Shi’i minorities in the Arab world

Authored by: Laurence Louër

Routledge Handbook of Minorities in the Middle East

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138649040
eBook ISBN: 9781315626031
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315626031-18

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Abstract

Even when they are a numeric majority, as in Iraq and Bahrain, most of the time Shi’is in the Arab world are not part of the highest strata of the social hierarchy, be it in terms of status and/or class position. They generally express deep-seated feelings of being discriminated against, and the rhetoric of Shi’i Islamic movements often refers to the Shi’is as the “deprived” (al-mahrumin) or the “oppressed” (al-musta’dafin). This way of experiencing themselves as victims echoes the historical marginalization of the Shi’is in the power struggles that followed the death of Prophet Mohammed. The origin of the Sunni/Shi’i divide indeed lies in the two main factions that contested for the succession to Muhammad: the Shi’is thought that the latter should have been followed by a line of imams recruited into the lineage of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin and trusted companion, and Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter. According to the Shi’is, the Imams have access to hidden meanings of the divine message and have been entrusted by God to reveal them to an elite. While Ali became the fourth caliph, his descendants never ruled after his death, and the imams were only religious and community leaders. Their line died away in 874 with the disappearance of the twelfth imam. The majority of Shi’is (known as ithna’shari, or “Twelvers”) think he has been occulted by God to protect him against plots of the caliphs and that he shall return at the End of Time to install truth and justice.

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