Chapter 5 : The shi’a in the world

According to UNFPA (the United Nations Population Fund) and other sources, in the year 1999 the world population exceeded six billion.1 Around twenty percent of this population (that is around 1.2 billion) adhere to Islam. A breakdown of the Muslim population of the world in (Mid) 1998 is estimated as follows:2

Africa: 315,000,000

Asia: 812,000,000

Europe: 31,401,000

Latin America: 1,624,000

Northern America: 4,349,000

Oceania: 248,000.

Muslims live all over the world. The total number of countries with Muslim inhabitants is 208.3 About 85% of the Muslims live outside the Arab world.4 The majority of Muslims live to the east of the borders of Iran, especially in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia. Indonesia is the most populated Muslim country.

Among Muslims who constitute the minority of the world population, the Shi’a constitute about 10% of the Muslims, which according to the current population of the world would amount to 120,000,000. 5

For example, Britannica 2002 (Deluxe Edition) reads:

“Over the centuries the Shi'ite movement has deeply influenced all Sunnite Islam, and its adherents numbered about 60 to 80 million in the late 20th century, or one-tenth of all Islam. Shi’ism (Arabic: Shi’ah, or Shi’i Islam) is the majority faith in Iran, Iraq, and perhaps Yemen (San’a') and has adherents in Syria, Lebanon, East Africa, India, and Pakistan.”

According to some sources, the figure is 11%.6 Thus, the present Shi’a populatio of the world must be around 132,000,000.7 A breakdown of the Shi’a population in some Asian countries with a Shi’a majority or with a considerable percentage of Shi’a population can be summed up as follows:8 9

Afghanistan: Population (1998): 24,792,000./ Religious affiliation (1990): Sunni Muslim 84%; Shi'i Muslim 15%; other 1%.10

Azerbaijan: Population (1998): 7,650,000./Religious affiliation (1991): Shi'i Muslim 70%; Sunni Muslim 30%.

Bahrain: Population (1998): 633,000. / Religious affiliation (1991): Muslim 81.8%, of which Shi'i 61.3%, Sunni 20.5%; Christian 8.5%; other 9.7%.11

India: Population (1998): 984,004,000. / Religious affiliation (1995): Hindu 81.3%; Muslim 12.0%, of which Sunni 9.0%, Shi'i 3.0%; Christian 2.3%, of which Protestant 1.1%, Roman Catholic 1.0%; Sikh 1.9%; Buddhist 0.8%; Jain 0.4%; Zoroastrian 0.01%; other 1.3%.

Iran: Population (1998): 61,531,000 / Religious affiliation (1995): Muslim 99.0%; (Shi'i 93.4%, Sunni 5.6%); Christian 0.3%; Zoroastrian 0.05%; Jewish 0.05%. 12

Iraq: Population (1998): 21,722,000./ Religious affiliation (1994): Shi'I Muslim 62.5%; Sunni Muslim 34.5%; Christian (primarily Chaldeanrite and Syrianrite Roman Catholic and Nestorian) 2.7%; other (primarily Yazidi syncretist) 0.3%.13

Jordan: Population (1998): 4,682,000. /Religious affiliation (1995): Sunni Muslim 96.5%; Christian 3.5%. 14

Kuwait: Population (1998): 1,866,000. / Religious affiliation (1995): Muslim 85%, of which Sunni 45%, Shi'a 30%; other Muslim 10%; other (mostly Christian and Hindu) 15.0%.

Lebanon: Population (1998): 3,506,000. / Religious affiliation (1995): Muslim. 55.3%, of which Shi'i 34.0%, Sunni 21.3%; Christian 37.6%, of which Catholic 25.1% (Maronite 19.0%, Greek Catholic or Malachite 4.6%), Orthodox 11.7% (Greek Orthodox 6.0%, Armenian Apostolic 5.2%), Protestant 0.5%; Druze 7.1%. 15

Oman: Population (1998): 2,364,000 /Religious affiliation (1993): Muslim 87.7%, of which Ibadiyah Muslim c.75% (principal minorities are Sunni Muslim and Shi'i Muslim); Hindu 7.4%; Christian 3.9%; Buddhist 0.5%; other 0.5%. 16

Pakistan: Population (1998): 141,900,000./Religious affiliation (1993): Muslim 95.0% (mostly Sunni, with Shi'i comprising about 20% of total population); Christian 2.0%; Hindu 1.8%; others (including Ahmadiyah) 1.2%.17

Saudi Arabia: Population (1998): 20,786,000./Religious affiliation (1992): Sunni Muslims 93.3%, Shi’i Muslims 3.3%.18

Syria: Population (1998): 15,335,000. / Religious affiliation (1992): Muslim 86.0%, of which Sunni 74.0%, 'Alawite (Shi'i) 12.0%; Christian 8.9%; Druze 3.0%; other 1.0%.19

Tajikistan: Population (1997): 6,112,000./Religious affiliation (1995): Sunni Muslim 80.0%; Shi'i Muslim 5.0%; Russian Orthodox 1.5%; Jewish 0.1%; other (mostly nonreligious) 13.4%.

Turkey: Population (1998): 64,567,000./Religious affiliation (1994): Sunni Muslim c.80.0%; Shi'i Muslim c.19.8%, of which nonorthodox Alevi c.14.0%; Christian c. 0.2%. 20

United Arab Population (1998): 2,744,000./Religious affiliation (1995): Muslim 96.0%
Emirates: (Sunni 80.0%, Shi'i 16.0%); other (Mostly Christian and Hindu) 4.0%.

Yemen: Population (2000): 18,260,000. 21 /Religious affiliation (1995): Muslim 99.9% (Sunni c. 60.0%, Shi'i c. 40.0%); other 0.1%. 22

The Shi’a population in some countries is disputed. Some believe that the population of the Shi’a there is much higher than official figures, because of a lack of accurate statistics, or because of political problems.

  • 1. The world population on 01/01/2002 is estimated to have been 6,196,141,294. (See U.S. Census Bureau official website at: www. census. gov
  • 2. 2 Britannica 2002, Deluxe version. According to this source, the overall Muslim population of the world Mid 1998 was 1,164,622,000, that is 19.6 percent of the world population.
  • 3. Britannica, 2002, Deluxe version.
  • 4. For example see Islam Outside the Arab World by D. Wester land and I. Svanberg.
  • 5. The rest are mostly Sunni Muslims consisting of Hanafis (can be found in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey), Malikis (dominant in Morocco and Sudan), Shafi’is (The Shafi’i school is applied in Syria, Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait, and c o-exists with other schools in Jordan and Egypt) and Hanbalis. According to MEDEA, the entry “SUNNISM”, the Hanbali school is the official school in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
  • 6. Yann Richard (1991, English translation 1995), p.2 using mainly figuresmput forward Md-R. Djalili, Rligionet revolution, Paris, Economica, 1981, p.23ff, and M. Momen, An Intoduction to Shi’i Islam, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1985, pp.264ff. Thus, Richard’s figures relate to no later than 80’s. His break Down is as follows: Iraq: 55 percent or 18,000,000; Bahrain: 70 percent or about 170,000; Kuwait: 24 percent of the Kuwaiti citizens or 137,000; Qatar: 20 percent of the population or 50,000; United Arab Emirates: 6 percent or 60,000; Saudi Arabia: 7 percent of Saudi citizens or 440,000; Lebanon: One third or one m illion; India: 15 to 20 percent of Mus lim population whic h reaches 80 million or 12 percent of the total population (Imam is and Ismailis) ; Pakistan: 12,000,000; Afghanistan: 15 percent or about 2.5 million; Azerbijan: a large Shi’a community (4.5 million); Turkey: 1,500,000 apart from ‘Alavites; Syria: 50,000 apart from ‘Alavites. (Note: Shi’a and ‘Alavites together reach 4,900,000).
  • 7. 1 Unfortunately, there are no accurate statistics reflecting the exact number of Muslims in general and Shi’a in particular. What suggested above is according to most of the sources available on the subject. However, it has been suggested that the Shi’a comprises 23% of the Muslims, while the Hanafis compr ise 31%; the Malikis comprise 25%; the Shafi’is comprise 16% and the Hanbalis comprise 4% of the Muslims. See S. M. Qazwini, p. 4, taken from the Bulletin of Affiliation: Al-Madhhab ñ Schools of Thought, vol. 17, no. 4 (December 1998), p. 5
  • 8. The figures mentioned in the text is according to Britannica 2002, Deluxe Edition. Figures relate to the year 1998. Therefore, the populations must have increased in the last few years. However, the percentages would have remained the same.
  • 9. It has to be noted that the list above is not meant to be inclusive; it is a selection based on the collected information from the source on each country. For example, Qatar is missing, while according to MEDEA, 10% of the population these are Shi’a.
  • 10. CIA World Factbook estimates the population of Afghanistan in July 2001 as follows: 26,813,057/Sunni Muslim 84%, Shi'a Muslim 15%, other 1%. Below I will refer to this source by CWF.
    According to Westerlund and Svanberg (1999, p. 177), about 18% of the population of Afghanistan are considered to be adherents of Twelver Shiism and somewhat less than 2% Ismailis.
  • 11. According to CWF, Shi’a of Bahrain constitute 70% of the Muslim population. According to MEDEA (European Institute for Research on Mediterranean and Euro-Arab Cooperation), 85% of the population are Muslims of which 1/3 are Sunni and 2/3 are Shi’a (in majority Arabs but also 70.000 Iranians).
    According to Fuller and Francke (1999, p. 120), the Shi’a form approximately 70 percent of the native population of Bahrain.
  • 12. According to CWF, Shi’a constitute 89% of the state’s population.
  • 13. According to CWF, Shi'a comprise 60%-65% and Sunni 32%-37% of the total population. According to MEDEA, Muslims of Iraq are 97%, of which Shi’a Muslims are 65% and Sunni Muslims are 32%.
    According to Fuller and Francke (1999, p.87), the Shi’a form 55 to 60 percent of the population of Iraq. It adds that since the late 1970s Iraqi Shi’a have been leaving Iraq in large numbers to settle in Iran, Syria, Britain and other countries.
  • 14. According to CWF, Suni Muslims are 92%, Christians are 6% (majority Greek Orthodox, but some Greek Catholics, Roman Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Protestant denominations) and others are 2% (several small Shi'a Mus lim and Druze populations ) (2000 est. ).
  • 15. According to CWF, Muslims comprise 70% (including Shi'a, Sunni, Druze, Isma'ilite, Alawite or Nusayri). According to MEDEA, Muslims are 70% (5 legally recognized Islamic groups - Shi'a, Sunni, Druze, Isma'ilite, Alawite or Nusayri) and Christians are 30% (11 legally recognized Christian groups: 4 Orthodox Christian, 6 Catholic, 1 Protestant). Jews are in small percentage.
    According to Fuller and Francke (1999, p. 203), the Shi’a form 30 to 40 percent of the population and represent the single largest sectarian group in Lebanon.
  • 16. According to CWF, Ibadhi Muslims are 75% and the rest are Sunni Muslims, Shi'a Muslims and Hindus. According to MEDEA, Muslims are 75% of whom three q uar ters belongs to the Ibadi sect.
  • 17. According to CWF, Muslims are 97% (Sunni 77% and Shi'a 20%). Christians, Hindus, and others are 3%. According to Westerlund and Svanberg (1999, p. 225), Muslims make up more than 96% of the total population. Among Muslims 15-20 percent are estimated to be Shi’a.
  • 18. CWF does not mention the percentage of Shi’a population in Saudi Arabia, though the number is higher than some other countries mentioned above. It just says that Muslims comprise 100% of the country’s population. According to MEDEA, Shi’a are 2.5% of the total population and Sunni Muslims are 97%. According to Fuller and Francke (1999, p.180), the Saudi government places the Shi’a t around 2 to 3 percent of the population, in the neighborhood of 300,000, but the numbers are nonetheless probably well over half a million.
  • 19. According to CWF, Sunni Muslim are 74%. Alawite, Druze, and other Mu lim sec ts are 16%. Christians (various sects) are 10% and Jews are tiny comm unities in Damascus, Al Qam is hli, and Aleppo. According to MEDEA, Sunni Muslims are 75%, Alawi Muslims 11%, Christians (all rites) 10% and Druzes 3%.
  • 20. CWF just states that 99.8% are Muslim (mostly Sunni) and others (Christians and Jews) are 0.2%. Surprisingly, MEDEA report overlooks Shi’a population in Turkey and says: “Religions: Muslim 99% Sunni, other 1% (Christian and Jews)”. (http:// index 059. htm) According to Westerlund and Svanberg (1999, p. 133), Sunni Muslims are thought to be 70 to 80% of the population and the bulk of the remaining 20 ñ 30% are Alevis.
  • 21. This is according to SESRTCIC affiliated to the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).
  • 22. CWF just states: “Muslim including Shaf'i (Sunni) and Zaydi (Shi'a), small numbers of Jewish, Christian, and Hindu”. According to MEDEA, Sunni Muslims are 55% and Zaydite Muslims are 44% and Christians are 1%.