Why are Shiite Muslims persecuted in Pakistan?

The global Islamic religious community is divided into several groups, of which the Sunnis is by far the largest: around 90 percent of Muslims worldwide belong to it.

However, there are several countries in which Muslims with Shiite beliefs are the majority: Iran (92 percent), Azerbaijan and Bahrain (70 percent each). Shiites make up large parts of the population in Lebanon (35 to 50 percent), Yemen (about 37 percent), Kuwait (20 to 30 percent), Syria (about 17 percent), and the United Arab Emirates (up to 20 percent ) and in Saudi Arabia (around ten percent).

In Iraq, around two thirds of the population are Shiites and one third are Sunnis. Non-Muslims only make up about three percent. The Muslims here are predominantly Arabs. The proportion of Arab Sunnis is 15 to 20 percent. Most of the Kurds here also belong to the Sunni faith.

The remaining inhabitants are mainly Turkmen, Yazidis, Chaldean, Armenian and Aramaic Christians.


The term Shiites refers to the Shia Ali, the party of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, a cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed.

After the death of the first three successors of the founder of the religion Mohammed in the 7th century, Ali took over the leadership of the young Islamic community as the fourth secular and spiritual leader (caliph). The Shiites consider him to be the only legitimate successor of Muhammad at the time. They advocated that only one family member of the Prophet - that is, Ali and his sons, the grandchildren of Muhammad - were allowed to succeed him.

The majority of Muslims, on the other hand, called for the election of a leader from the tribe of Muhammad who did not have to be a family member of the Prophet. After the death of Muhammad (632), this group, known as Sunnis (see below), first pushed through the election of Mohammed's confidante Abu Bakr as the first caliph, followed by Umar Ibn al-Chattab and Uthman Ibn Affan. From the Shiite point of view, these caliphs were illegitimate.

Only in 656 could Ali be elected caliph. However, he was murdered in 661 during the quarrels and struggles for the leadership of the Islamic believers.

According to the Shiites, his son Hasan, a grandson of the Prophet, should have succeeded him. However, he dropped his claims in favor of his militarily superior Sunni rival Muawiya ibn Abu Sufyan. Hasan's brother Hussein was also not recognized by the Sunnis. In 680 he died in a battle between his supporters and the troops of the Sunni Umayyad caliph Jasid I.

Hussein thus became a Shiite martyr. The Shiites celebrate the day of his death as an important day of mourning.

Since the Shiites could not enforce a biological descendant of Muhammad as secular leader, the Shiites developed the concept of spiritual rule by an imam. They do not recognize the secular rule of the caliphs over the Sunnis. The Shiite imams came from the family of Ali and were descendants of the Prophet through their mother Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad.

The tombs of Ali Ibn Abi Talibs in Najaf and of Hussein in the city of Kerbala are among the most important shrines of the Shiites.

The Shiites have split up into various groups, which differ mainly in the number of descendants and successors of Muhammad (imams) recognized as infallible:

The Imamites (Twelve Shiites) live mainly in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon. According to their beliefs, the twelfth Imam lives in secret, will appear as "Mahdi" at the end of the world and establish a kingdom of peace. In addition, there are the Ismailis (seven Shiites) in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and the Zaidis (five Shiites) in Yemen.

A group that in a sense represents a Shiite sect are the Alavites, who live mainly in Syria, Turkey and Lebanon.


For the majority of the followers of Mohammed, the custom prevailed to choose the leader regardless of his origin - he should, however, belong to the tribe of Mohammed, the Quarish. This caliph is a judge and a military leader. He has no religious teaching authority for the Sunnis.

For these Sunnis, Ali is only the last of the "four rightful caliphs". The following caliphs were controversial. After Ali's death, his opponent Muawiya ibn Abu Sufyan prevailed against Ali's son Hussein. Muawiya, formerly Muhammad's secretary, had himself made caliph and introduced succession: the Umayyad caliph dynasty came into being.

This was followed by the Abbasid and counter caliphates such as that of the Fatimids. The last existing caliphate - the Ottoman - was finally abolished by the Turkish government in 1924. Since then, Muslim kings have claimed the caliphate, but have not been able to assert themselves.

The term Sunni is derived from the word Sunnah, Custom, off. For the Sunnis, al-Sunna contains the traditions and norms of behavior that go back to the Prophet Mohammed and his early followers.

The Sunni faith distinguishes four schools of law, which interpret the Sunna differently - but all are considered to be orthodox. A conservative and dogmatic form of Sunni belief is that Wahhabismwhich is the state religion in Saudi Arabia, for example. They are also conservative Salafists: Sunnis who want to establish a society that should correspond to the original Islam of the 7th and 8th centuries.


A third larger Muslim group are the Ibadis, who, however, live almost exclusively in Oman and form the majority of the population there. They emerged from the Kharijites, who already rejected the third and fourth caliphs and thus separated from the rest of the Muslims.

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