Shiite Muslims Gain Foothold in America

Building their own mosques and becoming financially strong, Shiite Muslims are gaining a foothold in the United States, finding a full freedom to practice their religious rituals.

“They came here as refugees because they could not practice their religion,” Muthanna Waili, whose family came to the United States in 1985 from Kuwait, told The Washington Post.

“They couldn’t find mosques that would let them pray the way they wanted to pray.”

Waili, 39, argues that Shiites find discrimination while praying in mosques dominated by Sunni Muslims.

“I’ve personally had people label me as a kafir, an infidel. People look at you like you’re trying to change the traditional way,” he said.

Shiites, a sect of Islam, use a biscuit-sized stone or pierce of dried mud to place their forehead while praying.

But this practice is seen by the majority of Muslims as a deviation from the Islamic teachings.

“Some Muslims don’t like other Muslims praying on the rock,” said Sayed Mohammad Jawad Al-Qazwini, who fled Iran to the United States with his family 16 years ago.

“It’s happened to me at least 50 times in Saudi Arabia. They see the rock, they take it away and say that it’s shirk, polytheism.”

High numbers of Shiites have immigrated to the United States following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Differences between Shiites and Sunnis, however, were little noticed as members of the two sects prayed at the same mosques.

This was attributed to many reasons, including the high costs of building mosques.

“There weren’t enough of either to justify the cost of building sectarian mosques, and because in general, early generation immigrants were less focused on establishing formal houses of worship,” said Andrea Stanton, a religious studies professor at the University of Denver.

American Muslims, Sunnis and Shiites, are estimated between six to seven million.


But many Shiite Muslims say that while US mosques profess to be open to any and all Muslims, they tend to be Sunni in practice.

Therefore, Shiites began to build their own mosques, particularly that they became financially strong.

A recent survey about mosques in the United States found that %7 of mosques in the country are Shiites.

“The American Mosque 2011” poll also found that most of the Shiite mosques have been built in the last 20 years.

The survey also showed that %44 of Shiite mosques in the United States opened in the 1990s.

However, divisions among Shiites themselves prevent them from consolidating their position.

“We’re also struggling with internal separation,” said Waili, who helped build the Iman Islamic Center in 2006.

“The center started very strong, but it has slowed down because of the friction within the community.”

Shiites also say that they are open to improve relations with Sunnis.

“We’re good at interfaith work but not intra-faith work,” said Al-Qazwini.

“The most important thing is to educate the entire Muslim community about the different sects of Islam.”