November 06, 2006

Ahbash in Lebanon

This is a fascinating article from 1996 by Associate Professor A. Nizah Hamzeh (American University of Beiruit) and Professor R. Hrair Dekmejian (University of South California). The two Professors seek to lay out in some detail the history and experience of a group called the Ahbash. They distinguish between Islamic theorists who follow thinkers like Ibn Tamiyya and Said Qutb who both argued that some Muslims despite following the Koran were unislamic because they failed to follow the Islamic law as rigourously as they should have(see Emanuel Siwan's study for a discussion of this point and of the links between the 14th Century Imam and the Egyptian revolutionary) and on the other hand theorists who refuse to make that distinction between Muslims and hence argued for a tolerant peace. The Professors argued that the Ahbash fell within the second group providing an alternative future if you like from that which the Fundamentalist Sunni groups proposed. Definitely some websites have responded with vitriol to Al-Ahbash accusing them of not being Muslim, this rather strident analysis even argues that their founder was Jewish and their natural allies are Christians.

Within Lebanese politics many informed onlookers argue that the group is now merely a front for Syrian intervention. Al Jazeera reported that the Mehlis report into the assassination of Rafiq Hariri had found some Ahbash members were involved. They have also been accused (see the sources I cite above and this) of being involved in violent pro-Syrian protests. Consequently the academics' analysis needs updating- the Ahbash are not neccessarily a benign force in Lebanon. The Ahbash's aims of being a more tolerant type of Sunni would definitely fit with an Allawite Syria allied to a Shia Hizbollah- so even their political thinking may have contamination from Damascus.

Having said that, this is an interesting article and does look to be an interesting group. If for nothing else, as Thomas Pierrot from Science Pol in Paris argues they are one of the more innovative Islamic sects in using the internet to prosletyse. The sheer fact that the Ahbash could make plausible enough arguments to attract votes in 1992 proves that the demonology of Middle Eastern citizens is wrong- when offered a tolerant alternative some will vote for it- there is an Islam out there which is peaceful and this minor group's declared doctrine is part of that wider phenomenen. Lebanon is obviously a traumatised and complicated country, whether the Ahbash are part of a pluralist future or a Syrian past (or even whether those two adjectives should be reversed) is outside the scope of my knowledge. Their international role, which seems from my brief internet research to be particularly strong in Australia where they have a radio license, is also beyond my scope. All I finish this article upon is a conclusion that this is an interesting group, which the sources above refer to as everything from a cult to extremist to tolerant and that I would welcome comments from those of you that are more expert than me in discussing what kind of organisation this is.


mutakallim said...

Indeed the Ahbash is a very interesting group and I too welcome an open discussion regarding their roots, their methodology and their goals. I am a member (a proud member) of this organization and I have been for the past 10 years. While we have many detractors I can assure everyone who reads this blog that there is no difference between what the classical scholars teach and what Shaykh Abdullah Al-Habashi our beloved teacher has taught us. Then again, what do you expect me to say about a man whom I love?

I will however, offer to answer any specific question or criticism anyone may have for the Ahbash. Also, everyone is more than welcome to contact their North American Headquaters located in Philadelphia at or 215-387-8888 and if you'd like to contact me you can email me at

Gracchi said...

Thanks for commenting Mutakallim.