If you pay attention to the debate over western involvement in the Middle East, you’ll eventually hear someone explain the United States and its allies have blundered into an age-old sectarian conflict between the Sunni and Shia strands of Islam.
And then they move on, as if if that’s all we need to know. The rest, presumably, is inscrutable.
But some knowledge of the roots of the Shia-Sunni divide and how it’s played out through history may be essential to understanding the complex situation today.
For most of us, our knowledge of Islam doesn’t extend much past an awareness that it is divided into different sects, much as Christianity is.
The schism between Sunnis, who make up an estimated 85 per cent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, and Shiites, dates almost to the beginning of Islam. It has always had both a theological and a temporal component because Islam extended religious principles to political control.
According to an excellent overview produced last year by the Council onRead More »from Sunni vs. Shia: The religious rivalry behind the Middle East turmoil