The deep, ancient origins of Sunni and Shia hostilities

We had no idea that Shia and Sunni hostilities we this deep. CFR:

Shia identity is rooted in victimhood over the killing of Husayn, the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, in the seventh century, and a long history of marginalization by the Sunni majority. Islam’s dominant sect, which roughly 85 percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims follow, viewed Shia Islam with suspicion, and extremist Sunnis have portrayed Shias as heretics and apostates.

Mohammed unveiled a new faith to the people of Mecca in 610. Known as Islam, or submission to God, the monotheistic religion incorporated some Jewish and Christian traditions and expanded with a set of laws that governed most aspects of life, including political authority. By the time of his death in 632, Mohammed had consolidated power in Arabia. His followers subsequently built an empire that would stretch from Central Asia to Spain less than a century after his death. But a debate over succession split the community, with some arguing that leadership should be awarded to qualified individuals and others insisting that the only legitimate ruler must come through Mohammed’s bloodline.

A group of prominent early followers of Islam elected Abu Bakr, a companion of Mohammed, to be the first caliph, or leader of the Islamic community, over the objections of those who favored Ali ibn Abi Talib, Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law. The opposing camps in the succession debate eventually evolved into Islam’s two main sects. Shias, a term that stems from shi’atu Ali, Arabic for partisans of Ali, believe that Ali and his descendants are part of a divine order. Sunnis, meaning followers of the sunna, or ‘way’ in Arabic, of Mohammed, are opposed to political succession based on Mohammed’s bloodline. Ali became caliph in 656 and ruled only five years before he was assassinated.

The caliphate, which was based in the Arabian Peninsula, passed to the Umayyad dynasty in Damascus and later the Abbasids in Baghdad. Shias rejected the authority of these rulers. In 680, soldiers of the second Umayyad caliph killed Ali’s son, Husayn, and many of his companions in Karbala, located in modern-day Iraq. Karbala became a defining moral story for Shias, and Sunni caliphs worried that the Shia Imams” the descendants of Husayn who were seen as the legitimate leaders of Muslims (Sunnis use the term imam for the men who lead prayers in mosques)” would use this massacre to capture public imagination and topple monarchs. This fear resulted in the further persecution and marginalization of Shias.

Even as Sunnis triumphed politically in the Muslim world, Shias continued to look to the Imam, the blood descendants of Ali and Husayn as their legitimate political and religious leaders. Even within the Shia community, however, there arose differences over the proper line of succession. Mainstream Shias believe there were twelve Imams. Zaydi Shias, found mostly in Yemen, broke off from the majority Shia community at the fifth Imam, and sustained imamate rule in parts of Yemen up to the 1960s. Ismaili Shias, centered in South Asia but with important diaspora communities throughout the world, broke off at the seventh Imam. Ismailis revere the Aga Khan as the living representative of their Imam. The majority of Shias, particularly those in Iran and the eastern Arab world, believe that the twelfth Imam entered a state of occultation, or hiddenness, in 939 and that he will return at the end of time. Since then, Twelvers, or Ithna Ashari Shias, have vested religious authority in their senior clerical leaders, called ayatollahs (Arabic for sign of God)…

Sunnis dominated the first nine centuries of Islamic rule (excluding the Shia Fatimid dynasty) until the Safavid dynasty was established in Persia in 1501. The Safavids made Shia Islam the state religion, and over the following two centuries they fought with the Ottomans, the seat of the Sunni caliphate. As these empires faded, their battles roughly settled the political borders of modern Iran and Turkey by the seventeenth century, and their legacies resulted in the current demographic distribution of Islam’s sects. Shias comprise a majority in Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain, and a plurality in Lebanon, while Sunnis make up the majority of more than forty countries from Morocco to Indonesia.

Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 gave Shia cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini the opportunity to implement his vision for an Islamic government ruled by the guardianship of the jurist (velayat-e faqih), a controversial concept among Shia scholars that is opposed by Sunnis, who have historically differentiated between political leadership and religious scholarship. Shia ayatollahs have always been the guardians of the faith. Khomeini argued that clerics had to rule to properly perform their function: implementing Islam as God intended, through the mandate of the Shia Imams.

Under Khomeini, Iran began an experiment in Islamic rule. Khomeini tried to inspire further Islamic revival, preaching Muslim unity, but supported groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, and Pakistan that had specific Shia agendas. Sunni Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, admired Khomeini’s success, but did not accept his leadership, underscoring the depth of sectarian suspicions.

Saudi Arabia has a sizable Shia minority of roughly 10 percent, and millions of adherents of a puritanical brand of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism (an offshoot of the Sunni Hanbali school) that is antagonistic to Shia Islam. The transformation of Iran into an overtly Shia power after the Islamic revolution induced Saudi Arabia to accelerate the propagation of Wahhabism, as both countries revived a centuries-old sectarian rivalry over the true interpretation of Islam. Many of the groups responsible for sectarian violence that has occurred in the region and across the Muslim world since 1979 can be traced to Saudi and Iranian sources.

Wiki:

Sunnis believe that Abu Bakr, the father of Muhammad’s wife Aisha, was Muhammad’s rightful successor and that the method of choosing or electing leaders (Shura) endorsed by the Quran is the consensus of the Ummah (the Muslim community).

Shias believe that Muhammad divinely ordained his cousin and son-in-law Ali (the father of his grandsons Hasan ibn Ali and Hussein ibn Ali) in accordance with the command of God to be the next caliph, making Ali and his direct descendants Muhammad’s successors. Ali was married to Fatimah, Muhammad’s daughter from his wife Khadijah bint Khuwaylid.

Aisha endorsed her father Abu Bakr as the successor to Muhammad. In the Battle of the Camel (656), Aisha opposed her step son-in-law Ali outside the city of Basra because she wanted justice on the perpetrators of the assassination of the previous caliph, Uthman. Aisha’s forces were defeated and Muhammad’s widow was respectfully escorted back to Medina.

Sunnis follow the Rashidun “rightly guided Caliphs”, who were the first four caliphs who ruled after the death of Muhammad: Abu Bakr (632-634), Umar ibn al-Khattab (634-644), Uthman ibn Affan (644-656), and the aforementioned Ali Ibn Abi Talib (656-661).

Shia theology discounts the legitimacy of the first three caliphs and believes that Ali is the second-most divinely inspired man (after Muhammed) and that he and his descendants by Fatimah, the Imams, are the sole legitimate Islamic leaders.

The Imamate of the Shia encompasses far more of a prophetic function than the Caliphate of the Sunnis. Unlike Sunni, Shias believe special spiritual qualities have been granted not only to Muhammad but also to Ali and the other Imams. Twelvers believe the imams are immaculate from sin and human error (ma’sÅ«m), and can understand and interpret the hidden inner meaning of the teachings of Islam. In this way the Imams are trustees (wasi) who bear the light of Muhammad (NÅ«r Muhammadin).

While Shias and Sunnis differ on the nature of the Mahdi, many members of both groups, especially Sufis, believe that the Mahdi will appear at the end of the world to bring about a perfect and just Islamic society.

In Shia Islam “the Mahdi symbol has developed into a powerful and central religious idea.” Twelvers believe the Mahdi will be Muhammad al-Mahdi, the twelfth Imam returned from the Occultation, where he has been hidden by God since 874. In contrast, mainstream Sunnis believe the Mahdi will be named Muhammad, be a descendant of Muhammad, and will revive the faith, but will not necessarily be connected with the end of the world…

Sunni–Shia…violence persists to this day from Pakistan to Yemen and is a major element of friction throughout the Middle East. Tensions between communities have intensified during power struggles, such as the Bahraini uprising, the Iraq War, and most recently the Syrian Civil War and the formation of the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and its advancement on Syria and Northern Iraq.

Britannica:

The Thirty Years’ War…is conventionally held to have begun in 1618, when the future Holy Roman emperor Ferdinand II, in his role as king of Bohemia, attempted to impose Roman Catholic absolutism on his domains, and the Protestant nobles of both Bohemia and Austria rose up in rebellion. Ferdinand won after a five-year struggle. In 1625 King Christian IV of Denmark saw an opportunity to gain valuable territory in Germany to balance his earlier loss of Baltic provinces to Sweden. Christian’s defeat and the Peace of Lübeck in 1629 finished Denmark as a European power, but Sweden’s Gustav II Adolf, having ended a four-year war with Poland, invaded Germany and won many German princes to his anti-Roman Catholic, anti-imperial cause.

Meanwhile the conflict widened, fueled by political ambitions of the various powers. Poland, having been drawn in as a Baltic power coveted by Sweden, pushed its own ambitions by attacking Russia and establishing a dictatorship in Moscow under WÅ‚adysÅ‚aw, Poland’s future king. The Russo-Polish Peace of Polyanov in 1634 ended Poland’s claim to the tsarist throne but freed Poland to resume hostilities against its Baltic archenemy, Sweden, which was now deeply embroiled in Germany. Here, in the heartland of Europe, three denominations vied for dominance: Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism. This resulted in a Gordian tangle of alliances as princes and prelates called in foreign powers to aid them. Overall, the struggle was between the Holy Roman Empire, which was Roman Catholic and Habsburg, and a network of Protestant towns and principalities that relied on the chief anti-Catholic powers of Sweden and the United Netherlands, which had at last thrown off the yoke of Spain after a struggle lasting 80 years. A parallel struggle involved the rivalry of France with the Habsburgs of the empire and with the Habsburgs of Spain, who had been attempting to construct a cordon of anti-French alliances.

The principal battlefield for all these intermittent conflicts was the towns and principalities of Germany, which suffered severely. During the Thirty Years War, many of the contending armies were mercenaries, many of whom could not collect their pay. This threw them on the countryside for their supplies, and thus began the wolf-strategy that typified this war. The armies of both sides plundered as they marched, leaving cities, towns, villages, and farms ravaged. When the contending powers finally met in the German province of Westphalia to end the bloodshed, the balance of power in Europe had been radically changed. Spain had lost not only the Netherlands but its dominant position in western Europe. France was now the chief Western power. Sweden had control of the Baltic. The United Netherlands was recognized as an independent republic. The member states of the Holy Roman Empire were granted full sovereignty. The ancient notion of a Roman Catholic empire of Europe, headed spiritually by a pope and temporally by an emperor, was permanently abandoned, and the essential structure of modern Europe as a community of sovereign states was established.

Points: (a) were the Catholics the Varsity team and the Protestants the JV team? (b) we included such lengthy passages for a reason: anyone who thinks that a complex theological war that has been going on for over a millenium is going to end anytime soon is a fool; (c) the overwhelming strategic imperative for the US is to produce oil like crazy, both for complete energy independence and to reduce the income and importance of the Gulf states — the CAGW hucksters with their stupid, fraudulent arguments are truly enemies of the American people.

2 Responses to “The deep, ancient origins of Sunni and Shia hostilities”

  1. Roy Lofquist Says:

    Actually, it is a bit more complicated than that. By that I mean that it will make a thinking man’s head hurt real bad. Just doesn’t distill neatly into sound bites, does it? Unfortunately we seem to have a bunch of “world leaders” whose attention span is inadequate to the task.

    Thank you for the post. I couldn’t agree more with your conclusion.

  2. Sven Svenson Says:

    Does anyone really care about their problems? As long as they keep killing each other it’s a good thing.

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