Thursday, October 06, 2005

Sunni- Shi'ite Dynamics

Islam historically has had two broad divisions, the Sunni and the Shi'ites. While the Sunnis constitute 90% of the 1.1. billion Muslim population in the world, the Shi'ite dynamic assumed a potency since the late 1970s. They are reportedly 60% in Iraq, the single largest religious group in Lebanon today, 50% of the native population in Bahrain, 15% in Syria (Alawites), a significant percentage in Yemen (Zaidis), 15% of the native population in Kuwait, a restive minority in the oil rich Sa'udi province of Dhahran and 15% of the population of Pakistan. Iran, of course, is predominantly Shi'ite.

The emerging ties between Iran and post-Ba'ath Iraq assume significance in this context. There were high level visits between officials of the two countries over the summer indicating a growing rapprochement between the traditional rivals. The Prime Minister of Iraq's visit to Teheran and his meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei were particularly noteworthy. A Iran-Iraq defence agreement is now under consideration. Here's an interesting Indian perspective on the profound implications for regional security in the Persian Gulf, one that I do not necessarily agree with.


nukh said...

a very important dynamic for the whole shia - sunni relationship in the middle east is that the majority reserves of oil in iraq are in the shia and kurdish area. and in saudi arabia are also in the shia area.

libertarian said...


India is the 2nd largest Muslim country after Indonesia and the 2nd largest Shia country after Iran. It's time the Muslims of India (Shia and Sunni) start setting the agenda, rather than follow some wacky Saudi Wahabi or Iranian cleric directives.

I fundamentally disagree with watching Iran-Iraq (or Saudi Arabia) to seek direction for the Muslim world. India is a geographic center of the Muslim world. Correct me if necessary, but most major schools of Islamic thought (except for the Wahabi - don't know about the Sufi tradition) originated and still thrive in North India. The world seeks a reformist, progressive Muslim movement. Only India (with help from Malaysia and Indonesia) can make this happen.

Too bad that you have the (unfortunately rich) Saudi Arabian tail (with 25mm largely uneducated and largely unemployable people) wagging the 1.1 billion strong dog.

Jaffna said...

Dear Libertarian,

One observation. If one were to accept census figures, Pakistan might well have the world's second largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia, not India. But the basic thrust of your argument remains.

Actually, there is a Wahabi precedent in India. Shah Waliullah in the late 1700s can be described as one.

You are correct in that two of the four major schools of Islamic jurisprudence i.e. the Shafi and the Hanafi are represented in India.

Three Islamic modernists i.e. Syed Ahmed, Iqbal and Jamal al din al Afghani represent a reformist trend in Islam that originated in the Indian subcontinent. Scholars in Pakistan and India claim their inheritance. Iqbal, after all combined an early Islamic education with advanced degrees from Cambridge and Munich in philosophy and law.

I will be shortly posting articles on modernist interpretations on Hinduism and Islam. I would appreciate your feedback at that point. To quote Confucius, "may a hundred flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend!

Best regards

libertarian said...


Look forward to your post on modernist interpretations of Islam and Hinduism. Being neither Hindu nor Muslim, this is great education for me.

Best regards

libertarian said...


Not that it's of any consequence, but I'm pretty sure Pakistan includes the entire Kashmiri population in its census (just as India certainly includes J&K). Including Muzaffarabad and Gilgit/Balstistan in an Indian census makes almost no difference (3 million people at most).

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that "Saare Jahan Se Achcha" was composed by Iqbal. I remember singing it while growing up - never heard any prejudice against it.



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