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A fresco paint from the Chehel Sotun Pavillion in Isfahan, Iran, depicts Persian warfare throughout the Safavid dynasty duration.

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Editor"s Note: Back in 2007, brianowens.tv reported on the Shiite-Sunni split that was contributing to problems in many type of parts of the Muslim people, including Iraq. In light of the present fighting in Iraq, which is alengthy sectarian lines, brianowens.tv is republishing the series. The message includes a variety of updates, while the audio is from the original broadcasts seven years earlier. Here is Part 1 of the series.



Women walk in the courtyard of the Jamkaran mosque outside the holy city of Qom, Iran, in 2006.

Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

It"s not known precisely just how many of the world"s 1.6 billion Muslims are Shiites. The Shiites are a minority, making up between 10 percent and 15 percent of the Muslim population — absolutely fewer than 250 million, all told.

The Shiites are focused in Iran, southern Iraq and also southerly Lebanon. But tbelow are substantial Shiite neighborhoods in Saudi Arabia and also Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India also.

Although the origins of the Sunni-Shiite split were violent, over the centuries Shiites and Sunnis lived peacefully together for long durations of time.

But that shows up to be providing method to a new period of spreading conflict in the Middle East between Shiites and Sunnis.


"There is absolutely an emerging struggle in between Sunni and also Shia to specify not just the pattern of local national politics, however likewise the relationship between the Islamic human being and the West," says Daniel Brumberg of Georgetown College, writer of Reinventing Khomeini: The Struggle for Reform in Iran.

That struggle is playing out now in Iraq, however it is a struggle that could spread to many type of Arab countries in the Middle East and also to Iran, which is Persian.

One various other element around the Shiites bears stating. "Shiites constitute 80 percent of the indigenous population of the oil-affluent Persian Gulf region," notes Yitzhak Nakash, writer of The Shi"is of Iraq.

Shiites predominate wbelow tbelow is oil in Iran, in Iraq and in the oil-well-off locations of eastern Saudi Arabia too.


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Wbelow Sunnis and Shia live in South Asia and the Center East.

The Partisans Of Ali

The original break-up in between Sunnis and also Shiites occurred soon after the fatality of the Prophet Muhammad, in the year 632.

"Tbelow was a problem in the community of Muslims in contemporary Saudi Arabia over the question of succession," claims Augustus Norton, writer of Hezbollah: A Short History. "That is to say, who is the rightful successor to the prophet?"

Many of the Prophet Muhammad"s followers wanted the area of Muslims to identify who would succeed him. A smaller sized group believed that someone from his family should take up his mantle. They favored Ali, that was married to Muhammad"s daughter, Fatimah.


"Shia believed that management need to remain within the household of the prophet," notes Gregory Gause, professor of Middle East politics at the College of Vermont. "And therefore they were the partisans of Ali, his cousin and also son-in-regulation. Sunnis thought that management must autumn to the perchild who was understood by the elite of the neighborhood to be ideal able to lead the neighborhood. And it was fundamentally that political department that began the Sunni-Shia separation."

The Sunnis prevailed and also chose a follower to be the initially caliph.

At some point, Ali was preferred as the fourth caliph, but not prior to violent conflict broke out. Two of the earliest caliphs were murdered. War erupted when Ali came to be caliph, and he too was eliminated in fighting in the year 661 near the town of Kufa, currently in present-day Iraq.

The violence and also battle split the small area of Muslims right into 2 branches that would certainly never reunite.

The war ongoing with Ali"s son, Hussein, leading the Shiites. "Hussein rejected the preeminence of the caliph at the time," says Vali Nasr, author of The Shia Revival. "He stood approximately the caliph"s incredibly huge army on the battlefield. He and 72 members of his family and also companions dealt with versus an extremely big Arab army of the caliph. They were all massacred."


More About the Series


Chronology: A History of the Shiite-Sunni Split Feb. 12, 2007

Hussein was decapitated and also his head lugged in tribute to the Sunni caliph in Damascus. His body was left on the battlefield at Karbala. Later it was hidden tright here.

It is the symbolism of Hussein"s death that holds so a lot spiritual power for Shiites.

"An innocent spiroutine figure is in many kind of methods martyred by a far more powerful, unsimply pressure," Nasr states. "He becomes the crystallizing pressure approximately which a faith takes form and takes inspiration."

The 12th Imam

The Shiites dubbed their leaders imam, Ali being the initially, Hussein the 3rd. They commemoprice Hussein"s fatality yearly in a public routine of self-flagellation and mourning well-known as Ashoura.

The definition of the imams is just one of the basic differences that sepaprice the 2 branches of Islam. The imams have actually taken on a spiritual definition that no clerics in Sunni Islam reap.

"A few of the Sunnis think that some of the Shia are actually attributing nearly magnificent attributes to the imams, and also this is a good sin," Gausage claims, "because it is associating human beings via the divinity. And if tright here is one point that"s central to Islamic teaching, it is the oneness of God."

This difference is particularly effective as soon as it involves the story of the 12th Imam, known as the Hidden Imam.


"In the 10th century," states Nasr, "the 12th Shiite Imam entered occultation. Shiites believe God took him into hiding, and also he will come ago at the end of time. He is recognized as the Mahdi or the Messiah. So in many kind of methods the Shiites, much choose Jews or Christians, are trying to find the resulting the Messiah."

Those who believe in the Hidden Imam are known as Twelver Shiites. They are the majority of the Shiites in the world this day.

"Twelver Shiism is itself a kind of messianic confidence," Georgetown"s Brumberg says. It is based "on a creed that the complete word and interpretation of the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad"s message will only be made manifest, or real and just, upon the rerevolve of the 12th Imam, this messianic figure."

Political Power Fuels Religious Split

Over the following centuries, Islam clamelted via the European Crusaders, with the Mongol conquerors from Central Asia, and also was spread farther by the Ottoman Turks.

By the year 1500, Persia was a seat of Sunni Islamic discovering, yet all that was around to adjust via the arrival of Azeri conquerors. They establiburned the Safavid dynasty in Persia — modern-day Iran — and also made it Shiite.

"That dynasty actually came out of what"s now eastern Turessential," says Gausage, the University of Vermont professor. "They were a Turkic dynasty, one of the leftovers of the Mongol intrusions that had disrupted the Center East for a pair of centuries. The Safavid dynasty made it its political task to transform Iran right into a Shia nation."

Shiites gradually ended up being the glue that hosted Persia together and also distinguished it from the Ottomale Empire to its west, which was Sunni, and the Mughal Muslims to the eastern in India, additionally Sunni.

This was the geography of Shiite Islam, and it would certainly prevail into the 20th century.

There were durations of problem and also periods of tranquility. But the break-up continued to be and would, in the second fifty percent of the 20th century, turn out to be one of the many vital determinants in the turmoils that have actually devastated the Middle East.

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"Why has tbelow been such a long and also protracted disagreement and also stress and anxiety in between these 2 sects?" asks Ray Takeyh, writer of Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic. "It hregarding carry out through political power."

In the 20th century, that meant a complex political dynamic entailing Sunni and also Shiites, Arabs and Persians, colonizers and conquered, oil, and the involvement of the superpowers.