Is Sunni world suffering from Shia phobia?

By Soroor Ahmed,,

To save their respective monarchies, the Saudi and Gulf rulers, with the help of the western masters, have been whipping up anti-Shia passion ever since the Islamic Revolution in Iran on February 11, 1979.

Support TwoCircles

Yemen, where Zaidi Shias are considered much closer to Sunnis, is the latest example. About 35-45 % population is Shia and there is no such sectarian conflict whatsoever. In fact, these Zaidis were very close to Salafi Saudis till a few months back.

Maulana Syed Nizamuddin (Amir-e-Shariat, Imarat Shariah), Maulana Dr. Kalbe Sadiq ( Shia scholar) and Maulana Anisur Rahman Quasmi (Nazim Imarat Shariah) in Patna
For representational purpose only (TCN file photo)

Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was injured in an assassination bid in 2011, actually got treated in Saudi Arabia. Today, the Saudi rulers allege, he is an Iranian agent simply because he has joined hands with a small band of Houthis, who are also Shias. Incidentally, till sometimes back, Saleh was dead against them.

In the same way, late President Hafez-al-Assad was a good friend of Saudis when Egypt signed 1979 Camp David Accord with Israel and when Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Again when the United States attacked Iraq in 2003, Syria was a friend. Now the same Hafez and his son Bashar have become Alawi Shia. But is not it a fact that a sister of one of the wives of Rifaat-al-Assad, former vice president and younger brother of Hafez, is married to (now late) King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia? Is not it a fact that the same Alawi Shia Rifaat, revolted against his brother in 1983? Exiled Rifaat now has a very good relationship with Saudis. Actually he was the man, who personally supervised the Hama massacre of 1982, in which 10,000 people, mostly Sunnis, were reportedly killed.

Is not it a fact that Rifaat took up arms against his brother after Hafez established a six-member committee to run Syria following a heart attack in 1983? Rifaat was not included, and the council consisted entirely of close Sunni Muslim loyalists to Hafez. Most Alawi military officers supported the revolt which was crushed.

So why today Rifaat, who was more Alawi than Hafez or Bashar, is so close a friend of the Salafi Saudis? Why make this power struggle a Shia-Sunni issue? Mind it Syria has 10-12 % Alawi Shias.

So another power struggle in Yemen is being interpreted as an Iranian design to expand Shia domination.
But is not it a fact that neighbouring Azerbaijan has overwhelming Shia population, but its Shia ruler is termed as Yazid by Iran. Azerbaijan is a good friend of Israel, the enemy number one of Iran. If Iran would ever be targeted by Israel, it would be from its base in Azerbaijan.

What the Saudis also failed to explain is that Sunni Hamas was armed and helped by Shia Iran throughout these years. Later Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey also started helping it. These royals celebrated the fall of Sunni Muslim Brotherhood and backed General Sisi’s brutal crackdown on them though President Morsi was the first elected leader of Egypt.

A cursory look of history would reveal that a revolution attracts people elsewhere too. This had happened in the early years of Islam. Within a few years all the big powers disappeared.

After the French Revolution of 1789 various powerful monarchies of Europe ganged up against the slogan of equality, fraternity and justice. Ironically, Britain, where democracy was taking its roots, decided to join hands with the conservative powers to nip in the bud the revolutionary zeal of French people.

Soon after the Communist Revolution in Russia in 1917 all out efforts were made by the western powers to crush it. In return, the Communists did try to export their ideology. In the initial years, they succeeded in doing so in Central Asia and adjoining areas of Europe, which soon became a part of the big Soviet Union.

But a couple of decades later all these revolutionary zeal fizzled out and its leader Stalin got bogged down in his own contradictions. Yet throughout the 1930s, the western world continued to whip up anti-Communist passion.

The Nazis, to consolidate their position, put all the blame of crisis in Europe to either the Jews or
Communists –– besides western powers. So, at the height of World War-II in June 1941, Hitler ordered the invasion of Soviet Union. Within months, the entire Soviet war machine collapsed. By winter, the German army was almost knocking at the door of Moscow. The weakness of the Soviet Union was exposed.

However, it finally won the battle back because of the military and material support given by the same western powers through Iranian border. Things did not stop here. The Soviet Union which was unable to defend itself in 1941 was by 1945 in position to expand itself into Eastern Europe. To finish Hitler, the western powers allowed Soviet Union to grow powerful as there was no other alternative.

So, after the war, Soviet Union was the master of 11 East European countries such as Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia (now two republics), East Germany etc. So a tottering empire got a new life for half a century — till 1990.

Similarly, when Islamic Revolution took place in Iran, it certainly inspired many in Muslim world. Initially more Sunnis than Shias outside Iran were fascinated by the revolutionary zeal and anti-US and anti-Israel stand of Ayatullah Khomeini, its leader. In contrast, various Shia groups had still been looking with suspicion at all these developments in Iran.

As late as mid-1990s when the then President Rafsanjani visited India and went to Lucknow and Hyderabad, thousands of Shias took to streets protesting Iran’s stand on Mutah (temporary marriages) and Tabarah. Yet the Gulf royals continue to blame Shia Iran for all the power struggle going on anywhere in the Muslim world.

First Saddam Husein was provoked to attack Iran. Millions died with eight year war yielding no result. Saddam then turned his guns towards the Kurds and Shias within his own country. Then the same champion of the Sunni world invaded Kuwait, the country which helped Iraq in war against Iran.

Instead of finishing Shia Iran, these unelected Arab rulers created Saddam, who incidentally was a Sunni. Today, whatever is happening in the region they have their roots in these developments. Without any effort, Iran automatically grew stronger. Its influence expanded and now the United States and big powers have signed a nuclear deal with it. They were forced to ignore the protest from Israel and these Sheikhdoms.

Now the Saudis have created enemies all along its border.

Thirty five years after Iranian Revolution, they realized that these Zaidi Shias are being funded by Iran. What they failed to explain to the world is as to how it was possible when relationship was so good with the same Saleh till a few months back.

Is not it a fact that during the civil war in Yemen in 1960s, Saudis openly backed the north, which is pre-dominantly Zaidis against the ‘Communist’ Sunni south Yemen, which was then backed by General Nasser’s Egypt and Soviet Union?

The need of the hour is for the Sunni world to call the Saudi bluff and stop this blood-letting in the name of Shias and Sunnis. It is high time to condemn the Friday bombing of Shia mosques, be it in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria or anywhere else.

True Shias might have been retaliating at some places and looking towards Iran for help, but who can deny that the Salafist among Sunnis have started all these bloody drama just to protect their tyrant regimes.

One may not wholly accept the Shia or Iranian ideology, but the Salafist brand too is not acceptable. Those who do not learn from history are bound to perish.


(Soroor Ahmed is a Patna-based freelance journalist. He writes on political, social, national and international issues.)