What are the most important differences between Sunni & Shi'a TODAY?

Apologies if this has been asked before but SEARCH et al is off.

I’m aware of the differing histories of Sunni Islam and Shi’a Islam after the death of Muhammad and his descendants et al, but what are the essential differences today? Is it strictly a political difference over who should lead, or are there doctrinal differences as well? (In other words, why can’t they get along?)

Part of the doctrinal difference is related to the political differences. Rather like Catholics vs Protestants, Shia believe the Imans are infaliable sucessors to the prophets mohammed as leaders of the Umma, just as Catholics do about the Pope. Like protestants, Sunnis reject this for religious reasons.

I have read that the Sunni treat the Shi’a as second class citizens, or even - to hear some tell it - subhuman, in places where the Sunni are in charge. The tone of this mistreatment clashes with modern Western progressive standards. Don’t know if places the Shi’a are in charge work the other way around.

I think it has been fair to say about the power sharing proposals for Iraq that the only thing the Shi’a want is to be able to govern themselves, and the only thing the Kurds want is to be able to govern themselves, and that the only thing the Sunni want is for the Shi’a and Kurds not to have any self-government.

In Afghanistan before the revolution and then the Russian invasion, the status quo (I read) was for Sunni to have pretty pleasant lives, and the Shi’a to be their servants and have much more limited access to the law.

The core of the Shi’ite religious world view is the Hidden Imam, <SNIP> While the stories of the first eleven Imams are historical in nature, the history of the twelfth Imam is mystical and miraculous.

I can’t find a direct cite, but this implies what i remember: that Sunni Islam declared an end to inquiry on spiritual matters, whereas with Shia the inquiry is ongoing.

The tendency to restrict academic inquiry to the study of past accomplishments was at variance with the belief in the timeless relevance of the Islamic message. “Our faith has never been restricted to one place or one time. Ever since its revelation, the fundamental concept of Islam has been its universality and the fact that this is the last revelation, constantly valid, and not petrified into one period of man’s history or confined to one area of the world.”

You know how evangelical Christian (Protestant) pastor John Hagee feels about Catholics? That’s analogous to the way that deranged, out of control Sunni clerics feel about the Shi’a.

You know how the average American Christian feels about his neighbors’ religious beliefs? That’s analogous to the way that the average Arab Muslim feels about his neighbors’ religious beliefs.

There is absolutely nothing about the doctrinal differences between Sunni and Shi’a that would make a rational person hate anyone in the other denomination.

Now I’m going to simplify even more and say that the Sunni-Shi’a violence that’s going on in Iraq is probably largely the result of incredibly stupid American policies after the invasion, coupled with the opportunism of a lot of ambitious politico-religious leaders employing the time-honored technique of demagoguery, like that of the incredibly evil proto-Cheney, Slobodan Milosevic.

Now that I think about it, you probably already knew all that.

Please refrain from irrelevant political commentary in General Questions. Thanks.

General Questions Moderator

I have yet to see a discussion of competing religious doctrines that stayed in GQ. You might as well move it now. If the topic was the differences between Mormons and Baptists, it would already be in GD.

What are the most important differences between Sunni & Shi’a?

Sunni was teh short guy with the cheesy mustache, and Shi’a was the tall girl with the long dark hair.

I’m not a Muslim, but as I understand it the essential difference is that the Sunnis believe that all living Muslims are equal in terms of religion. Religious authority is derived exclusively from scripture and anyone is capable of understanding Islam via scripture. The Shia believe that Imams are a living group of religious authorities that are capable of making decisions on religious issues that other Muslims are required to obey.

You haven’t seen some of the threads I have, then. There have been factual threads about religion that have been able to stay in GQ. Let’s do our best to keep this one here as well.

Besides that, off-hand cracks about Cheney and Milosevic are off topic for a thread concerning Islam in any case.

General Questions Moderator

That is irreverent and a stretch as a pun, and yet strangely satisfying. I salute you.

And where would that be? I am amused that you have “read” about Afghanistan when the stratifications in that country tend to be along ethnic lines, rather than sectarian.

That’s like saying you know the difference between Protestants and Catholics then but asking about the differences now. The differences haven’t changed except to widen. How many non-Catholics nowadays can tell you which Saint’s day today is compared to the number of non-Catholics a few hundred years ago that still marked the calendar that way?

Iraq and Iran: Sunni and Shi’a; Arabic and Persian. This day or that day

griffin1977’s point is a major one in the increasing rift. Compare Shi’a belief with information about the Prophet’s early beliefs as related in the book The Only God is God.

I would ask Gala Matrix Fire what part Wahhabism plays in Sunni Islam and it’s impact on modern Sunni thought as well as American converts to Islam.

I think the point Sampiro was making was that the original difference between the Sunni and the Shi’a was over who should succeed Muhammad as the leader of the Islamic community. Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s father-in-law, was chosen and the Sunnis recognize him as Muhammad’s legitimate successor. The Shi’a believe that Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law, was the real successor.

The choice between these two individuals is obviously moot today; both men have been dead for centuries. So if that were the only issue the division would have ended. But the ongoing issue is the means of choosing leaders and its implication on other issues. Abu Bakr’s legitimacy was primarily based on the fact that he had been chosen by the Muslim community. Ali’s legitimacy was primarily based on the statements of religious authorities that he was chosen by Allah. So again it was a debate to whether everyone in the Islamic community has an equal voice in decision making or whether decision making should be limited to a group of religious authorities.

Is there much (or any) conversion between the two sects?

But there was no real division of the ummah until after the death of Hussein (Husayn). Hussein’s greed deed at Karbala is the true birth of Shi’a faith and doctrine. Doctrine which has only widened from Sunni over time. Sure there was political infighting and even actual fighting but the slaughter of Hussein started the split which became sealed with the assassination of Jafar.

The doctrine and dogma took even wider turns from each other after the “disappearance” of Muhammad al-Mahd, the last of the line from the Prophet through Fatimah and Ali, through Hussien…

Beg to differ about that book burning misogynist.

A coup d’etat that was probably motivated because Ali argued for the Prophet to divorce Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr, after the lost in the desert incident )even though Ali was not one of her accusers).

Hussein’s [del]greed[/del] great deed at Karbala

Perfection belongs to Allah.

Aw man, I’m not an expert. And that’s a deep question.

Unless you’re asking me to extend my analogy, in which case I’d say Salafism (Wahhabism) is like evangelical Christianity and that the majority of Sunni Muslims are unaware of how pernicious it is.

I don’t know anything about American converts to Islam, although I’ve known a couple casually, but I would doubt that they were attracted to Salafism. There was that study publicized recently about how often Americans switch religions; I think we tend to get out there and seek the religion that suits us best, and I doubt many people who grew up in America would choose Salafist Islam over, say, going Amish or Quaker.

But isn’t that fundamentally true of any two opposing groups?

There is a great deal of inter-marriage in some countries where there is a mix, say Pakistan and the doctrinal differences are small enough for issues of conversion not to arise.