The New Safavids

When Ismail al-Safavi came from Anatolia and occupied Tabriz from 907 AH to 1502, he declared himself a Shah and issued the first royal command calling for the prayer “I testify that Ali is the Vicegerent of Allah.” The Imamate school was declared as the official religion of the Iranian state by a crude political opportunism that contributed to consolidating the pillars of the Safavid state's authority. Although Ismail al-Safavi was not previously known as a Shiite Muslim, he inherited the Sunni Sufi Order of the Safavid from his ancestors, most notably Al-Junayd and his son Haidar, who was deified when Anatolia was inclusive for all of the sects.

When Ismail al-Safavi invaded Iran, he began to spread the existence of extremist Shiite mysticism and elevated Shiite extremists for their efficiency in spreading the call, which would help him in building his state. Thus, he started a new phase — transforming Iran from a Sunni sect into a Shiite one.

It is worth mentioning that the harbingers of the Shiite tradition appeared first with Al-Khumasi Al-Ma’i (Muhammad Al-Kulaiti), who died in 329 AH, Muhammad al-Qummi (Ibn Babawayh) d. 381 AH, Muhammad al-Toussi, known as the Sheikh of the community, d. 460 AH, Sheikh Al-Moufid, d. 413 AH, and Al-Sharif Al-Rida (Ilm Al-Huda) d. 346 AH. It is not surprising that three of them are of Persian origin who, together with Shiite scholars such as Al-Shawtari, used the poetry of Mawlana Jalal al-Din al-Rumi as a proof for the Imamate of Iran. However, when Ismail Al-Safavi entered Tabriz, he could barely find one Imami manuscript.  This proves the Sunni culture of Iran before the conquest of the Safavids by force.  Ibn al-Marhhar (Al-Allama) failed to do this since he relied only on a call to spread the Imamate during the Mughal period in which religious tolerance was adopted.

One of the strange facts is that the founder of this Sufi approach, Sheikh Safi al-Din, did not deviate from the Sharia. In fact, when he founded his approach in 735 AH, all his followers were from the Shafi’is and the Hanafis. He was a contemporary of Ibn Taymiyyah, the arch-opponent of Sufi doctrine. His Sufism was high-end mysticism, but his descendants began deviation and extremism to reach power, just as Shah Ismail al-Safavi did when he adopted the orthodox Imamiyya doctrine to maintain power.

From the foregoing, it is clear that Iran’s Shiism is a political one, unlike the Shiism of Arabs which is theological. Just as there are concerned figures in Islam, such as Ibn Al-Rawandi, there are concerned Islamic countries led by Iran, which explains its aggressive behavior against its neighbors in the Sunni environment. Just like the behavior of most minorities, they exaggerate everything to prove their existence in conjunction with Persian populists who did not forgive the Muslims for their conquest of Persia and still regurgitate its past glories. They used the doctrine and tried to spread this thought under the name of Islamic revolution which has so far failed to create a structure in which they can promote their ideology, sometimes by using soft power and sometimes by creating local agents in the Arab countries to fight the Sunni Arab countries on behalf of Iran, using the power of minorities in order to spread terror among the Islamic states.  It is as if history brought the Assassin sect back to life along with the commander of the Revolutionary Guards Hassan al-Sabbah, the founder of the Assassins, in the "Castle of Death."  As a result, the Islamic world became the laughingstock of the world, proving that we had not learned yet from the kings of the Andalusian sects nor from the great wars of sedition. In fact, in every country where Iranian influence exists, you can find a state of polarization, denial of the other, and religious ideologies for the purpose of politics and governance. This happened in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon too, where the shape of the crescent has become Shiite par excellence, in an attempt to besiege the Arabian Peninsula and dismember the Sunni world by weakening it. However, the seemingly simple adopted approach will unfortunately not benefit anyone, even Iran itself. It is actually a political short-sighted strategy under the influence of populism, and Iran has failed to achieve it.

Does the weakness of the Sunni result in a strong Shiite? Of course not, because we are all concerned about Muslims. And no matter how the Iranian regime tries to claim theoretical hostility to Israel, the actual hostility remains with the Sunni states. The Houthis' flying marches and their eagerness to acquire nuclear power are the best proof of that as even the names of their agents show hostility. If the Houthis are "Ansar Allah" (Supporters of God) and the South Lebanon Party are "Hezbollah" (Party of God), then what are we as the majority of Muslims? Thus, it is no wonder that Iran has not and will not be able to spread its revolution for the simple reason that it is a revolution for democracy and against autocracy being led by theocracy. How would any political elite accept being led by a blind party that claims to be carrying Palestinian roots? In fact, the way to Palestine is completely open to Iranian forces, passing through Iraq, Syria, and the southern suburbs of Lebanon. Nonetheless, Iran will not do anything but threaten its neighbors since the beginning of the new Safavid rule.