Thursday, September 28, 2006


"The origins (of Shiism) lie in the grudge that rapidly grew, following the death of the Prophet in 632 AD, among the partisans (shi'a in Arabic) of Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law.

Passed over three times for the title of caliph, or worldly successor to Muhammad, Ali then reigned only briefly before being assassinated..."Until recently most Sunnis, most of the time, have given little thought to the challenge presented by Shiism...They have not had to because their brand of Islam has been so dominant. Sunnis make up 85 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims. In solidly Sunni countries such as Morocco, Bangladesh, or Indonesia, few have had much idea of what Shias are, or how their practices differ..."In the first centuries,Sunnism found itself challenged not just by Shia uprisings, but by doubters of all stripes..."For most of the past millennium, conflict has been in remission. This is not to say that friction was entirely absent. But with perhaps half of the world's Shias living within Iran, and the rest, by and large, diluted within overwhelming Sunni populations, there was little room for contest..."But it is clear that something has happened to threaten, if not yet to shatter, the wary calm between the sects...perhaps the major impetus for the change, of late, has been the example of Iraq, where the utter breakdown of secular politics has pushed religious leaders and sectarian issues to the center stage."Max Rodenbeck, "The Time of the Shia," The New York Review of Books, August 10, 2006, pp. 45- 47

(Courtesy of our friends at


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