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The condition of the Ahlus Sunnah in Iraq under Shi’i rule

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umm Abdillah, Radio Islam Programming – 2014.01.29


Up until the 15th century Iran’s population was of the Alhus Sunnah wal Jama’ah, following Shafi`i and Hanafi legal rites. Shah Ismail I, the founder of the Safavid Dynasty of Iran, was the first to enforce a brutal military conversion of the Ahl’ Sunnah to Shiism. This dismaying and alarming trend was reignited by the American invasion into Iraq (2003) and continues unabated under the Shi’i government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the militant Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr. Justification to torture and destroy the Ahlus Sunnah creed in post-war Iraq is blamed on ousting Al-Qaeda from Iraq. The deeper reasons are geo-political.

One of the main reasons why Ismail (I) and his followers pursued such a severe conversion policy was to give Iran and the Safavid lands as distinct and unique an identity as possible compared to their neighbouring Ahl’ Sunnah, Turkish military and political enemies, the Ottoman Empire. His methods of converting Iran included:

  • Imposing Shiism as the state and mandatory religion for the whole nation and forcible conversions of Iranian Sufi Sunnis to Shiism.

  • Destroying Sunni mosques.

  • Enforcing the ritual and compulsory cursing of the first three Sunni Caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman) as usurpers, from all mosques, disbanding Sunni Tariqahs and seized their assets, used state patronage to develop Shia shrines, institutions and religious art and imported Shia scholars to replace Sunni scholars.

  • He persecuted, imprisoned and executed stubbornly resistant Sunnis. Ahl’ Sunnah Ulama had the choice of conversion, death, or exile. He massacred Ahl’ Sunnah clerics who resisted the Shia transformation of Iran, as witnessed in Herat. As a result, many Sunni scholars who refused to adopt the new religious direction lost their lives or fled to neighboring Sunni states.

  • There was a carnival-like holiday on 26 Dhul Hijjah (or alternatively, 9 Rabi’ al-Awwal) celebrating the murder of Caliph Umar (ra). The highlight of the day was making an effigy of Umar to be cursed, insulted, and finally burned.

  • He invited all the Shia living outside Iran to come to Iran and be assured of protection from the Sunni majority.



He seized Baghdad in 1508. His armies zealously murdered the Ahlus Sunnah and actively persecuted them through tribal allies of the Shah. They destroyed several important Sunni sites, including the tombs of Abu Hanifa and Abdul-Qadir Gilani (ra). The Safavids even expelled the family of Gilani from Mesopotamia. After declaring Shiism the official form of Islam in Iraq, Shah Ismail (I) forced his new Iraqi subjects to convert to Shiism and outlawed Sunni practices. He then returned to Persia. These draconian actions by the conquering Safavids caused the Mesopotamian Ahl’ Sunnah to seethe with resentment centuries later.


In central and southern Iraq, including Baghdad and Basra, Sunni scholars who refused to accept Shia doctrines were executed and Sunni tombs and shrines were destroyed once again. The main mosques were converted for Shia use only.


Centuries later, under Saddam Hussein, who was himself of the Alhus Sunnah, Iraq counted as a Sunni country even though the clear majority of the population was Shia. Saddam’s Iraq received huge amounts of cash and assistance from Sunni countries in the region, who supported a pan-Arabism rather than stir and divide via sectarian lines. When the US, with crucial support from Britain, decided to invade Iraq in 2003 and overthrow Saddam Hussein, Ahl’ Sunnah control over Iraq was destroyed.


Iraq today

After the US-led invasion, Anbar Province became synonymous with Al Qaeda (Sunni fighters) in Iraq. Its fighters seized control of Ramadi and Fallujah. This led to elite military forces answering directly to the Iraqi prime minister, to seize hundreds of Sunni men and women in a secret Baghdad prisons for months. Arrested without warrants in military sweeps they are routinely tortured, beaten and sodomised. Hundreds of Sunni men were detained and tortured secret facilities in Nineveh province.


Iraq’s post-incursion police force systematically abuses and tortures people in detention, as well order extra-judicial killings. The minority Sunni community in particular is being targeted by the Shia-dominated police force.


In a video given to the BBC by the Association of Muslim Scholars (an Ahl Sunnah organisation), a brutal form of torture can also be added to the list of Shia atrocities – drilling into the knees, elbows and shoulders of victims.


The video shows the body of an Ahl’ Sunnah preacher being washed for burial. His supporters say he had been picked up by police commandos for allegedly being linked to the insurgency. The camera focuses on marks all over his body including what appear to be drill holes. According to Salman al-Faraji, a human rights activist and lawyer, the use of drills is common. “Most cases are quite similar, the same methods are used,” he said. “They torture them, breaking hands and legs. They use electric drills to pierce their bodies and then the killing is carried out at close range.”


Mosques used by the Ahl Sunnah are bombed and raids are routinely carried out under the guise of repelling Al Qaeda insurgents from the new Iraq.


Last week alone, 15 people were killed and four others wounded in Anbar, where army helicopters pounded gunmen who fired mortar rounds on army positions outside the city of Fallujah, 50 km’s from Baghdad. The Ahl’ Sunnah have been carrying out a year-long protest, accusing the Shiite-led government of marginalising them and its Shiite-dominated security forces of indiscriminately arresting, torturing and killing their sons.


They also resent the influence that Shiite-ruled Iran has over Iraqi policy, and they’re embittered at Maliki’s posture of “neutrality” in Syria, which they interpret as a fig leaf for support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, a follower of the Alawite branch of Shiism. It’s not just the Ahlus Sunnah who are angry with Maliki. Ethnic Kurds, who compose at least 15% of the population, are enraged at his refusal to resolve issues regarding revenue sharing and oil sales by the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government. There’s even trouble among Shiites, who make up at least 60% of the population. Many are fed up with a government that has enormous income on tap from the country’s oil resources but has failed to deliver electricity, clean water and sanitation, and is viewed as one of the most corrupt on Earth.


According to the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, a total of 8,868 Iraqis, including 7,818 civilians and civilian police personnel, were killed in 2013, the highest annual death toll in years.

We end with an impassioned plea not to be apathetic to these targeted and horrific atrocities, at the very least to campaign and make dua for them to end.


Wallahul’ Musta’an.

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