Human Rights Council 2017

Human Rights Council                                                                                human
Thirty-sixth session
11-29 September 2017
Agenda item 4
Humanrights situations that require the Council’s attention

Shiʿa Muslims, comprising of approximately 15-20%  of the Muslim Community, remain a marginalized communal collective in many states without the freedom to practice their religion freely while in some states they are treated as second class citizens.1

Anti-Shiʿism,  broadly  defined, is the prejudice  against  or hatred of Shiʿa Muslims based  on their religious belief, identity, and heritage. Although this phenomenon has been largely confined to religious zealots, it has now become a widespread and global occurrence, the effects of which can be seen in several countries around the world. The symptoms  of this discrimination can be seen to in different  forms  that range from banning  the practice  of Shiʿism, physical attacks against Shiʿas, terrorist bombings  in Shiʿa areas, the systematic destruction of Shiʿi places of worship, and hate speech and propagated  through sermons, satellite  broadcasts  and social  media,  all directed at Shiʿa Muslims and Shiʿism. It is evident that this hate is not just limited to terrorist groups and fringe elements; rather it has become an increasingly common phenomenon endorsed and sanctioned by certain states.

Whilst scholars, researchers and academics have often highlighted the growing trend of Islamophobia in the West, no equal attention has been paid to Shiʿaphobia. Although the term has not been officially defined, Shiʿa Rights Watch, an independent organization campaigning for the rights of Shiʿa Muslims, was the first to introduce the term “anti-Shiʿsm” in 2011, going on to state that 2“as the odious ideology continues to spread, it has infiltrated media outlets and human rights organizations which continue to ignore the plight of Shiʿa Muslims.”

The methodology and approach of this statement will draw on multiple case studies of state instances that have contributed to the rise of anti-Shiʿism. However, the analysis is not limited to the given cases that I will be presenting.

Malaysia: Ban on Shiʿas
According to official statistics, nearly two thirds of Malaysia’s 28 million  people  are Muslim.3 The Shiʿa population estimates vary considerably from 20,000 to 250,000. This vast discrepancy can be attributed to the presence of foreign tourists and students, the opinions shared by Malaysia’s political parties and a lack of reliable data.

With the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism and hard line ideology that sees a strict one-warped view of Islam and rejects others, certain state actors have adopted aspects of this ideology that has led to the denunciation of minorities. Originating from a fatwa passed in 1996 by the Fatwa Committee of the National Council for Islamic Affairs in Malaysia, 4 a ban on Shiʿa Islam is currently imposed  in 11 out of the 14 states.5  On 5th May 1996, the Committee discussed  the position  of Shiʿas  in Malaysia; the main  concern  of the religious scholars was  how  Shiʿa Muslims understand the concept of an “Imam”, who is considered an infallible leader of the Islamic community. They have also been labeled as deviant due to being a minority sect and not part of the mainstream Sunni Islam. The committee prohibited the  spread of any doctrine other than  Sunni  Islam,  hence they unanimously agreed on repealing the Zaidiyyah and Jafariyyah schools of thought within Shiʿism. They also determined that the publishing, broadcasting and distribution of any books, pamphlets, films, videos and others relating to the teachings of Islam which is opposed to the beliefs of Sunni Islam is prohibited.
1 Institute for Gulf Affairs. Policy Briefing. ??
2 ʿShiʿa Rights Watch. (2012) ??
3 The New York Times. (2013) .Malaysian Shiʿa Muslims Prepare for Trial.
4 Bureau Of Democracy, 2009.
5 Ibid


This treatment towards Shiʿa Muslims and banning of Shiʿa theology, amongst  other discriminatory practices against other religious minorities within the country, contravenes several international agreements and legal documents, the main one being The Federal Constitution of Malaysia. Despite the constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion, only the Sunni sect of Islam is permitted in Malaysia. Although there is a distinction between state and federal law, states have been urged to implement the fatwa and renounce Shiʿism.
Indonesia: Anti-Shiʿa Alliance

With a population of 253 million, of which 87% are Muslim, Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim  country, whilst
including significant Christian and Hindu populations

Whilst religious pluralism is said to exist within the country, anti-Shiʿa sentiment is seen to have spread to Indonesia, mainly through Wahhabi influence.
In 2014, a coalition of various groups who maintain an anti-Shiʿa agenda created an “Anti  Shiʿa Alliance” for the first time in Indonesia. Several Government officials and other Islam Organizations including The Indonesian Council of Ulema  were in attendance of this convention that emphasized a call for “jihad”, specifically against Shiʿa Muslims and resulted in an “Anti Shiʿa Declaration.” 6

The Anti-Shiʿa Declaration read as follows:
The anti-Shiʿ a decla ra t io n 7

1.    The alliance is a preaching forum to promote virtues and prevent abominable acts.
2.    The alliance will take any necessary measures to maximize the prevention of the proliferation of heretical
teachings by Shiʿa followers.
3.    The alliance will forge good relations with other preaching organizations.
4.    The alliance will demand that the government immediately ban Shiʿa and revoke all licenses for foundations,
organizations and institutions owned by Shiites.

During this conference, a Shiʿa Journalist from Alulbait Indonesia, Muhammad Ngaenan, aged 28, who was covering the event, reported that he was interrogated, detained and beaten by group organizers and attendees. 8

Saudi Arabia: Shiʿa marginalization
Another country that is seen to discriminate against its Shiʿa citizens  is the Kingdom of Saudi  Arabia. The Shiʿa minority, estimated to make up around 10-15% percent of the Saudi Arabian Population mainly reside in the Eastern province, 9 particularly in the oases of Al-Ahsa and Qatif. They are based in Medina al Munawara, the second largest city in Saudi Arabia. Ever since its founding father, King Ibn Saud, assumed the self-proclaimed reign of the Kingdom of Saudi  Arabia, there has been  a stringent  segregationist policy  towards  the Shiʿa Muslims in the Kingdom. In particular, the use of hateful content in their school curriculum along with hate speech propagated by clerics that dehumanizes religious groups has fueled the flames of sectarianism in the Kingdom. In fact, much of the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations make use of educational curriculum is rooted in Saudi textbooks, which conveys a conservative and narrow-minded worldview, intolerant of other religions and sects in Islam.
6 R, Husain. (2014). World’s first Anti Shiʿa Alliance convention results in calls for violence and sectarian purging.
7 R, Husain. (2014). World’s first Anti Shiʿa Alliance convention results in calls for violence and sectarian purging.
8 The Jakarta Post. (2014). Anti-Shiʿa alliance reported to police
9 Pew Research Centre (2009), ‘Mapping the Global Muslim Population’,


The Kingdoms marginalization towards Shiʿas in employment and the workplace is also evident  in the lack of Shiʿa representatives in prominent positions of power. According to a report for the US Library of Congress 10 “Shiʿa came to occupy the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder in the newly formed Saudi state, as they were often excluded from employment in the civil service, the military and the police.”
Inspired by the Arab Spring and events that broke out in Tunisia  and Egypt, in 2011, Shiʿa protestors expressed their dissatisfaction with their treatment within the state. Calling for an end to anti-Shiʿa discrimination and fairer political representation, they were responded with death, injury and jailing of several peaceful protestors. 11

A prime example of the repression faced by the peaceful protestors is Sheikh Nimr and his nephew Ali Mohammed Baqir Nimr. In May 2014, the SCC sentenced Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr to death after convicting him on charges that included demonstrating against the government, possession of weapons and attacking the security forces. He denied the charges and told the court that he had been tortured and forced to confess in pre-trial detention. The court convicted him without investigating his torture allegations, and sentenced him to death although he was aged 17 at the time of the alleged offences. In October, his uncle, Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, a Shiʿa cleric  from Qatif and vocal critic of the government’s treatment of the Shiʿa minority, was sentenced  to death by the SCC. Security  forces arrested Sheikh al-
Nimr in July 2012 and executed him on 2nd January 2016, causing a global uproar in condemnation of his execution.

Pakistan: Sectarian attacks
In Quetta, Balochistan, the Shi’a Hazaras  have been heavily targeted in suspected sectarian-motivated attacks. Evidence of a sectarian motivation is the alleged involvement of known militant groups, predominantly Lashkar -e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and its various off-shoots, which have publicly declared their agenda  to include  the targeting  of Shi’a and Hazara Muslims whom they consider to be ‘kafir’.

Many critics of the Pakistani government have accused government and security officials of not doing enough to prevent violent attacks from occurring. Lashkar-g-Jhangvi is officially banned in Pakistan; however it continues to operate with relative impunity under various other names and guises. While the Pakistani government condemns sectarian attacks such as these, many believe that the government could do much more to prevent them from continuing to happen. Discrimination against  Shi’as is  not found  at official, institutional  level. However, it is  pervasive  at communal level and the fact that sectarian militant groups continue to operate effectively unchecked means that the Shi’as of Pakistan routinely face persecution and violence.

Egypt: Anti-Shiʿa rhetoric

According to a 2012 Report on international religious freedom in Egypt, published by the United States Department of State,12 “Government and official Islamic institutions also used anti-Shiite rhetoric.” Human Rights Watch have report that “During the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak, security officials arbitrarily arrested and detained Shiʿa under the emergency law that was in effect for decades solely because of their religious beliefs. Since the 2011 uprising, police have arrested Shiʿa in Cairo and prevented them from commemorating Ashura, a Shiʿa day of mourning.” 13

The report also affirmed that the anti-Shiʿa hate speech by Salafis, who consider Shiʿa Muslims heretics and the Muslim Brotherhood, has been going on for two years in Egypt. This anti-Shiʿa rhetoric in Egypt led to a vicious attack on four Shiʿa’s by Salafi sheikhs  in the village of Abu Musallim in Greater Cairo on June 23, 2013, including Sheikh Hassan Shehata,  who was lynched and dragged through the streets. “For the past two years Salafi political and religious leaders, members  of the Muslim  Brotherhood’s  Freedom  and Justice  Party, and Al Azhar  have  publicly denounced  Shiʿa
10 Chapin Metz, H. ed. (1992) ‘Shiʿa’, Saudi Arabia: A Country Study.
11 The BBC (2014). Reporting Saudi Arabia's hidden uprising.
12 US Department of State. (2012)
13 Human Rights Watch (2013). Egypt: Lynching of Shiʿa Follows Months of Hate Speech.


practices,  organized  conferences “against Shiʿism” and said that they are determined  to halt the spread of Shiʿism in


In the words of Andrew Hammond, a Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, "I definitely think we're seeing a wave of anti-Shiite bigotry... which would not have happened before. It's reaching places that you wouldn't imagine. Pakistan, Britain, Malaysia, Indonesia. It's really quite a striking phenomenon." 15

Based on the few case studies provided, anti-Shiʿism has slowly been spreading across the globe and also exists in other
countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bahrain, Iraq and Nigeria.

The Al-Khoei Foundation works to promote freedom of religion, tolerance, respect and justice for religious groups worldwide and actively supports all initiatives that foster peaceful co-operation and friendship between different religious and non-religious groups.

We work at local, national and international levels for the education and welfare of Muslim communities by running schools, and educational and community centers. We also undertake grassroots work such as chaplaincy in hospitals and prisons. We initiate projects that promote the empowerment of women and youth, and undertake international work on development, human rights and research into the protection of sacred sites during times of conflict. We participate in and sponsor many interfaith and intrafaith initiatives, which bring communities together.

14 US Department of State. (2012)
15 Press TV. (2014) UK community leader warns against Shiʿaphobia in West.