Shia Muslims in the Arab world

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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 and 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, 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.[1][2] 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.[3]


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] Shias make up between 35-50% of citizens of Yemen.

Saudi Arabia[edit]

The Shias of Saudi Arabia form a majority in Eastern Province, although large numbers are scattered throughout the kingdom. According to recent reports, Shias make up about 15% of total population of kingdom.


Iraqi Shia majority is predominantly situated in the central and 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 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 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.[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 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.[7] Estimated numbers of Egypt’s Shias range from two[8] to three million.[9][10]


The most recent demographic study conducted by Statistics Lebanon, a Beirut-based research firm, found that 32% of Lebanon's population is Shia Muslim.[11] The Shia are the only sect that has ever had the post of Speaker of Parliament.[12][13][14][15] The Shia Muslims are largely concentrated in northern and western Beqaa, Southern Lebanon and in the southern suburbs of Beirut.[16]

United Arab Emirates[edit]

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.[17][18]


Shiites comprise around 10% of Qatar's Muslim population.[19]


Shias make up 75-80% of Bahraini Muslim population, the ruling absolute monarchy is Sunni.


  1. ^ a b Mass grave unearthed in Iraq city, BBC News, 27 December 2005
  2. ^ a b 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. 
  9. ^ Cam McGrath (Apr 26, 2013). "Spring Brings Worse for Shias". Cairo. Inter Press Service News Agency. Retrieved 29 July 2013. 
  10. ^ Tim Marshall (25 June 2013). "Egypt: Attack On Shia Comes At Dangerous Time". Sky News. Retrieved 29 July 2013. 
  11. ^ "International Religious Freedom Report 2010". U.S. Department of State. 2010-11-17. Retrieved 2013-06-05. 
  12. ^ "Lebanon-Religious Sects". Global Retrieved 2010-08-11. 
  13. ^ "March for secularism; religious laws are archaic". NOW Lebanon. Retrieved 2010-08-11. 
  14. ^ "Fadlallah Charges Every Sect in Lebanon Except his Own Wants to Dominate the Country". Naharnet. Retrieved 2010-08-11. 
  15. ^ Hajjar, George J. "Aspects of Christian-Muslim Relations in Contemporary Lebanon". Hartford, CT, USA: Hartford Seminary. Archived from the original on August 27, 2012. Retrieved August 4, 2012.  External link in |work= (help)
  16. ^
  17. ^ "United Arab Emirates". The World Factbook (CIA). 24 June 2015. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  18. ^ "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. 
  19. ^ "Mapping the Global Muslim Population" (PDF). Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. October 2009. Retrieved 5 December 2015. 

See also[edit]