Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Sunni-Shiite split

The Quiz -

Islam's Sunni-Shiite split

A look at the historic divide within the Muslim world

Dan Murphy Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
To the outsider, the differences between the Sunni and Shiite Islamic sects are hard to recognize.
The five pillars of Islam – daily prayer; fasting during Ramadan; alms giving; the pilgrimage to Mecca; and belief in one, unitary god – are at the core of both faiths, and most mainstream clerics in each denomination recognize adherents of the other side as "legitimate" Muslims.

The Koran is the sacred text for both. They believe Muhammad was the prophet and that there will be a resurrection followed by a final judgment when the world ends.

Adding to the potential confusion is the insistence of many Muslims not to be identified as Shiite or Sunni, saying they are Muslims and Muslims only.

But, as recent events in Iraq and Lebanon have shown, the differences between the believers are not only seen as important by the communities but now, as they have for centuries, rest at the core of bloody political struggles.

While there are superficial differences between the sects – differences in prayer and carrying out ritual ablutions, for instance – the arena of conflict between the two has long been political.
The split between the two main branches of Islam is nearly 1,400 years old, and started with a fight over who should lead the faithful after the prophet Muhammad's death in 632. One side believed that direct descendants of the prophet should take up the mantle of the caliph – the leader of the world's faithful. They were known as the Shiat-Ali, or "partisans of Ali," after the prophet's cousin and son-in-law Ali, whom they favored to become caliph. In time, they came simply to be known as Shiites.
The other side, the Sunnis, thought that any worthy man could lead the faithful, regardless of lineage, and favored Abu Bakr, an early convert to Islam who had married into Muhammad's family. "Sunni" is derived from the Arab word for "followers" and is shorthand for "followers of the prophet."
The Shiites were the eventual losers in a violent struggle for mastery that lasted decades, a fact now reflected in their minority status within global Islam.

But while the civil war now raging between Shiite and Sunni in Iraq is sometimes cast as an extension of this age-old religious struggle, today's conflict is about something slightly different.

While religious differences are real and remain important, the breakdown over Shiite and Sunni in Iraq is about group identity as much as it is about disagreements over proper worship.

In Iraq, many Sunnis and Shiites who are not particularly devout are participating in the bloodshed, fighting to advance group interests.

"I think that Sunni and Shiite group identifiers have become more important in a lot of ways that are not essentially religious,'' says Barbara Petzen, an expert at Harvard University's Middle Eastern Studies Center.

Nevertheless, there are some key religious differences. Shiite veneration of the holy family, that is, the descendants of Muhammad, has contributed to a much more centralized and hierarchical clergy than in the Sunni world.

All religious Shiites nominally observe the advice of an ayatollah on how to follow the law of Islam, or sharia, in the modern context. For many in Iraq, this role is fulfilled by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Sunni Islam is much less centralized. In this respect, the differences between Sunni and Shiite Islam superficially approach the differences between the Roman Catholic Church and most Protestant denominations.

Though a majority in Iran and Iraq, Shiites make up just 15 percent of the world's Muslims. Their history of defeat and frequent subjugation has also led to a cult of death and martyrdom within Shiism.

The major Shiite holidays celebrate the glorious defeats and martyrdoms of Imam Ali and Imam Hussein, Ali's son, as typified by the preeminent Shiite holiday of Ashura, which marks the slaughter of Hussein and his followers outside the Iraqi city of Karbala by a Sunni caliph in 680.

In Iraq and Iran, the holiday is marked by elaborate processions of men reenacting their own passion play, many of whom self-flagellate with chains to the beat of drums.

Such expressions of piety are looked at with disgust by hard-line Sunnis like the clergy in Saudi Arabia, who view the veneration of Hussein and other members of the prophet's family as a violation of monotheism. This view has frequently led extremist groups like Al Qaeda to attack Shiites as heretics.

The fact that Shiites have long been oppressed – first under the Ottoman Empire, later under states like Iraq and Saudi Arabia – has led to a strong identification with the injustices suffered by Hussein, and have lent a political dimension to Shiite worship. Ashura celebrations, for instance, were banned under Saddam Hussein, who feared they could lead to spontaneous uprisings.

One of the most important distinctions between Shiite and Sunni belief is veneration of the imams.
Most Shiites believe that there were 12 legitimate successors to Muhammad as caliph, and that the final imam, now called the Mahdi, disappeared when he was taken up in the arms of God. Many Shiites believe the Mahdi will return to earth one day and play the role of savior. A battle between the forces of good and evil will ensue, ending in a thousand-year reign of peace and the end of the world.

In practice, this leads to occasionally apocalyptic rhetoric from leaders like Iraq's Moqtada al-Sadr and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

• Staff writer Matt Bradley contributed reporting.


  1. Islam is the way of life.
    There is no sect in Islam and nobody in Islam would accept that there is any division in Islam.
    There is no God but God(ALLAH)Muhammed is the last messenger of God and whoever accepts Kalima is in Islam .
    Islam teach us peace.``Lakum thenukum valliyadeen``



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quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.

Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”

God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.

We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration ( held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.

Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.

As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.

We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.

We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.

We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.

Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.

Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.

We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.


Thank you.


The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.