Shia Islam in Egypt

Shia Islam in Egypt is composed of the highly persecuted low profile Shia Muslim community of Egypt.[1]

History and culture

Shia Islam has a long pedigree in Egypt. The Shia Fatimids came to power in 969 CE in Egypt; they established a new capital called Cairo as the seat of the Fatimid dynasty. Fatimids ruled Egypt for 200 years (969 -1171) and shaped its identity. They also established the famous al-Azhar University in 970 CE in Cairo as an university, founded in order to spread knowledge throughout the world; the university exists to this day and is one of the oldest universities in the world. Al-Azhar was originally a Shia university.[2][3] However, It is generally accepted that before, during and after the Fatimid rule in Egypt, the people of Egypt were and continued to remain predominantly Sunni,[4][5] with Ismailism being followed by the ruling classes, rather than the general populace.[6]

Even today, Egypt remains a country with strong Shia ties. Egyptian Sunnis especially followers of Sufi denominations visit revered Shia shrines and mosques dedicated to Hussein, Hasan, Zainab, Ali, and other Shia Imams, and unwittingly incorporate Shia practices into their traditions and funerary rites. The number of Shia in Egypt is growing, and there have been several cases of Sunnis converting to Shiism.[7]

Following are few Egyptian Shia organizations:

Population estimates

While Shia activists claim the number exceeds one million, the Salafists say there are only a few thousand.[2] Estimated numbers of Egypt’s Shias range from 800,000[9] to about two to three million.[10][11]


According to Brian Whitaker, in Egypt, the small Shia population is harassed by the authorities and treated with suspicion, being arrested - ostensibly for security reasons - but then being subjected to torrents of abuse by state security officers for their religious beliefs.[12] For decades, international organisations – including the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – have documented instances in which Egyptian Shias have been targeted for their religious beliefs. A December 2012 report by UN refugee agency UNHCR highlighted the fact that Shias still cannot openly practice their religious rituals in Egypt. Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui told the UNHCR that many groups were being prosecuted for alleged 'blasphemy.' US Commission on International Religious Freedom continues to label Egypt as a "country of particular concern" in terms of systematic violations of religious freedom.[2] In December 2011, Egyptian security forces prevented hundreds of Shias from observing Ashura religious celebrations in Cairo’s El-Hussein Mosque, a Shia holy site. Police forcibly removed the Shia worshippers from the mosque after Salafi groups accused them of performing barbaric rituals.[10]

In May 2012, Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb chaired a meeting with Islamist forces – including scholars, Muslim Brotherhood members and Salafists – at which they declared their total rejection of "attempts to spread Shiism in Egypt."[2]

On 23 June 2013, after months of wahhabi propaganda in the area, several hundred misguided Sunni Muslims attacked and surrounded the house of Shia cleric Hassan Shehata (an ex-Sunni) in the village of Abu Mussalam in Giza Province. The mob killed the cleric and three of his followers and dragged their bodies on the streets. The police did nothing to stop the attack.[11][13] Amnesty’s Deputy Director of Middle East Programs Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said on 25 June 2013, "The Egyptian authorities must immediately order an independent and impartial investigation into the killing of the four men, and send a clear message that carrying out attacks and inciting violence against Shiite Muslims will not be tolerated."[14]


  1. Ahmed Ateyya (April 18, 2013). "Egyptian Shias keep low profile in face of defamation". Cairo. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Zeinab El-Gundy (18 Mar 2013). "The Shias: Egypt's forgotten Muslim minority". Ahram Online. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  3. Asma Afsaruddin. "THE INFLUENCE OF THE SHI'A ON ISLAM". University of Notre Dame. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  4. Delia Cortese. "Upper Egypt: a 'Shia' powerhouse in the Fatimid period?" (PDF). p. 1.
  5. "HISTORY OF AL-AZHAR". Retrieved 2 August 2014.
  6. Cyril Glassé (2003). The New Encyclopedia of Islam (illustrated, revised ed.). Rowman Altamira. p. 226. ISBN 9780759101906.
  7. Emanuelle Degli Esposti (3 July 2012). "The plight of Egypt's forgotten Shia minority". New Statesman. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  8. Ayat Al-Tawy (24 Jun 2013). "Egypt's Islamists under fire over Shia mob killings". Ahram Online. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  9. Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah (September 23, 2012). "Egypt's Shiite Minority: Between the Egyptian Hammer and the Iranian Anvil". JCPA.
  10. 1 2 Cam McGrath (Apr 26, 2013). "Spring Brings Worse for Shias". Cairo. Inter Press Service News Agency. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  11. 1 2 Tim Marshall (25 June 2013). "Egypt: Attack On Shia Comes At Dangerous Time". Sky News. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  12. Whitaker, Brian (31 July 2007). "A green light to oppression". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  13. "Egypt mob attack kills four Shia Muslims near Cairo". BBC News. 24 June 2013. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  14. "Egypt Shia community condemns killing of cleric, followers". Press TV. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
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