Shia Muslims in the Arab world

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Islam is historically divided into two major sects, Sunni and Shī‘a Islam, each with its own sub-sects. Large numbers of Shī‘a Arab Muslims live in some Arab countries including Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, the UAE and Qatar. Shī‘a Muslims are a numerical majority in Iraq and Bahrain and make up a plurality in Lebanon. Smaller Shī‘a groups are present in Egypt and Jordan. Despite the heavy presence of Shī‘a Muslims in some Arab countries, particularly among the population of the Persian Gulf Arab countries, they have been treated poorly throughout history. Additionally, in recent times, Shī‘a Muslims along with Kurds have faced genocide by the pan-Arabist regime of Saddam Hussein.[1][2] For both historical and political reasons, the Shī‘a have fared rather poorly in much of the Arab world, and the topic of Shi‘ism and Shī‘a groups is one of the most sensitive issues for the Sunni elite.[3] This article discusses both the history of Shī‘a Islam in the Arab world from the dawn of Islam and their current situation in the Arabic-speaking world.



Arab Shiites in Yemen have been traditionally suppressed, often violently.[4] Massacres have taken place by government forces using tanks and airplanes to obliterate the uprising of Shī‘a groups in the country.[5]

Saudi Arabia

Shī‘as live in secluded, remote areas of Saudi Arabia away from the majority Sunni Muslims. The Shī‘as of Saudi Arabia live predominantly in Al-Ahsa and Qatif provinces although large numbers are scattered throughout the kingdom. According to recent reports, shi'as are about 15% of total population of kingdom.


Iraqi Shī‘as are predominantly situated in the southern part of Iraq, in Baghdad (the capital), Karbala, Najaf, Hilla, al Diwaniyah, all throughout the south until Basra.

Saddam Hussein and his 15 former aides, including Ali Hassan al-Majid, were held responsible for their alleged role in the suppression of a Shia uprising and the deaths of 60,000 to 100,000 people. The trial took place in Baghdad in August 2007.[2] Al-Majid had been already sentenced to death in June 2007 for genocide against the Kurds.

Unlike other sects of Islam, the Shī‘as of Iraq have been treated horrifically under the regime of Saddam Hussein, when many Iraqi Shī‘as of Persian descent were expelled from the country in the 1980s, despite being the majority of the country at 83%. Reports indicated that no neighborhood was left intact after the 1991 uprising in Karbala. In the vicinity of the shrines of Husayn ibn Ali and Abbas ibn Ali, most of the buildings surrounding the shrines were completely reduced to rubble. The shrines themselves were scarred from bullet marks and tank fire.[6] They were, however, quickly restored by Shiite Donations.

In December 2005, workers maintaining water pipes 500 meters from the Imam Hussein Shrine unearthed a mass grave containing dozens of bodies, apparently those of Shiites killed after the uprising.[1]


According to Brian Whitaker, in Egypt, the small Shī‘a population is harassed by the authorities and treated with suspicion, being arrested - ostensibly for security reasons - and subjected to abuse by state security officers for their religious beliefs.[7] The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs estimates the Shī‘a population of Egypt at 950,000.[8]


The most recent demographic study conducted by Statistics Lebanon, a Beirut-based research firm, found that 32% of Lebanon's population is Shī‘a Muslim.[9] Shī‘a are the only sect eligible for the post of Speaker of Parliament.[10][11][12][13] The Shī‘a Muslims are largely concentrated in northern and western Beqaa, Southern Lebanon and in the southern suburbs of Beirut.[14]

United Arab Emirates

15% of Emirati citizens belong to the Shia sect. In addition, Shia Islam is also practiced among the country's large Iranian community and other Muslim expatriate groups.[15][16]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Mass grave unearthed in Iraq city, BBC News, 27 December 2005
  2. 2.0 2.1 Iraqi Shia uprising trial begins, Al-Jazeera, August 22, 2007
  3. The Arab Shi'a: The Forgotten Muslims by Graham E. Fuller and Rend Rahim Francke (Paperback - Sep 22, 2001)
  4. See:
  5. See:
  6. Karbala Journal; Who Hit the Mosques? Not Us, Baghdad Says, The New York Times, August 13, 1994
  7. Comment is free: A green light to oppression
  8. Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah (September 23, 2012). "Egypt's Shiite Minority: Between the Egyptian Hammer and the Iranian Anvil". JCPA.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "International Religious Freedom Report 2010". U.S. Department of State. 2010-11-17. Retrieved 2013-06-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Lebanon-Religious Sects". Global Retrieved 2010-08-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "March for secularism; religious laws are archaic". NOW Lebanon. Retrieved 2010-08-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Fadlallah Charges Every Sect in Lebanon Except his Own Wants to Dominate the Country". Naharnet. Retrieved 2010-08-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Aspects of Christian-Muslim Relations in Contemporary Lebanon". Hartford, CT, USA: Hartford Seminary. Retrieved August 4, 2012. |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help); External link in |work= (help) <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "United Arab Emirates". The World Factbook (CIA). 24 June 2015. Retrieved 1 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "International Religious Freedom Report for 2011: United Arab Emirates" (PDF). Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (United States Department of State). 2011. Retrieved 1 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

See also