MONA MOHAMMED FOUAD is a rarity in Egypt: Her mother is an Iranian Shiite, her father an Egyptian Sunni. She considers herself Sunni.
"People are always surprised and shocked" when they find out her mother is Shiite, said Fouad, 23, who works for a digital marketing company. "But usually as soon as they know, they are very interested and they ask me many questions."
Fouad said her sister has heard work colleagues criticizing Shiites. In her fiance's office they distributed leaflets "telling people to beware of Shiite indoctrination," she added.
"People should read about Shiism. We make fun of foreigners who believe all Muslims are terrorists and we say they are ignorant, but we do the same thing to ourselves," Fouad said. "There is a difference in interpretation, a difference in opinion, but at the end of the day, we believe in the same things."
She told her Sunni fiance from the start that her mother is Shiite. "I told him to tell his family, so if they have any problem with that, we end it immediately."
ANAS AQEEL, a 23-year-old Salafi, spent the first 18 years of his life in Saudi Arabia, where he would sometimes encounter Shiites. "We didn't ever argue over faith. But they alienated me," he said.
"I once saw a Shiite in Saudi Arabia speaking ill of one of the companions of the prophet near his tomb. That one I had to clash with and expel him from the place," Aqeel said.
He worries about Shiites spreading their faith. While he said not all Shiites are alike, he added that "some of them deviate in the Quran and speak badly of the prophet's companions. If someone is wrong and ... he insists on his wrong concept, then we cannot call him a Muslim."
Palestinian Muslims are also almost all Sunnis. Their main connection to the Shiite world has Hamas' alliance with Iran. But those ties were strained when Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, broke its connections with Syria because of the civil war.
AHMED MESLEH, a 28-year-old blogger from the West Bank town of Ramallah, says he met Shiites on a trip to Lebanon and encounters them via Facebook. But some have de-friended him because of his online comments.
"If we take Shiites from a religious point of view, then we can describe Shiites as a sect that has gone astray from the true doctrine of Islam. I consider them a bigger threat to Muslims and Islam than Jews and Israel," Mesleh said.
He cited the Shiites' processions mourning Hussein's death, saying: "The way they whip themselves, it's irrational."
The Middle East conflict "is in its core a religious conflict. The Shiites want to destroy Islam. In Lebanon, they are the ones controlling the situation, and the ones who are causing the sectarian conflict."
ISMAIL AL-HAMAMI, a 67-year-old Palestinian refugee in Gaza's Shati camp, said politics not religion is driving sectarian tensions.
"In Gaza, Iran used to support the resistance with weapons. Now they support Assad. ... In Iraq, they (Shiites) executed Saddam Hussein, who was a Sunni, and they took over the country with the help of the Americans. Now they are working against America in Iran and Syria."
"So is that related to religion? It's all about politics."
The beneficiaries of sectarianism, he said, are "those who want to sell arms to both sides ... those who want to keep Arab and Muslim countries living in the dark. The beneficiaries are the occupation (Israel) and the people who sell us religious slogans."
"God knows who is right or wrong."
AP correspondents Adam Schreck and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad, Barbara Surk and Zeina Karam in Beirut, Dalia Nammari in Ramallah and Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Tony G. Gabriel and Mariam Rizk in Cairo and Nasser Karimi in Tehran contributed to this report.
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