Imam Ali's Shrine in Najaf, Iraq, is one of the most holy places for Shia Islam

Anti-Shi'ism is the prejudice, hatred of, discrimination or violence directed against Shia Muslims because of their religious beliefs, traditions and cultural heritage. The term was first defined by Shia Rights Watch in 2011, but has been used in informal research and scholarly articles for decades.[1][2]

The dispute over the right successor to Muhammad resulted in the formation of two main sects, the Sunni, and the Shia. The Sunni, or followers of the way, followed the caliphate and maintained the premise that any member of Quraysh could potentially become the successor to the Prophet if accepted by the majority. The Shia however, maintain that only the person selected by God through the Prophet (Hadith of the pond of Khumm) could become his successor, thus Imam Ali became the religious authority for the Shia people. Militarily established and holding control over the Umayyad government, many Sunni rulers perceived the Shia as a threat – both to their political and religious authority.[3]

The Sunni rulers under the Umayyads sought to marginalize the Shia minority. The persecution of Shias throughout history by Sunni co-religionists has often been characterized by brutal and genocidal acts. Comprising only around 10% of the entire Muslim population, to this day, the Shia remain a marginalized community in many Sunni dominant countries without the rights to practice their religion freely or to become established as an organized denomination.[4]

Historical persecution


The grandson of Muhammad, Imam Hussein, refused to accept Yazid I's rule. Soon after in 680 C.E., Yazid sent thousands of Umayyad troops to lay siege to Hussein's caravan. During the Battle of Karbala, after holding off the Umayyad troops for six days, Hussein and his seventy-two companions were killed, beheaded, and their heads were sent back to the caliph in Damascus. These seventy-two included Hussein's friends and family. The more notable of these characters are Habib (Hussein's elderly friend), Abbas (Hussein's loyal brother), Akbar (Hussein's 18-year-old son), and Asghar (Hussein's six month old infant). On the night of Ashura (which is called Sham-e-Gharibaan), the army of Yazid burned the tents which Hussein's family and friends had lived in. The only occupants of the tents after the war were the women, children, of Hussein's companions along with Hussein's last ill son named Zain-Ul-Abideen (who became the next Imam after Hussein). During the raid, Yazid's forces looted, burned, and tortured the women and children. They then took the heads of the martyrs, planting them on spearheads to parade. The women's shawls and headdresses were also stripped and they were forced to march beside their men's heads all the way to Damascus. They stayed in prison there for about a year. While Imam Hussein's martydom ended the prospect of a direct challenge to the Umayyad caliphate, it also made it easier for Shiism to gain ground as a form of moral resistance to the Umayyads and their demands.[5] There was also the Umayyad tradition of cursing Ali.

Siege of Baghdad

After the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258, prejudice against Shias became more frequent, reminiscent of blaming Shias for every problem.[6]

Persecution under Seljuk/Ottoman Empire

In response to the growth of Shiism, the Ottoman Empire killed Shias in Anatolia. Hundreds of thousands of Shias were killed in the Ottoman Empire, including the Alevis in Turkey, the Alawis in Syria and the Shi'a of Lebanon.[7]


In the past Shias in India faced persecution by some former Sunni rulers and Mughal Emperors, resulting in the death of Indian Shia scholars like Qazi Nurullah Shustari (also known as Shaheed-e-Thaalis, the third "Martyr") and Mirza Muhammad Kamil Dehlavi (also known as Shaheed-e- Rabay, the fourth "Martyr") Qutubuddin Shaheed, also spelled Qutbkhan Qutbuddin, Ahmedabad, India was the 32 nd Da'i al-Mutlaq of the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Musta‘lī Islam. He succeeded the 31st Dai Kasim Khan Zainuddin who are three of the five martyrs of Shia Islam. Shias also faced persecution in India in Kashmir for centuries, by the Sunni invaders of the region which resulted in the killing of many Shias and as a result most of them had to flee the region.[8]

Shias in Kashmir in subsequent years had to pass through the most difficult period of their history. Plunder, looting and killing which came to be known as ‘Taarajs’ virtually devastated the community. History records 10 such Taarajs also known as ‘Taraj-e-Shia’ between 15th to 19th century in 1548, 1585, 1635, 1686, 1719, 1741, 1762, 1801, 1830, 1872 during which the Shia habitations were plundered, people killed, libraries burnt and their sacred sites desecrated. The community, due to their difficulties, went into the practice of Taqya in order to preserve their lives.[9]

Villages disappeared, with community members either migrating to safety further north or dissolving in the majority faith. The persecution suffered by Shias in Kashmir during the successive foreign rules was not new for the community. Many of the standard bearers of Shia’ism, like Sa’adaat or the descendants of the Prophet Mohammad and other missionaries who played a key role in spread of the faith in Kashmir, had left their home lands forced by similar situations.

During Aurangzeb's rule, many Shia Muslims from North Karnataka had to leave their cities to save themselves. They settled in Bangalore, Mysore, Alipur, Karnataka and other southern cities.

Present day India is a secular state and adherents of Shia Islam in India are free to practice their faith freely. Additionally the day of Ashura, listed as Moharram, and the birthdate of Ali are recognized as public holidays.

However Shias Muslims in Kashmir are not allowed to practice mourning on the day of Ashura. The state government of Jammu and Kashmir has placed restrictions over Muharram processions which is seen as opposite to the right to freedom of religion that is fundamental right of Indian citizens. Every year clashes take place between the mourners and Indian guards on the eve of Karbala martyrdom anniversaries.[10]


Most foreign slaves in Xinjiang were Shia Ismaili Mountain Tajiks of China. They were referred to by Sunni Turkic Muslims as Ghalcha, and enslaved because they were different from the Sunni Turkic inhabitants.[11] Shia Muslims were sold as slaves in Khotan. The Muslims of Xinjiang traded Shias as slaves.[12]