A few years ago I had the privilege of taking a week-long class on the Koran taught by Muslims. Honestly, my head was spinning most of the time, but I finally began to figure some of it out. Not all Muslims are the same.
First, let’s look at the similarities between Sunnis and Shiites:
Both believe in the Koran.
Both follow Muhammad
In Iraq leaders like al-Sadr (whose father Sadr City in Bagdad is named after) is Shiite.
Hezbollah (meaning Party of God) who is engaged in the struggle with Israel on the Lebanese border is Shiite..
Al-Qaeda is Sunni. Osama bin Laden is Sunni. Saudi Arabia is Sunni. Iran is Shiite.
Both the Shiites and the Sunnis are committed to the worldwide spread of Islam, meaning all nations everywhere would be subject to Islamic Law.
Both the Sunnis and the Shiites are against Israel and want to see Israel destroyed.
The Sunnis (Iraq) and the Shiites (Iran) were involved in a decade long war against each other in the 1980’s. Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, which was predominantly Sunni fought Iran, under the ayatollahs which were Shiite. Muslims against Muslims, but Sunnis against Shiites is the way they viewed it. There really was never any clear victor in that war and some say there were upwards to one million deaths. These scars are still very much present in the region today.
Today, July 2006, those fighting against Israel in southern Lebanon are the Shiites, known in this context as Hezbollah.
So, what happened to make them enemies? It wasn’t their common beginning, but it happened after Muhammad died. There was a struggle for succession. Who would be the leader of Islam. There were two groups, each believing they were the ones following what Muhammad desired.
The Sunni faction believed that some kind of ‘election’ or group consensus by Muslim leaders or elders were supposed to pick the right person to lead Islam into the next phase. Muhammad’s father-in-law, Abu Bakr, came out the winner.
The Shiite division believed that Muhammad had already picked his successor before he died, his cousin Ali. That's what Shiite means: “Followers of Ali” or “The Party of Ali.”
That was in 632 AD and they have been fighting ever since with varying intensity through the ages. One of the most famous battles happened after Muhammad’s death. Once a year this event is remembered by Shiite Muslims who cut their heads in remembrance. Unbelievable really. Pretty gross as the picture shows. I don't know, is it just me, or does hitting your head a few times with a sword not sound like any fun. And then hitting your kid's head with a sword? What's the point of all that?
Sunnis are the largest group of Muslims, with the Shiites mostly concentrated in a smaller region. Iran, Syria and parts of Lebanon. Although they are the smaller group, they are strategically located to cause Israel and the world an awful lot of trouble. The map shows the primary locations of Shiites.
The groups have little in common, outside of their hatred for Israel. And, oh yea, they for the most part have no great love for the United States either.