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HIZB AL-DA`WAH AL-ISLAMIYAH. One of the three most important activist ShIN organizations in opposition to Saddam Hussein’s Bath regime in Iraq, and the oldest among them, is the Hizb al-Da’wah alIslamiyah (Islamic Call Party). The others are the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, founded in Iran in November 1982, and the Organization of Islamic Action, founded in Karbala in the 1960s.

Political History and Program. The party (known in short form simply as the Da’wah) was established in October 1957 in Najaf by the young and ingenious Shi’i religious authority, Muhammad Bagir al-Sadr (born in 1933 in Kazimayn, Baghdad, and executed by the Bath in April 198o). Cofounders were a group of junior Shi`i clergy, some of whom achieved great prominence in later years (chiefly Muhammad Bagir and Mahdi, the two sons of Iraq’s then chief mujtahid Muhsin al-Haknn, as well as two lay intellectuals). The decision to found a political party (which al-Sadr, using a Qur’anic expression, dubbed Hizb Allah, “Party of God”), whose sole purpose would be to call the people of Iraq back to Islam, was the result of the young clergy’s realization that Islam and, in particular, Shi’i Islam in Iraq was on the decline. Owing to a number of political, social, and economic developments under the monarchy, the number of students of religion in the two holy cities of Najaf and Karbala had declined steeply and many young Shi`is were estranged from religion and, markedly so, from the religious establishment. Under the republican regime of `Abd al-Karim Qasim, (14 July 1958-8 February 1963), followed by the short-lived Bath regime of 1963 and that of the `Arif brothers, `Abd al-Salam and `Abd al-Rahman (18 November 1963-17 July 1968), relations between the Shi’i establishment of the holy cities and the government were tense, but both sides refrained from drastic action. The regimes tolerated de facto Shi`i autonomy in the religious educational institutions (alhawzat al-`ilmiyah) of Najaf and Karbala, and the latter, for their part, kept their protest against the secularizing Sunni ruling elites within strict limits. These circumstances permitted the Da`wah to operate almost without restriction, not only in Najaf but also in Baghdad. (Indeed, the main opposition to its activity came, in those days, from the more conservative circles within the religious university of Najaf, who regarded activity along modern party lines as deviation from tradition. As a result, so as not to compromise his position as a mujtahid, Sadr was eventually forced to sever his organizational ties with the party.) The Da’wah’s main activity in Baghdad was aimed to win over young lay Shl’! intellectuals (a few Sunnis joined the party as well, but they were a small minority), and thus it concentrated its main effort among the students of Baghdad University and young professionals, as well as among high school students. Almost all the recruiting activity within these circles was conducted by lay university students and graduates.

At the same time, the party tried to expand its influence among the Shi`i poor in the al-Thawrah slum (later Saddam City) on the outskirts of Baghdad, but this was done, mainly, through party members who were junior clergy. Until the Bath came to power (and, indeed, even two or three years afterward) this activity was carried out almost openly, with little or no official interference. It involved public prayers, gatherings to celebrate Islamic festivals, Islamic placards, and, for the hard core of activists, classes led by al-Sadr and others in Qur’an interpretation and some advanced Islamic studies. Beginning in the late 1960s, the Da’wah expanded its activities to other parts of the Shi’i world, notably to Lebanon. According to an interview with a senior member in the 1 960s to disguise its activity somewhat, the Da’wah also called itself the Fatimid Party (al-Hizb al-Fatim-1) after Fatimah alZahra’, `Ali’s wife and the Prophet’s daughter.

In the second half of 1969, the Bath regime, when trying to eliminate the Shi`i educational autonomy, cracked down in an unprecedented way on the hawzdt of Najaf and Karbala. This marked the beginning of a rapid deterioration of relations between the two establishments. The Da’wah’s activities, too, were severely restricted, and, eventually, it was forced to go underground. This, as well as its own theory of action that dictated a leap into political activity after a few years of purely educational work, drove the party to become progressively more militant. In 1970, the party’s first member was martyred, and in 1974 the regime executed five more senior members. As reported by its own sources, in February 1977 the party was deeply involved in organizing the vast antigovernment demonstrations that occurred during a mass pilgrimage to Karbala to commemorate the anniversary of the fortieth day after the martyrdom of Imam Husayn. But the Da’wah’s main political and guerrilla thrust occurred soon thereafter under the influence of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s February 1979 takeover in Iran. The party then engaged in organizing mass Shi`i antiBa’th demonstrations and armed attacks against Bath party and internal security centers, all in an attempt to topple the regime and replace it with an Iranian-style Islamic republic. As a result of the regime’s crackdown, hundreds of party members (including al-Sadr who, by then, no longer belonged officially to the party, but who remained its intellectual mentor) were executed, a few thousand members and supporters were arrested, and most other members fled the country.

Throughout the Iraq-Iran War (1980-1988) the Da`wah’s activity was fourfold: it acted inside Iraq, sporadically hitting at Bath targets; it had a small, regular unit that fought on Iran’s side against Iraq; it carried out terrorist activities against pro-Iraqi regimes in the Middle East, chiefly in Kuwait, and against Western targets; and it endeavored to incorporate new members and supporters from among the Iraqi Shl’! expatriates in the West and in Iran. At the end of the war, in order to improve its image in the West, the party stopped all armed activities outside of Iraq. During the Kuwait crisis (August 1990-March 1991) and following it, the party initiated a number of overtures toward Western governments, notably the United States and Britain, as well as toward anti-Ba’thist, pro-Western Arab regimes such as Saudi Arabia, with which they were at loggerheads during the Iraq Iran War. Another aspect of their growing pragmatism was a claim, voiced by some of the party’s spokesmen (but clearly not by all), to be in favor of Western-style liberal parliamentary democracy. As those spokesmen put it, if the majority in post-Saddam Iraq were to reject their notion of an Islamic republic, the party would accept the majority verdict. It then would continue its educational work designed to persuade the people of the need for such an Islamic rule. It is far too early to judge whether this claim to democracy represents a genuine change of heart.

In the era after the Iraq-Iran war some differences within the party between those whose main activity was in Iran and those who lived and worked in the West have been exposed. One major difference concerned the degree to which the party ought to be independent of Iranian dictates, now that the interest of the Iraqi opposition in continuing the struggle and that of the Iranian state in increasing stability were incompatible. Another difference, albeit a less important one, was over the degree of clarity with which the party should express its commitment to democracy. Those members operating in Iran (led by the party’s spokesman Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi al-Asafi) have been rather vague about democracy and have been receptive to Iranian policy dictates, whereas some party members who live in the West have inclined toward more independence and democracy. During the Kuwait crisis, the party suffered from at least one split. The new group, calling itself the Cadres of the Iraqi Islamic Da’wah Party (Kawadir Hizb al-Da’wah alIslamiyah al-`Iraqi), emphasizes its Iraqi identity and “the independence of the Islamic Iraqi decision-making” of Iranian policy. In addition, it claims that, for more than a decade, the Da’wah has failed to provide a plan of action, and that an urgent need for such a plan exists. It is typical, however, of this closely knit and highly ideological movement that the two factions restrain their argument and refrain from the acrimonious accusations so widespread in political disputes in the Middle East.

The contribution of Da’wah activists to the anti-Ba’thist Shi’i intifadah or uprising of March 1991 is unclear. According to party members’ reports, they were active in encouraging the masses to revolt, but it is clear that most of the uprising was spontaneous. Moreover, there is little doubt that a rival Shl’! opposition organization, the Tehran-based Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was more prominent, sending into Iraq many hundreds of its Iran-based membership. Whatever the case, the regime’s crackdown that followed weakened the party organization inside Iraq: members who exposed themselves during the revolt were later jailed or executed Organization. Owing to the requirements of its underground activity, the precise organizational structure of the party is a well-guarded secret. However, its general outlines may still be delineated. At the top of what is described as “a pyramidal structure” stands a collective body of around ten. Its first name was Majlis al-Fuqaha’ (Council of Jurists); in later years it also included a few laymen, though they are still a small minority. In its contemporary incarnation it is reported as being called al-Qiyadah al `Ammah (General Leadership). One level lower is the Council of Leadership (Majlis al-Qiyadah) that consists of a few scores of activists. Its more contemporary name is either the General Congress (al-Mu’tamar al-`Amm), or the Political Bureau (al-Maktab al-Siyasi). This body, which consists mostly of lay intellectuals who represent their respective territorial branches, directs the day-to-day activity of the party branches. Under it one finds an unknown number of lower levels, ending with the basic unit, the Family (al-Usrah) or the Ring (al-Halaqah). Inside Iraq, to minimize the danger of exposure, an ordinary member knows only other members of his own basic unit, and only vertical contacts between units are maintained. This structure is strongly influenced by the organizational structures of the Communist and Bath parties. Al-Sadr was the first to acknowledge that any organizational form was legitimate if it could spread “the call” more efficiently, and as long as it was not forbidden by the shad `ah. “The Prophet,” he explained, “had he lived in our age, would have used . . . the modern and suitable means of communications and spreading of the message.” In Europe, where there is no danger of suppression, the lowest echelon is the local branch, apparently combining all party members in a town.

Ecumenism versus Particularism. On the face of it, the position of the Da’wah publications is ecumenical. The party calls for the establishment of a full-fledged Islamic regime in Iraq that would apply the rules of the shari `ah to every walk of life, regardless of differences between Sunni and Shl’! Islam (and, indeed, the differences between them in terms of substantive law are very small). A more careful reading, however, reveals strong Shi`i undertones; for example, there are occasional inferences that once Saddam Hussein and his Bath regime are toppled, Shiism would become the dominant power in Iraq’s political life. Shi`i youth are called upon to be ready to sacrifice themselves, as did Imam Husayn and most other Shi i imams. Although such appeals make it difficult for Sunnis to join the movement, this has not prevented the Da’wah from establishing cordial relations with the main (Sunni) Kurdish opposition organizations. Unsurprisingly, however, the party has somewhat uneasy relations with the other main Shi`i opposition groups, for they are all competing for the allegiance of the Iraqi Shi’i expatriates in Iran and Europe. The party’s ideas were first expressed by al-Sadr in a magazine, Al-adwd’ (The Lights), issued by an activist group of `ulama’ in Najaf in the early I96os. The party’s own first magazine was called Sawt al-da’wah (Voice of the Da’wah), and it, too, came out in Najaf in the midand late 1960s. During most of the 1980s and the early 1990s, its main publications have been a weekly issued in Tehran, Al-jihad, and another issued in London, Sawt al-`Iraq (Voice of Iraq). The cadres issue a weekly magazine called Fajr al-`Iraq (Iraq’s Dawn).

[See also Iraq; shi’i Islam, article on Modern ShN Thought; and the biography of Sadr]


Baram, Amatzia/ “Two Roads to Revolutionary Shi`i Fundamentalism Iraq: Hizb al-Da’wa al-Islamiyya and the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq.” In Accounting for Fundamentalisms: The Dynamic Character of Movements, edited by Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, pp. 531-586. Chicago, 1994.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/hizb-al-dawah-al-islamiyah/

  • writerPosted On: June 10, 2013
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