in the small Lebanese Association of Muslim `Ulama’ (Tajammu’)-an organization in which the Sunni `ulama’ have accepted the `ulama’ as the “heirs of the Prophet” and Ayatollah Khomeini as the leading religious figure of this generation. As Emmanuel Sivan (1989) points out, Shaykh Sha’ban’s ecumenical orientation and support for Khomeini’s leadership of Islamic radicalism was tempered by historical theological differences between Sunnism and Shiism. These included the issue of the recognition by Sunni orthodoxy of all of the Rightly Guided Caliphs and the six Sunni codices of hadiths as the basis for interpreting the Qur’an. Shaykh Sha’ban was also critical of the Iranian rather than Muslim character of Khomeini’s regime in Iran. He once suggested that the reestablishment of the caliphate in Mecca was a better strategy to achieve Muslim unity.

Tawhid was a millenarian movement whose project was to bring Islamic order to the anarchy of Tripoli and to work toward the formation of an Islamic state. It was not, however, a broadly populist movement but an expression of the new coalition of local and international forces that controlled northern Lebanon. It was a politico-military group with an Islamic platform, which achieved power through arms by replacing a secular coalition of Lebanese nationalists and communists. It borrowed heavily from the revolutionary symbols of the Iranian revolution, including the turbaned, bearded, and armed clergy and the veil. Some Tawhid clerics even took to riding around Tripoli on horseback as a symbol of their return to the cultural origins of Islam in the first community (ummah).

Tawhid’s ascent to power in Tripoli and its confinement to the city limits were reflections of the urban concentration of the Sunni population in Lebanon and the political eclipse of the Sunnis as the most powerful Muslim sect during the course of the civil war. Its most influential political links were not with other Lebanese Sunni communities but with the Shi`is, especially the radical Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah and Hizbullah, as was borne out in the final siege of Tripoli when pro-Iranian radicals in West Beirut kidnapped Soviet diplomats in an effort to halt the Syrian bombardment by political pressure.

The involvement of Sunni clerics in Tawhid represented a radical departure from the traditionally conservative politics of the Lebanese Sunni religious establishment. Michael Humphrey (1989) observed that the Tawhid shaykhs were drawn from a stratum of local community shaykhs who only recently had been incorporated in the Lebanese Sunni religious establishment through the policy of increased bureaucratization and religious education. This connection made them more dependent economically on the state and exposed them to more militant Islamic thought and politics.

Of particular significance were their links with radical Egyptian al-Azhar shaykhs, which they first established either as theological students in al-Azhar University or as labor migrants in the Arab world. Fuad Khuri (199o) points out that there were two predominant al-Azhar networks in northern Lebanon. At least one Egyptian al-Azhar shaykh from these networks was directly involved in the initial organization of the movement in Tripoli. The politicization of the Sunni clerics through their international links occurred with the decline of the Sunni religious establishment on the collapse of state authority. This paralleled a similar process in secular politics whereby international patronage had been substituted for state patronage.

The Islamic program Tawhid sought to implement was limited and piecemeal. The sale of alcohol was banned, and some shops were destroyed by over-enthusiastic militiamen. The veil became more common, and a religious tax was imposed on wealthier businessmen to help fund welfare services to the poor. In practice, however, the Tawhid shaykhs preached individual Islamic moral rectitude as the basis for social transformation and the ultimate realization of an Islamic state.

The military defeat of Tawhid on 6 October 1985 reflected the limited popular base of its support in Tripoli and, perhaps more critically, the change in Syrian attitudes to independent militia rule in Lebanon. Shaykh Sha`ban survived the military defeat, but several of the leading shaykhs and many militiamen did not. The movement was all but destroyed. Shaykh Sha`ban still lives in Tripoli, but his activities have been restricted to social welfare.

[See also Hizbullah, article on Hizbullah in Lebanon; Lebanon; and the biography of Fadlalldh]


Awada, Hassam. “Le Liban et le flux islamiste.” Social Compass 35.4 (1988): 645-673. Good study of Lebanese Islamic movements in a Pan-Islamic context.

Humphrey, Michael. Islam: Sect and State. Oxford, 1989. A sociological analysis of the Tawhid movement and its sociopolitical background.

Khuri, Fuad. Imams and Emirs: State, Religion, and Sect in Islam. London, 1990. Excellent sociological differentiation of religious forms and society.

Sivan, Emmanuel. “Sunni Radicalism in the Middle East and the Iranian Revolution.” International journal of Middle East Studies 21 (1989): 1-30. Good comparative summary of Sunni and shi’i radicalism and their common ground.


In this section of the house are not just wives, but also daughters, sisters, and mothers; by extension harim can euphemistically refer to the family in general, in greetings and inquiries as to health.

[See also Purification; Seclusion.]


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/harakat-al-tawhid-al-islami/

  • writerPosted On: June 10, 2013
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