Current Trends in Islamist Ideology

Zarqawi's Anti-Shi'a Legacy: Original or Borrowed?

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, purportedly the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, photo released May 4, 2006. (U.S. Department of Defense/Released)
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, purportedly the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, photo released May 4, 2006. (U.S. Department of Defense/Released)

Two months prior to his demise, Abu Musa’ab Al-Zarqawi recorded a four hour anti-Shi’a tirade under the title "Has word of the rafidha reached you?" ("Hel ataka hadith al-rafidha") with rafidha (rejecters) and its other plural form, rawafidh, being the derogatory term to describe "Twelver Imamist Shi’a who follow the Ja’fari creed"--as Zarqawi makes clear early on in his sermon.1 This would be Zarqawi’s last message to his followers, and in it he lays out the reasons why he believes that the Shi'a--who follow a "religion other than Islam"--are engaged in a doctrinal and political struggle with Sunni Islam. The strategic implications for global jihad, engendered by this notion, are made succinct by Zarqawi in these following excerpts:

The Muslims will have no victory or superiority over the aggressive infidels such as the Jews and the Christians until there is a total annihilation of those under them such as the apostate agents headed by the rafidha...

. . .Jerusalem was only retrieved at the hands of Salahuddin, even though Noureddin Mahmoud (Zenki) was harsher on the Crusaders than Salahuddin. It was Allah’s will that victory and the liberation of Jerusalem would come at Salahuddin’s hand only after he fought the ‘Ubeidi rafidha (the Fatimids of Egypt) for several years, and totally annihilated their state and overthrew it, and from then he could focus on the Crusaders, and victory was awarded to him and he retrieved Jerusalem, which had remained captive for years under their grip because of the treachery of the rawafidh. This is a very important lesson that history gives us that should not be overlooked at all: we will not have victory over the original infidels (alkuffar alasliyeen) until we fight the apostate infidels (alkuffar almurtaddeen) simultaneously along with the original infidels. The Islamic conquests that occurred during the reign of the rashideen (the Four Righteous Caliphs) only occurred after the Arabian Peninsula was cleansed of apostates. And that is why the most hated figure among the rafidha is Salahuddin, and they would tolerate death rather than tolerate him.2

Zarqawi is mapping out the next phase of jihad as he sees it: in order to strike at Islam’s perceived enemies such as the United States of America, Europe and Israel, the jihadists must also do battle with the Shi’a who are serving as agents of the forces that are hostile to the faith. In a doctrinal sense, Zarqawi asserts early on that "the rawafidh is a religion wholly different from the Islam that was brought forth by the Prophet (PBUH) . . . and that (rawafidh) has no other purpose than to destroy Islam." According to Zarqawi, the Shi’a perpetrate this perceived conspiracy by casting doubts upon the tenets of Islam, and through sowing sedition against Muslim rulers.

However, Zarqawi is not breaking new ground here; castigating the Shi’a as political traitors to the Muslim nation is a hackneyed talking point that was reiterated seven centuries ago by the ideological fount of the Salafist movement, Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya, when he wrote:

Many of (the rafidha) would favor the infidels within his heart more than he would favor the Muslims. That is why when the infidel Turks emerged from the east and fought the Muslims and spilled their blood, in the lands of Khurasan and in Iraq and Sham and in the Peninsula and elsewhere, the rafidha were there to aid them in killing Muslims. And the Baghdad vizier known as Al-’Alqami; it was he and others like him who greatly aided them against the Muslims, as well as those who were in Al-Sham’s Aleppo and other rafidha who were the fiercest collaborators in fighting Muslims. The same goes for the Christians (the Crusaders) in Al-Sham where the rafidha were their greatest helpers. And should the Jews get a state in Iraq or elsewhere, the rafidha will be their greatest helpers, for they are always supportive of the infidels whether they are idolaters or Jews or Christians, and help them to fight Muslims and show aggression towards them.3

Zarqawi turned that Baghdadi vizier cited above into the poster-boy of Shi’i treachery, and released a sermon in May 2005 titled "The Grandchildren of Ibn Al-’Alqami Have Returned" (Wa ‘aad ahfah ibn al-’alqami). In the jihadist version of history, in 1258 the vizier Ibn Al-’Alqami--allegedly a Shi’a--conspired with Nassir-eddin Al-Tusi, another Shi’a who acted as adviser to the "Tatar" commander Holaku, to attack Baghdad and topple the ‘Abbasid Caliphate. The last caliph, Al-Musta’asim, was killed after being bundled up by the Tatars in sackcloth and trampled to death, and the city was laid to waste with hundreds of thousands of its inhabitants put to the sword or enslaved. To Zarqawi and the jihadists, America’s occupation of Baghdad in April 2003 mirrored those events many centuries ago because it also occurred through Shi’a collusion. And that was not the end of it, for "what was endured by the Sunnis of Iraq at the hands of those rawafidh, the grandsons of Ibn Al-’Alqami, was harsher and more gruesome than what they have had to endure at the hands of the American enemy." Zarqawi adds, "we are the vanguard of the ummah and its first line of defense, and its spearhead that stands in the face of this Crusader encroachment; working to stop this encroachment by these contemporary Tatars at the gates of Baghdad for the good of the whole ummah."

Zarqawi’s Shi’i fixation was first indicated in a letter allegedly wrote to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri that came to light in February 2004. In this letter, which U.S. soldiers captured on one of Zarqawi’s couriers. In this letter, Zarqawi defends his anti-Shi’a rhetoric and actions. "The rafidha have declared a secret war against the people of Islam," he wrote, " and they constitute the near and dangerous enemy to the Sunnis even though the Americans are also a major foe, but the danger of the rafidha is greater and their damage more lethal to the ummah than the Americans." He asserts that instigating Shi’a-Sunni strife would have two benefits: it would both deal with an imminent threat and rouse Sunnis to action and having them flock to jihad.

In making his case, Zarqawi can refer to a very large body of polemical works against the Shi’a. In the last century, most of the doctrinal works were commissioned and subsidized by Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabis, but recently the jihadists have been turning out tracts of their own to highlight the political danger posed by Shi’ism. A number of sources seem to have influenced Zarqawi’s rhetoric, beginning with a tract published in the early 1980s that warned of the challenge posed by Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Several contemporary Wahhabi sermons that focus on political matters also inform Zarqawi’s arguments, as do two published since the start of the Iraq war that address the Shi’a problem from a jihadist perspective. There are some instances where Zarqawi seems to have borrowed directly from these works.

Zarqawi argues in his April 2006 sermon that his tactics, such as indiscriminate attacks on Shi’a civilians, are nothing new—mass eradications of Shi’I populations was a repressive measure previously used by Muslim rulers when faced with sedition.4 Zarqawi is very careful to ward off any accusations of bid’a (innovation), which is a taboo anathema to all Salafists. He is unique, however, in transformation of hate speech into a course for action: he has pushed jihad to the extreme by introducing the concept of a final solution to the Shi’a problem through "complete annihilation." He recommends such a course as a prelude to defeating the other enemies of Islam and resurrecting the Caliphate. The security and moral implications of such a strategy should greatly worry those battling terrorism, as well as to the Shi’a themselves, who are the majority in some key Middle East countries and sizable minorities in strategic locales such as the oil-rich rim of the Persian Gulf, and the northern borders of Israel.

Pioneering Anti-Shi’ism

In many ways a book by Abdullah Muhammad al-Gharib entitled Then Came the Turn of the Majus (Wa ja’a dawr al-majus) set the tone for successive works that describe the Shi’a political threat.5 And several instances in Zarqawi’s sermon indicating that he borrowed directly from Al-Gharib’s book, including a verbatim--yet not cited--paragraph about a historical character called al-Hurmuzan that was involved in Caliph ‘Umar’s murder.6 Zarqawi does directly acknowledge al-Gharib in making the case that Khomeini was in reality an American agent.7

According to Al-Gharib, he wrote this book in the late 1970s to warn of the imminent danger posed by Khomeini’s movement even before the latter had overthrown the Shah. The word majus is the generic early Islamic term for all the "fire-worshiping" Persians--whether they were Zoroastrians, Mazdakites or Manicheans—who were encountered in the conquest of Iraq and Persia. The first edition appeared in 1981 and was printed in Cairo (among other places), and an expanded second edition seemingly appeared in 1986, also in multiple printings. The author claims to have been following the activities of the "rafidhah" for two decades before compiling his treatise, and felt compelled to publish his case at a time when Middle Eastern Islamists were looking favorably upon the Iranian Revolution. They believed, as he did, that this seismic event would help them to overturn Communism and other secular ideologies.

The gist of the book is cautionary, however, warning of Shi’i expansion originating from Iran and spreading into the rest of the Middle East. Though the author never definitively casts off the Shi’a as infidels, he comes close when writing in the introduction that "Their doctrines are rotten . . .and these contemporary Shi’a are worse that yesterday’s Shi’a . . .And I have demonstrated that the Shi’a have their own origins and we have our own too, and there is no room for convergence . . . Shi’ism reverts to majusist roots and not Islamic ones, and the home of majusism is the land of Iran and Persia."Later on, al-Gharib sets more specific conditions in labeling Shi’a as heretics:

The Twelver Imami Ja’afaris who slander the companions of the Prophet (PBUH) and deny the sunnah, and believe that the scribes have deleted nary a verse from the Qur’an, and who believe in the infallibility of their Imams and claim that they are better than Allah’s prophets and know the unknown, then we have no doubt about their heresy, and that their distance from Islam is such as the distance between the sky and the earth, especially if they believe in their known books: Al-kafi, Fasl al-khitab, Fiqh men la yahdhuruhu al-faqih . . .8

Fueled by Arab ethnic chauvinism, the first part of al-Gharib’s book is replete with indictments of the Persian race, whom the author holds responsible for being behind a string of conspiracies against Islam. They began with a plot, allegedly hatched in alliance with Christians to murder Umar. According to Al-Gharib, "the esoteric rafidha look upon Arab Muslims with malice and hate simply because they destroyed the glory of Persia and vanquished the rule of Cyrus."9 Al-Gharib asserts that the Persians turned to Shi’ism only because Imam Hussein married into royal Sassanian blood.10 The Persians also aided the ‘Abbasids in dethroning the ‘Umayyad dynasty, and then secretly sought to control them. Al-Gharib proceeds to describe the disruptive uprisings of the Qaramitah (Carmathians), the Buwayhids and the Fatimids--all of which contributed to weakening Islam. He adds that "they divided up the Islamic lands among them and spread unbelief wherever their feet tread . . . then Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi came and cleansed Bilad Al-Sham and Egypt from majusism, and returned the Prophet’s sunnah to the Muslims." But the Shi’a went underground and

the batinis prepared themselves to emerge with their old beliefs with only the names changed: the Safavids, the Baha’is, the Qadianis, the Druze, the Nusayris (‘Alawites), the Assassins, the Isma’ilis . . . The (batinis) returned to support the enemies of Allah and to cooperate with them against Muslims. They cooperated with Britain, Portugal, France, and Czarist Russia . . . They returned to shred Islamic unity all over again.11

Al-Gharib then elaborates about all the groups cited above, claiming that even the founders of the Druze and Nusayris sects were Persians. He make some glaring historical mistakes, however, such as wrongly mischaracterizing the Afghan Afsharids as Shi’a, when they were in fact trying to foment a Sunni revival in Iran after defeating the Safavids.12 Al-Gharib even denounces the Sufis by arguing that some of their luminaries, like Al-Hallaj, were majusis.13 He also mentions in passing the "treachery" carried out by Ibn Al-’Alqami and Nassir-eddin Al-Tusi, but only in passing.14

But he is particularly vitriolic about Syria’s Nusayri sect, who had aided the Crusaders, the Tatars and the French. Al-Gharib insists that their ethnic ancestors were Persian slaves who had fled Iraq’s Samara ahead of the Carmathian raids,15 and adds:

Today they control an important part of Bilad Al-Sham--Syria--and plan to destroy Islam and Muslims when the coast is clear for them, and they cooperate with Israel, Iran and the United States, and Muslim scholars in the past and the present have unanimously declared this sect to be infidels.16

On doctrinal issues, al-Gharib instructs the reader to review the body of work produced by an earlier generation of Sunni scholars—thinkers such as Muhammad Shukri Al-Alusi, Muhib-eddin Al-Khateeb, Muhammad Behjet Al-Bitar, Rashid Ridha, Taqi-eddin Al-Hilali and Mustafa Siba’i. He also recommends "contemporary" scholars such as Muhammad Nassir Al-Albani, Al-Bashir Al-Ibrahimi, Ahmad Amin’s book The Dawn of Islam (Fajr alislam) which "ties Shi’ism to Judaism"; Muhammad Is’aaf Al-Nashashibi, Ibrahim Al-Jabhan, whom al-Gharib credits with revealing Shi’ism’s majusi roots; Muhammad Rashad Salim and Ahmad Hassan Al-Zayyat.

Almost half the book is devoted to highlighting the danger posed by a resurgent Khomeini and alleged Iranian designs on the Persian Gulf. In al-Gharib’s eyes, Khomeini only makes a show of his hostility towards the United States in order to hide the fact that he is an American agent. Khomeini’s bellicosity gave the Americans an excuse to send its troops to such places like Oman, Somalia and Kenya, thus encircling the region. The author points out, however, that because treachery is second nature to the Iranians, who may end in betraying the Americans as well.17

Al-Gharib writes that Israel’s long-term safety will be assured if Khomeini poses as its enemy and that "the day will comes when people will know that the Jews were behind (the Iranian Revolution) just like Ibn Saba’ was behind their emergence in the first place."18 Here, al-Gharib regurgitates a long-standing accusation, employed by Sunni propagandists for centuries, that Shi’ism was founded by a Jewish convert to Islam, Abdullah Ibn Saba’, who plotted to sow dissent among the early Muslims by championing the ‘Alid cause.19 The author goes on to argue that the Shi’a of the Gulf States were essentially "fifth columnists" for Iran "who live with their bodies in the Gulf but their hearts and minds are in Tehran."20 He gives details of how those Shi’a monopolize certain trades and create closed-off communities, and how they are proceeding to infiltrate government and society. He gives very specific examples from Kuwait, including long lists of Shi’i-controlled mosques and cultural institutions.

Al-Gharib’s intent is only to bring attention to this emerging threat, and he laments that too many Sunnis are enthralled by Khomeini’s sloganeering to notice the impending Shi’i encroachment. The author offers no remedies to counter this threat, and proposes no grand strategies for defending Sunnism.

Contemporary Anti-Shi’a Wahhabism

Sharing al-Gharib’s perspective is the 40-year-old Saudi preacher Mamdouh bin Ali Al-Harbi. He analyzes the Shi’a "menace" in a two-and-half-hour sermon entitled title "The Shi’i Octopus in the World" (Al-ikhtaboot al-shi’i fil ‘alem), which is available in four audio files on several anti-Shi’a websites (such as The series begins with several audio segments, apparently recorded from chat rooms, of individual Shi’a cursing and mocking the Caliphs Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, as well as the Saudi royal family. Rehashing the Ibn ‘Alqami story, al-Harbi warns that "the Shi’a naturally constitute a supportive column for Iran’s political and religious plans and ideas." He first highlights the danger posed by Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a who are "actively breeding" through community-funded mass nuptials and who seek to control strategic businesses such as bakeries and fish markets. "The Saudi Shi’a are similar to the Shi’a all over the world with regards to their heretical doctrine, paganism and grave-worship," al-Harbi declares. He also warns that some Shi’a are attempting to go undercover and pass themselves off as Sunnis by assuming common Saudi tribal surnames. He gives several examples, including some Kaysani (Nakhawileh) Shi’a in Medina who distort their family name of "al-Hirbi" to sound like that of the numerous al-Harbi tribe.

In the second audio file, al-Harbi relies on Persian Gulf shipping and oil production statistics from al-Gharib’s Wa ja’a dawr al-majoos, as well as examples of Shi’i proliferation in countries like Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates given by al-Gharib, but does not cite the source. Al-Harbi proceeds to describe Iranian proselytizing efforts among Yemeni tribes along the Saudi border because the Saudi state "is considered by Iran to be its first and greatest enemy to itself and to Shi’as in general."22 According to him, the American ambassador in Yemen has disbursed $100 million dollars worth of weaponry such as anti-aircraft and anti-armor missiles, among these tribes in order to foment unrest. Al-Harbi also describes what he believes are Iranian efforts to spread Shi’ism in Egypt.

This undated sermon must undoubtedly have been recorded after the Iraq war since al-Harbi laments and lists all the illicit Shi’i designs on Iraq, including their "deceitful" efforts to inflate their numbers that "do not exceed 40 percent of the population." Some of al-Harbi’s assertions about their sinister designs verge of the bizarre:

. . . The Shi’a of Iraq control most of the important departments in the Iraqi government and they (lure others) through money and women just like their brothers the Jews, and one of the recent trends is the increase in the number of private sports halls in the capital Baghdad, where its patrons train on all sorts of martial arts such as Karate or Kung-Fu or Judo, and most of these halls belong to the Shi’a whether they be trainers or trainees, and when asked about the reason for this large number of (sports) halls and the large number of Shi’a among its patrons, more than one responded unanimously that they want their hearts to get accustomed to fighting Sunnis with their (bare) hands rather than with weapons, since weapons provide a quick death and that is not to their heart’s content, as one of them said.23

Al-Harbi claims that Khomeini’s revolution assumed the mantle of leading the world’s Shi’a, and spreads the Shi’i creed through Iran’s worldwide network of embassies and cultural centers. He gives detailed examples of such activities in Kenya and the Sudan, and continues in the third audio file along the same lines to describe more Iranian proselytizing campaigns in Senegal, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Indonesia. In the fourth and last audio segments, similar activities in Afghanistan, Turkey, Bosnia and North America, going so far as to give a detailed breakdown of Shi’i mosques and cultural centers in the state of Georgia, among many others.

In another one-hour sermon in two parts titled "The Secret Plans of the Shi’a" (Mukhattetat al-shi’a al-sirriyyeh) that is similarly available on several anti-Shi’a websites, al-Harbi dwells at length over a purported secret document, which was "exposed" by a London-based organization called the Society of the Sunnis of Iran (Rabitat ahl al-sunnah fi iran), under the title "The Secret Plan of the Clerics and Ayatollahs of the Shi’a" (Alkhuta al-sirriyyeh li ‘ulema’ wa ayaat al-shi’a) and published in al-Bayyan Magazine in March 1998. The text also appears in many versions on the internet and under different titles like the "Protocols of the Elders of Qum" echoing the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" to reinforce the impression among radical Sunnis that the Shi’i conspiracy is akin to the Jewish one.24 Similarly, Zarqawi argues that

the roots of the rafidha and the roots of the Jews are one and thus much of the teachings of the rafidha are highly similar to the teachings of the Jews, and their secret meetings and conferences and their use of taqiyya (dissembling) to show something other than what they really harbor towards Muslims, is the same as with the Jews . . . And he who is aware of what came in the protocols of the Jews and the teachings of the Talmud towards nations other than the Jews will find a complete overlap with the fatwas of the Ayatollahs and Seyyids of the rafidha towards the Muslims in particular.25

In this second sermon, al-Harbi describes an alleged fifty-year plan that is being employed by the Shi’a to turn Sunnis to Shi’ism and to take over the Persian Gulf as well as Pakistan, Turkey, Iraq and Afghanistan. The secret plan was put in place to confront the threat of the Wahhabis who "oppose the Vilayet-el-Faqih" and it seeks to create dissention among Sunni clerics and Sunni rulers. The means to execute this plan would be a sustained immigration by Iranians to the target countries and then the spread of fake pamphlets in the name of Wahhabi and Sunni clerics denouncing the depravity of their societies, which will entail retribution from the ruling regimes against them. Meanwhile, Shi’i clerics will begin to profess fealty to the rulers and push an agenda for representative government. He accuses the Shi’a of plotting to use financial bribes to sway the rulers as well as making gifts of "Persian female agents fluent in Arabic and with force of character and intelligence, in addition to being beautiful." This seems to be in response to attempts by Saudi Shi’a to petition then Crown Prince Abdullah in April 2003 for full citizenship rights--to the chagrin of leading neo-Wahhabi clerics.26 Al-Harbi points out that this secret strategy had worked in the past, since Iran was turned by the Safavids from a majority Sunni nation into a bastion for Shi’ism, and in a more recent example, the Shi’a nowadays constitute 50 percent of the population of Baghdad, whereas in the 1950s they comprised only 10 percent.

Al-Harbi’s main argument is that there can be no reconciliation or co-existence with the Shi’a after the revelation of this secret plan. The primary motivation for such an anti-Shi’a line seems to stem from fears harbored by establishmentarian Wahhabis that the ruling House of Saud would seriously entertain the idea of extending full rights to the kingdom’s Shi’a minority. Like al-Gharib, al-Harbi proposes no counter-measures for this perceived threat, and finds it sufficient to counsel Saudi Arabia’s rulers against trusting the Shi’a.

Early Jihadist Anti-Shi’ism

Zarqawi seems to have relied most heavily in his sermon on a book by ‘Imad ‘Ali ‘Abdul-Sami’ Hussein entitled The Treachery of the Shi’a and Its Impact on the Defeats of the Islamic Nation (Khiyanat al-shi’a wa athereha fi haza’im al-islamiyyeh).27 There are at least three instances where he borrows directly from this publication, although without citation.28 According to the author, the book, which is widely available in electronic form over the internet, was completed on November 16, 2003.29 It is unique in linking the fall of Baghdad in April 2003 to al-Gharib’s theme of the Shi’a menace and to many many historical examples of alleged Shi’a aid to the enemies of Islam.

In a sense, the Shi’a role in the American invasion of Iraq was a wake-up call to the jihadists, prompting them to rediscover similar precedents in Islamic history. Accordingly, Hussein dwells on the treachery performed by Ibn al-’Alqami and even includes a fictional play in one act called Upon the Walls of Baghdad with Ibn al-’Alqami, the Abbasid Caliph and the phantom of History as characters.30According to Hussein, al-’Alqami "downsized" the ‘Abbasid military for two reasons: to use the saved funds to further indulge the decadence of the Caliph, and to leave Baghdad defenseless in the face of the Tatars. Hussein dispels the notion that Ibn al-’Alqami was motivated to perform this betrayal because his relatives had been the victims of anti-Shi’i riots in Baghdad the year before, but rather Hussein claims that Ibn al-’Alqami’s treachery was borne out because "of the beliefs he carries."31

Hussein asserts that "treachery, betrayal and deceit is what goes for a religion among the Shi’a"32 and--just as Zarqawi does--further clarifies that he means the mainstream Twelver Imamis, as well as the Isma’ilis and Alawites, when mentioning the "treacherous Shi’a". He explains that this impulse for treachery stems from a Shi’i doctrine that holds Sunnis as infidels by derogatively calling them the nawasib or "those who are obstinate in hating Aal al-Bayt" (the "People of the House," including Mohammed, Ali, Fatima, Hasan ibn Ali, Hussein ibn Ali). Hussein says there is no need to dwell on all the doctrinal differences that set the Shi’a apart from Islam because this has been amply done by many scholars before him. He is more interested in sounding the alarm by pointing out why the Islamic nation has been constantly thwarted politically and militarily. Hussein contends that the Shi’a are the root cause of most of the calamities that have befallen Islam. He suggests that treachery has contaminated Shi’i blood, moreover, they cannot be trusted to show benevolence not even to those closest to them such as the Aal al-Bayt themselves:33 "How can we enumerate their treachery when betrayal is in their blood and veins, and it is to them like water and air?"34 He relies heavily on Ibn Kathir’s book The Beinning and the End (Al-bidaya wel nihaya) in delineating the many Shi’a betrayals.35

Hussein draws parallels between the Fatimids’ relationship with the Crusaders to the "alliance" between the Americans and the Shi’a today in Iraq.36 He also highlights the allegation that the Fatimid caliphs were not descended from Aal al-Bayt, but rather from a Jewish blacksmith. Furthermore, he draws a correlation between the Carmathian raids on Mecca (including the "theft" of the holy Black Stone) and Iranian-inspired disturbances and riots during the Hajj season.37

Hussein lists the many "distractions" the Shi’a had put in place against the Seljukes and the Ayyubids at a time when the latter two Muslim dynasties were determined to address the Crusader threat. He echoes the sentiment that "Jerusalem was lost because of the treachery of the Shi’a."38 Like al-Gharib, the author devotes plenty of space to denounce the Nusayris of Syria, even going to the extent of asserting that the "Tatar" conqueror Tamerlane--who massacred hundreds of thousands of Sunnis in Syria and Iraq according to Hussein--was a Nusayri himself.39 By referring to the first and second editions of al-Gharib’s Wa ja’a dawr al-majus, Hussein also makes the case that Lebanon’s Shi’a acted to further Israel’s interests. Hussein then highlights the suspected allegiance of the world’s Shi’a to Iran: "Iran is considered the nurturing mother for all the Shi’a and especially the Twelvers in every place" he writes, "and the Shi’a wherever they happen to be located are more loyal to Iran than to the land which they inhabit."40

Hussein calls Iraq, the "deep wound in the depths of the Islamic nation" and writes that the Shi’i betrayal there came about despite Saddam Hussein’s "policy of appeasement." He contends that Saddam spent

large sums of money to build mosques and religious centers for the Shi’a in Iraq, and (gave) incentives to Shi’i leaders and individuals, to the extent that the president of the regime Saddam Hussein declared that he was descended from Hussein bin ‘Ali and made ‘Ali bin Abi Taleb’s birthday a national holiday . . .despite all of that the leading Shi’i clerics refused to cooperate with the Ba’ath.41

And now, Hussein continues, they have the gall to demand compensation over the former regime’s political persecution of the Shi’a, "which was not persecution but rather a response to their never-ending treachery and mischief."42

In conclusion, Hussein declares that the Shi’a are the reason for most of the past and present setbacks endured by the Islamic nation . . . . So how can there be a rapprochement with those who allied themselves to the human and jinn devils in the past and the present to humiliate the Sunnis?"43 His book reorients al-Gharib’s argument, moving it beyond subtle suggestions of Shi’a treachery to highlighting their outright treacherous support for the American war in Iraq. As far as jihadists are concerned, the support the invasion received from Shi’a opposition leaders who agitated for it, was the epitome of betrayal in their times. And the precedent of al-’Alqami further justifies their anti-Shi’a hostility. It provides powerful imagery to underscore their view of the cynical pattern to history and to support their claim that the Shi’a today are simply enacting the same role they played in the past. Like al-Gharib and al-Harbi, however, Hussein has no suggestions for action to counter this threat.

The Development of Jihadist Anti-Shi’a Ideology

In a book entitled The Rafidhi-Crusader Alliance in Iraq (Al-tahaluf al-rafidhi al-salibi fil Iraq), Abdel-Muhsin Al-Rafi’I Al-Rafi’i brings many of the themes introduced by Hussein into sharper focus—though he never cites Hussein.44 Al-Rafi’I says that he completed this book on 12 January 2005 and explains in the introduction that he was motivated to write this thesis after seeing how much Hezbollah had distorted the reality of the Shi’i menace in many Muslims eyes. He wanted to reveal the "extent of the rafidhi collaboration with the enemies of Allah and their role in the declared war on Islam . . .towards the goal of destroying true Islam." Continuing his denunciation of the Shi’a, al-Rafi’i writes: "Over the ages there did not pass a period of time when the rafidha did not have a role in striking Muslims and conspiring against them with all the means available by way of betrayal, deceit and cunning, for the rafidhaare an esoteric group with many branches but one root, and they operate in the shadows to execute their goals."45 In Essence, however, al-Rafi’i highlights the same historical timeline of betrayal as al-Gharib and Hussein, and expands only slightly when discussing the Ottoman-Safavid rivalry. He claims that "the Ottomans had a certain desire to retrieve al-Andalus (Spain) but the Shi’a played an important role in distracting the Ottomans in cahoots with the Crusaders to deny the Muslims this long-awaited dream."46

Where Al-Rafi’I does differ from the previous authors in hi focus on, and greater concern with, the current goals of this long-standing Shi’a-Crusader alliance. He contends that one goal is to use Iraq as a means of achieving direct "Crusader" control over the Islamic world and its resources. Another of the alliance’s goals is to create a "State of Greater Israel" from the banks of the Nile to the Euphrates River, and to prepare the ground for the False Messiah.47 The author discerns the first vestiges of this plan in Saudi Arabia, where the Shi’a of that country are "demanding their rights in order to spearhead the execution of the aforementioned plan in dismembering Saudi Arabia and bringing the Shi’a to power, and giving the Crusaders control the Holy Sites as they did in Iraq," thus fulfilling "the dream of the Jews."48 In analyzing Iran’s foreign policy, Al-Rafi’i determines that there is a "Rafidhi-Russian Alliance" directed against the Muslims of the Caucuses and Central Asia and another "Rafidhi-Hindu Alliance" directed against the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent. The "Crusader" master plan calls for the lands of Islam to be handed over to the Shi’a, he argues, and where they are too few in number, other minorities--such as the Copts of Egypt, or secularists ("the spawn of Communists")—will take over.

Al-Rafi’i focuses on symbolism as well. Because the crescent is an Islamic symbol, for instance, he proposes changing the term "Shi’a Crescent" to the term "Shi’a Crucifix". His also suggests devising a symbol to represent a "Triangle of Evil" that would have the words "rafidha, Crusaders and Hindus" at its three corners and a Star of David lies at its center.49

Yet despite the rampant Shi’a perfidy he has detected, al-Rafi’i writes that he is heartened by the apparent success of the jihadists in Iraq, who are confronting and foiling this this "evil scheme" in the "land of the caliphate." His only lament is that "the governments of the region and even though they are in the majority associated with the Sunnis are unconcerned with the conspiracies being hatched to destroy Islam even though these came in the form of a manifest military invasion that aims to occupy the lands of the Muslims, because the only concern of these governments is to stay in power."50 He also chides "those clerics who have sold their religion cheaply" and have come out with fatwas against jihad.51

Al-Rafi’i’s contributes to the discussion by highlighting the jihadist role in putting a stop to the Shi’a conspiracy, but he, too fails to offer any specific guidance about how the jihadists should act. Nevertheless, his thesis is an important stepping stone towards Zarqawi’s assertion that jihadists such as himself to be the Islamic nation’s vanguard in halting the designs of the Shi’a.

The Dilemma Posed by Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army

The anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric and actions of the Iranian regime, as well as those attributed to Shi’a radical groups like Hezbollah, constitute a serious challenge to Wahhabi and jihadist myth of Shi’a treachery and collaboration with the enemies of Islam. But the jihadists have arrived at several explanations for this puzzling contradiction.52 Al-Rafi’i has his own theory about Hezbollah--an "Iranian creation" in his eyes--and it holds that the radical Shi’a organization is merely posing as an enemy of Israel to ward off the accusations of treachery that are leveled against the Shi’a generally. Hezbollah, moreover, entices Sunnis towards Shi’ism by playing on the popular Middle Eastern sentiment that supports the Palestinians cause. Its ultimate goal is, to stamp out the Sunni identity of Lebanon and to deny the latter any role in leading its society. Al-Rafi’i even uses the words of former head of Hezbollah, Sheikh Subhi al-Tufaili, to suggest that Hezbollah in fact serves to protect Israel’s northern border.53

Zarqawi’s take on the issue is more expansive. He asserts that the Iranians--after seeing that the Amel organization had been "burnt" and disgraced by its fighting against Palestinians--set about to "invent" a new organization called Hezbollah. This new group’s guiding principle is that "every enemy of Iran is an enemy of Hezbollah . . .which stands as a security cordon to prevent the Sunnis from crossing the border to confront Israelis."54 Zarqawi then wonders why is it that Israel cannot stomach, and proceeds to assassinate, a "harmless cripple" like Shaykh Ahmad while Hezbollah’s General Chairman Hassan Nasrallah holds regular rallies in downtown Beirut calling for Israel’s destruction and goes unharmed.55In a similar vein, Zarqawi derides Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s "screaming" to destroy Israel as mere oratory.56

According to Zarqawi, Iran is more afraid of having "a strong Sunni neighbor because their main war is not with the Jews and not with the Christians but their first and last war is with Sunnis."57 The Iranian policy in Iraq, therefore, seeks to change that country’s demographics by facilitating massive Shi’a immigration, and by furthering a policy of massacring the Sunnis.58 They are aided in doing so by "the Iranian Sistani, the occupier’s preacher and the imam of heresy and unbelief who issues fatwas that are catastrophic to the Sunnis, in addition to those who serve the occupiers like al-Hakim and Ja’afari and their followers who are wolves in sheepskin . . .to expand and consolidate the geographic domain of Iranian Persian rafidhi rule."59

Zarqawi also appears to declare war on Muqatada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army that twice (in April and November 2004) clashed with U.S. troops in Iraq. He regards them as another Shi’a ruse akin to Hezbollah. Their real role "is to protect their rafidhi creed and to fight the Sunnis and they are being prepared as an alternative card to be gambled with in case the balance in assuming power tips in favor of the resistance rather than the politicians."60 Directing his words to al-Sadr in the wake of the reprisal killings that occurred after the Samarra shrine bombing saying, "We tell you that you have crossed your boundaries . . . You have falsely claimed to be protecting the mosques of the Sunnis . . .And we have agreed to join the battle against you and your flock of sheep but on two conditions." Those conditions are that the Mahdi Army retrieve their weapons from the "Crusaders"—weapons that were voluntarily handed over to American forces as part of a brokered cease-fire in November 2004--and that only Mahdi Army fighters who know the identity of their fathers should emerge to fight Zarqawi’s men.61 Here, Zarqawi is deriding the Sadrists for caving in to the Americans after the two confrontations in Najaf, and is alluding to what he sees as Shi’a sexual deviancy, which results in illegitimate offspring.

More of Zarqawi’s Gripe Against the Shi’a

The book that Zarqawi quotes most often in his diatribe against the Shi’a is For Allah and Then For History (Lillahi wa thuma lil-tareekh) by a pseudonymous author using the name Hussein Al-Musawi.62 This author is alleged to be a convert from Shi’ism to Sunnism, who as a former insider, reveals the secret machinations of the Shi’a clerical establishment. Such secrets include lewd allegations about Ayatollah Khomeini’s penchant for pedophilia,63 as well as charges that Khomeini intended to destroy Mecca and Medina because they were "Wahhabi strongholds" and that "Karbala should be made into the qibleh towards which Muslims direct their prayers."64

Zarqawi castigates the Shi’a for many more sexual deviations as a result of the muta’a (temporary marriage) sanctioned by their clerics. He claims that it leads to even more depravity amongst them than what is tolerated in Europe and America, particularly in regard to such matters as incest, wife-swapping and anal sex.65 But what roils Zarqawi the most--if the break in his voice is any indication--are the slanderous contentions leveled by the Shi’a upon the chastity of Ayesha, the Prophet Muhammad’s wife;66 he vows that "a hair from Ayesha’s head is more beloved to us than ourselves or our families or all of mankind."67

In addition to dwelling on this large volume of Shi’a treachery and deviancy, Zarqawi further justifies his excessive tactics against them by claiming that previous Muslim rulers and commanders handled the Shi’a problem in a similar way. He proclaims, "What we do regarding all these crimes, and that is only to put into effect Allah’s religious instruction upon them through killing and repressing them, we are in this case--by Allah--not bringing anything improvised to the mujahidin but only implementing the rule of Allah against (the Shi’a) as it was implemented by our predecessors."68 Zarqawi then proceeds to list historical instances when entire Shi’a populations were put to the sword or, alternatively, hurled in burning trenches.

Implications for Counter-Terrorism

On July 29, 2005, the New York Times featured the story of Zaid Horani, a Jordanian jihadist that had been arrested four months earlier by local authorities after returning from a stint of fighting alongside Zarqawi’s outfit in Iraq. Part of what compelled him to go, his mother volunteered, was that "he hated the Shiites." The next day Asharq al-Awsat, a leading Saudi-owned Arabic-language daily that translates and runs stories from the Times, printed the article without the reference to hating the Shi’a. Why would the 27-year-old Horani develop such hatred towards the Shi’a while growing up in a country that hardly had any Shi’a? Why would a Saudi-owned paper excise his mother’s quote?

The Saudi government may be rightly worried about the fruits that it allowed to grow. Several decades of a sustained anti-Shi’a propaganda issued by the Wahhabis—and recently augmented by the jihadists chiming in on the topic—seem to have many young Sunni jihadist sympathizers in the Middle East to comprehend Zarqawi’s sermon and observe his instructions. Zarqawi did not need to do too much anti-Shi’a brainwashing; much of the heavy lifting, such as casting the Shi’a as beyond the confines of Islam and highlighting their alleged treacherous role, had already been done. Zarqawi simply built on these perceptions when he asserted that "traitors" lurking within the Muslim camp were responsible for the success of Christians and Jews in thwarting the Muslim nation at every turn. To end these cycles of defeat, he argues, the jihadists need to do what heroic Muslim redeemers such as Salahuddin had done before them: address the Shi’i problem. Past attempts to fix the problem have failed, Zarqawi adds, as evidenced by the current pitiful state of Muslim lands. The only permanent solution, therefore, is to excise the Shi’a and put an end to their very presence. Zarqawi uses the words "mass annihilation" and recommends it as jihadist policy.

Whether such jihadist anti-Shi’ism will survive the death of Zarqawi, its leading proponent, is now the question. Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, Zarqawi’s purported successor as head of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, indicates that it will indeed continue. Hemade this point very clear in his first message to the world (posted on several jihadist websites on June 13th, 2006):

We say to the grandchildren of Ibn al-’Alqami: you who have taken gods in addition to Allah, and slandered the honor of the Prophet, and cursed his blessed companions, and were ardent in the service of the Crusaders . . . We shall do unto you as Abu Baker al-Siddiq saw fit to do against the apostates, and we will continue what Abu Musa’ab--God bless his soul--started with you, and we will fight you until the word of monotheism is supreme and the word of your tyrants is brought low.

Even jihadist groups other than Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda have been forced to play "catch-up" and to reconfigure their propaganda to address the Shi’i menace. The Ansar al-Sunnah terrorist organization posted a video on the internet on June 7 under the title of "The Throbbing Vein that Confronts the Malice of the Rawafidh" (Al-’irq al-nabidh fi ssad hiqd al-rawafidh). This video, which runs for over an hour, highlights acts of aggression attributed to Shi’i militias over the last two years in Iraq, and ends with the fighters of Ansar al-Sunnah vowing vengeance.69 Other jihadist groups active in Iraq, which are redirecting their resources from targeting Americans into fueling a sectarian war, have also clearly decided to adopt some form of Zarqawi’s anti-Shi’ism. The fact that they need to do so to remain relevant to jihad testifies to the popularity of Zarqawi’s policy.

Zarqawi's most enduring legacy, therefore, may be the transformation of anti-Shi'ism into a central tenet of the jihadist worldview. He has argued that Islam's victory is tied to the physical eradication of the Shi'a, and there is evidence that adherence to this policy is going to expand further among jihadists. The dissemination of anti-Shi'a propaganda should be considered an act of ideological terrorism, and raises the issue of how counterterrorist efforts should address the plethora of Saudi-funded Wahhabi propaganda that is directed against the Shi'a. At the last count, there were at least twelve actively maintained websites dedicated to disseminating anti-Shi'i material.70 Shutting down these websites and monitoring the flow of orchestrated hate speech directed against Shi'a should thus become a priority for those concerned with the spread of jihadist ideology.