Sheikh Esam Al Emad is a Yemeni Shia Twelver who was a former Sunni scholar- part 1


He lost faith in the Sunni tradition while studying Sunni hadith science and realized that there was a conspiracy against the prophets family. He found himself unable to reconcile the blatant disregard for the AhulBayt in Sunni works. An Interview with Esam Al-Emad a Wahhabi Scholar Who Converted to Shia.

Mr. Esam Al-Emad is an intellectual and a university professor who has developed tendency towards Shia religion.

According to Maw’ud monthly, as reported by the reporter of Rahavard Electronic Journal, Yemen has about 22 million population of which 30 percent are Zaidi Shiites, that is, about 5/6 million people. Previously, the statistics showed a higher percentage of Shia population in this country. During the period of Zaidis’ government, they made up approximately 40% of the population. At present, however, only 4 or 5 percent of the Zaidi population is known.

What follows is an interview conducted by Maw’ud monthly with Dr. Esam Al-Emad about the politico-cultural situation of the Shiites of Yemen. Dr. Emad belongs to Yemen and he used to be a follower of the Sunni school of jurisprudence but he has now converted to Shi’ism. Esam Al-Emad was born in 1968 and he has done his doctorate degree in Hadith Sciences in one of the Saudi universities. At present, he is busy studying at the Khariji (post-graduate) level of Fiqh and Usul (jurisprudence and legal theories) in the Islamic seminary of Qom (Iran)

Mr. Esam Al-Emad, would you kindly tell us how you converted to Shia?

Yes, when I was specializing in Hadith sciences in Saudi Arabia, I studied a book entitled Al-Atabul Jamil ‘Alaa Ahlil Jarh wat-Ta’adil which is written by a Sunni scholar about Ilm-e Rejal (biographical science) of Ahl-e Sunnat. It was stated in that book that according to Ahl-e Sunnat, religious and historical tendencies affect the selection of traditions and individuals in Rejal and Hadith sciences. The distribution and circulation of this book in Saudi Arabia created a lot of hubbub and later as many as ten books were written against the same book. I have read some of them and after reading them, I felt like I never had any confidence on what I was reading or what Sunni scholars told. We were reading ideological books written according to prophetic traditions. The Holy Prophet’s traditions have been transmitted through a chain of narrators whose biographies are to be found in Ilm-e Rejal. If a doubt or a misgiving arises about the science of hadith, then one would begin to doubt about ideological books such as “Al-Tawhid” written by Muhammad Abdu because these beliefs are verified through the traditions and the traditions are based on Ilm-e Rejal.

Ibn-e Hajar Al-Asqalani, who is one of the top ranking Sunni scholars, is reported to have said: “I am really sorry to see that early Sunni scholars who lived during the first to the fourth centuries regarded every Shia, whom they should have considered as early narrator, as liar and considered every anti-Ahlulbayt (a.s.) and anti-Shiite narrator as honest and faithful”. Al-Asqalani says, “I wonder why early scholars adopted a stance against the saying of the Prophet! The Prophet (pbuh) said: Whosoever is Ali’s supporter, he is a believer (Momeen) and whosoever is Ali’s enemy, he is a Munafiq (hypocrite).” Al-Asqalani has said: “This saying of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) is authentic and I am certain about its authenticity”. Also, Al-Asqalani says:

“I just noticed that our scholars are acting against this tradition, that is to say, they introduce Imam Ali’s friends as liars and considering as honest those who are his enemies.”

Of course, he has produced many arguments, but after several years of study, he has reached the conclusion that what the Sunni scholars have been saying about Imam Ali (a.s.) were not correct. However, Ibn-e Hajar Al-Asqalani’s sayings were also not convincing for me because he has simply raised a skepticism; he has not conducted a research nor has he given a convincing answer to the misgiving.

This was the first sentence I read in Al-Asqalani’s Tahzib Al-Tahzib. Imam ibn-e Aqil Shafei has similar words concerning Sunni scholars’ unjust and unkind attitude towards Imam Ali (a.s.).

I had several programs in Yemen in which prominent scholars, national and cultural personalities were attending. About 40 people would take part in these sessions which were used to be held in the month of Ramadhan, and I would focus my speeches on certain theological issues such as Hazrat Ali’s act of refraining from giving allegiance to Abu Bakr and Umar and transferring the government from Madinah to Kufa despite others trying to persuade the Imam to stay in Madina? Why did others try to stop Imam Ali (a.s.) from going to Basra and when he went there, they caused a war to break out there? I mean to say that they always wanted to put the blame on Imam Ali (a.s.)? Why did he fight? Why did he accept the caliphate? I would propound these questions but I was not taking notice of myself being unfair towards Imam Ali. That is, if someone would tell me, “You are not fair towards Imam Ali (a.s.)”, I would say “it is not true, you are just accusing me”, but when I read Al-Atabul Jamil ‘Alaa Ahlil Jarh wat-Ta’adil, then I realized that it was true. If someone is a true Sunni, he should take a position towards Imam Ali (a.s.) because he should choose to condemn either Imam Ali or Umar. Therefore, Al-Asqalani has made a clear mention of this and I noticed that the path of life had become clear and distinguishable for me. Given that my specialty was hadith, so not only did I become Shia through this book but I also know many other individuals who read this book and embraced Shi’ism. Despite the author being Sunni, as I said, he has made mention of a very important point. That is, we were proud of the fact that Sunnis had an unkind and reluctant attitude towards Imam Ali (a.s.).

Aren’t you any more at present reluctant towards Ali (a.s.)? In view of this, don’t you think that Shiites’ reluctance or disfavor towards the caliphs is justified?

I believe Shiites’ apathy towards Sunni leaders is different from Sunnis’ apathy towards the Shia Imams. That is to say, the apathy existing among the Sunnis has come into being on account of political issues – not religious issues. Their lack of interest in Imam Ali (a.s.) has been due to the interference of unjust states and governments over history while this is not the case with Shiites because Shiites’s approach towards Sunni leaders is based on the Quran and the Prophet’s traditions.

In the case of Shiites, no politics is involved. If Shiites’ apathy may be due to political reasons, they are condemned. The Shiites’ stance is correct because they have proofs from the Quran and traditions of the holy Prophet (pbuh). That is to say, Shiites rely on a religious principle, which originates in the Prophet’s saying but Sunnis’ stance is based on no such things. What do you think the Sunnis’ apathy towards Imam Ali (a.s.) stems from? There is no doubt that it has no religious foundation? Given that the Sunnis accept Imam Ali’s entire virtues and excellences, it becomes clear that there is a political motive involved. As for Shiites’ attitude towards the Sunnis and their caliphs, it is based on religious evidence.

What is the percentage of Imamiyah Shiites out of the entire Yemeni population?

Actually, Imamiyah Shiites in its particular meaning came to Yemen only after the Islamic revolution of Iran. There were no Shiites there before the revolution. Before the revolution, there existed some Zaidi Shiites but the Ithna Ashari (Twelver) Shiites arrived in Yemen after the Islamic revolution. Of course, there is no precise statistics about the number of Ithna Ashari Shiites living there because, in our society, they are quite a new phenomenon.

What is the population of Zaidi Shiites? What percentage do they make up?

If we consider Zaidis as Shiites, they make about 30 percent of the entire population of Yemen because Zaidis have been living in Yemen for the past 1200 years. Most of the Yemeni Sayeds are the descendants of Yahya Al-Imam Al-Hadi bin Al-Hussain bin Al-Qasim Al-Rasi who is one of the of grandchildren of Imam Hassan Mujtaba whose brother was also in Yemen. He traveled from Medina to Yemen in 260 A.H. to escape the atrocity of the Abbasid government. Before that time, all the people of Yemen were Sunnis. However, Sunni historians have studied the history of the development of Shiites in Yemen and they have said that Shiites began to spread in Yemen after him. Until before this time, the names of the caliphs would be announced publicly all over the country but when Yahya Al-Hadi arrived in Yemen, the governor put a ban on the names of the three caliphs and allowed only Imam Ali’s name to be recited.

How much is the population of Yemen at present?

Yemen has about five million population of which 30 percent are Zaidi Shiites. That makes about 5/6 million people. Previously, the statistics showed a higher percentage of Shia population in this country. During the period of Zaidis’ government, they made up approximately 40% of the population. At present, however, only 4 or 5 percent of the Zaidi population is known.

In 1962, about 42 years back, Abdul Naser brought about sixty thousand Egyptian soldiers into Yemen and took the government from Zaidis and handed it over to laic individuals. In the same year, religious schools were banned, clerics were arrested and killed and I also entered a Wahhabi school in Yemen. The reason why out of 5/6 million Shiites only five hundred Shiites are known is because the government put a ban on all their religious rites. Their rites are held out of pure love for the Ahlalbayt (a.s.). When their enemeis’ government came to power, it started to massacre Shiites and their scholars. They changed all the cultural and religious rites that dated back to one thousand years. For example, in a funeral ceremony, the people would recite the stories of the Ahlalbayt (a.s.) so as to revive their memories but all of a sudden, things changed and the government banned these. For the time being, there is no discussion going on about the Ahlalbayt (a.s.) in official and non-official schools.

Books like Nahjul Balaghah and Sahifa Sajjadiyah are banned. There is no mention made of the household of the holy Prophet (Ahlalbayt) in textbooks and narrative sources. The government permits none of these. Even very recently, the government authorities ordered that Nahjul Balaghah be collected from all over Yemen.