Centuries-old schism began in blood and the old wounds refuse to heal
By Faisal Hanif. THE TIMES Friday August 14th
The Shia-Sunni debate is far older than anything remotely comparable in western history. The original schism concerned the question of who would succeed the Prophet Muhammad in 632AD. A majority opted for Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, his companion and closest associate, who became the first caliph, or head of the Muslim community. A smaller group chose Ali ibn-Talib, the son-in-law of the Prophet. This minority became known as the “Shia”, or followers of Ali. Their descendants make up 10 to 15 per cent of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world today.
In Britain there are about 3 million Muslims. An estimated 2.3 million are Sunni, while about 300,000 are Shia, according to conservative estimates – 5 per cent of the Islamic population. The remainder identify with other minority Muslim groups.
The original disagreement descended into civil war during the reign of Ali ibn-Talib, who finally ascended to become the fourth caliph in 656AD. He was attacked and wounded while praying in the Great Mosque of Kufa in Iraq, dying two days later. His son, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, would meet a more brutal fate on the plains around the Iraqi city of Karbala in 680AD. Hussain ibn-Ali was beheaded after he refused to pledge allegiance to the later caliph.
The killers of both father and son were from a group called the khawarij. Many scholars from Sunni and Shia traditions consider them precursors to the modern-day jihadist groups including al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Shia Muslims view those terrorist groups as an inevitable side-effect of the dogmatism of Sunni Islam, which has given rise to the ultra-strict Wahhabi doctrine prevalent across Saudi Arabia.
Shia Islam elevated the Prophet’s family, his daughter Fatima and son-in-law Ali ibn-Talib to sacred status. Sunni Islam also holds the Prophet’s family in high esteem but differs significantly through its reverence for all the companions of the Prophet, including the first two caliphs and their families, whom many Shia reject.
In comparison with the religious wars of Europe, Shia and Sunni Muslims have enjoyed cordial relations in the past, at least on the surface. They co-existed and grew side by side down the centuries. The splits that emerged had as much to do with political power as religious difference, however, and tension has never been far below the surface.
Sunni Islam kept khawarij ideology in check until the rise of Wahhabi Islam in the 18th century and the establishment of its political power base within the modern Saudi state in the 20th century. Saudi petro-dollars have helped to finance – and influence – Sunni literature, mosques and madrassas across the world, including the UK, and have had a major effect on the thinking of ordinary Muslims. According to the American Pew Research Centre, 40 per cent of Sunnis believe that the Shia are not proper Muslims.
From the modern-day bastion of Iran, which has led the Shia world since the 1979 revolution, to Damascus and Beirut, Shia Muslims have united to counter what they see as Sunni aggression. With the establishment of modern nation states, Shia have formed majorities in several countries including Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Bahrain. Lebanon is more than a quarter Shia and sizeable communities exist in Pakistan, Yemen, Kuwait and Afghanistan, among others.
Sunni Islam, meanwhile, has come to dominate most of the Gulf Arab states. From Turkey in the west to Indonesia and Malaysia in the east, it is also the predominant branch of Islam in the Indian subcontinent and Africa. END:
The article was taken from THE TIMES, which was part of a larger piece covering sectarian tensions within the Muslim community. Divisions within such communities are common throughout the UK, which has led to hate crimes in the shape of abuse, violence, and ‘hate’ graffiti appearing on mosques of either faction. Though we are ‘led to believe’ that such hate crime is low! ‘The divisions are increasingly reflected on university campuses where Sunnis run Islamic societies, and Shia students set up their own societies.’ And now you are aware of the same, as it is rarely reported within the media… Yours_Aye.