Shu'ubiyyah (Arabic: الشعوبية) refers to the response by non-Arab Muslims to the privileged status of Arabs within the Ummah.


The name of the movement is derived from the Qur'anic use of the word for "nations" or "peoples", shu'ūb.[1] The verse (49:13) is often used by Muslims to counter prejudice and fighting among different people.

:يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوباً وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations (shu'ūb) and tribes (qabā'il), that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).[2]

Socio-political movements

The use of the word in the context of a movement existed before the 9th century. The Kharijites, an early splitoff sect from mainstream Islam, used it to mean extending equality between the shu'ub and the qaba'il to bring about equality among all followers of Islam. It was a direct response to the claims by the Quraysh of being privileged to lead the Ummah, or community of believers.

In Iran

Main article: Islamization of Iran

When used as a reference to a specific movement, the term refers to a response by Persian Muslims to the growing Arabization of Islam in the 9th and 10th centuries in Iran. It was primarily concerned with preserving Persian culture and protecting Persian identity.[3] The most notable effect of the movement was the survival of Persian language, the language of the Persians, to the present day. However, the movement never moved into apostasy and has its basis in the Islamic thought of equality of races and nations.

In the late 8th and early 9th centuries, there was a resurgence of Persian national identity. This came about after years of oppression by the Abbasid Caliphate. The movement left substantial records in the form of Persian literature and new forms of poetry. Most of those behind the movement were Persian, but references to Egyptians, Berbers and Arameans are attested.[4]

In Al-Andalus

Two centuries after the end of the Shu'ubiyyah movement in the east, another form of the movement came about in Islamic Spain and was controlled by Muladi (Iberian Muslims). It was fueled mainly by the Berbers, but included many European cultural groups as well including Galicians, Catalans (known by that time as Franks), Calabrians, and Basques. A notable example of Shu'ubi literature is the epistle (risala) of the Andalusian poet Ibn Gharsiya (Garcia).[5][6] According to the Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature, however, this epistle was merely of minor importance, and its few exponents tended to repeat clichés adopted from the earlier Islamic East, e.g., Iran.


In 1966, Sami Hanna and G.H. Gardner wrote an article "Al-Shu‘ubiyah Updated" in the Middle East Journal.[7] The Dutch university professor Leonard C. Biegel, in his 1972 book Minorities in the Middle East: Their significance as political factor in the Arab World, coined from the article of Hanna and Gardner the term Neo-Shu'ubiyah to name the modern attempts of alternative non-Arab and often non-Muslim nationalisms in the Middle East, e.g. Assyrian nationalism, Kurdish nationalism, Pharaonism, Phoenicianism, Syrian nationalism.[8] In a 1984 article, Daniel Dishon and Bruce Maddi-Weitzmann use the same neologism, Neo-Shu'ubiyya.[9]

Some of these groups; in particular the Kurds, Assyrians, Yezidis and Mandaeans, together with a very small number of Mhallami are not in actuality Arabs or Arabic speakers, and have been shown to have upheld a distinct identity both before and after the Arab-Islamic conquest of the Near East.

In a 2002 article, Ariel I. Ahram points out a similar modern meaning of the term shu'ubiya against Iraqi Shi'a Muslims, and more generally against Shi'a Islam[10]

Implicit throughout Saddam's rejection of "the Khomeini religion" was the accusation that any Iran-centered practice of Islam was shu‘ubiya—a term originally applied to non-Arab Muslims, mainly Persians, who resisted Arab claims to be the prime inheritors of the prophet. The Ba‘th sought to portray Khomeini and Iran as heirs of these early Islamic dissenters. Saddam then invited Iraqi Shi‘ites to divest themselves of their shu‘ubi tendencies and their reverence for Iranian religious leaders and return to the authentically Arab Islam.

See also


  1. Jamshidian Tehrani, Jafar (2014). Shu'ubiyya: Independence movements in Iran. ISBN 978-1500737306., p.3 preface
  2. Qur'an in Surah 49, verse 13.(translated by Yusuf Ali)
  3. Jamshidian Tehrani, Jafar (2014). Shu'ubiyya: Independence movements in Iran. ISBN 978-1500737306., p.49
  4. Enderwitz, S. "Shu'ubiyya". Encyclopedia of Islam. Vol. IX (1997), pp. 513-14.
  5. The Shu'ubiyya in al-Andalus. The risala of Ibn Garcia and five refutations (University of California Press 1970), translated with an introduction and notes by James T. Monroe.
  6. Diesenberger, Max; Richard Corradini; Helmut Reimitz (2003). The construction of communities in the early Middle Ages: texts, resources and artefacts. Brill. ISBN 90-04-11862-4., p.346
  7. Sami Hanna and G.H. Gardner, "Al-Shu‘ubiyah Updated", Middle East Journal, 20 (1966): 335-351
  8. Dutch: Leonard C. Biegel, Minderheden in Het Midden-Oosten: Hun Betekenis Als Politieke Factor in De Arabische Wereld, Van Loghum Slaterus, Deventer, 1972, ISBN 978-90-6001-219-2 e.g. p.250
  9. Daniel Dishon and Bruce Maddi-Weitzmann, "Inter-Arab issues", in: Israel Stockman-Shomron, ed. (1984). Israel, the Middle East, and the great powers. Transaction Publishers. p. 389. ISBN 978-965-287-000-1. Retrieved 2009-11-24. e.g. p.279
  10. Ahram, Ariel I. (Spring 2002). "Iraq and Syria: The Dilemma of Dynasty". Middle East Quarterly. IX (2).


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