The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Handy factbox on Sunni/Shia divide

Click "more" for a nice breakdown of Sunni and Shia populations across the region, by Reuters. I do think they made a mistake in saying the worldwide population of Muslims will "double by 2010." Surely we don't breed that fast.

FACTBOX-Sunni/Shi'ite divide
Reuters 30.01.07 | 08h12

Jan 30 (Reuters) - Most Shi'ite Muslims across the Middle East mark on Tuesday the climax of the Ashura religious festival, which has been politicised by sectarian violence in Iraq and Lebanon.

In Kerbala, 70 km (40 miles) north of Najaf, up to 1.5 millions pilgrims gathered to mark Ashura -- the death in battle of Mohammad's grandson in 680, which confirmed the split in Islam between rival claimants to the Prophet's succession.

Here are details of comparative numbers of Sunnis and Shi'ite believers.


-- The majority of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide (projected almost to double by 2010) follow the Sunni branch of Islam with 10-15 percent following the Shi'ite branch.

-- Shi'ite populations constitute a majority in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Azerbaijan.

-- There are also significant Shi'ite populations in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen.


AFGHANISTAN: Population: At least 30 million: Muslims make up 99 percent of the population (80 percent Sunni, 19 percent Shi'ite).

AZERBAIJAN: Population: 8 million: Islam is the main religion of whom around 90 percent are Shi'ite. There are small Orthodox Russian and Orthodox Armenian minorities.

IRAN: Population: 70 million. The Shi'ite sect of Islam predominates (89 percent), with some Sunni Muslims (9 percent). There are also Baha'i, Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian minorities.

IRAQ: Population: 26 million: Although Shi'ites are the minority sect of Islam, they form some 60 percent of Iraq's population and have dominated the government following the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

KUWAIT: Population: 2.7 million of whom around 1 million are actually Kuwaitis. In Kuwait sectarian difference is less a politically charged issue, since Shi'ites -- who form one third of the 1 million -- occupy an affluent place in society.

LEBANON: Population: 4.2 million: Muslims make up just over 65 percent of the population, slightly over half of whom are Shi'ites (33 percent). Sunni Muslims make up 27 percent. There is a large Christian population.

SAUDI ARABIA: Population: 24 million including around 7 million foreign workers. Most Saudi citizens belong to the austere Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam (around 90 percent). A sizeable Shi'ite Muslim minority (10 percent) lives mainly in the large oil-producing Eastern Province.

SYRIA: Population: 19.5 million: Mainly Sunni Muslim (74 percent) and also (16 percent) Alawites, Shi'ite and Ismailis. There are minority Christian denominations.

TURKEY: Population: 73 million: mainly Muslim (80 percent Sunni and 20 percent Shi'ite, including the non-orthodox Alevi). There is a very small Christian minority.

YEMEN: Population: 19 million: Sunni Muslims make up most of Yemen's population while Shi'ite Muslims account for about 15 percent of the population.

Sources: Reuters/Reuters Alertnet ( of Congress/Congressional Research Service.