Sectarianism and sectarian de-escalation

The Prophet's Heir: The Life of Ali ibn Abi Talib
Hassan Abbas. 3/2021. The Prophet's Heir: The Life of Ali ibn Abi Talib. New Haven: Yale University Press. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Ali ibn Abi Talib is arguably the single most important spiritual and intellectual authority in Islam after prophet Mohammad. Through his teachings and leadership as fourth caliph, Ali nourished Islam. But Muslims are divided on whether he was supposed to be Mohammad’s political successor—and he continues to be a polarizing figure in Islamic history.
 
Hassan Abbas provides a nuanced, compelling portrait of this towering yet divisive figure and the origins of sectarian division within Islam. Abbas reveals how, after Mohammad, Ali assumed the spiritual mantle of Islam to spearhead the movement that the prophet had led. While Ali’s teachings about wisdom, justice, and selflessness continue to be cherished by both Shia and Sunni Muslims, his pluralist ideas have been buried under sectarian agendas and power politics. Today, Abbas argues, Ali’s legacy and message stands against that of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Taliban.

Read more about the book here.

From Detente to Containment: the Emergence of Iran's New Saudi Strategy
Hassan Ahmadian and Payam Mohseni. 5/2021. “From Detente to Containment: the Emergence of Iran's New Saudi Strategy.” International Affairs, 97, 3. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Iran's strategy with respect to Saudi Arabia is a key factor in the complex balance of power of the Middle East as the Iranian–Saudi rivalry impacts the dynamics of peace and conflict across the region from Yemen to Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrain. What is Iranian strategic thinking on Saudi Arabia? And what have been the key factors driving the evolution of Iranian strategy towards the Kingdom? In what marks a substantive shift from its previous detente policy, we argue that Tehran has developed a new containment strategy in response to the perceived threat posed by an increasingly pro-active Saudi Arabia in the post-Arab Spring period. Incorporating rich fieldwork and interviews in the Middle East, this article delineates the theoretical contours of Iranian containment and contextualizes it within the framework of the Persian Gulf security architecture, demonstrating how rational geopolitical decision-making factors based on a containment strategy, rather than the primacy of sectarianism or domestic political orientations, shape Iran's Saudi strategy. Accordingly, the article traces Iranian strategic decision-making towards the Kingdom since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and examines three cases of Iran's current use of containment against Saudi Arabia in Syria, Yemen and Qatar.

Read full article here.

A Genealogy of Conflict

A Genealogy of Conflict: An Interior View of the War in Yemen

March 11, 2021

The Project on Shi'ism and Global Affairs hosted an event with Marieke Brandt, a senior researcher at the Institute for Social Anthropology (ISA) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna, on the subject of the contemporary war in Yemen. The full paper of the report can be viewed below.

Abstract: Over the past years, the war in Yemen developed many internal and external dynamics. The focus of international observers and the media is often more on its regional political contexts, thereby largely disregarding the local dynamics of this...

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Legacies of Islamic Ecumenicism: Taqrib, Shi'a-Sunni Relations, and Globalized Politics in the Middle East
Mohammad Sagha. 6/1/2021. Legacies of Islamic Ecumenicism: Taqrib, Shi'a-Sunni Relations, and Globalized Politics in the Middle East. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.Abstract

We are excited to release our newly published report, "Legacies of Islamic Ecumenicism: Taqrib, Shi'a-Sunni Relations, and Globalized Politics in the Middle East." The taqrib movement was the most recent large-scale iteration of Shi’a-Sunni ecumenical relations and peacebuilding in the Middle East. This project, launched in the twentieth century, resulted in a sustained scholarly dialogue, joint publications, and flourishing engagement with contemporary and classical Islamic sources. This report focuses on the taqrib movement by featuring several articles by leading scholars in academia as well as by Sunni and Shi’a clergymen whose careers intimately involve them in Shi’a-Sunni dialogue. The authors featured in this report raise pertinent questions regarding both the history and future trajectory of Islamic ecumenicism and the taqrib movement across the Middle East.
 

Authors include: Rainer Brunner (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Paris), David Commins (Dickinson College), Mohamad Bashar Arafat (Civilizations Exchange & Cooperation Foundation (CECF)), Ibrahim Kazerooni (The Islamic Center of America & University of Detroit Mercy), and Mohammad Sagha (Harvard University & the University of Chicago).

Read full report here.

Malaysia

Malaysian Shi'ites Lonely Struggle

May 31, 2021

Mohd Faizal Musa, a Project Associate, published an academic paper in the World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations. where he looks into Malaysian Shi’ites lonely struggle to demand their rights and how the religious edict and policies contradict to Malaysia’s commitment at the international level.

Find the full paper ...

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2021 Apr 05

Symposium on Diversity and Unity in Transnational Shi'ism

Mon Apr 5 (All day) to Thu Apr 8 (All day)

Location: 

Zoom | Register at bit.ly/symposium-signup

The Project on Shi’ism and Global Affairs at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs is proud to host a landmark international symposium entitled “Diversity and Unity in Transnational Shi’ism” over four days (April 5-8, 2021).

This symposium brings together interdisciplinary voices from across various interpretations of Shi'a Islam in both contemporary and historical contexts with leading scholars in the field who study the diversity of Shi’a thought and communities across...

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2021 Feb 25

Book Launch - The Prophet's Heir: The Life of Ali ibn Abi Talib

2:00pm to 3:30pm

Location: 

Online Zoom Webinar

Book Launch - The Prophet's Heir: The Life of Ali ibn Abi Talib

Ali ibn Abi Talib is arguably the single most important spiritual and intellectual authority in Islam after Prophet Mohammad. Through his teachings and leadership as fourth caliph, Ali nourished Islam. But Muslims are divided on whether he was supposed to be Mohammad’s political successor—and he continues to be a polarizing figure in Islamic history.

...

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Mohd Faizal Musa. 2020. “Sunni-Shia Reconciliation in Malaysia.” In Alternative Voices in Muslim Southeast Asia: Discourses and Struggles. Singapore: ISEAS.Abstract

Book cover
The 1996 fatwa [recognizing "Sunni Islam" as the official religion of Malaysia] was a pivotal turning point that paved the way for subsequent efforts at "othering" the Shia minority, and through this to discredit and deny them their human rights. That the fatwa was a federal initiative--rather than a state one--ought to have raised warning bells about the central government overstapping its boundaries and encroaching on to the jurisdiction state governments had over Islam. The debate touched on the historical differences between the Sunnis and Shias, or, "sects being treated as religious phenomenon", and it resulted in tremendous bias against the Shias.

Engaging Sectarian De-Escalation: Proceedings of the Symposium on Islam and Sectarian De-Escalation at Harvard Kennedy School
Dr. Payam Mohseni. 8/25/2019. Engaging Sectarian De-Escalation: Proceedings of the Symposium on Islam and Sectarian De-Escalation at Harvard Kennedy School. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.Abstract

We are excited to release our highly timely report, “Engaging Sectarian De- Escalation: Proceedings of the Symposium on Islam and Sectarian De-Escalation.” This report highlights the key themes and takeaways from the Annual Symposium on Sectarian De-Escalation and Dialogue that was held at the Harvard Kennedy School on April 14 and 15 of 2018. The symposium was organized by the Iran Project, which has since expanded to become the Project on Shi’ism and Global Affairs at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

 

As part of a larger project on sectarian de-escalation, the symposium gathered key imams, scholars, policymakers and diplomats to cast doubt on simplified sectarian narratives, and to explore interlinked factors and different pathways in the pursuit of reducing the grounds of conflict. By tracing the different political, theological and socio-cultural roots of different narratives, the speakers provided nuance to our conception of sectarianism. This report highlights the key themes that emerged from the symposium, namely the importance of geopolitical literacy; the importance of religious and historical literacy and precedents for peace and diversity; and, recalling vehicles of culture and literature.

This report is a critical contribution to future research and policy making. Through our research domain, Sectarianism and Sectarian De-escalation, we will continue to expand on this knowledge and to explore pathways for durable peace-building and conflict resolution.

2019 Sep 23

Islamic Pluralism: Addressing Diversity within Islam

7:30pm to 9:00pm

Location: 

Ticknor Lounge, Boylston Hall, Harvard University

How should we think about pluralism within Islam? How can the academic study of Islam be enriched from multiple perspectives? And what are the diversity of voice and experiences within the Muslim-American community? Join us for a conversation with Dr. Payam Mohseni for these and related issues on Islam, sectarianism, and Shiism in the Islamic world and the West.

Co-sponsored by the Harvard Islamic Society and the Muslim-American Studies Working Group.

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