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Sunni Islam and Shia Islam are the two major divisions of Islam. Approximately 85% of Muslims are Sunni and 15% are Shi'a, with a small minority belonging to other sects. The historic background of the Sunni-Shia split lies in the schism that occurred when the Islamic prophet Muhammad died in the year 632, leading to a dispute over succession to Muhammad.

Over the years Sunni-Shia relations have been marked by both cooperation and conflict. Today there are differences in religious practice, traditions, and customs in addition to religious belief.

Differences in beliefs and practices
The Shia believe that Muhammad divinely ordained his cousin and son-in-law Ali (the father of his only two grandsons Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali) in accordance with the command of God to be the next caliph, making Ali and his direct descendants Muhammad's true successors. The Sunnis hold that Abu Bakr was Muhammad's rightful successor and that all caliphs should be chosen by consensus of the Ummah, Muslim community, and that this method of choosing or electing leaders (Shura) is endorsed by the Qur'an.

Sunnis follow the Rashidun (rightly-guided caliphs), which were the first four caliphs who ruled after the death of Muhammad (Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman Ibn Affan, and Ali). Shias discount the legitimacy of the first three caliphs and believe that Ali is the second-most divinly inspired man (after Muhammad) and that he and his descendents by Muhammad's daughter Fatimah, the Imamah (Shia imans) are the sole legitimate Islamic leaders.

The Shias accept most of the the same hadiths used by Sunnis as part of the Sunna and to argue their case. In addition they use hadith narrated by the Ahl al-Bayt (the prophet's family through Ali), that Sunni do not consider hadith. Some Sunni-accepted hadith are less favored by Shia, for example, because of Aisha's opposition to Ali (whom they believe to have been divinely appointed by Mohammad), hadith narrated by Aisha are not given the same authority as those by other companions.

A rift also still exists between Sunnis and some small Shia branches who curse Aisha (RA) and the first three Caliphs. Sunnis strongly disagree with this practice. Mainstream Shias do not consider the cursing of the first three caliphs as a sin, but neither do they consider it helpful to the Shia cause, and hence do not endorsing it.[1]

When prostrating during ritual prayer, (Salah), Shia place their forehead onto a piece of naturally occurring material (usually clay, or sand from Kerbala, the place where Imam Hussain was martyred), instead of directly onto the prayer mat, as the majority Sunni do. (There is some question as to how different this is from Sunni practice, since the Prophet prayed on soil or earth, not synthetic materials, and since it is always preferrable to do as the Prophet did, and since most mats and carpets nowadays are made of semi or partially synthetic material.[2])

Some Shia perform prayers (Salah), back to back, sometimes worshipping two times consecutively (1+2+2), thus praying at three separate times during the day instead of five as is required by Sunni.[3]

Most Sunni and Shia believe that the Mahdi will appear at end times to bring about a perfect and just Islamic society. Twelver Shia believe the Mahdi will be Muhammad al-Mahdi, the twelfth Imam returned from occultation where he has been hidden by God since 874 AD. Sunni do not accept this.

Some Shia permit mutah - fixed-term temporary marriage - which is not acceptable within the Sunni community. Sunnis do not allow it due to the Prophet's ban of it, but according to Shia it was banned by Umar.


[edit] History

[edit] Abbasid era
The Umayyads were overthrown in 750 by a new dynasty, the Abbasids. The first Abbasid caliph, As-Saffah recruited Shiite support in his campaign against the Umayyads by emphasizing his blood relationship to the Prophet's household through descent from his uncle, Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib. The Shia also believe that he promised them that the Caliphate, or at least religious authority, would be vested in the Shiite Imam. As-Saffah assumed both the temporal and religious mantle of Caliph himself. He continued the Umayyad dynastic practice of succession, and his brother al-Mansur succeeded him in 754. The sixth Shi'a Imam died during al-Mansur's reign, and there were claims that he was murdered on the orders of the caliph.[4].

However Abbasid persecution of Islamic lawyers was not restricted to the Shia. Even the Sunni scholar and founder of the biggest Sunni school of law, Abu Hanifah, was imprisoned by al-Mansur and tortured. Al-Mansur also had Ibn Hanbal, another one of the four major schools of Sunni law, flogged.[5]

Shia sources further claim that by the orders of the tenth Abassid caliph, al-Mutawakkil, the tomb of the third Shia Imam Husayn ibn Ali in Karbala was completely demolished,[6] and Shias were sometimes beheaded in groups, buried alive, or even placed alive within the walls of government buildings still under construction.[7]

The Shia believe that they thus continued to live for the most part in hiding and followed their religious life secretly without external manifestations.[8]


[edit] Shia-Sunni in Persia
Main article: Islam in Iran
Sunni was dominant form of Islam in most part of Iran from the beginning until rise of Safavids empire. According to Mortaza Motahhari the majority of Iranian scholars and masses remained Sunni till the time of the Safawids.[9]

Nizamiyyas were the medieval institutions of Islamic higher education established by Khwaja Nizam al-Mulk in the eleventh century. Nizamiyyah institutes were the first well organized universities in the Muslim world. The most famous and celebrated of all the nizamiyyah schools was Al-Nizamiyya of Baghdad (established 1065), where Khwaja Nizam al-Mulk appointed the distinguished philosopher and theologian, al-Ghazali, as a professor. Other nizamiyyah schools were located in Nishapur, Balkh, Herat and Isfahan.

The domination of Sunnis doesn't mean Shia was rootless in Iran. The writers of The Four Books of Shia were Iranian as well as many other great Shia scholars.

According to Mortaza Motahhari[9]:

The majority of Iranians turned to Shi'ism from the Safawid period onwards. Of course, it cannot be denied that Iran's environment was more favourable to the flourishing of the Shi'ism as compared to all other parts of the Muslim world. Shi'ism did not penetrate any land to the extent that it gradually could in Iran. With the passage of time, Iranians' readiness to practise Shi'ism grew day by day. Had Shi`ism not been deeply rooted in the Iranian spirit, the Safawids (907-1145/ 1501-1732) would not have succeeded in converting Iranians to the Shi'a creed and making them follow the Prophet's Ahl al-Bayt sheerly by capturing political power.


[edit] Shiaism in Iran before Safawids
The domination of the Sunni creed during the first nine Islamic centuries characterizes the religious history of Iran during this period. There were however some exceptions to this general domination which emerged in the form of the Zaydīs of Tabaristan, the Buwayhid, the rule of Sultan Muhammad Khudabandah (r. Shawwal 703-Shawwal 716/1304-1316) and the Sarbedaran. Nevertheless, apart from this domination there existed, firstly, throughout these nine centuries, Shia inclinations among many Sunnis of this land and, secondly, original Imami Shiism as well as Zaydī Shiism had prevalence in some parts of Iran. During this period, Shia in Iran were nourished from Kufah, Baghdad and later from Najaf and Hillah. [10] Shiism were dominant sect in Tabaristan, Qom, Kashan, Avaj and Sabzevar. In many other areas the population of Shia and Sunni was mixed.

The first Zaidi state was established in Daylaman and Tabaristan (northern Iran) in 864 C.E. by the Alavids[11]; it lasted until the death of its leader at the hand of the Samanids in 928 C.E. Roughly forty years later the state was revived in Gilan (north-western Iran) and survived under Hasanid leaders until 1126 C.E. After which from the 12th-13th centuries, the Zaidis of Daylaman, Gilan and Tabaristan then acknowledge the Zaidi Imams of Yemen or rival Zaidi Imams within Iran.[12]

The Buyids, who were Shi'a and had a significant influence not only in the provinces of Persia but also in the capital of the caliphate in Baghdad, and even upon the caliph himself, provided a unique opportunity for the spread and diffusion of Shi'a thought. This spread of Shiism to the inner circles of the government enabled Shias to withstand those who opposed them by relying upon the power of the caliphate.

Twelvers came to Iran from Arab regions in the course of four stages. First, through the Asharis tribe at the end of the first(AH)/seventh(CE) and during the second(AH)/eighth(CE) century. Second through the pupils of Sabzevar, and especially those of Shaykh Mufid, who were from Ray and Sabzawar and resided in those cities. Third, through the school of Hillah under the leadership of Allama Hilli and his son Fakhr al-Muhaqqiqin. Fourth, through the scholars of Jabal Amel residing in that region, or in Iraq, during the 10th(AH)/16th(AH) and 11th(AH)/17th(AH) centuries who later migrated to Iran.[13]

On the other hand Ismailis sent Da'i (missionaries) during Fatimid caliphate to Iran as well as other Muslim lands. When Ismailis divided into two sects, Nizaris established their base in Iran. Hassan-i Sabbah conquered fortresses and captured Alamut in 1090 CE. Nizaris used this fortress until Mongol raid in 1256CE.

After the Mongol raid and fall of the Abbasids, the Sunni ulema suffered greatly. In addition to the destruction of the caliphate there was no official Sunni Madh'hab for a while. Many libraries and Madrasahs were destroyed and some of the Sunni scholars migrated to other Islamic lands like Anatolia and Egypt. In contrast Shia where unaffected as their center was not in Iran at this time. For the first time Shia could invite other Muslims openly.

Several local Shia dynasties like Sarbadars were established during this time. The kings of the Aq Qoynlu and Qara Qoynlu dynasties ruled in Tabriz with a domain extending to Fars and Kerman. In Egypt the Fatimid government ruled (al-Ka-mil of Ibn Athir, Cairo, 1348; Raudat al-safa'; and Habib al-siyar of Khwand Mir).

Shah Muhammad Khudabandah, the famous builder of Soltaniyeh, was among the first of the Mongols to convert to Shi'aism, and his descendants ruled for many years in Persia and were instrumental in spreading Shia thought.[14]

Sufism played a major role in spread of Shiism in this time. According to Hossein Nasr

After the Mongol invasion Shiims and Sufism once again formed a close association in many ways. Some of the Ismailis whose power had broken by the mongols, went underground and appeared later within Sufi orders or as new branches of already existing orders. In Twelve-Imam Shiism also from Seventh(AH)/thirteenths(CE) to the tenth(AH)/sixteenth(CE) century Sufism began to grow within official Shiite circles.[15]

Nasr insists on the role of Sufis orders on spread of Shiism.

The extremist sects of the Hurufis and Shasha'a grew directly out of a background that is both Shiite and Sufi. More important in the long run than these sects were the Sufi orders which spread in Persia at this time and aided in the preparing the ground for the Shiite movement of Safavids. Two of these orders are of particular significance in this question of the relation of Shiism and Sufism:The Nimatullahi order and Nurbakhshi order.[16]


[edit] Shiaism in Iran after Safawids
Ismail I initiated a religious policy to recognize Shi'a Islam as the official religion of the Safavid Empire, and the fact that modern Iran remains an officially Shi'ite state is a direct result of Ismail's actions. Unfortunately for Ismail, most of his subjects were Sunni. He thus had to enforce official Shi'ism violently, putting to death those who opposed him. Under this pressure, Safavid subjects either converted, or pretended to convert, but it is safe to say that the majority of the population was probably genuinely Shi'ite by the end of the Safavid period in the 18th century, and most Iranians today are Shi'ite, although there is still a Sunni minority.[17] Safavids systematically sought to establish Shiism as the religion of the state.

Immediately following the establishment of Safavid power the migration of scholars began and they were invited to Iran ... By the side of the immigration of scholars, Shi'i works and writings were also brought to Iran from Arabic-speaking lands, and they performed an important role in the religious development of Iran ... In fact, since the time of the leadership of Shaykh Mufid and Shaykh Tusi, Iraq had a central academic position for Shi'ism. This central position was transferred to Iran during the Safavid era for two-and-a-half centuries, after which it partly returned to Najaf. ... Before the Safavid era Shi'i manuscripts were mainly written in Iraq, with the establishment of the Safavid rule these manuscripts were transferred to Iran.[13]

This led to a wide gap between Iran and its Sunni neighbors until 20th century. During the early days of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini endeavored to bridge the gap between Shiites and Sunnis by declared it permissible for Shiites to pray behind Sunni imams and by forbidding criticizing the Caliphs who preceded Ali — an issue that had caused much animosity between the two sects.[18]


[edit] Shia-Sunni in Levant
Shias claim that despite these advances, many Shi'as in Syria continued to be killed during this period merely for being Shi'ah. One of these was Muhammad Ibn Makki called Shahid-i Awwal (the First Martyr), one of the great figures in Shi'a jurisprudence, who was killed in Damascus in 1384CE (al-Ka-mil of Ibn Athir, Cairo, 1348; Raudat al-safa'; and Habib al-siyar of Khwand Mir).

Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi was another eminent scholar, killed in Aleppo on charges of cultivating Batini teachings and philosophy (al-Ka-mil of Ibn Athir, Cairo, 1348; Raudat al-safa'; and Habib al-siyar of Khwand Mir).


[edit] Modern Sunni-Shia relations
Western scholars have agreed that a realistic measure of Sunni Shia numbers is 85% Sunni, 13% Shia with the remaining 2% forming other groups. [citation needed]In addition to Iran, Iraq has emerged as a major Shia government when the Shi'a achieved political dominance in 2005 under American occupation.

The two communities have often remained separate, mingling regularly only during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. In some countries like Iraq, Syria, and Bahrain, communities have mingled and intermarried. Shias have been treated harshly in some countries dominated by Sunnis, especially in Saudi Arabia, while Sunnis have been treated likewise in Shia-majority Iran.


[edit] Iraq

A heated talk show where a Sunni Iraqi member of parliament attacks a Shia journalist, while claiming that "these same people that killed Saddam are the same people that killed the Khulafa al-Rashidun".See video footage:[19]According to most sources, including The CIA World Factbook, the majority of Iraqis are Shi'ite Arab Muslims (around 65%), and Sunnis represent about 32% of the population.[20] However, Sunni are split ethnically between Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen. Many Sunnis hotly dispute their minority status, including ex-Iraqi Ambassador Faruq Ziada,[21] referring to American sources.[22] They claim that many reports or sources only include Arab Sunnis as 'Sunni', missing out the Kurdish and Turkmen Sunnis. Some argue that the 2003 Iraq Census shows that Sunnis were a slight majority.[23] Various monarchies, and secular regimes sourced mainly, but not exclusively, from Sunni areas, controlled the government for nearly a century until the 2003 Iraq War. The British, having put down a Shia rebellion against their rule in the 1920s, "confirmed their reliance on a corps of Sunni ex-officers of the collapsed Ottoman empire". It was when the Sunni and Shia united against colonial rule that it ended.[24]

The Shia suffered indirect and direct persecution under independent Iraqi governments since 1932, especially that of Saddam Hussein. In 1969 the son of Iraq's highest Shia Ayatollah Muhsin al-Hakim was arrested and allegedly tortured. Shia religious leaders were particularly targeted. "Between 1970 and 1985 the Baathist regime executed at least 41 clerics",[25] and Shia opposition to the government following the first Gulf War was reportedly suppressed.


[edit] Iraq War
Some of the worst Shia-Sunni sectarian strife ever has occurred in the Iraq War, which has built up steadily following the 2003 American invasion of that country.[26] While thousands have been killed by American and allied military collateral damage,[27] this has become overshadowed by the cycle of Sunni-Shia revenge killing -- Sunni often using suicide bombing, Shia favoring death squads. [28]

Sunni suicide bombers have targeted not only thousands of civilians, [29] but mosques, shrines, [30] wedding and funeral processions. [31] Sunni militant organizations that the US state department describes as the "terrorists" include Ansar al-Islam.[32] "Radical" groups include Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad, Jeish al-Taiifa al-Mansoura, Jeish Muhammad, and Black Banner Organization. [33]

Takfir motivation for many of these killings may come from Sunni insurgent leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. Before his death Zarqawi was want to quote Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, especially his infamous statement urging followers to kill the Shi'a of Iraq,[34] and calling the Shias "snakes".[35] Wahabi suicide bombers continue to attack Iraqi Shia civilians,[36] and the Shia ulema have in response declared suicide bombing as haram:

"حتي كساني كه با انتحار مي‌‏آيند و مي‌‏زنند عده‌‏اي را مي‌‏كشند، آن هم به عنوان عمليات انتحاري، اينها در قعر جهنم هستند"
"Even those who kill people with suicide bombing, these shall meet the flames of hell."[37] Some believe the war has strengthened the takfir thinking and may spread Sunni-Shia strife elsewhere. [38]
On the Shia side, in early February 2006 militia-dominated government death squads were reportedly "tortur[ing] to death or summarily" executing "hundreds" of Sunnis "every month in Baghdad alone," many arrested at random. [39] [40] [41]

"Over the last eighteen months [2005 through early 2006] these commandos [ Badr Organization militiamen controlling the Ministry of the Interior] - who are almost exclusively Shia Muslims - have been implicated in rounding up and killing thousands of ordinary Sunni civilians"Channel 4 program Dispatches

In addition to the killing, it is reported that Shia "death squads" of the government's Interior Ministry and the Badr Organization militia, have used intimidation to drive the mainly Sunni intelligentsia from their posts, jobs and neighbourhoods, to replace them with poorer, and less educated Shias often from the poorer south. Many Sunnis register themselves as Shia for identification cards to avoid being targeted by the 'death squads'.


[edit] Pakistan
Pakistan has seen serious Shia-Sunni discord. Almost 77% of Pakistan's population is Sunni, with 20% being Shia, [40] but this Shia minority population is larger than that of the Shia majority in Iraq. In the last two decades, "as many as 4,000 people are estimated to have died in sectarian fighting in Pakistan", 300 in 2006."[42] Amongst the culprits blamed for the killing are Al Qaeda working "with local sectarian groups" to kill what they perceive as Shi'a apostates, and "foreign powers ... trying to sow discord."[43]

Anti-Shia groups in Pakistan include the Lashkar i Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, offshoots of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). The groups demand the expulsion of all Shias from Pakistan and have killed hundreds of Pakistani Shias between 1996 and 1999.[44]


[edit] Afghanistan
Shia-Sunni strife in Pakistan is strongly intertwined with that in Afghanistan. Though now deposed, the anti-Shia Afghan Taliban regime helped anti-Shia Pakistani groups and vice versa. Lashkar i Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, have sent thousands of volunteers to fight with the extreme Deobandi Taliban regime and "in return the Taliban gave sanctuary to their leaders in the Afghan capital of Kabul." [45]

"Over 80,000 Pakistani Islamic militants have trained and fought with Taliban since 1994. They form a hardcore of Islamic activists, ever ready to carry out a similar Taliban-style Islamic revolution in Pakistan." According to Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid[46]

Shia-Sunni strife inside of Afghanistan has mainly been a function of the puritanical Sunni Taliban's clashes with Shia Afghans, primarily the Hazara ethnic group.

In 1998 more than 8000 noncombatants were killed when the Taliban attacked Mazar-i-Sharif and Bamiyan where many Hazaras live.[47] Some of the slaughter was indiscriminate, but many were Shia targeted by the Taliban. Taliban commander and governor Mullah Niazi banned prayer at Shia mosques[48] and expressed takfir of the Shia in a declaration from Mazar's central mosque:

Last year you rebelled against us and killed us. From all your homes you shot at us. Now we are here to deal with you. The Hazaras are not Muslims and now have to kill Hazaras. You either accept to be Muslims or leave Afghanistan. Wherever you go we will catch you. If you go up we will pull you down by your feet; if you hide below, we will pull you up by your hair. [49]

Assisting the Taliban in the murder of Iranian diplomatic and intelligence officials at the Iranian Consulate in Mazar were "several Pakistani militants of the anti-Shia, Sipah-e-Sahaba party." [50]


[edit] Iran & Shia Statehood

In this letter purporting to be from the International Islamic University Malaysia, the university is denying employment to a person based on what it claims to be government policy "against employing staff from a particular denomination, Shiite". Other sources present similar accounts of discrimination in Malaysia. [39]Iran is unique in the Muslim world not only for being overwhelmingly Shia (approximately 90% of the population), but having a theocratically Shia constitution. Sunnis there have complained of discrimination, particularly in important government positions. [51] For instance, while calling for unity with Iranian Shia Rafsanjani, Sunni Shiekh Yusuf al-Qaradawi complained that no ministers in Iran have been Sunni for a long time, that Sunni officials are scarce even in the regions with majority of Sunni population (such as Kurdistan, or Balochistan).[52] Sunnis claim to be heavily persecuted, claim they were regarded as second class citizens under the Shah of Iran, and suffered arrest, torture and execution and after the 1979 revolution. They claim that currently there is not a single Sunni mosque in the capital of Iran Tehran, despite having Christian churches, and that their mosques and schools have been demolished by the current regime, despite constituting a third of the population (not about 10% as most believe) and initially supporting the revolution of Khomeini in 1979.[53](dead link)

Soon after the 1979 revolution Sunni leaders from Kurdistan, Balouchistan, and Khorassan, set up a new party known as Shams, which is short for Shora-ye Markaz-e al Sunaat, to unite Sunnis and lobby for their rights. But six months after that, they were closed down, bank accounts suspended, and had their leaders arrested by the government on charges that they were backed by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.[54]

A UN human rights report states that

...information indicates Sunnis, along with other religious minorities, are denied by law or practice access to such government positions as cabinet minister, ambassador, provincial governor, mayor and the like, Sunni schools and mosques have been destroyed, and Sunni leaders have been imprisoned, executed and assassinated. The report notes that while some of the information received may be difficult to corroborate there is a clear impression that the right of freedom of religion is not being respected with regard to the Sunni minority.[55]

Members of the 'Balochistan Peoples Front' claim that Sunnis are systematically discriminated against educationally by denial of places at universities, politically by not allowing sunnis to be army generals, ambassadors, ministers, prime minister, or president, religiously insulting Sunnis the media, not allowing the one million Sunnis in the capital Tehran to build a mosque or pray Jumuah (Friday prayers in congregation), economic discrimination by not giving import or export licenses for Sunni businesses while the majority of Sunnis are left unemployed.[56]

There has been a low level resistance in mainly Sunni Iranian Balouchistan against the regime for several years. Official media refers to the fighting as armed clashes between the police and "bandits," "drug-smugglers," and "thugs," to disguise the true nature of the conflict. Revolutionary Guards have stationed several brigades in Balouchi cities, and have tracked down Sunni leaders and assassinated them inside Iran and in neighboring Pakistan. In 1996 a leading Sunni, Abdulmalek Mollahzadeh, was gunned down by hitmen allegedly hired by Tehran as he was leaving his house in Karachi.[57]

Members of Sunni groups in Iran however have been active in what the authorities describe as "terrorist" activities. Balochi Sunni AbdulMalek Rigi continue to declare the Shia as Kafir and Mushrik.[58] These Sunni groups have been involved in violent activities in Iran, and have waged "terrorist"[59] attacks against civilian centers, including an attack next to a girl's school[60] according to government sources. The "shadowy Sunni militant group Jundullah" has reportedly been receiving weaponry from the United States for these attacks accoridng to a think tank.[61] The United Nations[62] and many countries worldwide[63] have condemned the bombings (See 2007 Zahedan bombings for more information)

Non-Sunni Iranian opposition parties, and Shia like Ayatollah Jalal Gange’i have criticised the regimes treatment of Sunnis, and confirmed many of the things sunnis complain of.[64]

Relations between Sunni Sufis and the Shi'a establishment are also tense. In February 2006, Qom witnessed a violent standoff between the two groups in which many Sufis were arrested[65][66]


[edit] Yemen
See Human rights in Yemen article.

Muslims in Yemen including Shaf'i (Sunni) majority and Zaydi (Shi'a) minority. Zaidi are sometimes called "Fiver Shia" instead of Twelver Shia because they recognise the first four of the twelve Imams (Ithna-asharī Imams) but accept Zayd ibn Ali as their "Fifth Imām" rather than his brother Muhammad al-Baqir.

Both Shia and Sunni dissidents in Yemen have similar complains about the government -- cooperation with the American government and an alleged failure to following Sharia law[67] -- but it's the Shia who have allegedly been singled out for government crackdown.

During and after the US-led invasion of Iraq, members of the Zaidi-Shia community protested after Friday prayers every week outside mosques, particularly the Grand Mosque in Sana’a, during which they shouted anti-US and anti-Israeli slogans, and criticised the government's close ties to America.[68] These protests were led by ex-parliament member and Imam, Bader Eddine al-Houthi [69]. In response the Yemeni government has implemented a campaign to crush "the Zaidi-Shia rebellion,"[70] and harrass journalists.[71] These latest measures come as the government faces a Sunni rebellion with a similar motivation to the Zaydi discontent.[72][73][74]


[edit] Bahrain
See Bandargate scandal

The small Persian Gulf island state of Bahrain has a Shia majority but is ruled by Sunni Al-Khalifa family as a constutitional monarchy. "Al Wifaq, the largest Shi'a political society, won the largest number of seats in the elected chamber of the legislature. However, Shi'a discontent has resurfaced in recent years with street demonstrations and occasional low-level violence." [75][76]


[edit] Syria
Syria is approximately three quarters Sunni[77], but its government is predominately Alawi. The government is controled by the dictatorial secular Arab nationalist Baath Arab Socialist Party, which is dominated in Syria by the Alawi sect which makes up less than 15% of Syria's population. Alawi are often considered a form of Shia Islam that differs somewhat from the larger Twelver Shia sect. [78] Others claim that Alawis "perceive themselves as the unique and only true monotheistic faith, distinct from the rest of Islam, including the Shi’a",[79] and that both Sunni and Shia do not consider Alawis Muslims. [41][42] [43].

A very serious 20th century conflict in Syria with sectarian religious overtones was the 1982 Hama Massacre, where an estimated 10,000 to 25,000 were killed by the Alawi-dominated Syrian military following an uprising by the Islamist Sunni Muslim Brotherhood. How much of the conflict was sparked by Sunni v. Shia divisions and how much by Islamism v. secular-Arab-nationalism, is in question.


[edit] Saudi Arabia & Salafis
Main article: Sunni fatwas on Shi'as
The Wahabi or Salafi movement of Saudi Arabia, have made no secret of declaring that the Shi'a are "not Muslims",[80] or "Kafir". (Wahabis consider themselves "true Sunnis" but are considered "pseudo-Sunnis" by some other Muslims.[81]) The Shia minority in Saudia Arabia has no political power or rights,[82] and edicts by the wahabi clerics have declared "Shia blood to be halal, i.e. permissible to be shed."[83]

According to a report by the Human Rights Watch:

"Shia Muslims, who constitute about eight percent of the Saudi population, faced discrimination in employment as well as limitations on religious practices. Shia jurisprudence books were banned, the traditional annual Shia mourning procession of Ashura was discouraged, and operating independent Islamic religious establishments remained illegal. At least seven Shi'a religious leaders-Abd al-Latif Muhammad Ali, Habib al-Hamid, Abd al-Latif al-Samin, Abdallah Ramadan, Sa'id al-Bahaar, Muhammad Abd al-Khidair, and Habib Hamdah Sayid Hashim al-Sadah-reportedly remained in prison for violating these restrictions."[84]

And Amnesty International adds:

"Members of the Shi‘a Muslim community (estimated at between 7 and 10 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s population of about 19 million) suffer systematic political, social, cultural as well as religious discrimination."[85]

While Shia make up only a small percentage of Saudi Arabia's population, they form roughly one-third of the residents of the eastern province of Hasa where much of the petroleum industry is based, and make up the majority of the work force there. Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Shia in Hasa ignored the ban on mourning ceremonies commemorating Ashura. When police broke them up three days of rampage ensued -- burned cars, attacked banks, looted shops -- centered around Qatif. At least 17 Shia were killed. In Feb. 1980 disturbances were "less spontaneous" and even bloodier.[86] Meanwhile broadcasts from Iran in the name of the Islamic Revolutionary Organization attacked the monarchy, telling listeners, `Kings despoil a country when they enter it and make the noblest of its people its meanest ... This is the nature of monarchy, which is rejected by Islam.`[87]

The arresting of Shias for commemorating Ashura continued as of 2006.[88] In December 2006, amidst escalating tensions in Iraq, 38 high ranking Saudi clerics called on Sunni Muslims around the world to "mobilise against Shiites".[89] In return, Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi in 2007 responded:

The Wahhabis ignore the occupation of Islam's first Qiblah by Israel, and instead focus on declaring Takfiring fatwas against Shias.[90]

Saudi Arabia being an absolute monarchy generally recognizes no rights by law or plurality to any political participation outside the ruling family and its supporters. And being an absolute monarchy, the ruling elite have tried to portray a homogenous society in culture and religion. Since the religion of the rulers is Wahhabi, they have tried to create a uniform wahabi society thus leaving out Shi'as, Sufis and other Sunnis from the homogenous mainstream.


[edit] On the Internet
Many other Wahabis have waged a virtual war of information on the internet against the Shi'a, with the Salafis and Saudi Arabia as the major sponsors of this movement.[91] Examples:

Shi'ism and Islam are indeed different religions..[92]
Shiaism and Islam are indeed different religions. This sect has developed into what we now know as the Shia whose beliefs and thoughts are repugnant beyond belief.[93]
The protracted contrariety between Islam and Shi'ism is but a clear reflection of fundamental differences between the two. The only common denominator between Islam and Shi'ism is the Islamic Kalimah. The rest of Shi'ism has very little in common with mainstream Islam. The unbridgeable divide between the two is entrenched in some of the core fundamentals of this sect...[94]
In some cases, wahabis have dedicated entire websites like ansar.org with the single purpose of attacking the Shias. Shias have answered with sites like answering-ansar.org In turn SUnnis have responded with sites like ahlelbayt.com


[edit] Al Qaeda
Some wahabi groups, often labeled as extremists, linked to Al Qaeda, have even advocated the persecution of the Shi'a as heretics[95] Such groups have been responsible for violent attacks and suicide bombings at Shi'a gatherings at mosques and shrines, most notably in Iraq during the Ashura mourning ceremonies where hundreds of Shias were killed in coordinated suicide bombings,[96] but also in Pakistan and Afghanistan. However Al-Qaida deputy Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri in a video message directed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, of Al-Qaida in Iraq, not to attack Muslims but to focus on the occupation troops. His call seems to have been ignored, or swept away in the increasing tensions of Iraq under occupation.


[edit] Efforts to foster Sunni-Shia unity

[edit] International Islamic Unity Conference
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[edit] Saudi-Iran Summit
In a milestone for the two countries' relations, on March 3 2007 King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia invited President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Saudi Arabia and held a summit meeting to discuss among other things the rise of sectarian problems in the region. King Abdullah received Ahmadinejad personally at the airport in Riyadh. Both leaders agreed to work towards better relations, and prevent sectarianism now threatening the region. They commented that divisions between Muslims only serves the interests of foreign powers in the area

Ahmadinejad declared on his return to Tehran that

"Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are aware of the enemies' conspiracies. We decided to take measures to confront such plots. Hopefully, this will strengthen Muslim countries against oppressive pressure by the imperialist front."[44]

Saudi Arabia's official government news agency added.

"The two leaders affirmed that the greatest danger presently threatening the Islamic nation is the attempt to fuel the fire of strife between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and that efforts must concentrate on countering these attempts and closing ranks,[45]"

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said

"The two parties have agreed to stop any attempt aimed at spreading sectarian strife in the region"[46]

This could be construed as either directed at either Al Queda or at the United States, depending upon ones point of view.

This meeting ran counter to what was envisioned by many pro-Bush neo-cons in the current US administration - Shia Iran and the Sunni Saudi Arabia intensifying their rivalry to the point of funding and training sectarian militias in Iraq to engage in a debilitating Islamic civil war.[47]. The two countries have shared economic interests, and both have a history of private meetings, which came to the fore when previous Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had a meeting King Abdullah in March 1997 when he was crown-prince, and was invited to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca the following month. This led to no objection for Iran to host the OIC conference for the first time soon afterwards.[48]


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