Iran Traveling Center

Shia Religion in Iran

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Shi’a Islam:

Shi’a Islam, also Shi’ite Islam or Shi’ism is the second largest denomination of the religion of Islam. Shi’a Muslims adhere to what they consider to be the teachings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and the religious guidance of his family whom they refer to as the Ahlul Bayt. Thus, Shi’as considers the first three ruling Sunni Caliphs a historic occurrence and not something attached to faith.


Shi’a Muslims believe that Muhammad’s family (the Imams) were the best source of knowledge about the Qur’an, Islam, and Emulation (the best-qualified teachers of Islam after Muhammad), and the most trusted carriers and protectors of Muhammad’s Sunnah (traditions).

In particular, Shi’a Muslims recognize the succession of Ali (Muhammad’s cousin, son-in-law, the first male to convert to Islam second person only to Muhammad’s wife Khadija and the male head of the Ahl al-Bayt or “people of the [Prophet’s] house”) as opposed to that of the caliphate recognized by Sunni Muslims. Shi`a Muslims believe that Ali was appointed successor by Muhammad’s direct order on many occasions, and that he is therefore the rightful leader of the Muslim faith pursuant to the Prophet’s wishes.

This difference between following either the Ahl al-Bayt (Muhammad’s family) or the Caliph Abu Bakr has shaped Shi`ah and Sunni views on some of the Qur’an, the Hadith(personalities in Islamic history), and other areas by extension. For instance, the collection of Hadith venerated by Shi’a Muslims is centered around narrations by members of the Ahl al-Bayt, while some Hadith by narrators not belonging to the Ahl al-Bayt are not included (those of Abu Huraira, for example).

Regardless of the dispute about the Caliphate, Shi’as recognize the authority of theShi’a Imam (also called Khalifa Ilahi) as a religious authority, though different sects within Shi’a Islam dispute the rightful succession of this Imam and the current rightful successor (Twelvers, Ismalis, and Zaydīs, for instance).


According to most sources, including the US Library of Congress, present estimates indicate that approximately 85% of the world’s Muslims are Sunni and approximately 15% are Shi`a. today there are roughly 200 million Shi’as all over the world, and around three quarters of those reside in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.

One of the lingering problems, according to Shi’a, in estimating the Shi’a population is that unless the Shi`a form a significant minority in a Muslim country, the entire population is often listed as Sunni. The reverse, however, has not been held true, which may contribute to imprecise estimates of the size of each sect.
A large portion of the world’s Shi’a live in the Middle East. They constitute a majority in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, and Azerbaijan. They remain as significant minorities in Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, and Lebanon. About 20% of Turkey’s Muslims are Alevi Shia.

A substantial part of the populations of Persian Gulf countries (including Iran and Iraq) is also Shi’a. The highest Shia population in one country is in Iran being 93.4%.

The 1926 rise of the House of Saud in Arabia brought official discrimination against Shi’a. The Shi’a-majority provinces of Hasa, Qatif and Hufuf on the Persian Gulf, and western Arabia provinces of Jazan, Asir and Hijaz, that had large Shi’a minorities, have officially been completely stripped of their religious identities. Shi’a claim that they endure much bigotry and other indignities from Walmens authorities daily and that Shi’a pilgrims from other countries are often singled out for harassment (see Status of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia).

Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and India, also hold significant Shi`a minorities. Among smaller Persian Gulf states, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have significant Shi’a minorities, as do the Eastern Province and other regions of Saudi Arabia. Shi’as are negligible in Southeast Asia, whose Muslims are predominantly Shafi Sunnis.