The Shi`is of Iraq
by Yitzhak Nakash
Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994. 312 pp. .
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
The title suggests that the much-needed survey of Iraq's Shi`i population is finally at hand. But Nakash's topic is far more specialized, and ultimately more valuable: an historical inquiry into roughly a hundred years' history of the Iraqi Shi`is, from the mid-nineteenth century to 1958.
The author reaches two main conclusions, both surprising to an outsider. First, the Iraqi Shi`is are not an antique community, but are "by and large recent converts to Shi`ism, a result of a development which took place mainly during the nineteenth century as the bulk of Iraq's Arab nomadic tribes settled down and took up agriculture." Second, though they belong to the same branch of Twelver Shi`ism as the Shi`a of Iran, they constitute an entirely separate community, with its own structure and outlook. "The diverging development of Shi`i Islam in Iraq and Iran in the twentieth century reflected the essentially different characters of Shi`i religion and society in the two countries."
Applying these insights to the Kuwait war, Nakash argues by prompting the failed uprising of March 1991, Iraqi defeat furthered the long-term decline of Shi`is in Iraqi society. He expects this event to shape the consciousness of Iraqi Shi`is for many years to come, though he shies away from predicting just how it will affect future Sunni-Shi`i relations.
Related Topics: Daniel Pipes | September 1994 MEQ
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