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“All human beings are born free and equal

in dignity and rights.”

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Religious Freedom for Shia Populations

Tuesday, June 26, 2018 - 3:00pm
2255 Rayburn House Office Building


Please join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for a briefing on religious freedom and human rights for Shia communities in Sunni countries.

Sunni and Shia, the two major divisions of Islam, split from one another in the seventh century over sources of religious authority, and quickly evolved into two distinct traditions. Though they agree on the basic precepts of Islam, they have different interpretations of Islamic law, history, and of their own religious identity.

The vast majority of Muslims worldwide are followers of Sunni Islam (85 percent), and many majority-Muslim countries have only a small Shia population. Unfortunately, in many cases where there is a Shiite minority, they are often treated as second-class citizens by Sunni populations and governments. In such countries, school text books, religious leaders, and government authorities often stigmatize the Shia as non-believers, restrict some of their rights, and at times incite citizens to violence against them. Discrimination against Shia communities is widespread from countries such as Nigeria and Egypt, to places like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Indonesia.

Panelists will offer insight into why the Shia are persecuted in Sunni countries – including key allies of the United States in the Middle East and South Asia – and discuss how this oppression takes the form of both political subjugation and a denial of the Shia’s freedom to practice their religion. Panelists will offer recommendations for how Congress can better pursue religious freedom policies for Shia communities, and how these policies can also serve to undermine Iran’s aggressive agenda in the world.

This briefing will be open to Members of Congress, congressional staff, the interested public, and the media. For any questions, please contact Kimberly Stanton at 202-225-3599 or (for Rep. McGovern) or Jamie Staley at 202-226-1516 or (for Rep. Hultgren).

Hosted by:

James P. McGovern, M.C.
Co-Chairman, TLHRC
Randy Hultgren, M.C.
Co-Chairman, TLHRC



  • Geneive Abdo, Fellow, Arabia Foundation
    Written statement
  • Mustafa Akhwand, Executive Director, Shia Rights Watch
    Written statement
  • Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director, Middle East and North Africa Division, Human Rights Watch
    Written statement
  • Dwight Bashir, Director of Research and Policy, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom


  • Kenneth Katzman, Specialist in Middle East Affairs, Congressional Research Service


115th Congress