Reality of Houthis: the Shi’a of Yemen, By Murtada Gusau
In The Name Of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all creation. May Allah extol the mention of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) in the highest company of Angels and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, his family, his Companions and all those who follow him exactly till the Day of Judgement.
Dear Brothers and Sisters! The story of Houthis, Shi’a of Yemen, is widely circulated in mass media during the last five years. It is a confusing story regarding which there are many conflicting analyses and variant explanations. Actually, the truth is lost between proponents and opponents, advocates and critics. Now let’s ask the following questions:
Who are Houthis?
When did they rise?
What do they target?
Why are they fought against by the Yemenite and Saudi and her friends’ governments?
To what extent does the influence of universal external powers affect the course of events there?
My Respected People! Answers to these questions will be the focus of my today’s Sermon which I hope to clear up the mystery of such a complicated story In Shaa Allah. In the previous Sermon, I dealt briefly with the history of rule in Yemen. Through the Sermon, we could know that Zaidi Shi’ites had authority for as very long period as many centuries and that they remained in authority till 1962 when the Yemen Revolution was staged. I highlighted the difference between Zaidi Shi’ism widespread in Yemen and Twelver Shi’ism (Ithna al-Ashriyyah) widespread in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon (I have dealt with it at length in my previous Sermons). Moreover, I spotlight in the previous Sermon on the fact that Zaidi Shi’ites have more in common with Ahlus-Sunnah wal Jama’ah (Sunni) than with Twelver Shi’ites (Ithna al-Ashriyyah). Furthermore, Twelver Shi’ites do not at all recognise the Imamate of Zaid Bin Ali, the founder of Zaidism. On the other hand, Zaidis do not recognise the tremendous theological deviations of Twelver Shi’ites and do not consent to naming specified twelve Imams. Moreover, they do not agree with them on the claim that Imams are infallible or on their beliefs regarding Taqiyyah (according to Shi’a, a dispensation allowing them to conceal their faith or lies when under threat, persecution or compulsion), Raj’ah (refers to the Shi’a doctrine that certain people will return back to life before the Day of Judgement), Bada’ah (the belief that sometimes Almighty Allah gives a command and then finds that it is not appropriate, and he then regrets giving this command), insulting Companions and all other Bid’ahs. I also stated that Twelver Shi’ites (Ithna al-Ashriyyah) had no existence along the history of Yemen, a situation which only changed during the last few years, which has a direct impact on the story of Houthis.
* The Roots of the Story
The story began in Sa’dah governorate (240 km northern Sana‘a), where most Zaidi population settle. In 1986, Ittihad Al-Shabab was formed with the aim of teaching the Zaidi school of thought to its adherents. Badruddin Al-Houthi was a teacher in such an authority. In 1990, Yemen was united and the door was wide open before partisan pluralism. Therefore, Ittihad Al-Shabab turned into Hizbul-Haq (Party of Truth), representing the Zaidi sect in Yemen. Husain Bin Badruddin Al-Houthi rose to be a prominent political leader in the party, who was elected as a parliament member in 1993 and in 1997 AD.
* Badruddin Al-Houthi
These events concurred with the rise of a great disagreement between Badruddin Al-Houthi and other Zaidi scholars in Yemen in view of a historic fatwa approved of by Yemenite Zaidi scholars, foremost of whom is the authority, Majd Al-Din Al-Mu’ayyidi. The fatwa was to the effect that it should be no more stipulated for the Imam to be a Hashimite descendant, for such a condition was based on certain historical circumstances. The fatwa also provided that people can choose the leader they deem fit who does not have to be a descendant of Al-Hasan or Al-Husain (May Allah be pleased with both of them). Badruddin Al-Houthi strongly opposed to the fatwa, bearing in mind that he belongs to the Jarudiyyah sect (a Zaidi branch which held beliefs close to those of Twelver Shi’ites).
The situation aggravated when Badruddin Al-Houthi started to publicly propagate the Twelver Shi’ite thought. In this regard, he composed a book called Zaidis in Yemen, in which he highlighted points of resemblance between Zaidi and Twelver Shi’ites. Strongly opposed because of his thought that is absolutely deviated from Zaidism, he had to immigrate to Tehran (Capital of Iran) where he lived and schooled for a number of years. Although Badruddin Al-Houthi left the Yemenite arena, his Twelver-oriented thoughts began to spread especially in the region of Sa’dah and surrounding areas by the end of the 1990s and definitely since 1997 AD.
Meanwhile, his son Husain Badruddin Al-Houthi dissented from Hizbul-Haq to form his own group, which at the beginning took the form of a cultural, religious and intellectual group. Moreover, the group also cooperated with the government in resisting the Sunni Islamic current represented in the Yemeni Gathering for Reform party. However, it did not take long before the group has joined the opposition since 2002 AD.
* Yemenite President: Ali Abdallah Salih
Meanwhile, some Yemenite scholars mediated to have Yemenite President Ali Abdallah Salih to allow Badruddin Al-Houthi back to Yemen. Al-Houthi returned to Yemen to re-propagate his ideas among his students and disciples. It seems that the Yemenite government underestimated the danger of the newly formed group and the contingent problems it might cause. Fierce Houthis demonstrations marking the beginning of war. In 2004, a serious development took place; Houthis led by Husain Badruddin Al-Houthi staged huge demonstrations in the streets of Yemen opposing the American occupation of Iraq. The government reacted violently to these demonstrations on the pretext that Al-Houthi claims to be an Imam, Al-Mahdi and even to be a Prophet of Allah. This was followed by an open war launched by the government against Shi’ite Houthis, during which 30,000 Yemenite soldiers were employed in addition to warplanes and artillery.
* Husain Badruddin Al-Houthi
The confront ended up with the group leader Husain Badruddin Al-Houthi killed and a good number of Houthis arrested. The situation ultimately then aggravated. After the death of Husain, Houthis were led by his father Badruddin Al-Houthi. It came obviously to be known that the Shi’ite group had long ago been well-armed, bearing in mind that it could stand war against the Yemenite army for years. Thereafter, the Qatari government mediated between Houthis and the Yemenite government in 2008 by virtue of which a peace treaty was convened to the effect of moving Yahya Al-Houthi and Abdul-Karim Al-Houthis, Husain’s brothers, to Qatar after they surrender their weapons to the Yemenite government. Soon after, the treaty was breached to announce a fresh beginning of war. It even happened that Houthis could expand their dominance to Sa’dah’s neighbouring governorates and even try to dominate a seaport which can guarantee a safe reception of reinforcements from abroad. Actually, they now practice their mission and declare confront openly. In fact, it is more a threat to the whole Yemenite regime than an attempt to establish a separate Shi’ite state.
* The Yemen Map
Why are Houthis powerful?</strong>
The question that should arise is: how could such a newly formed group confront the Yemenite government for such so long period?
The answer is more urgent bearing in mind that it propagates a Twelver-Shi’ite (Ithna al-Ashriyyah) thought, which is not prevalent in Yemen in general and thus its adherents constitute, supposedly, a minority. Actually, there are many answers that enlighten our understanding of the issue, including the following:
First: It is incomprehensible that a minority group in a Yemenite governorate remains steadfast for such a long period without a constant external help. Analysing the situation, we can find out that the only country that benefits from the increasing power of the Houthi Shi’ites rebellion is Iran. In fact, it (Iran) is a Shi’ite-oriented state which does its best to spread its thought and religion. It will be a glorious victory for Iran if she can help Houthi Shi’ites take power in Yemen, bearing in mind that, by doing so, she will be surrounding one of its archenemies, i.e. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). Were this to happen, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) would be besieged by Houthis in Yemen, Iraqi Shi’a to the north, Shi’a of the Eastern Region, Kuwait and Bahrain to the east and Shi’a of Yemen to the south, which will give Iran innumerable pressure points whether in her relation with the Sunni Muslim world or with the US. Actually, this is a more realistic evidence-based than merely a theoretical supposition. An evidence is the amazing conversion of Badruddin Al-Houthi from the moderate Zaidi thought to the deviated Twelver thought although the Yemenite atmosphere has never been influenced by the Twelver thought along the history of Yemen.
Moreover, Iran nursed him very passionately and hosted him in Tehran for a number of years. Badruddin Al-Houthi found the doctrine of Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists a Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) besieged by Shi’a from all directions suitable means to assume power although he is not a descendant of Fatimah (May Allah be pleased with her), a prerequisite of a leader stipulated by the Zaidi thought.
Moreover, Iran is a powerful state which is capable of giving political and economical help to rebels. An evidence of Iran’s support of Houthis is the fact that Iranian Shi’ite mass media, including such satellite channels of theirs as Al-‘Alam, Al-Kawthar and others, adopt the Houthi cause. Moreover, Houthis themselves asked before for the mediation of the Shi’ite authority Ali Husain Sistani the Grand Ayatollah in Iraq. Although he is a Twelver Shi’ite who may be thought of as a stranger by Yemenites, rebels did so to make clear their school-of-thought adherence. In addition, the Yemenite government announced confiscation of many Houthi Iran-made weapons. Furthermore, the Yemenite government constantly give implicit, not explicit, reference to Iran’s support of Houthis. Of course, Iran in turn denied such a support, an easily-grasped political device, especially in the light of the Twelver-based doctrine of Taqiyyah (dispensation allowing Shi’ites to limitlessly lie).
* Iran Arms Houthi Shi’ites
Second: Another factor that gave Houthis the power to remain steadfast is the public sympathy relatively shown by the inhabitants of the region toward rebels, although locals do not tend to believe in their deviated thought. This is due to the very bad economic and social circumstances the locals suffer from. Although Yemen in general has a very poor infrastructure and most Yemenites suffer from extreme poverty, these regions suffer more than other regions and are paid much less attention than other greater Yemenite cities. An indication of this is the fact that the peace treaty concluded between the Yemenite government and Houthis under a Qatari mediation in 2008 provided that the Yemenite government is to undertake a reconstruction plan of Sa’dah, which will be funded by Qatar. However, all reconstruction plans were halted due to the war. What I want to infer is that marginalised and neglected peoples are likely to rise and rebel even in partnership with people from whom they are radically and doctrinally different.
* The Yemenite Tribes
Third: Rebellion also continued because of the tribal system dominating Yemen. In fact, Yemen consists of tribes and clans which imposes certain important balances of power between different tribes. Many information and sources say Houthis receive support from tribes opposing the ruling regime against a background of problems between them and the government that have nothing to do with religion or school of thought.
Fourth: Another factor is the mountainous nature of Yemen making it difficult for regular armies to take control. This is because of difficulty of movement among mountains in addition to the multiplicity of caves and grottos and the unavailability of scientific research regarding the roads among such mountains. Moreover, there are no scientific equipments or satellites to observe accurately movement among mountains.
* Mountainous Nature Difficult For Regular Armies
Fifth: The problem continued to exist also because the Yemenite government is busy dealing with the call of separating southern Yemen from northern Yemen. Many demonstrations demanded separation which was also demanded by Ali Salim Al-Beidh the former President of South Yemen, who, in a televised speech from Germany, called for a return of South Yemen. Actually, such a situation distracted the Yemenite government, army and intelligence, which had the effect of weakening their grasp over Houthis.
Sixth: Some analytics explain the continuation of rebellion in the context that the Yemenite government itself wants it to continue. This is because it considers the existence of rebellion Demonstrations demanding South Yemen separation a pressure point that it can use to achieve international gains, most important of which is cooperation with the US in the so-called war on terrorism. In fact, the US alludes to a relationship between Houthis and Al-Qaedah organization. However, I view this supposition very unlikely as the school of thought adhered to by Al-Qaedah organization is entirely different from that of Twelver Shi’ites. Nevertheless, the US wants to poke its nose in all the regions of the Muslim world based on a variety of justifications in order to achieve her goals and objectives. On the other hand, Yemen likes to make use of such a relationship in order to gain political and economical support or at least have the US overlook human rights, dictatorship and other files Westerners want to open.
Apart from the benefits awaited from the Yemen’s relationship with the US, other benefits are still to be reaped from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). In fact, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) considers supporting Yemen politically and economically in order to resist the Houthis Shi’ites agenda of undermining the Middle East. In this regard, continuation of the problem provides a constant source of support for Yemen, not only from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) but also from such other countries as Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE), etc.
* Ali Salim Al-Beidh
Regardless of what reasons are, the problem is still in effect, which represents, in my opinion, a serious situation. Accordingly, Yemen has to adopt a serious stance toward the events and to spread the sound Islamic thought in order to face such deviated thoughts. She has also to pay a special attention to and care for the inhabitants of such regions so that their loyalty might be guaranteed in a natural manner to Yemen and its government. Moreover, the Muslim world has to help Yemen get out of such a crisis. Otherwise, the Shi’ite agenda will encompass the Muslim world from all directions.
More importantly, the Yemenite people have to reconsider the whole matter taking into account the interest of Yemen, which entails unity, sound thought and rallying around the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Only by doing so, they will find ways out of their crises and work out solutions for their problems.
In an article written by Shaikh Abdul A’la Khalid Bin Muhammad Bin Uthman Al-Misri (May Allah preserve him) he stated the following about Houthi Shi’ites in Yemen:
1. Their leader and founder is Husain Badruddin Al-Houthi.
2. He used to speak ill of the Zaidiyyah Shi’ites because he believed that that they did not give the family of the Prophet (Ahlil Bait) their due right to Ilahiyyah (i.e. they possessed attributes of perfection which give them the status to be worshipped and invoked besides Allah etc). He studied and graduated in Iran.
3. They believe that the Sahabah (Companions) are the origin of trial. He (Husain Badruddin) himself believed in declaring the Sahabah (Companions) disbelievers.
4. He believes that Abu Bakr, Umar (in particular) and Uthman (radiyallahu-anhum) are responsible for every evil and oppression that has taken place in this Ummah. He said that the evil effects of the Bai’ah to Abu Bakr (radiyallahu-anhu) has not ceased to this present day.
5. He said that Mu’awiyah (radiyallahu-anhu) is one of the evil deeds of Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman (radiyallahu-anhum).
6. He said that the Salaf (Pious predecessors) are the foundations of oppression.
7. Likewise, the Houthiyyin have gatherings to remember the killing of Husain (radiyallahu-anhu). During these gathering they beat themselves, cry, revile and curse the Sahabah (Companions)… etc.
8. They also set up businesses to sell audio cassettes from Iran, which contain the voices of wailing people and slander against the Sahabah (Companions).
9. The Houthiyyin also engaged in Mut’ah marriage.
I ask Allah in His infinite Mercy to glorify Islam and Muslims.
And all praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our Noble Messenger, Prophet Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true followers.
This Jumu’ah Khutbah (Friday Sermon) was prepared for delivery today Friday, Rabi’ul Awwal 22, 1440 AH (November 30, 2018), by Imam Murtada Muhammad Gusau, the chief Imam of the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene and Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah Mosques, Okene, Kogi State Nigeria. He can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org or 08038289761 (+2348038289761).