This site is maintained by Zackery M. Heern, Assistant Professor of Middle East and Islamic studies at Idaho State University. Most of the content of the blog is related to the courses I teach, including Modern Iraq and Iran, Modern Middle East, Islam in the Modern World, and Middle Eastern History. Please feel free to follow the blog by entering your email below. You can also follow @zackeryheern on twitter.
Modern Shiites have a long and complicated history
Zackery Heern, an American academic, is primarily concerned with the Shias, Islam’s second-largest denomination after the Sunnis. But he refreshingly teases out the parallels between the three movements, rather than their differences as most other commentators have done. He notes, in particular, their shared intolerance of alternatives in their pursuit of a single path to truth. “Sectarianism notwithstanding,” he writes, “Wahhabis, Idrisis and Usulis did have a common enemy in popular Sufism and each movement sought to suppress popular rituals that were thought to be un-Islamic.”
Historians term the new movements, somewhat kindly, “revivalist”. Certainly all three upheld the right to challenge and reinterpret tradition afresh. Both the Wahhabis and the Usulis (unlike their Shia rivals, the Akhbaris) clung to their right to exercise ijtihad, or independent legal reasoning, rather than reliance on precedent. But whereas the Wahhabis limited ijtihad to interpretation of the sacred texts, Usulis insisted they could deduce rulings from rational arguments as well. Ibn Idris, the Sufi, relied on his intuition to revisit old texts...