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Thursday, June 18, 2009


Martyrdom looms very large in Shia Islam.

This difference between following either the Ahl al-Bayt (Muhammad's family and descendants) or the Caliph Abu Bakr has shaped Shia and non-Shia views on some of the Qur'an, the Hadith (narrations from Muhammad) and other areas of Islam. For instance, the collection of Hadith venerated by Shia Muslims is centered on narrations by members of the Ahl al-Bayt and their supporters, while some Hadith by narrators not belonging to or supporting the Ahl al-Bayt are not included (those of Abu Huraira, for example). According to the Sunnis, Ali was the third successor to Abu Bakr however, the Shia maintain that Ali was the first divinely sanctioned "Imam," or successor of Muhammad. The seminal event in Shia history is the martyrdom in 680 CE at the Battle of Karbala of Ali's son Hussein, who led an non-allegiance movement against the defiant caliph (71 of Hussein's followers were killed as well). Hussein came to symbolize resistance to tyranny.

The resistance now has martyrs. Add its two rallying cries: "Death to the dictaror" (that may well be the Ayatollah and not Ahmedinajad) and "Allahu Akbar." And what you have is the necessary ingredients for radical mobilization. And maybe the first Islamic democratic revolution, though that's still *exceedingly* unlikely.

Some interesting thoughts from an Iranian expat here and from old, old Iran hand and American patriot Gary Sick here.

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