Arabic is native tongue of Shi'a Mullahs in Bahrain but most are also fluent in Farsi because they have attended seminaries in Qom, Iran. Centuries ago, most Shi'a in Bahrain were Ismaili* Shi'a Muslims. Today, the overwhelming majority of Shi'a in the archipelago country are of the Akhbari School* aka Twelvers like most Iranian Shi'a. Therefore, despite the ethnic divide Arab and Persian, there exists a close spiritual affinity between the Shi'a of Iran and Bahrain. Moreover, the principal underground resistance group the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain (IFLB) follows the theological orientation of the Islamic Republic. The IFLB has embraced the velayat-e-faqih*principle which is the religious concept that recognizes Iran's Supreme Leader (rahbar) as infallible.


Nevertheless, most Bahrainis are of Arab origin rather than Persian from the Aryan Plateau. Consequently, the Qom-based Iranian Ayatollahs have been careful not to smother the Bahrainis with the 'good news' of the Islamic Republic. In fact, Najaf, Iraq Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani* still has great influence among devout Shi'a in Bahrain, perhaps more than his Iranian counterpart Ayatollah Khamenei. Furthermore, Bahrain boasts its own tradition of Shi'a scholarship. The most famous of Bahrain's native Shi'a theologians Sheikh Maitham al-Bahraini*compares favorably with any religious scholar by seminaries in Qom, Iran.

During the last millennium, when Persian dynastic empires were strong, Iran controlled Bahrain's thirty three island archipelago. These periods included waves of immigration from various Iranian provinces to Bahrain. For instance, even today, there are neighborhoods in the capital Manama and Muharraq City whose inhabitants can trace their ethnic origins to Ahvaz Province in Iran. One such neighborhood, "Fareej Karimi" still recalls the name of a leader of an early sixteenth century Persian invasion of the island state, Ali Abdullah Karimi. These culturally Persian Shi'a are known as "The Ajam". They are logically more susceptible to the Islamic Republic's political siren call. Other citizens of Bahrain trace their heritage to other parts of Iran like the southern coastal region of Bushehr or the signature Persian province of Fars.

It is within these neighborhoods that Iranian intelligence agents recruit students for religious and political training in Iran's Shi'a seminaries. These graduates of Qom-based seminaries go on to become members of the Islamic Republic's cellular infrastructure in Bahrain. The religious signature of these pro-Iranian recruits is at least as important as their political pedigree. The spiritual dimension of Iran's grand strategy in the region must not be under-estimated.

Iraj Hashemi

*The Ismaili or "Seveners" believe that the line of Imams ended with the death of 7th Imam Jafar al-Sadiq. Ismaiis believe Jafar's eldest son Ismail was the rightful heir. The "Twelvers" believe that Ismail predeceased his father Jafar and therefore the rightful heir and next Imam was Musa al-Kadhim, the younger brother of Ismail. The "Seveners" claim that Ismail went into hiding to avoid the fate of his father Jafar who was murdered by poison, probably by the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad.

*The Akhbari of Shi'a Islam is that school which holds that there was a hereditary succession of spiritually infallible Imams beginning with Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad until the disappearance of the Twelfth and last Imam in 853 A.D. This "Great Occultation" (hiding) was foreordained by Allah. The Imam, often referred to as the Imam Zaman (The Imam of Time) or the Mahdi is destined to return along with Jesus at the "end of time".

*Valayat-e-Faqih is the concept that the Shi'a Faithful bereft of a living Imam must select a leader among the ulema (religious teachers) who is spiritually, poetically, and intellectually superior to his contemporaries to guide the society and the Faith.

*Grand Ayatollah Sistani is the senior most Shi'a cleric in Iraq. Sistani and a handful of other Grand Ayatollahs form the religious leadership of the Marjaria (Those whom the Faithful must emulate. They are headquartered in the holiest city of Shi'a Islam, Najaf, Iraq.

*Sheikh Maitham al-Bahraini was a 13th century Shi'a theologian who was born in today's Saudi Arabian Province of al-Qatif (Eastern Province). He broadened Shi'a Twelver theology to embrace aspects of philosophy and mysticism. His shrine in Bahrain is pilgrim site particularly for Arab Shi'a who trace their heritage to eastern Arabia.

*Karimi named after a prominent Iranian who emigrated to Bahrain from Iran during the Persian invasion of the archipelago initiated by Shah Abbas I in the 1600s.