Wednesday, October 18, 2006

CC does an experiment

I've enabled comment moderation this afternoon just to make this work. Don't worry, it won't last. I hate comment moderation, too.

Please, without looking the answer up, answer the following question:

What's the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni?

If you want to respond anonymously, which is fine, please do mention in the comment whether you work in religion, politics or neither.

If you don't know, I'd appreciate it if you would comment "I don't know."




Anonymous said...

I know it has to do with the Hidden Imam, who is supposed to be returning in a way similar to the End Times prophecies of the LaHaye crowd. Difference is that the Imam is stil here, kinda. He's just going to reveal himself later. I think this is the Shiite view. As well, they believe that there are 'hidden' interpretations to the Koran. They use a different hermeneutic for understanding some portions.

The split goes back to the role of one of Mohammed's advisors and his supposed interpretation of some sayings on the prophet's deathbed. Those interpretations are rejected by the Sunni. Based on who you side with, you think a certain descension of imams is correct, versus another.

As far as politcs go, I believe that Al Qaeda is Sunni as is the majority of Iran (but Bin Laden's mother in law is Shiite, I hear). In Iraq, the Sunni minority had been in the position of power over the Shiite majority until the war. Now they're going bonkers killing each other. I think, too, there's some difference in names that accompanies the religious split (which I don't understand since I don't know Arabic) so that people are trying to get fake IDs so they don't get killed.

I should know more--the AAR's journal (two issues back) had an entire article dedicated to the division, talking about the role of secrecy in the division (Shiites can preach in ways that seem entirely orthodox, but to those in the 'know', they have a kind of decoder for their words).

Oh, and I'm in religion, not politics. I could entirely have the two mixed up, but I think that's the major division.

Joel Monka said...

As I understand it, it was a schizm over the question of succession- there were rival claims to who should lead the movement after the Prophet died. Without looking it up, I can't remember the names, or the relationships. Is that too vague?

Anonymous said...

Essentially, Shi'a Ali, from which Shiite is derived, means "partisan of Ali". There was a rift in early Islamic society over the succession to the Caliphate, and the Shiites are decended from those who supported Ali, a member of Mohammed's family.

I work in political consulting.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, but I think it has something to do with which "books" they find to be authenticly from their prophet.
I work in neither politics nor religion.
Again, I knew this at one time, but my lack of memory is my biggest problem.

Anonymous said...

As I understand it, the difference relates to whether one of Muhammad’s relatives (Ali...a cousin I believe) inherited the leadership of Muslims or if the clerics did.

Here's where I'm really sketchy without looking. I think the Sunni were those in favor of Ali.

I am a long time lurker and I work in neither politics nor religion.

Anonymous said...

OK, I will follow the rules of what I think is an experiment that you're conducting and not look up the definitions. However, I'm posting anonymously this time, for perhaps obvious reasons.

After Mohammed’s death a split developed in Islam. The Shiites believe his (grandson?) was his legitimate heir. The Sunnis believe his (father-in-law?) was his legitimate heir.

The Shiites are more fundamentalist, and the Sunnis more secular, generally. Most of Islam is Sunni (75%?). Because they more highly value learning and education beyond just religious teachings, the Sunnis have tended to accumulate more power and numbers. Shiites comprise most of the remaining (25%?), but there are a few smaller sects (e.g. Sufis) too. Iran has the largest concentration of Shiites.

Both Shiite and Sunni begins with the letter “S”, but the *number* of letters in each word varies … (wait a minute … this isn’t an essay assignment with a minimum word length… I’ll just stop here.)

I work in neither religion or politics.

Anonymous said...

Shi'a follow the imams, descendants of Muhammed. The 12th imam supposedly went into hiding, and they await his return. Sunni follow(ed) the caliphate(s)

Other than that they have different hadiths, I don't know much else.

Anonymous said...

I have read the standard account - the schism between Sunni and Shi'ia over the succession. And that the Shi'ia have had these Imams and believe the 16th one is in occultation, but will return.

What I have never read, though, is the differences (if there are any) between Sunni and Shi'ia in day-to-day contemporary matters. Do they have distinctly different views on
- banking, loans or interest?
- the status of women?
- the status of non-muslims in muslim nations?
- the treatment of apostates?
- Sharia law?
- the training and ordination of clerics?
- the permissible ways of atoning for sins and transgressions?
- the ownership and management of
- the role of reason in religion?
Etc etc.

David Throop

Anonymous said...

I don't know.

Anonymous said...

I'll bite, though I fear I may embarass myself in the process - and perhaps help you prove a point. :)

I believe that Sunnis and Shiites originally split because of a disagreement over which of a couple of particular Imams, or lineages of Imams, in the early years of the faith, was the true descendant of and heir to the authority of Muhammad and therefore rightfully invested with the prophetic power to act as leader of the faith. I don't remember their names nor the particulars, but that's the beginning of it all as I recall. Over time, I believe that they have developed somewhat different forms of religious observance and customs.

UU religious educator, oh dear.

(Now away to see how far off I was!)

Anonymous said...

I don't know

Robin Edgar said...

Well, off the top of my head. . . I believe that the main nominal difference between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims is that one of the two groups, I am not 100% sure which, traces its religious heritage back to a close relative or descendant of the prophet Mohammed. The other group rejects the legitimacy of that relative or descendant of Mohammed. I believe it is Shi'ites who are the former and Sunnis who are the latter so I could be mistaken. I will now do a Google search to see how far from the truth that nebulous understanding of the difference between Shi'ites and Sunnis may be so that I can responsibly correct it or expand it. . .

Robin Edgar said...

Looks like I was close enough. . .

The Islam religion was founded by Mohammed in the seventh century. In 622 he founded the first Islamic state, a theocracy in Medina, a city in western Saudi Arabia located north of Mecca. There are two branches of the religion he founded.

The Sunni branch believes that the first four caliphs--Mohammed's successors--rightfully took his place as the leaders of Muslims. They recognize the heirs of the four caliphs as legitimate religious leaders. These heirs ruled continuously in the Arab world until the break-up of the Ottoman Empire following the end of the First World War.

Shiites, in contrast, believe that only the heirs of the fourth caliph, Ali, are the legitimate successors of Mohammed. In 931 the Twelfth Imam disappeared. This was a seminal event in the history of Shiite Muslims. According to R. Scott Appleby, a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, "Shiite Muslims, who are concentrated in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, [believe they] had suffered the loss of divinely guided political leadership" at the time of the Imam's disappearance. Not "until the ascendancy of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1978" did they believe that they had once again begun to live under the authority of a legitimate religious figure.

Jaume de Marcos Andreu said...

Shiites are those who believe that the legitimacy in the leadership of the Community of Believers (Umma) belonged to Muhammad's descendants, and particularly his son-in-law Ali. Sunnis are those who believe that the leadership was legitimately inherited by others who were not of the prophet's family. This initial division has created two very different religious and cultural traditions within Islam. 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).

Elizabeth said...

Shias thought that the leader of Islam should only be a direct descendent of Mohammed and the Shites didn't think that this direct descendency thing was so important. The break happenend after the Prophet died and people were fighting over who got to be the caliph and there got to be one who wasn't a direct descendent. This is obviously an oversimplification, but my understanding of when the split occured. There are practical differences today, but I don't know what those are.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

It is historically a matter of whether the leadership of Islam is a hereditary position or a merit selection. One group believes that only offspring of Muhamed's step-son, grandson, nephew, or the like is eligible (a bit like being a descendant of Aaron). I believe they are the Sunnis. The other group has position by merit (as defined by them), a bit like protestanism in Christianity.