Two years ago, when Islamist death squads searched out non-Muslim victims, it was sufficient to fake being a Muslim, as I pointed out in "[Khobar Rampage:] 'Don't Be Afraid, We Won't Kill Muslims'," where I even provided the two texts that need to be memorized. Though usually not successful, I documented one case, that of Scott Taylor, when this ruse did work and saved his life.
That was then. Not only does that danger continue, but now Shi'ite death squads in Iraq are specifically targeting Sunnis, compelling the latter to pretend to be the former. Here are James Hider and Ali al-Hamdani writing on the subject in the Times (London). "Across [Baghdad] nervous Sunnis are learning to dissemble to avoid the killers, who are often dressed in police uniforms and set up checkpoints to examine people's identity cards for obviously Sunni names. Many Sunnis have invested in forged ID cards. There is a website dedicated to teaching them how to fake it. … The teaching is not straightforward, and the doctrinal differences are often profound."
Most interesting are the tips on being Shi'i a provided on a Sunni website, the Iraqi League (with typos fixed and slight edits to the Times spellings):
Practise imitating another personality and have an ID with another name (you can get these forged IDs from Muraydi market in Sadr city), especially if your name was 'Umar or 'Uthman and if your family name was Dulaymi or Janabi, or if your birthplace was in one of the Sunni-majority cities
Memorise the names of the 12 imams
Learn to pray in the Shia way and carry turba [Shia holy clay] in your pocket.
Keep a turba in your house where it can be seen, and put up if necessary a black or a green banner on the roof
Keep a poster in your house of Imam Hussein. You can buy them in Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad
Keep a copy of the Sajadi newspaper [a Shia paper that has Shia prayers] and read some of the prayers, some of them are touchingly beautiful
Keep a latmiya [Shia song] on your mobile phone
Learn how to curse Yazid and Mu'awiya and Bani Umayya [early Sunni caliphs hated by the Shias] and in the way the Shias do
Wear or keep black clothes in your house, especially in ceremonies that demand it
Learn about the different Shia ceremonies (the death of the imams, their birth and the joy of Zahra)
Pray in a Husseiniya or a Shia mosque. Remember that Shia and Sunnis are not enemies, but there are misled, ignorant people and victims of evil plans who want to spread the breadth of hostility in Iraq
Oct. 9, 2006 update: The Daily Telegraph provides more on this subject at "Sunnis learn Shia customs to bluff Baghdad death squads," by Ahmad Ali and Oliver Poole.
June 24, 2014 update: The shoe is now very much on the other foot, what with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria maurading through Iraq and massacring Shi'is. Accordingly, Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times provides a timely outline, with replies, of how ISIS can tell Sunni from Shi'i:
- What is your name?
- Where do you live?
- How do you pray?
- What kind of music do you listen to?
Comment: Judging by this list and the one above on passing as a Shi'i, it's easier for Shi'is that for Sunnis to pass.