The Struggle For The Soul Of Islam:Can Sunnis And Shiites Ever Make Peace?

The Struggle For The Soul Of Islam:Can Sunnis And Shiites Ever Make Peace?


The greatest threat to Islam is not Christianity, Judaism or any other religion but Islam itself.


Islam is a religion mainly formed in Saudi Arabia and is about 1,400 years old, approximately in the 7th century by a man called Muhammad. Islam is a monotheistic religion, meaning that Islam was and is established on the believe of one supreme God. The religion claim to have its roots in the Abrahamic philosophies and traditions, just as the Christians and the Jews. Since Islam came into being, this religion of about 1.5 billion, has been characterized by violence in every facet of the communities and countries they reside, and yet Muslims always talk of their religion being a religion of peace, and that the way Islam is being portrayed in the media is not the reality on the ground. Let us face this fact, about 70% of all the Islamic nations are in conflict in one way all the other. There is no doubt that Western Nations are part of the whole conflicts going on currently in the Middle East. The political struggles in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Yemen, Pakistan, Yemen and even Saudi Arabia itself, the very heart beat of Islam, is experiencing some pockets of conflicts within its own ranks. In this theater, we will explore the Genesis of these conflicts in its totality. We will discuss whether it will be possible for Sunnis and Shiite to come together in harmony once more. We will also look at the implications of these religious and political wars on the non-Islamic world or “non-believers”.


The Genesis of The Great Divide


After the death Muhammad, the founder of Islam, according to some Islamic traditions, he left no written WILL to indicate his successor. In other words the prophet never made any provisions for a successive plan. The prophet had no male child to succeed him. I think if he had one, it would have curtailed all these confusions that has engulfed the religion up till now. In the pre- Islamic era, Arabian tradition only makes the male children the heir to their fathers. So the race for the control of the Islamic community or the religion began immediately after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. A Shiite tradition says that it was the prophet himself that chose Ali as a successor and therefore there was a WILL, and a successive plan ,and they have pointed out several verses from the Quran to that effect, but the Sunnis disagrees claiming that the Shiites were interpreting those verses wrongly. There were two Sects that struggled over as to who was supposed to be the successor of Muhammad. There were two most important personalities in the life of the prophet Muhammad:  Abu Bakr and Ali. Abu Bakr was the uncle and father in-law of the prophet Muhammad .Ali was also the personal secretary, cousin and a son in-law of the Prophet. For Ali married the Prophet’s only daughter, Fatima. After much struggle for the Caliphate, Ali emerged to be the leader of the Shiite Sect. Abu Bakr also emerged to be  the Leader of the Sunni sect and eventually the first Caliph. These two Sects were really close relatives indeed. The meaning of Shiite Ali, means the party of Ali and the Sunni means the traditions. Those who hold the Islamic tradition and followed all subsequent Caliphs are called Sunnis. Immediately the struggle began, the Shiite led by Ali claimed that the prophet held his hand and showed him to the Islamic community called the Um-ma that he, the Ali, should succeed him. But the Sunnis led by Abu Bakr refuted those claims. After many conflicts and struggle, Abu Bakr and his Sunni group prevailed and he became the first Caliph of the Um-ma. Abu Bakr ruled for 3 years .During reign of the Sunni Caliphs, the Shiites were persecuted in every turn. Some were killed and some had their properties confiscated. The Shiites not relenting continued the struggled until 3rd Caliph was assassinated and only then did Ali became the 4th Caliph. After 25 years of struggle and waiting, Ali took over the reins of the Caliphate .Ali was assassinated by the Sunnis, after 5 years in the Caliphate. The pain of death of the supposed heir to the prophet coupled with the persecutions and sufferings under the previous caliphs, made that episode a horrific and unforgettable one. Death of Ali destroyed the much fragile relationship that ensued within the “community” but that wasn’t the breaking point. The persecution continued even after the death of Ali. The breaking point came when after 48 years of death of Muhammad, his grandson Hussein, the son of Ali was killed in Karbala a city near the City of Najaf in present day Iraq for challenging the then Sunni Caliph of corruption and heresy. The death of Hussein son of Ali reverberated and shocked the Muslims world. It opened and aggravated a dead wound and an already fragile relationship. Both Sunnis and Shiites consider this tragedy as a painful one. But for Sunnis, it ends there. whilst the Shiites believe that such an act depicted, crowned and became the hall mark for the very hate the Sunnis have for them, since the death of Mohammed .Though they celebrate the death of Hussein every year, Sunnis don’t consider it too necessary but a mere festival of a happy mood that should be celebrated. With the Shiites, such celebration is the very embodiment of their faith and therefore those moments should be celebrated in a solemn mood and therefore should be a sorrowful one.


Allegations   From   Both   Sides


The Sunnis considers Shiites as the greatest threat to Islam than the two other Abrahamic religions (, notably the Jews and the Christians) combine. The Shiites also believe that the Sunnis have digress from the right and the true path Muhammad laid down. The reason for this assertion then was that, it was only Ali who was close to the prophet even to the Prophet’s last days and he heard and saw all what the prophet did. For instant Shiites pray only 3 times a day whilst the Sunnis pray 5 times .The common reason Shiites gave was that the Prophet prayed 3 times daily. Shiites are said to be more politically conscious and Idealist and Aggressive in comperance to the European kind of thinking. With the Sunnis they are said to be pragmatist and realist and happy with the status quo. Currently, Sunnis represents about 85% of Muslims and only 15% represent the faith Shiite. Shiites believe in the Quran but have their own reservation for the Hadith-the recordings of the sayings and the life of the Prophets Muhammad. Research has shown that they have their own Hadith.


The  Conflicts  between  the  Two  Divide  Are Historical and Ideological


So if the conflicts are Historical and Ideological why so much conflicts in the Middle East and the Gulf? We may think that these Historical and Ideological differences, on the surface, does not  exist. But on the ground it’s very life. The British Empire and now America’s inability to understand and appreciate these differences led to the messing up of the Middle East and the Gulf. What is going on now in the Middle East and the Gulf is a war of survival. There are no trust between these two sides, and have allowed Some Western Nations to exploit these cracks to the detriment of those states. All the conflicts is about which sects must have the upper hand. We all know the doings and actions of Iran and Saudi Arabia in Yemen at the moment. Yemen and Syria are all test cases that shows how these divides are rife.


How The  Modern  Conflict  Began


Before the first world, almost all of the North Africa, Middle East, some parts of Asia were part of the Ottoman Empire. In other words ,all these countries were considered as  one country but divided into provinces under one ruler or a caliph of which its capital city was Istanbul(Constantinople) the former capital city of the then Byzantine empire. Ottoman Turks were Sunnis. Many Shiites who were still suffering and the very few Sunni tribes who were having issues with the ruling Caliph, signed a treaty or Military cooperation with the newly risen powers, the British and the French empires, so that after the war they might get their freedom and then rule themselves other than giving their powers to a caliph far away Istanbul. So they did win the war. After the war, British and France had a different Idea and so they shared those lands among themselves for colonization. Great Britain took Palestine, Jordan, Kuwait and Iraq. France took Lebanon, Syria, and southern Turkey.


 Arabs  Wanted  Self Rule   After  The First  World  War


Those Arab countries after the War wanted self-rule. They wanted the British to deliver on their promise for self-rule. The Kurdish wanted their own state but the British changed their minds later on. Probably a strong Kurdish state may not be in their interest. What brought all the modern conflicts was the partitions of those states without any consideration of these “divide”(Sunni and Shiite Problem) Winston Churchill was the chief architect of the partition. He was then the Secretary of State for the colonies, divided the country as Syria, Iraq and so forth. Instead of creating the boundaries on the basis  and taking into considerations of the fragile sectarianism and culture they inherited on the ground,they rather went ahead and divided the Middle East and the Gulf on the basis of their own interest without thinking of future implications. For example, countries like Saudi Arabia dominated by Shiites was made to be ruled by a Sunni Monarch. Places where the Sunnis have majority, they will put Shiite minority as a ruler over them. So was this arrangements made by Churchill and his cohorts. These arrangements renewed old rivalries by the virtue of that division.


Can  Sunnis  And  Shiite  Ever  live  in  harmony ?


These two Sects have lived side by side for centuries and they have been able to practice their faith separately without any problem especially in Iraq. But in some countries, the divide is too acrimonious that some Sunnis Cannot bare seeing a Shiite. On the surface, harmony may not be possible but it is possible if both sects are ready to work together and to accept and respect each other’s views on certain matters of their religion and Tolerating each other’s differences,will go a long way to bring the peace that has eluded the “community.” I believe some Muslims will not agree with me on this but that is the reality. I had a chat with a Muslim friend of mine who is a sunny, said that they have no remorse about what happened to the grandsons of the prophet Mohammed. He further said that their concentration is not on Mohammed but only on God. If we talk like this, we fan hatred, and sound like being unconcerned about the feelings of our own fellow brothers of the other religious divide. Islamic scholars need to look into their doctrines again and to reconcile that which the Sunni and Shiite are divided on with the spirit of modernity and the spirit of the times so they can strike a compromise.


The Implications of These Conflicts To Non Muslims


We may think because these conflicts are far away from us so is non of our business.But the implications are that they are right here before our doors.The implications of all these conflicts and these divides  are the cause of risen up of terrorist organisations mostly in the Middle East,Europe,Africa etc.We are all aware of  what happened in the Twin Tower Attacks in The USA and other terrorist insurgence around the world.Immigrants from Africa and the Middle East flocking into Europe in thousands through the Mediterranean Sea.We are all at risk.They have the largest reserve of crude oil and Gas in the world.Anytime they have problems,we have problems too in terms of prices of crude oil in the world market shooting up. I therefore urge all of you to advice your various governments to skew their policies toward making peace with these to sides and not to muddy the waters  or not to exploit the situation for their own selfish interest. Libya is gone,it is now ungovernable.Syria too is gone.Iraq too is in tatters.Egypt is boiling and Yemen.Nothing to right home about.Refugees flooding in, especially , from these war torn countries itself may be a threat to national security.Most of these refugees are vest in warfare which if not observed may bring some problems with national security.




No doubt Prophet Mohammed was one of the outstanding political and religious leaders ever on the face of the earth. His humble beginnings to being one of the greatest leaders in human history has dumbfounded many historians in the religious circles. He was able to bring all the tribes of Arabia together, which was previously un heard of. He was the first  leader to have created a working constitution,which has now become precedent for nations, when he first entered Medina. His restrains of not compelling any of the Jews and Christian to be Muslims was remarkable. He never went to school and yet through him a great religious civilization was formed .I  think the Prophet will really be sad, what ever is going on now.This is not what,I believe, he imagined his hard earned religion to be; to be embroiled with so much hate and confusion.


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