Mistakes in: What's the difference between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims?

Just thought I’d point out some glaring and not so glaring errors:

  1. He wanted no pictures or images of himself (still a major tenet of Sunni Islam): This is also the rule in Shia Islam. The author himself testifies to this when he mentions in his personal aside that “interesting since the faces of the actors were always hidden or blurred to avoid depicting the family of the Prophet.”

  2. In the year 622, Mohammed and his family and followers emigrated (or were forced to flee, depending on your point of view) from Mecca to Medina — this event is known as the Hajj…: No, this the Hijra. The Hajj is the yearly pilgrimage.

  3. There was no open war between Caliph Uthman and Imam Ali. Imam Ali became the Caliph after the assasination of Uthman. Imam Ali set up his capital at Kufa (near Karbala) after he became caliph.

  4. Ali’s second son, Hussayn, gathered an army to fight Muawiyah. : No, he fought and was killed by Muawiyah’s son, Yazid. Muawiyah was already dead for 6 months by then. Also, Hussain’s force numbered some 100 odd men; whether one can call this an army is debatable.

  5. Hussayn was trapped in the city of Karbala: No, Karbala was open land then. It grew to be a city later.

  6. I saw young people, probably high on drugs, cut themselves to bleed in sympathy for the martyrs: They were high on religious fervour. Don’t make wild assumptions when you do no understand what you are seeing.
    On the whole a disappointing answer and it makes me wonder about the quality of the answers, where my own knowledge is difficient!

Here’s a link to Dex’s Staff Report: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2803/whats-the-difference-between-sunni-and-shiite-muslims

Yes, sorry, the word “Sunni” did not belong in there: “still a major tenet of Islam.”

Yes again, sorry, problems in the editing, obviously. Thanks for catching it.

I think this depends on your sources.

Again, I think this depends on whose version you accept. I will check this, but the politics frankly became very confused and uncertain. I’ll check this (and my memory is weak, I wrote this report months ago) but I probably was talking about the party/faction rather than the person.

I’ll check on this as well, but this is what my sources said.

I’m making no assumptions whatsoever, I’m quoting the Bahraini graduate student who took me around. He saw them, and he that’s what he said. On this one, I trust his experience and observations of the actual situation rather than your assumption that they were motivated purely by piety.


I think this was an excellent column. I can only imagine it is very difficult to write a balanced, neutral column about a historical event that still causes great passions among the faithful. (I was thinking about the fervor of the Turkish/Armenian situation on these boards some time back, a situation I do not want to see repeated. And that was only a century or so ago.)

I’ll be interested in knowing what your sources were. A lot of the points I’ve raised are accepted by both sides.

Wikipedia is not the final word, but a quick fact check there will support my objections.

Enthusiastically seconded. You walked through a real historical/religious minefield, CKDH, and did it with both accuracy and style, I’d say.

I’m distrustful of Wikipedia, for a variety of reasons. Most of my information was taken from my handwritten notes from a class I took. As I said, I wrote this many many months ago, and it’s just now emerged from the queue. The next two weeks will not give me much time for research, but please be patient and I’ll see what I can find.

One problem is, of course, that the historicity of all this is questionable. Written records from that time are scarce and subjective. And when dogma and history conflict, history usually loses. Of course, that’s not just Islam, that’s true of Christian and European history from the same time period as well.

I don’t think I’ll replicate my post from the other ( closed ) thread in full. My other stated objections regarded one matter of pure opinion and what I considered awkward phrasing on the issue of sectional Shi’ism and its relation to the number of accepted imams.

But as to the above, I have to say I haven’t run across any sources that argue Ali was in arms against Uthman at any point. One nice secondary source that addresses the topic of the earliest splits is The Succession to Muhammed: A Study of the Early Caliphate by Wilferd Madelung ( 1997, Cambridge University Press ). It’s an examination in depth of the entirety of the Rashidun period and I’ll quote one relevant passage dealing with Uthman’s reign:

Uthman’s wrongdoings, it should be emphasized, must seem trivial from the perspective of later generations. Not a single Muslim was killed on his orders, except in punishment for murder or adultery. The arbitrary acts of violence of which he is accused were confined to beatings, imprisonment and deportations. The sanctity of Muslim life enjoined by Muhammed was still respected…Uthman, by nature averse to bloodshed, found it easy to comply with the Prophet’s injunctions.

Kind of hard to fight a civil war without killing your opponents, even once ( well, okay - one guy died in prison ) ;). Uthman went so far as to demobilize his guards and command them not to shed the blood of the rebels who eventually killed him. Madelung makles it clear that Ali was not a fan of Uthman in any way, shape or form. But his strongest actions seem to have been to harangue and admonish him for his nepotism and other offences. Madelung even categorically rejects ( and his reasoning seems pretty sound and are backed up by both orthodox Sunni and Shi’a tradition ) the suggestion that Ali may have been part of the conspiracy to overthrow and murder Uthman.

A relevant thread from a few months ago that might be of interest on the modern differences.

There were the Revelations and there were Hadith, the sayings of the Prophet.

For Muslims, the Koran is a revelation from The God, not the Prophet’s ideas. To say that the Koran is merely a culmination of ideas or ideals is to say that the Islamic faith is a false faith.

That certainly was NOT what I meant to imply. Mohammed viewed himself as the last in the line of prophets that included Old Testament prophets and Jesus; many of the stories are re-tellings of biblical stories and much of the law is revision of Judaic law (e.g., no pork.) I did say early on that

I therefore find it quite interesting to see origins of some of the Islamic concepts in (take your choice) biblical law or in earlier revelations.

Saying that the Koran completes ideas is NOT the same as saying it’s “false” in any way – heaven knows, Christianity claims that Jesus’ sacrifice was the culmination or completion of Old Testament law. It’s simply a recognition that these faiths did not spring up totally new, but were developed from what had come before.

You did it again. Although this time you did use the term “Islamic concepts” instead of “the Koran”. Instead of using the terms, “drawn from” or “origins of” may I suggest using “similar to” as in “similar to earlier beliefs or revelations”?

No one, include Mohammed and God, would say that everything in the Koran is original. Much of it was based on earlier revelations to earlier prophets. I don’t see any reason to pretend otherwise, and I don’t believe Muslims do, either. It is not detrimental to Islam, nor to Christianity, to say that they were “drawn from” or “evolved from” Judaism.

The comparison of Ashura with Yom Kipur was, in fact, given to me by a very influential high-level Bahraini. I don’t see that there’s much difference using terms like “drawn from” or “derived from” vs “related to” or “similar to.” To the contrary, “similar to” implies that there is no historic evolution/relation between the two, when there clearly is.

And neither approach necessarily implies purely human origin. God certainly repeats Himself --within the Koran, with the Hebrew Bible, within the New Testament, and amongst the three books, as well.

As nearly defined correctly, Sunnis are the “law abide-rs,” however, Sh’ities were not defined by anybody of you. It means “the followers.”