1. By far, Iran has the largest population of Shia Muslims of any country
Most Shia Muslims (between 68% and 80%) live in four countries: Iran, Pakistan, India and Iraq, according to a Pew Research study. Of these countries, Iran has the largest Shia population 66 million to 70 million Shias, or 37-40% of the world’s total Shia population. Iraq, India and Pakistan each are home to at least 16 million Shias.
Iran is one of only four countries – Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Iraq – where Shia Muslims make up a majority of the total population.
Sizeable numbers of Shias (1 million or more) are found in Turkey, Yemen, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Nigeria and Tanzania. Shias constitute a relatively small percentage of the Muslim population elsewhere in the world. About 300,000 Shias are estimated to be living in North America, including both the U.S. and Canada, constituting about 10% of North America’s Muslim population.
2. Iran consistently ranks as one of the most religiously restrictive countries worldwide
- The constitution and other laws and policies do not protect religious freedom, and in practice, the government severely restricted religious freedom.
- The constitution declares the “official religion is Islam and the doctrine followed is that of Ja’afari (Twelver) Shiism.” The constitution states all laws and regulations must be based on undefined “Islamic criteria” and official interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law).
- There were increased reports of the government charging religious and ethnic minorities with moharebeh (enmity against God), “anti-Islamic propaganda,” or vague national security crimes for their religious activities.
- There continued to be reports of the government imprisoning, harassing, intimidating, and discriminating against people because of their religious beliefs.
- The government imposed legal restrictions on proselytizing and regularly arrests members of the Zoroastrian and Christian communities for practicing their religion.
- The government regularly vilified Judaism.
- The government considers Bahais to be apostates and defines the Bahai Faith as a “political sect.” The government prohibits Bahais from teaching and practicing their faith and subjects them to many forms of discrimination not faced by members of other religious groups.
- Government rhetoric and actions created a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shia religious groups, most notably for Bahais, as well as for Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, Jews, and Shia groups not sharing the government’s official religious views.
Bahai and Christian groups reported arbitrary arrests, prolonged detentions, and confiscation of property. Government-controlled broadcast and print media continued negative campaigns against religious minorities, particularly Bahais. All religious minorities suffered varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education, and housing.
3. Shia Muslims in Iran see themselves much freer than Sunni Muslims in Iran
In four of the five countries where substantial numbers of Shias and Sunnis were surveyed, most Muslims say they are very free to practice their faith. But only about half (48%) of all Muslims in Iraq – including 58% of Iraqi Shias and 42% of Iraqi Sunnis – describe themselves as very free to practice their religion.
Perhaps not surprisingly, in the other two countries surveyed where Shias are clearly in the majority – Iraq and Azerbaijan – Shias are much more likely than Sunnis to say they are very free to practice their faith.