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By the time of his death in 632, Muhammad had consolidated power in Arabia.His followers subsequently built an empire that would stretch from Central Asia to Spain less than a century after his death.Editor's Note: As Americans try to figure out the quagmire in Iraq, we have heard a great deal about factional differences between Sunni muslims and Shi'a muslims.
They believe that these individuals possess spiritual charisma, and assert that they rank just below the prophets because they are divinely inspired, not to produce new prophecy, but to understand the true or esoteric meaning of the Quran.
In their eyes, therefore, Muhammad's relatives and descendants were the proper leaders of the Muslim community and of the first four caliphs only the fourth, 'Ali, Muhammad's first-cousin and son-in-law, was legitimate.
Struggles between Sunni and Shia forces have fed a Syrian civil war that threatens to transform the map of the Middle East, spurred violence that is fracturing Iraq and widened fissures in a number of tense Gulf countries.
Growing sectarian clashes have also sparked a revival of transnational jihadi networks that poses a threat beyond the region.
Today there are tens of thousands of organized sectarian militants throughout the region capable of triggering a broader conflict.
Essay On Sunnis And Shiites
And despite the efforts of many Sunni and Shia clerics to reduce tensions through dialogue and counter-violence measures, many experts express concern that Islam's divide will lead to escalating violence and a growing threat to international peace and security. Sunni and Shia Muslims have lived peacefully together for centuries.How their rivalry is settled will likely shape the political balance between Sunnis and Shias and the future of the region, especially in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain.Alongside the proxy battle is the renewed fervor of armed militants, motivated by the goals of cleansing the faith or preparing the way for the return of the messiah.The monotheistic profession of faith – "There is no God but God and Muhammad is the Prophet of God," 2. In Sunni eyes, these s did not possess, as some Catholic Popes claimed, infallibility in interpreting religious doctrine.Sunnis view the first four caliphs, men who had known or were related to Muhammad, idealistically as the four "rightly-guided Caliphs," (632-661 CE) of an Islamic Golden Age, and most of them also accept the legitimacy of both the two later dynastic Caliphates: the Umayyads (661-750 CE) of Damascus and the 'Abbasids (750-1258 CE) of Baghdad and those who ruled individual Muslim countries afterwards.Islam's schism, simmering for 14 centuries, doesn't explain all the political, economic and geostrategic factors involved in these conflicts, but it has become one prism by which to understand the underlying tensions.Two countries that compete for the leadership of Islam, Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, have used the sectarian divide to further their ambitions.However, given the media's pathetic inability to explain the nature of Sunni and Shi' differences in the Islamic world and the reasons why they have become so explosive in Iraq, it is hardly surprising that Americans' understanding of the carnage is largely limited to a sense that most Arabic religious terms begin with the letter S.Yet the sectarian distinctions and violent conflict between these two Iraqi religious communities are recognizable as a typical catalytic reaction that occurs in societies where doctrinal differences interact explosively with socio-economic or political schisms.Northern Irish Christians have been at each other's throats because of the political and socio-economic history of the province.Nor, for all their theological differences, have Sunnis and Shi'is been murdering one another in Iraq because of disputes over how many angels fit on the head of a pin.