Shiites on the rise in Sunni Gaza, Sunnis on the rise in Shiite Iran


The number of Shiites is increasing in the Gaza Strip, which has a majority of Sunni population, an Iranian website reported last week. Iran, on the other hand, is irritated by a notable rise in the number of Sunnis in the Iranian southwestern province of Khuzestan, whose population has a majority of Arabs.

The conservative Asr Iran (Iran Age) Website reported that a large number of Palestinians in Gaza have converted to the Shiite doctrine within the past few years, although the enclave is controlled by the Sunni Islamist Hamas rulers.

A similar report by Agence-France Press said that a large number of Gazans have converted to the Shiite doctrine within the past few years, signaling a clear sign of an increase in the Iranian influence among the Palestinians.

Arab states accuse Iran of inciting hatred and igniting sectarian tensions among their peoples.

Hamas rulers, meanwhile, are obliged to deal with the converters carefully, in order not to jeopardize their relationship with their closest ally Tehran.

Abdul Rahim Hamad, a converted Shiite who lives in Jabalia refugee camp, told AFP that he converted to the Shiite doctrine five years ago. He said that the increase in the number of Shiites in Gaza was “due to the influence of Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah in the region.”

“We are now hundreds in Gaza. We will start our political activities soon. Palestinian Shiites will play an important role in controlling this region in the future,” he was quoted as saying by AFP.

Ahmed Youssef, adviser of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haneya, denied any increase in the number of Shiites in Gaza, but he added that the Palestinians “love Iran and Hezbollah.”

However, security sources from the Gaza Strip said that police forces last Thursday shut down the premises of the Shiite “al-Baqeyat al-Salehat” society, which is located in northern Gaza.

“We were surprised today by the shutdown of the society premises and all its affiliated utilities including its sports track, the Quran reciting class and the youth center,” Hisham Salem, the society chairman, told the Palestinian MAAN news agency.

He said that “al-Baqeyat al-Salehat” was a charitable society that was given the municipal license four years ago.

“The society receives funds from several foreign states, including Iran,” he said.

Iran, on the other hand, is irritated by the spread of the Sunni doctrine in the Khuzestan province–also known as Arabstan or Ahvaz–which has a majority of Arab population.

Some Arab inhabitants of the province believe that conversion to the Sunni doctrine might end their only link to Iran. Others believe that the Ahvaz problem is a national problem that would never be solved through conversion from one sect to the other.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a visit to Khuzestan in 2010, hinted to the quick spread of the Sunni doctrine among the Arabs in the province.

Iranian cleric Mohammed Jawad Adel also warned against the notable rise in the number of Sunnis in Iran, especially on the border areas, describing it as a “very serious issue” and urged the Iranian authorities to strongly confront what he called the “Sunni missionary.”

(Saud al-Zahed of Al Arabiya can be reached via email at: [email protected]; Abeer Tayel, also of Al Arabiya, translated the article from Arabic. She can be reached at: [email protected])