Isa Qassim

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Isa Qassim
Personal picture for Sheikh Isa Qassim.jpg
Ayatollah Isa Qassim photographed in 2007
Born Isa Ahmed Qassim
Duraz, Bahrain
Residence Duraz, Bahrain
Occupation Religious leader, politician and former teacher
Years active 1961–present
Religion Shia Islam

Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Ahmed Qassim (Arabic: آية الله الشيخ عيسى أحمد قاسم) is Bahrain's leading Shia cleric and a politician. He is the spiritual leader of Al Wefaq, Bahrain's biggest opposition society. He was the leader and is the founders of Islamic Enlightenment institution.[1]


Isa Qassim was born in 1937 to a fisherman in Duraz. He attended Budaiya primary school where he was known for his intelligence and it was reported that he always scored the highest marks. After finishing primary school and with his brother's aid he moved to Manama's secondary school. After graduating he worked as a teacher in Budaiya primary school where he remained until 1962.[1][2]

Religious activity[edit]

Religious study in 1960s[edit]

During his academic study Isa Qassim went to Noaim at night to study Islamic teachings under sheikh Abdul-Hussain Al-Heli (Died in 1957). In 1962 Qassim began studies at the Najaf Religious Institute in Iraq, where he studied under many Marja's including Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr.[2] He remained in Al-Najaf for 4 years then returned to Bahrain where he worked as a teacher in Al-Khamis intermediate school for 2 years before returning to Al-Najaf. In Al-Najaf he met with other Shia Bahraini scholars including: Sheikh Abdul Amir al-Jamri, Sheikh Abdulla Al-Guraifi, Sheikh Abdulla Al-Madani and Sheikh Abbas Al-Rayes. All of them were from the same generation and knew each other well even before going to Al-Najaf, due to being partners as students or teachers.[1]

Religious study in 1990s[edit]

At the beginning of the 1990s, Isa Qassim traveled to Qum in Iran to continue his religious studies. He studied on the hands of some of the highest-ranking Marjas including: Ayatollah Sayed Mahmood Al-Qashimi, Ayatollah Sayed Kadhem Al-haeri and Ayatollah Fadhel Al-Lankarani. In March 2001, he finished his studies, gained the title of Ayatollah and returned to Bahrain on March 8, 2001.[2]

Friday Sermon[edit]

Isa Qassim has been leading Friday Sermon in Duraz mosque since his return to Bahrain in 2001. Thousands of worshipers attend this sermon weekly. During the first speech preceding prayer, Qassim usually speaks about religious topics. And about political topics during the second speech.

Political activity[edit]

1970s elections[edit]

Isa Qassim leading Friday Sermon in Duraz on 25 March 2011.

In 1971 Isa Qassim was chosen by religious leaders to be a candidate for elections while he was still in Iraq. At first he refused and wanted to stay in Iraq to finish his studies and stay away from politics, but just four days before candidates registration was closed, his brother Mahdi traveled to Iraq and brought him back along with his wife and kids. In 1972 he was elected for the Constituent assembly where he had big influence in including parts of the Islamic sharia in the 1973 constitution.[2]

Formation of the religious block[edit]

In 1972 a 'religious block' was formed which included Isa Qassim, Sheikh Abdul Amir al-Jamri, Sheikh Abdulla Al-Madani, Sheikh Abbas Al-Rayes, Suleiman Al-Mubarak and Hassan Al-Motawwaj. At first they were 9 members, but later 3 of them joined the 'Independent middle' block. During elections the block adopted a wide program including: supporting the labor's union & demands, forbidding trade of Alcoholic drinks and separating men and women in higher education (like primary, intermediate and secondary schools). They also called for prohibiting male doctors from treating females (especially in pregnancy) as well as other demands that are part of the Islamic customs.[1]

In 1973 Qassim was elected a member of Bahrain's parliament, the National Assembly of Bahrain, until the parliament was dissolved in August 1975. He gained 1079 votes making him the biggest winner in the fifteen constituency.[1][2]

1996 coup plot allegations[edit]

The Bahraini government alleged that Qassim was implicated in a coup plot in 1996. They accused him to be the head of an Iran-based group called Hizbullah Bahrain, who were said to be behind a conspiracy to overthrow the Bahraini government.[3] Some of those convicted of the conspiracy confessed to receiving financial help and military training from Iran and Lebanon. This claim was described by Human Rights Watch as lacking any credibility.[4] Their confessions were broadcast on Bahrain TV. Many Bahraini Shias denied that Isa Qassim was involved in any plot and claimed that the confessions were taken under torture.

Role in Al Wefaq[edit]

Isa Qassim is often referred to as the spiritual leader of Al Wefaq. However, he has no formal position within the party and has attained this status as a result of his religious seniority.[5] Some see this as a way for Qassim to avoid “submitting his opinions to internal democratic debate so that he can retain the final decision without paying the price for it”.[6] Qassim rarely makes his decisions in public.

Involvement in the Bahraini uprising (2011–present)[edit]

Throughout the Bahraini uprising (2011–present) Qassim has been a vocal critic of the government and has led the opposition to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. "Bahrain’s Sunni rulers have treated Shiite anti-government protesters seeking greater rights in the Gulf kingdom as enemies of state." He said on September 16 during Friday Sermon.[7] "the politics of fear and the Sunni rulers’ refusal to reform has strengthened the resolve of Bahrain’s Shiite majority. He added.[8]

Deployment of Peninsula Shield Force[edit]

On 14 March, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) agreed to deploy Peninsula Shield Force troops to Bahrain. Saudi Arabia deployed about 1,000 troops with armored support, and the United Arab Emirates deployed about 500 police officers. The forces crossed into Bahrain via the King Fahd Causeway. The purported reason of the intervention was to secure key installations.[9][10] The opposition reacted strongly, calling it an "occupation".[11]

In response to the deployment of the GCC troops in Bahrain. Isa Qassim, criticised al-Khalifa's claims that the mobilisation of GCC troops is a broader effort to ensure regional stability, rather than what Qassim considers to be Sunni entrenchment and a veiled challenge to Shia representation in the government.[12] On 18 March he said the Peninsula Shield Force had "made a big mistake" and he "would have been proud" if it instead went "to help our brothers in Gaza".[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Wesam Al-Seb'a (22 October 2011). "The religious block in National assembly" (in Arabic). Al-Wasat newspaper. Retrieved 2 August 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Staff writer. "Historical scrap" (in Arabic). Al-Bayan. Retrieved 2 August 2011. 
  3. ^ "Bahrain Plot 'Is Led From Qom'". The Guardian (London). June 12, 1996. 
  4. ^ "Routine Abuse, Routine Denial: Civil Rights and the Political Crisis in Bahrain". Human Rights Watch. UNHCR. 1 January 2006. Retrieved 19 July 2012.
  5. ^ Louėr, Laurence (2008). Transnational Shia politics: religious and political networks in the Gulf. Hurst & Company. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-85065-911-2. 
  6. ^ Louėr, Laurence (2008). Transnational Shia politics: religious and political networks in the Gulf. Hurst & Company. p. 284. ISBN 978-1-85065-911-2. 
  7. ^ "Qassim: Bahrain treats protesters as state enemies", Isa Qassim, 17 September 2011, Retrieved 5 October 2011
  8. ^ "Bahrain crackdown failed to end protests", Isa Qassim, 17 September 2011, Retrieved 5 October 2011
  9. ^ Staff writer (15 March 2011). "Saudi Soldiers Sent into Bahrain – Saudi Troops and Police from UAE Deployed to Gulf Neighbour To Help Protect Government Facilities After Weeks of Unrest". Al Jazeera English. Retrieved 15 April 2011. 
  10. ^ (registration required) Bronner, Ethan; Slackman, Michael (14 March 2011). "Saudi Troops Enter Bahrain to Help Put Down Unrest". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 March 2011. 
  11. ^ Staff writer (14 March 2011). "Gulf States Send Force to Bahrain Following Protests". BBC News. Retrieved 15 April 2011. 
  12. ^ "Saudi presence 'fuels' strife fears", Al Jazeera English, 15 March 2011, Retrieved 2 October 2011
  13. ^ "Bahrain: Shaykh Isa Qassim 1st Friday prayer sermon after declaration of martial law", The Muslim News, 19 March 2011, Retrieved 5 October 2011

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