Shia Muslims in the Arab world
Islam is historically divided into two major sects, Sunni and Shia Islam, each with its own sub-sects. Large numbers of Shia Arab Muslims live in some Arab countries including Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, the UAE, and Qatar. Shia Muslims are a numerical majority in Iraq and Bahrain. Approximately half of the population in Yemen are Shia Muslims. Exactly half of Muslims in Lebanon are Shia Muslims. There is also a very large population of Shia Muslims living in the Arab Persian Gulf countries especially in Saudi Arabia. Approximately the whole population of East Saudi Arabia, the Eastern Province are Shia Muslims. Although government statistics claim that roughly only 20-40% of the Muslim population are Shia Muslims, there has been dispute to the authenticity of this figure and recent reports and investigations indicate that there is in fact a much larger population of Shia Muslims present, with estimate figures over 45% or even making the majority of Muslim population. Saudi Arabia follows a strict recently established sect of Islam, Wahhabism, a off shoot of Sunni Islam and there is little freedom of religion between the different sects even whilst all of the population are Muslims. Smaller Shia groups are present in Egypt and Jordan. Despite the heavy presence of Shia 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, Shia Muslims along with Kurds have faced genocide by the pan-Arabist regime of Saddam Hussein. For both historical and political reasons, the Shia have fared rather poorly in much of the Arab world, and the topic of Shi‘ism and Shia groups is one of the most sensitive issues for the Sunni elite. 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.
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Arab Shiites in Yemen have been traditionally suppressed, often violently. Massacres have taken place by government forces using tanks and airplanes to obliterate the uprising of Shī‘a groups in the country.
Shias live in secluded, remote areas of Saudi Arabia away from the majority Sunni Muslims. The Shias of Saudi Arabia live predominantly in Al-Ahsa and Qatif provinces although large numbers are scattered throughout the kingdom. According to recent reports, shias are about 15% of total population of kingdom.
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. Al-Majid had been already sentenced to death in June 2007 for genocide against the Kurds.
Unlike other sects of Islam, the Shias 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. They were, however, quickly restored by Shiite Donations.
According to Brian Whitaker, in Egypt, the small Shia 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. The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs estimates the Shī‘a population of Egypt at 950,000.
The most recent demographic study conducted by Statistics Lebanon, a Beirut-based research firm, found that 32% of Lebanon's population is Shia Muslim. The Shia are the only sect that has ever had the post of Speaker of Parliament. The Shia Muslims are largely concentrated in northern and western Beqaa, Southern Lebanon and in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
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