Politics disguised as religion
Wadhah Abdu Al-Bari Taher, a researcher at the Yemeni Center for Studies, said that many religious figures at all levels incite violence, hate and dogmatism.
"We are now in a very complicated phase due to bad curricula. If this problem is not seriously addressed, the situation heralds a genuine catastrophe."
Doctrinal conflict is political at its core. Religion masks this conflict, according to Sharf Al-Deen Al-Murtadhi, the founder of Wahi Al-Thaqafi (The Educated Inspiration) Forum.
"The former regime took Salifism as a religious ideology; the Houthis embrace the religious Zaidi ideology. Thus, each political side has become glued to a particular religious orientation. Essentially, it is not a doctrinal conflict; it is political. The core of this conflict is religion or doctrine."
Some think that Yemen has become a fertile ground for political and sectarian imbalances, with the absence of a strong state and an onslaught of political and doctrinal disputes.
Salman Al-Amari, a researcher with Islamic Movement Affairs, stated that this problem lies with the absence of constitutional law. He suggested all the conflicting parties and the civil society organizations must agree on the political and national identity of civil society organizations.
He added that some attempts have been made to fuel the conflict. Foreign forces attempt to nourish the disputes.
Many researchers agree that the six-year Houthi war has contributed to a stalemate towards peaceful change.Democracy was further weakened during the last years of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s reign.
This has served to boost support for the Houthis and Al-Qaeda; they are increasingly able to attract religious youth, living in an armed society teeming with illiteracy and poverty.
Yahyia Al-Dailami, sheikh and scholar, opined that people need to comprehend the doctrines and parties with which they are affiliated.
"The parties have to point out their fundamental intellectual ideologies. These parties are not supposed to enforce their doctrinal way; the living standards of people are to be cared for instead."
For his part, Al-Murtdha Al-Mahtwari, a scholar, said the religious parties don’t serve God and Islam; they serve the party and seek wealth to be able to dominate.
He said what is occurring is due to worldly conflicts which have nothing to do with religion at all.
"When you tell them ‘God says’, people respond with ‘the party said’ or ‘the sheikh did’."
Al-Mahtwari called for readers to not to believe preachers who shed crocodile tears. These preachers intend only to raise funds or invite people to elect a particular person and attack another one. They are selfinterested, leaving Yemen divided, said Al-Mahtwari.
On many occasions the religious fatwa in Yemen was manipulated for political purposes as seen in 1994 and the six Sa'ada wars which ensued from doctrinal sensitivity. Each person is adherent to his viewpoint thinking that defending the doctrine is the way to survive.
Khalid Al-Madani, an activist of Al-Somoud Youth Movement, said that there must be particular fixed ideologies in the partisan doctrinal work which nobody is allowed to contravene; a fatwa shouldn't be used to the advantage of politics so that doctrinal conflicts are not instigated.
He went on to note the abuse of religion in the past few years; there must be devoutness and piety in those who issue fatwas because they can trigger deaths and polarization within the country.
Coexistence is possible
However, there are fewer doctrinal arguments in Yemen than in other Islamic countries.
Mohammed Azzan, an Islamic researcher, said that most of the Sunni doctrine is taken from Shaafa'i trend, while most of the Shiite belief is taken from Zaidi trend. There were no disagreements between these doctrines. Each sect accepted each other’s beliefs which enabled them to live together and perform their prayers in the same place.
Azzan pointed out that the problems in Yemen worsened because of political, regional and international influences which found a way to achieve their aims doctrinally.
Therefore they worked on heightening the conflict and weakened the mutual understanding that was found before. Furthermore, they raised historical disagreements, which are of a political nature, connected them to religion and creeds and used media to facilitate that.
“After that, the Wahhabi trend infiltrated into the Sunni society and the Twelve trend, Imami Shiite Islam, infiltrated into the Zaidi society. Yemenis started to undergo either trend,” Azzan said.
“With passage of time, doctrines became a mix of religion and politics. They became military camps where followers of each trend gathered to fight followers of another. This indicates that doctrines in Yemen are victims of partisan policy and regional interests,” he added.
The idea of coexistence is related to the dynamics of power, according to Saeed Jaber, an Islamic researcher.
Jaber said that “the fight is only to gain authority. So if this problem is solved, I think, many doctrinal disputes will be settled too because many political disagreements hide behind doctrine and religion.”
Jaber added that the state must be impartial. It is supposed to have no relation with any doctrine and let people follow the doctrine they want.
Separating politics from doctrines
Researchers believe that there are political conflicts and doctrinal conflicts; some parties try to mix them and direct this conflict to a political-doctrinal conflict.
“The problem, in my opinion, isn’t because the political-doctrinal conflict in Yemen has its roots solely in local issues. It is important to understand the context of international and regional interests, as it is connected to what is going on in neighboring countries. The issues are not separate.”
Jaber added that the solution is to separate doctrine from the state because unlike political issues, the religious issues are agreed upon.
“The legislative issues are passed by majority in the parliament. Therefore, there is no separation between religion and state but between the state and different doctrinal sects,” he added.
A unified Islamic base
Researchers agree that one of the solutions to overcome the doctrinal conflict is to agree upon a particular political-Islamic methodology to be the base of ruling, agreed upon by all people. Another solution is fully to separate religion from state so that the political conflict cannot involve religion.
Al-Ammari said that if the state’s presence is reasserted, Yemenis will be able to live together and stop the fighting amoung each other.
“I’m worried that the situation will deteriorate further and doctrinal clashes that have no end will break out due to absence of the state” Al-Ammari added.
Abdullah Sa’tar, head of the Social Department of the Islah party, said that it will better for all doctrines to reach common ground.
“It is not possible for any party in a modern state to insist on its opinions; we need to discuss issues to reach agreement,” he added.
Sa’tar explained that doctrines did not exist at the time of Prophet Mohammed, but today many sects and disagreements have emerged. Therefore, it is not suitable to direct the youth towards them.
Jaber asserted that it is responsibility of the state to monitor religious education so that children won’t become victim to extremist groups.
Jaber pointed out that Al-Qaeda mainly attracts ignorant and uneducated young men.
Mojeeb Al-Homaidi, an author and a researcher, said that what must be agreed upon is to resist coercion by any party and give freedom of thought for all doctrines.
“We have to encounter Islamic emirates and prevent them from imposing their doctrinal domination on the society by military and economic power. Everyone has the right to believe in whatever he wants but what is important is that he doesn’t force anyone to follow his beliefs,” Al-Homaidi added.
“I agree with what Hassan Hanafi, an Arab thinker, said: the reason behind emergence of religious groups is the absence of a strong state and popular policy. Therefore, it is normal that these groups will emerge because the regimes are weak.”