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Persecution of Shia Muslims: Wikis


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The dispute over the right successor to Muhammad resulted in the formation of two main sects, the Sunni, and the Shia. The Sunni, or followers of the way, followed the caliphate and maintained the premise that any devout Muslim could potentially become the successor to the Prophet if accepted by his peers. The Shia however, maintain that only the person selected by God and announced by the Prophet could become his successor, thus Ali became the religious authority for the Shia people. Militarily established and holding control over the Umayyad government, many Sunni rulers perceived the Shia as a threat – both to their political and religious authority.[1]

The Sunni rulers under the Umayyads sought to marginalize the Shia minority and later the Abbasids turned on their Shia allies and further imprisoned, persecuted, and killed Shias. The persecution of Shias throughout history by Sunni co-religionists has often been characterized by brutal and genocidal acts. Comprising only about 10-15% of the entire Muslim population, to this day, the Shia remain a marginalized community in many Sunni Arab dominant countries without the rights to practice their religion and organize.[2]


Historical Persecution


Persecution under Umayadds

The grandson of Muhammad, Hussein, refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the caliphate of Yazid. Soon after in 680 C.E., Yazid sent thousands of Umayyad troops to lay siege to Hussein’s caravan.During the Battle of Karbala, after holding off the Umayyad troops for six grueling days, Hussein and his seventy-two companions were massacred, beheaded, and their heads were sent back to the caliph in Damascus. While Hussein’s defeat ended the prospect of a direct challenge to the Umayyad caliphate, it also made it easier for Shiism to gain ground as a form of moral resistance to the Umayyads and their demands.[3]

"Under the peaceful conditions of life at Alexandria, the Greek philosophers certainty could continue their work. The political ferment in the eastern regions, however, was something else. Hazrat Muawiyah had appointed al-Mughirah ibn-Shuvah as governor of al-Basrah, and when Mughirah died,Yazid became ruler of Arabia, Iraq, and Persia, ruling through a secret service of 4,000 men. The main purpose of these 4,000 was to unmask the Shiites, and bring them to justice, which in this case meant death. So while peace seems to reign in Damascus, the western half of the empire was soon bathed in blood."[4]

Persecution under Abbasids (750-1258)

The Abbasid caliphs who ruled from Baghdad imprisoned and killed Shia imams and encouraged Sunni ulama to define Sunni orthodoxy and contain the appeal of Shiism. The last decades of the tenth century witnessed anti-Shia violence in and around Baghdad. Shias were attacked in their mosques and during the Ashoura processions often being killed or burned alive. In 971 C.E., when Roman forces attacked the Abbasid empire, the first response of the caliph’s forces and angry Sunnis was to blame the Shia. Shia homes in Al-Karkh (Modern-day Iraq) were torched. This pattern of behavior became repetitive and was repeated throughout the centuries to present day. The Shia bore the forefront of popular frustrations with the failures of the Sunni rulers. They were usually treated as the enemy within and were the first to come under suspicion if there was a threat to the ruling Sunni establishment. By the middle of the eleventh-century, it became custom for Sunni mobs to loot the Shia town of al-Khakh every Saturday. These anti-Shia attitudes were further propagated by Sunni jurists of the Hanbali school of thought. Hanbalis labeled Shias as rejectors of the truth.[5]

Persecution during Siege Baghdad

After the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258, violence against Shias became more frequent, reminiscent of blaming Shias for external problems.[6]

Persecution under Seljuk/Ottoman Empire

In response to the growth of Shiism and the growing influence of the Safavids, the Ottoman Empire put Shias to the sword in Anatolia. Thousands of Shias were massacred in the Ottoman Empire, including the Alevis in Turkey, the Alawis in Syria and the Shi'a of Lebanon.[7]

Modern Times

Saudi Arabia

In modern day Saudi Arabia, the Wahabi rulers limit Shia political participation to a game of notables. These notables benefit from their ties to power and in turn, are expected to control their community.[8] Saudi Shias are a minority comprising only about 10-15%, about 2 million, of the some 20 million Saudi population.[9] Although some live in Medina (known as the Nakhawila), Mecca, and even Riyadh, the majority are concentrated in the oases of al-Hasa and Qatif in the oil-rich areas of the Eastern Province. For years, they have faced religious and economic discrimination because they’re viewed as Iranian puppets. They have usually been denounced as heretics, traitors, and non-Muslims. Shias were accused of sabotage, most notably for bombing oil pipelines in 1988. A number of Shias were even executed. In response to Iran’s militancy, the Saudi government collectively punished the Shia community in Saudi Arabia by placing restrictions on their freedoms and marginalizing them economically. Wahabi ulama were given the green light to sanction violence against the Shia. What followed were fatwas passed by the country’s leading cleric, Abdul-Aziz ibn Baz which denounced the Shias as apostates. Another by Adul-Rahman al-Jibrin, a member of the Higher Council of Ulama even sanctioned the killing of Shias. This call was reiterated in Wahabi religious literature as late as 2002.[9]

Unlike Iraq and Lebanon which hold sizable Shia wealthy, Saudi Arabia has nothing resembling Shia elite of any kind. There have been no Shia cabinet ministers. They are kept out of critical jobs in the armed forces and the security services. There are no Shia mayors or police chiefs, and not one of the three hundred Shia girls’ schools in the Eastern Province has a Shia principal.[9]

The government has restricted the names that Shias can use for their children in an attempt to discourage them from showing their identity. Saudi textbooks, criticized for their anti-Semitism, are equally hostile to Shiism often characterizing the faith as a form of heresy worse than Christianity and Judaism. Wahabi teachers frequently tell classrooms full of young Shia schoolchildren that they are heretics.[10]

In the town of Dammam, a quarter of whose residents are Shia, Ashura is banned, and there is no distinctly Shia call to prayer. There is no Shia cemetery for the nearly quarter of the 600,000 Shias that live there. There is only one mosque for the town’s 150,000 Shias. The Saudi government has often been viewed as an active oppressor of Shias because of the funding of the Wahabi ideology which denounces the Shia faith.[11]

See also


  1. ^ The Origins of the Sunni/Shia split in Islam
  2. ^ Nasr,Vali (2006). The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future. W.W. Norton & Company Inc. ISBN 978-0-393-06211-3 p. 52-53
  3. ^ Nasr(2006), p. 41
  4. '^ Edwin P. Hoyt Arab Science: Discoveries and Contributions. Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers. Nashville, New York 1975. pg 28-29
  5. ^ Nasr(2006), p. 52-54
  6. ^ Nasr(2006), p. 53
  7. ^ Nasr(2006)p. 65-66
  8. ^ Nasr(2006) p. 84
  9. ^ a b c Nasr(2006) p. 236
  10. ^ Nasr(2006)p. 237
  11. ^ Nasr(2006) p. 237


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