Wednesday, October 18, 2006

It's official: Chalicesseurs know more about Islam than either CC or the people running the intelligence for the war

Right before a lunch meeting, I ran across this newspaper article, by a reporter who went around asking various important people what the difference between shiite and sunni was.

Such political figures as Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who heads a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.’s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, Willie Hulon, chief of the FBI’s new national security branch and Representative Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who is vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence all couldn't answer.

The best I could do was this:

My vague impression, mostly from elementary school, is that the Sunnis are the more liberal Muslims and the Shiites are the scarier ones, which doesn't mesh with the fact that I think Al Quaeda is Sunni. I'm pretty sure Hezbollah is Shiite though.

I was once taught the history of the two and what the difference is historically, but I don't remember. Boy, it's been awhile since I read up on Islam...

That's like a D+ answer, maybe. But it's not my job to know that stuff. (Ok arguably it's every American's job, but nobody literally pays me.)

So I wondered if my readers could do better.

Umm... Yeah.

Way, way better than either the folks in DC or Chalicechick.

I let the experiment run for six hours and came home to 18 responses. Take a gander at everybody's answers here.

I've disabled comment moderation and everyone's answers are now viewable. If you haven't looked yet and want to see how you compare, open up your favorite word processing program, type your answer, then post what you typed without making any changes.

I'm really, really impressed, y'all.



Fr. Damocles said...

I'd like to move beyond even this level of knowledge. I'm almost embarassed that as a religious studies major I didn't know more. (Admittedly, I haven't had a class that focused on Islam).

OK, so what? The caliphate has been discontinued since 1924. No one has heard from the 12th imam since 873 (unless you're Baha'i). So... what still seperates these two groups?

What Jaume said is a good start, "Shiites tend to rely on sages and clerics, sometimes even raising them to saintly status, whereas Sunnies are more legalistic and rely not only upon the Qur'an but also upon the Sunna (traditional sayings)."

David Throop's questions are ones I'd also like answers to.

Wikipedia is a good starting place on the differences of ahadith as Kim and I mentioned in the previous post.

There's also another area here I'm foggy on: What exactly is the ecclesiastical structure in Islam?

As UUs, what depth of knowledge should we be expected to have about other traditions?

PG said...

As important as knowledge for the sake of knowledge is, I don't think knowing about the original schism is nearly as important as knowing which each of the players are. Taliban? other Afghans? al Qaeda? Saddam Hussein? Iraq? Iran? Turkey? Saudi Arabia? Palestinians? Lebanon? Pakistan? Chechnya?

There's also the problem of which school of thought someone belongs to within the two main divisions. Sufi Sunnis are pretty chill and sit around thinking about about the spirit, while being criticized by the Salafies (more commonly known by the derogatory term Wahhabies) who are originalists/ textualists and focused on law. I don't think there's much inherent to Sunnism that makes it more "radical," but the fear of change that seems to characterize Salafies makes some of them antagonistic to liberalism in a way that Sufis are not.

CK said...

I wonder if this says anything about where your readers get their news/information from. I listen to NPR, read blogs, the NY Times occasionally, and some scholarly journals. My guess is that this is a similar pattern for others, plus or minus.

Compared to the average MSM viewer, I wonder how that impacts their understanding?