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Regimes of Piety Revisited: Zaydī Political Moralities in Republican Yemen

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The gradual decline of Zaydī-Shī'ī Islam in Yemen occurred within contexts of state transformation over the past three centuries, culminating in the revolution of 1962 that abolished the imāmate. It has since lost its institutional framework and struggled to define its location in the newly established republic. The republic's commitment to an Islam which transcends the schools of law (madhāhib) has become part of Yemen's nationalist project and of the state's political agenda. At the intersection of nation-building and Saudi Arabia's assertion of its hegemony over the Arabian Peninsula, the Salafī da'wa—consonant with the teachings of the 18th/19th century scholar Muhammad al-Shawkānī—has twinned with Hanbalī-'Wahhābī' doctrine. The establishment of educational institutions and mosques propagating anti-Shī'ī schools of thought have provoked a Zaydī revival movement that gained momentum after Yemen's 'unification' in 1990. The movement has led to increased polarisation between the Zaydīs and the Salafīs, and demonstrated profound tensions among Zaydīs who subscribe to diverse political moralities. The article explores how categories of legitimisation have been modulated, and what recent Zaydī political activism reveals about the conflicting meanings people attach to 'being Zaydī'.

Affiliations: 1: London


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