WASHINGTON: The recent events in Iran and Iraq have shed light on the Shia religious group. A trend that has especially been highlighted is the interchangeable use of the term “Shia” with geopolitical terms like, “Iran,” or “Iranian”. Shia Muslims make up the largest international minority group with constituents all over the world.
From India to Singapore and from Spain to the Americas, Shia Islam has a rich history. Elements of the Shia faith have been discovered among the Vikings in the Netherlands and even the art of the Indigenous Americans.
The merging of political and religious identity is a worrisome development in the past few years.
The Arabian Gulf region as an example.
Shia Muslims in the Gulf became increasingly prominent in the media after the Arab Spring. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain erupted in controlled social unrest as Shia Muslims took to the streets in demand of equal rights to their non-Shia counterparts.
Contrary to Arab Spring developments in other countries in the region, efforts of the Shia in the Gulf went unrecognized by the world. One reason was that the unrest in the Gulf was perceived to be based on religious identity. More importantly, it was perceived to be based on a religious identity the media associated with the political entity of Iran.
So, in order to quell an increase in Iranian political influence in the region, the world ignored the cries for human rights in the Gulf.
The false association of Shia Muslims with Iranian politics undermined a legitimate struggle for dignity and equal rights even after numerous public denouncements of political ties by grassroots organizations.
With the recent prominence of the Islamic Republic in the global news coverage a need to re-evaluate associations is needed.
The United States is fueling this falsehood as well.
By introducing an infinite faith and religion, the administration is limiting the religion to one country and ignoring the rest of the world. Shia Muslims have been part of their national societies and have played a huge role in their country in citizenship development.
Ignoring the fact that the Shia Muslims are loyal to their country and accusing them of being Iranian sleeping cells, as mentioned in many media outlets, is jeopardizing the safety and well being of Shia Muslims all around the world.
Shia Muslims exist as active and loyal citizens of different countries. They are diverse in political and ethnic identities, and to mis-conceptualize, an infinite religion to a finite geopolitical group is a violation of rights. To generalize millions of people with a singular political identity undermines the diversity the religion holds so dear.
Moreover, it establishes a cause for political marginalization. And frankly, associating Shia with Iran is counterproductive. By isolating Shia Muslims through labels of foreign political entities, it becomes an opportunity for Iran to swoop in and happily claim authority over them.
Associating Shia Muslims with Iran is unproductive and harmful. It degrades national loyalties and misconstrues the identity of millions of Shia individuals. It’s time the international community separated the two identities and began accepting Shia Muslims as an independent, multi-national religious group.