The second Article of Yemen’s Constitution stipulates that Islam is the state religion, and Muslims in Yemen make up almost 99% of the population, representing 1.5% of the world’s Muslims. They are divided into two main groups, Shafi’i Sunnis and Zaidi Shiites. Shafi’is make up about 60-70% of the population, compared to 30-40% for Zaydis.
As the Islamic Sharia is the main source of legislation, the Personal Status Law and minority rights are subject to the interpretations of Sharia. The Constitution requires a House of Representative member to support religious obligations, while Islam’s requirement for the conditions of presidential candidate is clear.
Minority Groups in Yemen
According to the population of the Republic of Yemen, minorities don’t exceed 0.5% of the total population, including a religious minority of Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Baha’is, then sectarian groups represented by Ismailis, and ethnic minorities such as Indians, Somalis, Turks, and others.
Jews are the only non-Muslim minority of the country’s indigenous people. There are many historical and religious stories about Jews’ presence in Yemen. However, about 40,000 Yemeni Jews were moved to Palestine in 1948 in a process known as Operation Flying Carpet, aided by imams in Sana’a. Only a few of them remained in the Raida area.
During the war between the state and the Houthis, a conflict occurred between Jews and other Yemenis, which led to the departure of about 200 Jews to the tourist city in Sana’a, owned by the state and supported by some organizations abroad.
The Jews of Yemen are known as the most skilled goldsmiths and makers of daggers and other kinds of handcrafts. Currently, Rabbi Yahya Yusuf Musa heads their sect.
In Sana’a there aren’t any churches, which make Christians worship in their private homes. However, there are four churches in Aden province for Christians, most of whom are foreigners.
The Church of Christ located in Tawahi city was established during the British era in Aden in the middle of the last century. It includes a medical center that provides health services. Also, the Baptist Church in Crater city in (Aden) has turned into a government facility.
There are only about 150 Baha’is in Yemen.
The Ismailis are considered one of the largest minorities in Yemen, and include al-Makarem and Bohra sects. There are about 15,000 people, representing 0.05% of the total population of Yemen. There are many stories about the first emergence of Ismailis. Some say that they belong to Imam Ali bin Fadl, while others believed that they came from the Fatimis in Egypt.
Ismailil is a Shiite Islamic sect with its main presidency headquarters in India where it gained its name Bohra which means “the trader” in Hindi and indicates the sect’s activities in trading.
The sect focuses on religious and charitable issues and avoids political conflicts. Most Ismailis live in India, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Egypt.
Now, the sect is headed by Mufaddal Saifuddin, the 52nd claimant. They have settled on the Haraz Mountains in al-Hutaib village as well as in Ibb.
In Sana’a, there is a big Ismaili mosque called al-Fayed al-Hatami. Recently, many Baha’is have aimed to settle in Sana’a near their mosque.
During the British colonial era, Indians were the largest community in Aden. However, according to French researcher Louis Simonan, the presence of Indians in Aden comes a result of their business and trade.
The stability of Indians among Adenies was reflected in the social life there, where people in Aden eat, wear, and listen to Indian music. Over time, the Indian minority dwindled but their influence remains.
It is generally agreed that Islam entered Somalia and most of Africa and Southeast Asia states through Yemen. The relationship of Somalia and Yemen has increased with approaching Mogadishu from Sana’a.
Most of the Somali community lives in Aden as a result of trading, and there are still some Somali words used by people in Aden.
According to historians, the Ottoman Empire has invaded Yemen three times since 1538. The last was in the First World War in 1918 where they were defeated.
Despite most Turks leaving Yemen after their defeat, some preferred to settle in Sana’a where their impact is still seen today in al-Bakeereya mosque and Turkish schools.