Short Lesson on the Shiites and the Sunnis

Sunnis

Shiites

Largest denomination by far, around 85%

Only around 10-15% of all Muslims

Found throughout the world

Found mainly in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon

Believe that Mohammed’s first four successors (caliphs) are the rightful leaders of all Muslims

Believe that the fourth caliph is the only rightful leader of all Muslims

Abu Bakr was chosen as caliph in 632 after Mohammed’s death

Ali ibn Abi Talib was chosen as caliph in 632 after Mohammed’s death

The Mahdi (think: supreme leader) has yet to arrive

The Mahdi has already arrived

Al Qaeda is predominantly Sunni

Hezbollah is predominately Shiite

Follow elected leaders (scholars and jurists)

Follow imams (formal clergy) rather than elected leaders

Do not venerate saints

Venerate deceased imams as saints

Similar in hierarchical structure to Protestantism

Similar in hierarchical structure to Catholicism

Tend to be more fundamental than Shiites

Tend to be less fundamental than Sunnis

Have had disdain to the point of killing Shiites since the Battle of Karbala in 680

Have had disdain to the point of killing Sunnis since the Battle of Karbala in 680

A minority in Iraq, but they controlled Iraq under Saddam Hussein

The majority in Iraq (about 60% of the population), they are tasting political domination for the first time

There are many other differences between these two groups of Muslims, much as there are differences between Protestants and Catholics. As the Christian groups recognize each other as Christians, Sunni and Shia recognize each other as Muslim. Their religious differences sprouted mainly from the political problems that occurred with their respective leadership shortly after Mohammed’s death. The Battle of Karbala in 680 became a rallying point for both groups, and the subsequent embellishment of the battle over time has only exacerbated the split between them.

Today, their differences appear to have reached a breaking point in Iraq, where territorial segregation is the only thing keeping them alive, and poorly at that.

And so, the U.S. finds itself not only in the middle of a civil war, but a religious civil war. This will not have a happy ending for anyone. Like the Battle of Karbala 1300 years ago, the U.S. will be remembered for the role it played in helping bring about all the bloodshed over the past four years. The real reasons, right or wrong, will be lost to embellishment.

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