There are an estimated 1.57 billion Muslims in the world according to 2010 figure. They are divided into two main sects–Sunnis and Shias. Sunnis are in majority and although exact estimates are difficult to gather. They may be accounting for three-fourths of the total world Muslim population. Shias are in a majority in Iran (over 90 per cent), Iraq (around 60 per cent), Bahrain (60 per cent here as well) and they are in large numbers in several other countries, including Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, UAE, Yemen, Kuwait, Oman, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, among others.
In Syria, Alawite Shias are though a minority and Sunnis are in majority, they have been ruling. Bashar Al Assad is an Alawite Shia. In Iraq, Shias are in a majority but Saddam Hussain, a Sunni, ruled for decades and persecuted Shias. Of an estimated 32 million Iraqis, 55 per cent are Shias and the remaining are Sunnis and Kurds. There are Christians also in Iraq but they are in small number. Former Iraqi vice president Tariq Aziz (Saddam’s confidante) was a Catholic. By the way, Saddam was a socialist and was a staunch supporter of India in the Arab world. But that’s not the point and not a subject of our analysis here.
The world’s Muslim population can also be divided into Arabs and non-Arabs. Total Arab population is roughly 363 million (Egypt is the largest Arab country with 80 million people). Shias may be accounting for a fourth (25 per cent) of the Arabs. Some four per cent Arabs are Christians (majority are in Egypt) while few are Jews and the only Arab Hindus we find in Oman. They freely practice their religion and are Indian origin. They are very few in number. Most famous Hindu Omanis family are Ramadas and the Tharias. Khimji Ramdas Group is Oman’s most famous business house. Talking of world Muslims, some 85 per cent of them live outside the Arab world. Although, Iran is in the Middle East, Iranians are non-Arabs. They speak Persian and follow Persian culture. They are of Aryan race and their language is derived from the same source as Sanskrit. The Iranians were Zoroastrians before converting to Islam centuries ago and those were not converted they migrate to India.
A cold war is always on between Iran and the Arabs. Most Arab Shias support Iran. Lebanon’s organisation of Shias (Hezbollah) led by Syed Hasan Nasrullah is a staunch supporter of Iran and Bashar Al Assad of Syria. Iran is supposed to be the leader of the Shias of the world, while it is generally believed that Saudi Arabia is the leader of (Wahabis). Sunnis are also ignore by Saudi Arab. Sufi Muslims of India are Sunnis and as a group they are in a vast majority in the Indian Muslim community, but Saudi Arabia doesn’t acknowledge them and their importance much due to their Hindu ancestry, ways and lifestyle.
After the fall of Saddam Hussain following the US invasion in 2003, Iraq has come to be ruled by Shia majority. Sunnis have been feeling left out and Al Qaeda, the Wahabis militant group, has been taking advantage of this and operating there with support from sections of disgruntled Sunnis. Sunnis with the help of Wahabis (Takfiris) rose in rebellion in the neighbouring Syria against what some say is the Shia rule of Al Assad more than three years ago. As we know, the rebellion in Syria was launched as part of Arab Spring which actually sprouted in Tunisia in December of 2010 when a poor vendor put himself ablaze in the capital city of Tunis and died, blaming the government for its indifference to his woes.
The rebel groups in Syria have received funding from some rich Arab countries, it is alleged by Damascus.
During the three years of rebellion in Syria, much of which is crushed now, an offshoot of Al Qaeda has emerged. It is called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It has ambitions to control Syria and Iraq, “reclaiming these countries from Shias.” This group is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
It has control over large territories in eastern parts of Syria (and now also western and central Iraq). It is led by an obscure Iraqi Al Qaeda operator known as Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. Fighters of this group have in the past few days come to control several cities in Sunni-dominated areas in Iraq. Sunnis are mostly concentrated in central parts of Iraq while Kurds have their autonomous region in the north. They were part of Iraq during Saddam’s time. ISIS fighters have taken control of Mosul, an important city in the north. It is the second largest city after Baghdad and the hub of Iraq’s vibrant oil industry. Saddam Hussain’s home town of Tikrit is also in control of the ISIS now, as also Fallujah. After controlling territories in the western and central parts of Iraq, the ISIS militants are moving into the Shia-dominated South. The most famous city in the deep South is Basra. Fighting has already spread to Samarra in the South.
The danger is that the ISIS may take all the cash from the banks in Mosul, a rich city, and make use of it for militant purposes and continue its fight in Iraq and destabilise the country and the region as a whole. South of Iraq, as we know, is geographically very close to the Arab Gulf countries of Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Oman, region are so crucial to world energy supplies. Another danger is that Iran and Hezbollah of Lebanon might interfere in Iraq directly or indirectly to support its Shia regime led by Nouri Al Maliki against the ISIS fighters. This may escalate violence in Iraq and put the entire Middle East region at risk. Millions of Indian expatriates and businessmen are based in the region. Plus, a volatile Middle East is sure to push global oil prices up and this could be a bad omen for the Narendra Modi government which has come to power less than a month ago promising a tough fight against price rise. And diesel, as we know, is the mother of all ills that is responsible for price rise.