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. Significant minorities of Shia Arab Muslims live in some Arab countries including Lebanon, Iraq and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, the UAE, and Qatar. Shia Muslims are a numerical majority in Iraq and Bahrain. Nearly half of the Muslim population in Lebanon and in Yemen[1][2] are Shia.

There is also a significant (30-40% Kuwait, 15-20% in Saudi Arabia, 10% in Qatar) presence of Shia Muslims in the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, especially in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia follows a reformist strain of Islam, Wahhabism, and there is limited freedom of religion between the different sects even whilst all of the population are Muslims.

Small Shia communities are present in Egypt and Jordan making up over 1% of the population.[3] The Shia population is negligible in the predominantly Sunni states of North Africa including Algeria,[4] Tunisia,[5] Libya, Mauritania and Morocco[6] where Shia Islam is officially opposed amid strong pro-Sunni policies to “counter foreign influence (notably Iranian Persian) in the region in the form of Shi'ism”. Despite the heavy presence of Shia Muslims in some Arab countries, particularly among the population of Arab states of the Persian Gulf, they have been treated poorly throughout history. Additionally, Shia Muslims along with Kurds have faced genocide by the pan-Arabist regime of Saddam Hussein.[7][8] 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.[9]


Shias make up 60-70% of the native Bahraini Muslim population but foreign, ruling absolute monarchy is Sunni. In the only official governmental census of 1941, the Shia Muslim population was at 83%. Pro-Sunni government policies and migration from Sunni nations of the Middle East and South Asia is believed to have resulted in the drop of the Shia proportion in the tiny island nation.


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.[10] Estimated numbers of Egypt’s Shias range from two[11] to three million.[12][13]


Iraqi Shia majority (70% of population) 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.[8] 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.[14] 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.[7]


30-40% of Kuwaiti citizens are Shia Muslims. Most of them are of Persian origin. They have integrated well in society and speak Arabic.


The most recent demographic study conducted by Statistics Lebanon, a Beirut-based research firm, found that 27%-30% of Lebanon's population is Shia Muslim.[15] The Shia are the only sect that has ever had the post of Speaker of Parliament.[16][17][18][19] The Shia Muslims are largely concentrated in northern and western Beqaa, Southern Lebanon and in the southern suburbs of Beirut.[20]


Shiites comprise around 10% of Qatar's Muslim population.[21]

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%-20% of the total population of the kingdom.

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.[22][23]


Arab Shiites in Yemen have been traditionally suppressed, often violently.[24] Massacres have taken place by government forces using tanks and airplanes to obliterate the uprising of Shī‘a groups in the country.[25] Shias make up 45% of the citizens of Yemen. Unlike most other Shia communities in the region who follow the Twelver sect, the Yemeni Shia are Zaydis.


  1. ^ Yemen Embassy in Canada Archived 2007-01-27 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Yemen". Retrieved 16 November 2015.
  3. ^ "Egypt's Shia come out of hiding". The Economist. 30 September 2017.
  4. ^ "Estimated Percentage Range of Shia by Country" (PDF). Pew forum. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 August 2012. Retrieved 30 July 2013. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  5. ^ "TUNISIA – INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT" (PDF). International Religious Freedom Report for 2014 United States Department of State. 2014. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  6. ^ "Legal System - Morocco". Emory Law School - Hungary. Archived from the original on 2008-12-01. Retrieved 2008-12-26. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  7. ^ a b Mass grave unearthed in Iraq city, BBC News, 27 December 2005
  8. ^ a b Iraqi Shia uprising trial begins, Al-Jazeera, August 22, 2007
  9. ^ The Arab Shi'a: The Forgotten Muslims by Graham E. Fuller and Rend Rahim Francke (Paperback - Sep 22, 2001)
  10. ^ Comment is free: A green light to oppression
  11. ^ Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah (September 23, 2012). "Egypt's Shiite Minority: Between the Egyptian Hammer and the Iranian Anvil". JCPA.
  12. ^ Cam McGrath (Apr 26, 2013). "Spring Brings Worse for Shias". Cairo. Inter Press Service News Agency. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  13. ^ Tim Marshall (25 June 2013). "Egypt: Attack On Shia Comes At Dangerous Time". Sky News. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  14. ^ Karbala Journal; Who Hit the Mosques? Not Us, Baghdad Says, The New York Times, August 13, 1994
  15. ^ "International Religious Freedom Report 2010". U.S. Department of State. 2010-11-17. Retrieved 2013-06-05.
  16. ^ "Lebanon-Religious Sects". Global Retrieved 2010-08-11.
  17. ^ "March for secularism; religious laws are archaic". NOW Lebanon. Retrieved 2010-08-11.
  18. ^ "Fadlallah Charges Every Sect in Lebanon Except his Own Wants to Dominate the Country". Naharnet. Retrieved 2010-08-11.
  19. ^ 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. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help); External link in |work= (help)
  20. ^
  21. ^ "Mapping the Global Muslim Population" (PDF). Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. October 2009. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  22. ^ "United Arab Emirates". The World Factbook (CIA). 24 June 2015. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  23. ^ "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.
  24. ^ See:
  25. ^ See:


See also[edit]