Sunni Shia Conflict
Syria is currently all over the news regarding what many have to come to see as a civil war. A term like civil war needs to identify the players and the reasons for the war. In this case the players are being identified as pro government or antigovernment with a Sunni or Shia overtone. Sunni and Shia are the two major sects of Islam and both have a historical based conflict going back to the death of the Prophet Muhammad and how Muslims should be governed. This conflict has caused tensions and violence to flare up throughout Islamic history. This conflict has carried into modern times and has becoming a rallying point for Muslim people calling for change with their government and across the Middle Eastern region. The Sunni Shia conflict is major division within Islam that has and continues to shape Islam and the Middle East.
History of the Conflict
The Sunni Shia conflict can trace its roots back to 632 C.E. when Muhammad died without clearly naming a successor to his budding Islamic empire (Egger 2004). The one group of Muslims felt that following the traditional path of election by consensus was the correct method. The only stipulation was it had to be a member from Muhammad’s tribe, the Quraysh. Another group of Muslims thought that Muhammad had designated Ali, his son-in-law, as his successor. In the end the tribes elected Abu-Bakr as the first caliph and his first act was to make sure the Arab empire stated intact following tribal revolts. Upon Abu-Bakr death Umar was appointed as caliph and once again Ali was passed over. When Umar died Uthman was elected as caliph furthering the resentment felt by those that felt Ali should be caliph. When Uthman was killed Ali was finally named caliph but he would not rule for long. He too was murdered by his own followers when he sought to make peace with a potential rival, Mu’awiya. When Mu’awiya was about to die he named his son as his successor and the Umayyad dynasty was born (Egger 2004). Passing the caliphate to his son broke with the tradition of election that Muslims held to. This drove some Muslims to start a more overt movement that sought to get a direct descendent of Muhammad placed on the throne of the Muslim empire. Ali’s son Husayn was sought out and asked to lead a revolt against the Uyammad’s. When Husayn set out on his journey to overthrow Yazid, the current caliph, his “supporters” failed to join his band. Husayn and 72 of his followers were killed on the plains of Karbala, Iraq. Thus the Shi’at Ali (Party of Ali) or Shia sect of Islam was born (Egger 2004). The Sunni sect would continue to support what they saw as the traditional path of Islam.
From this initial split other divisions and changes occurred within the religious practices and laws of Islam. While both share a belief in the Qur’an and the sunna (sayings or actions) of the Prophet Muhammad there are religious and legal differences. Imams are by the Shia definition the divinely guided ones but the...