Summary of an Interview with Sheikh Hasan Alsaffar about His Political Life
Alalam TV - 16 / 9 / 2008 - 3:49 am

Sheikh Hasan Alsaffar

Sheikh Hasan Musa Alsaffar is one the most distinctive reformative Shiite leaders. He was born in 1958 in Qatif at which he studied basic courses and, then, he shifted between Najaf, Kuwait and Iran to study Islamic thoughts.

He delivered speeches in an early age, and occupied a significant position in the society through developing and supporting religious awakening by delivering contemporary religious speeches and training intellectual competencies and cadres. He is an articulate public speaker, and headed many religious and social activities in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Sates.

He returned from exile to his homeland; Saudi Arabia, after fifteen years which he had spent them in activating many cultural, political and informative projects in various regions. He made significant initiatives in communicating with leaders of the Salafist trend as well as with senior officials in Saudi Arabia.

Since the early 70's of the last century Sheikh Hasan Alsaffar has been the prominent Shiite leader in Saudi Arabia. He stayed in different countries looking for the best environment to expand his work.

After the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, Sheikh Alsaffar declared his support to it. His sharp speeches in Qatif subjected him to political persecutions which made him move to Iran then to Syria where he continued his political activities as well as religious studies.

When Iraq attacked Kuwait, Alsaffar called his Shiite proponents and followers in Saudi Arabia to cease the dissenting political activities and to defend the nation against foreign dangers. This attitude made the late King Fahad bin AbdulAziz Al Saud communicate with his group through delegates, and that resulted in their return to his homeland. When he settled in Qatif, he continued demanding for Shiite rights, equality and rapprochement between Islamic sects. He joined the National Dialogue Initiative which was sponsored by the Saudi Crown Prince at that time, the current King Abdullah bin AbdulAziz Al Saud. A Shiite Petition "Partners in One Nation" earlier demanded such initiative. Sheikh Alsaffar believes that Saudi Shiites must get involved in national issues through dialogue instead of self-containment, and his attitude made him highly respected in Saudi Arabia.

Alsaffar has many intellectual writings and works in various fields. He, also, has enlightened viewpoints over Islamic revival, social coexistence and national dialogue with the different. He published a set of books and researches and some of them were translated into different languages. Some of his remarkable writings are “Home Nation and Citizenship”, “Diversity and Freedom in Islam”, “Looking for Unity and the Reality of Defragmentation in Muslims World” as well as “Diversity and Coexistence; the Way of Establishing Partnership for Civilizational Development”. 

Schools of Thoughts in Shiite Ideology:
There are two schools in the region differ in tools and approaches used to conclude Sharia provisions. One of them, which is called Alekhbaria, is confined to Qur'an and Hadith, and does not believe that reason and consensus have an essential role in concluding Sharia provisions whereas the other, which is called Alasoolia, believe that Qur'an, Hadith, reason and consensus are all important in concluding provisions.

In the past, Alakhbaria school was dominating the Shiite academic field, however in the last centuries, Alasoolia became the prevalent. Even though, there were not any conflictions between the two in Qatif region, there were simple disagreements between the followers but not the scholars. Sheikh Alsaffar mentioned that he belongs to Alasoolia because he grew up in a family that follows this school but after he studied the features of the two schools he was convinced with the approach that he grew up with.

Shiite religious education in Qatif region was limited; every Shiite scholar tutors only four or five young students. This condition was not prevalent and obvious; therefore, there were not any political pressures or sectarian issues over this phenomenon.

Alsaffar mentioned that when he started studying religion, he was influenced by Sheikh Faraj Alomran (died in 1978) who used to simplify the explanation of religious provisions, encourage people in villages to perform the congregational prayer, pay Khums (one-fifth of certain items which a person acquires as wealth, and which must be paid as an Islamic tax) and celebrate religious occasions. Alsaffar was influenced by Sheikh Alomran's way of answering, conducting researches and modesty.

He, also, named Sheikh Ali Almarhoon as one of the distinctive religious leaders who had a significant role in his life.

He was, also, influenced by Sheikh AbdulHameed Almarhoon in regards of his way in delivering speeches and addressing historical and social culture. He was used to go frequently to Sheikh Saeed Abu Almakarem's library which was one of the biggest libraries in Qatif.

Moreover, Alsaffar pointed that when he was studying in Najaf, he was influenced by views and intellects of Sayyed Abu AlQasim AlKhu'ei, Sayyed AlShahroudi and particularly Sayyed Mohammad Baqir Alsader who wrote many valuable books.

Alsaffar's Political Life
Although sectarianism existed long time in Saudi Arabia, the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran raised the sectarian tension in the region. This problem existed because of the following two reasons. One is that Shiites were limiting themselves to traditional religious rituals while the other reason is that the government did not notice any issues that bring up security concerns.

However, Shiites did not feel that they are equal to other citizens in regards of public services, economic development, job opportunities, and freedom in cultural affairs. Therefore, some Shiites joined national leftist movements which made the government arrests some of them and enforce pressures on the others.
Sheikh Alsaffar, during his study in Iraq, was warned from mingling with Iranian or getting involved with political trends, but, later, he met Sheikh AbdulJalil Almarhoon who introduced him to Imam AlKhomeini who initiated the Islamic revolution in Iran. However, he did not have an effective political role against the Iraqi government at that time.

He returned to his homeland; Qatif, Saudi Arabia, to attend Ashura season, then, he moved with some students to Qum in Iran and joined its Hawza (a seminary of traditional Shiite Islamic studies). In Qum, he found himself in a new environment, he had to learn Persian language, but he was warned from joining any political trend and he had to just pay attention to his study. However, these instructions conflicts with Sheikh Alsaffar's principles and orientation; therefore, he secretly communicated with Imam AlKhomeini through some Iraqis in Iran.

Alsaffar stated that his experience in Najaf was more valuable and beneficial than in Qum because there he was able of interacting and benefiting from literary and cultural environments in Najaf. However, his experience in Qum enriched him in the regards of intellectual openness as well as recognizing the orientations of Islamic Dawa Party and Sayyed Mohammad Baqir Alsadr's approach.

Then, Sheikh Alsaffar went to Kuwait where he delivered religious speeches. There, he was introduced to Sayyed Mohammad Alshirazi religious school in which he met Sheikh Ali AlKawrani and Merza Hasan Alha'eri.
In Kuwait:
Sheikh Alsaffar went initially in early 70's to Kuwait where he delivered religious speeches, and he was introduced to the prominent religious scholar Sayyed Mohammad Alshirazi and decided to stay in his religious school in which he met Sheikh Ali AlKawrani and Merza Hasan Alha'eri. Alsaffar found in this school new  and open environments that call for revival and concern about the nation's issues.

Formation of the Reformative Movement:
Alsaffar returned to Qatif and started his social activities and gathered a group of Shiite individuals who were eager to change the prevalent situation in the society and improve their relationship with the Saudi government. After the victory of Islamic Revolution in Iran, this group made the first step in making Reformative Movements; in 1979, they publicized their opinions and viewpoints. This step was rejected by the government that sieged Qatif region and conflicted with its people which resulted in killing many people and arresting hundreds.

He moved with a group of his proponents to Iran and they asked for support from Iranian officials who refused to back up any political movement against Saudi Arabia. Moving to Iran made the Saudi government pay attention to Shiite conditions in the region and form a committee to study and address their problems that resulted in this movement. It, also, made the Saudi government think of Shiites as a security concern which led to many events and arrestments.

The political situation in the Saudi Shiite society is current. In the beginning, it was immature and used to adopt sharp slogans and titles as the title that the movement began with which is "The Organization of the Islamic Revolution in the Arabian Peninsula". These kinds of slogans disappeared because everyone realized that the movement must consider the national and regional realities. Shiites in Saudi Arabia do not aim to change the authority or seize the power; they just seek to participate and have an effective role as other social groups. Therefore, Sheikh Alsaffar with his proponents started to adopt moderation in their political movement and changed the movement's title to "The Reformative Movement in the Arabian Peninsula".

The Movement's Firm Stand:
When Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Iraqi government sent many delegates to encourage Alsaffar and members of the Reformative Movement to cooperate with it and in exchange the Iraqi government would support them against the Saudi authorities. The movement refused the offer and declared that they are standing by their nation against the enemies.

This attitude attracted the attention of King Fahad who sent delegates to thank the leaders of the Movement and to initiate dialogue with them.

The Movement negotiated with King Fahad on discharging all Shiite political internees on which the King agreed and gave an order of releasing them. He, also, gave an order of allowing all Shiite individuals who used to live abroad to return to Saudi Arabia without encountering them to any difficulties or interrogation.

Openness and National Dialogue:
After the return of Sheikh Alsaffar to Saudi Arabia, many national dialogue meetings were held to discuss intellectual and future expectations and visions for the nation.

King Abdullah Al Saud is concerned with national dialogue and called the representatives of all social groups to get together and hold the first meeting in 2003. This initiative was tremendously effective; therefore, King Abdullah held a conference in Makkah for Interfaith dialogue in which religious figures of all Islamic sects from different states were invited. Sheikh Alsaffar stressed on the importance of appreciating and promoting this approach in order to make it succeed.

However, Sheikh Alsaffar mentioned that there are extreme and strict orientations within the Salafist trend that do not accept the other and persist on their stringent attitudes; not only against Shiites but even against all other Islamic orientations that adopt different viewpoints. He believes that national dialogue would offer all parties the opportunity to recognize each other and urge them to work for their nation's development  whether in economics, politics, culture, education or in social awareness.