With Iran-Backed Conversions, Shiites Gain Ground in Africa

(Wall Street Journal) Yaroslav Trofimov - Not long ago, the few Shiites who could be found in Africa belonged to immigrant communities from Lebanon or the Indian subcontinent. Now, parts of the continent's Sunni Muslim heartland are living through the biggest wave of Sunni-to-Shiite conversions since many Sunni tribes of southern Iraq adopted Shiism in the 19th century. In Nigeria, 12% of the 90 million Muslims have identified themselves as Shiite in a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, up from virtually zero in 1980. The number is 21% for the Muslims of Chad, 20% for Tanzania, and 8% for Ghana. "West African Shiites are of symbolic value to Iran, for it to be able to say that its vision of Islam is expanding rather than shrinking," said Vali Nasr, dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. The Shiite wave in Africa kicked off with Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979. The vast majority of Sunni Muslims in Nigeria and other countries of sub-Saharan Africa follow the mystical Sufi tradition that abhors the kind of radicalism spread by Boko Haram or the ultraconservative Islam promoted by Saudi Arabia. But Sufi leaders are increasingly worried by the Shiite penetration.

2016-05-13 00:00:00

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