MUSLIM SECTS AND SUNNIS
Shiite arc There are a number Islam sects and groups. Sunnis make up the overwhelming majority of Muslims. Shiites are the second largest group. They are divided by the Hanafi, Shafe’i, Maleki and Hanbali schools. Wahhabis are a conservative Sunni sect most active in Saudi Arabia. Sufis practice a mystical form of Sunni Islam. Ismaelis are a Shiite sect led by Aga Khan. The views of some groups are radically different from those others. Members of some groups regard members of rival groups as heretics.
Sunnis make up 84.6 percent of the global Muslim population of 1.57 billion (2009). Shiites make up 15.4 percent. Sunnis make up 62.5 percent of the Muslim population of 253 million (2006) in the Middle East; Shiites make up 37.5 percent.
About 85 percent of all Muslims are Sunnis. Sunnis are so named because they obey the Sunna of the Prophet. Sunna means "tradition,” and is sometimes used to refer to the “customs of Mohammed.“ When people talk about Islam in a general way they are usually talking about Sunni Islam.
The four main Sunni schools devolved in the first 200 years of Islam. They include the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafai and Hanbali—all of which are still active. Saudi Wahhabis belong to the Hanbali school, while the rest of Arabian, Egyptian, and Iranian Sunnis belong Shafai school. Hanafi school is more liberal than other schools. It is active in Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan. The Maliki school is active in Egypt and other North African countries.
Sunnis believed the heirs of Abu Bakr, Mohammed's father in law, were best suited to carry on Islam after the prophet’s death while Shiites believe that Ali, Mohammed's cousin and son-in-law, was anointed for the task.
See Differences Between Sunnis and Shiites and Religious Differences Between Sunnis and Shiites Below
Websites and Resources: Islam.com islam.com ; islamicity.com ; Islam 101 islam101.net ; Islamic History Resources uga.edu/islam/history ; Internet Islamic History Sourcebook fordham.edu/halsall/islam/islamsbook ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/islam ; BBC article bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam ; Islamic History friesian.com/islam ; Islam.com Timeline classicalislam.com ; Islamic Civilization cyberistan.org ; Muslim Heritage muslimheritage.com
Muhammad's letter to Muqawqi Shiite Islam is the second largest Islamic sect after the Sunni Islam. They make up about 15 percent of all Muslims. Most Shiites reside in Iran and Iraq. They form the majority in Azerbaijan and Bahrain. A large number also live in Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, some of the Persian Gulf states, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Shiites rule only in Iran. In other countries, even where Shiites are a majority, they are ruled by Sunnis. That was the case in Iraq under Saddam Hussein but now Shiites are politically strong there.
Shiites (also known as Shias and Shi’ites make up 15.4 percent of the global Muslim population of 1.57 billion (2009). They make up 37.5 percent of the Muslim population of 253 million (2006) in the Middle East
Most Shiites are in Iran, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain. There are sizable populations in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan and small pockets in India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. There are virtually no Shiites in North Africa and Southeast Asia.
Shiites (numbers): 1) Iran (61.4 million); 2) Pakistan (30.8 million); 3) Iraq (16.5 million); 4) Turkey (6 million); 5) Afghanistan (5.1 million); 6) Azerbaijan (5.1 million); 7) Yemen (3.1 million); 8) Saudi Arabia (2.4 million); 9) Syria (1.3 million); 10) Oman (0.9 million); 11) Lebanon (0.8 million); 12) Kuwait (0.6 million); 13) Bahrain (0.5 million); 14) United Arab Emirates (0.4 million).
Shiites (percentage of the population): 1) Iran (89 percent); 2) Oman (75 percent); 3) Bahrain (70 percent); 4) Iraq (65 percent); 5) Azerbaijan (61 percent); 6) Lebanon (55 percent); 7) Yemen (36 percent); 8) Kuwait (30 percent); 9) Pakistan (20 percent); 10) Afghanistan (18 percent); 11) Syria (17 percent); 12) United Arab Emirates (16 percent); 13) Turkey (15 percent); 14) Saudi Arabia (15 percent).
Book” The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future by Vali Nasr.
Differences Between Sunnis and Shiites
Abu_bakr Shiites (derived from Shi, which in turn is derived from shi’at ‘Ali , “the party of Ali,”) believe that Ali, Mohammed's cousin and son-in-law, was anointed to carry on Islam after the prophet’s death while Sunnis believed the heirs of Abu Bakr, Mohammed's father in law, was best suited for the task. Shiites believe that Ali is Mohammed’s true successor because he was a blood relative of the prophet and was thus the only one capable of explaining Islam’s doctrines. Some sects argue that Ali was an even more important prophet than Mohammed. Ali's successor were known as "divine imams."
On the differences between Sunnis and Shiites, Time magazine reported: “In addition to belief in the same god...Sunnis and Shiites have a great deal in common: ethnicity, language, cuisines and apparel, They ways in which they differ are subtle and vary from region to region. There are some unwritten rules that govern how each sect practices its faith, names its children and decorates its homes. But differentiation is not an exact science and mistaken identity is commonplace.” [Source: Time magazine, March 15. 2007]
Friction between Sunnis and Shiites is more about politics, history, tribalism and inequality than its about religious differences and the reason for the friction is complex and has a long history. Ghanim Hashem Kudhir, who teaches modern Islamic history at Baghdad’s Mustansiriya University, told Time magazine, “Their sect is nothing more than a uniform, a convenient way to tell friend from enemy. What binds them in not religion but common historical experience.”
The vast majority of Islamic names, even Ali, are common among both Sunnis and Shiites but some are viewed as clear sectarian markers. Abdel-Hussein and Abdel-Zahra are usually Shiites. Abu Bakr, Omar and Uthman—early caliphs perceived by Shiites as being hostile to Ali—are generally only found among Sunnis. In Iraq, tribal or family names such Dulaimi, Sumarrai and Bkri tend to be Sunni while Sa’aedi, Moussawi and Rubaie tend to be Shiite. Large tribes in Iraq tend to have members of both sects. Among the common names of members of these tribes are Jaburi, Shammari and Khafaji.
Language can also be a sectarian marker. In Iraq since the southern part of the country is overwhelmingly Shiite, anybody speaking with a pronounced southern accent is assumed to be a Shiite . The Anbar region is predominately Sunni and the people there speak a distinct dialect.
Ali Medallion Shia is a reference to Ali supporters. Ali ibn Abi Talib (Caliph from 656-61) was the forth caliph. Mohammed's cousin and son-in-law, he was the husband of Mohammed's favorite daughter Fatima and grew up in Mohammed’s household.
Ali seemed like the natural choice to be the first caliph. He was closest male relative of Mohammed and the first male convert to Islam. He was regarded as a good soldier, charismatic, and pious, and was known for the wisdom of his judgements—a saying of the Prophet goes: “Ali is special to me and I am special to him; he is the supporting friend of every believer”—but because he was still young and inexperienced Abu Bakr was picked as the first caliph.
When Ali became caliph he established his capital in Kufa, Iraq. He was supported but the people of Medina, Muslims who resented the Umayyads, and traditionalist Muslims, but he was not universally accepted. The Umayyad elite opposed him and his rise to caliph. The assassination, which brought him to power compromised his authority. A civil war broke out soon after Ali became caliph between his supporters and those of Muawiya, a relative of Othman.
Ali and the Early History of Shiites and Sunnis
Ali The group that supported Ali as caliph became Shiites (derived from shi’at ‘Ali , “the party of Ali,”). They believe that Ali was Mohammed’s true successor because he was a blood relative of the prophet and was thus the only one capable of explaining Islam’s doctrines. They believed the caliph should be selected among his family members because they were more intimately acquainted with Mohammed’s thinking and lifestyle.
Those that opposed Ali became Sunnis. They believed that the caliph, or leader of the Islamic community should be selected among the most qualified of his followers. Sunnis believed the heirs of Abu Bakr, Omar and Othman were best suited for the task even though they were not blood relatives like Ali.
The split between Sunni and Shiite sects was also politically motivated like Henry VIII's split from the Catholic Church, and was partly a disputes over the wealth of the early Caliphs. One reason the conflict between the sects has persisted to this day, some have suggested, is because the two groups were never allowed to fight it out until one group extinguished the other.
Civil Wars After Ali Becomes Caliph
Ali slays Marhab The murder of Othman and ascendancy of Ali to Caliph in 656 triggered a five-year civil war that was the first series of civil wars and rebellions that were to go on for over a hundred years over the succession to the caliphate and dominate Islamic doctrine.
The civil war erupted at least in part because of resentment by Arab tribal leaders over control by Othman and his Umayyad governors and a rivalry with the Meccan mercantile aristocracy as result of the conquests.
In 656, Aisha, the Prophet’s wife, led a rebellion against Ali because he didn’t avenge Othman’s death. Her supporters were defeated by Ali’s supporters near Basra in the Battle of the Camel, so called because Aisha watched over the fighting from the back of a camel.
This battle triggered a face off between Ali’s Iraq-based supporters and the Meccan- and Syrian-based supporters of Muawiyyah ibn Abi Sufyan, an Othman relative and the Muslim military governor of Syria. Muawiyyah had promised to avenge Othman’s death and was supported by the wealthy Meccan clans and was regarded in Syria as an able leader.
In 657, an effort was made to arbitrate the dispute between Ali and Muawiyyah. Muawiyyah used the doctrine of per-destination to legitimize his rule. The decision went against Ali. Muawiyyah deposed him and was proclaimed the Caliph in Jerusalem.
Investiture of Ali
from the Edinburgh codex Ali was murdered by a knife-carrying assassin on his way to a mosque in Kufa, near Najaf in Iraq in A.D. 661. The assassination was carried out by a member of the Kharajites, a group that had originally supported Ali but seceded from Ali’s camp when Muawiyyah declared himself caliph. The assassination is a focus of Shiite reverence and grief.
For some Muslims Ali became a more important religious figure than even Mohammed and some claimed he was an incarnation of the divine, like Jesus, a scandalous idea to many Muslims. No fewer than seven places in the Middle East and Central Asia say they contain the tomb of Ali. One of them is in the Fergana Valley in Uzbekistan.
Ali’s supporters acclaimed his son Hasan as the next Caliph but Hasan made a deal with Muawiyyah and retired to Medina. Hasan died in Medina in 669.
Muawiyyah (Caliph from 661-80) became the recognized caliph after Hasan’s retirement. He ruled from Damascus, Syria and established the Umayyad dynasty. The name is derived from Bani Umayyah, My'awiyah's clan within Mohammed's Quraysh tribe. Muawiyyah was the son of Abu Sufyan, an old enemy of Mohammed, and was the Governor of Syria.
After Ali’s death, Muawiyyah managed to restore unity to the Muslim empire. He was a good Muslim and able leader and kept order with an effective administration system and a strong government.
Yazd I (Caliph from 680-683) succeeded his father Muawiyyah as caliph. They was great resistance to the establishment of a dynasty. A civil war broke out that lasted from 680 to 692.
Hussein and the Battle of Karbala
Battle of Karbala Shiites considered the Umayyads to be usurpers. In 680 some of them called on Hussein (Husayn), the second son of Ali and the grandson of Mohammed, and his half brother Abbas to come to Kufah, Iraq to lead them instead of Yazid I.
Hussein left Medina with a small army and some women and children. They marched for three days in the Iraqi desert and were surrounded by Umayyad soldiers outside of Karbala. When the promised popular support from Kufah failed to materialize, they were left alone, it is said, with a sword in one hand and a Koran in the other. to face an army of 4,000 men.
Hussein and Abbas and their followers were massacred. According to legend, the followers were put to death one by one as Hussein resolved to die rather than acknowledge Yazid I as the leader of Islam. Hussein was reportedly the last one to die, dying with his infant son in his hands.
Before he was decapitated Hussein witnessed the murder of his wife and children and apologized to his horse. In some versions of the story his head was kicked around like a soccer ball. But rather than the nip the Shiite movement at the bud Hussein’s defeat it gave the movement a martyr. In Shiite eyes, Hussein was a just and humane man who stood up an all-powerful oppressor. Hussein’s death is remembers with the solemn, masochistic festival of Ashura (See Shiites).
Impact of the Death of Ali and Hussein
Hussein's body without head The Battle of Karbala is one of the defining moments of Muslim history. The death of Hussein split Islam and inspired the Shiite faith, and marked the beginning of the Sunni sect and the relegation of Shiites to second class status. Hussein is remembered for his sacrifice and devotion. Shiites believe that he and the other victims of the Battle of Karbala became martyrs who went immediately to Paradise. Hussein is regarded as the Third Imam of Shiite Islam. Images of him often depict him as a bearded warrior astride a white horse.
The Sunnis placed the unity of the Muslim community above all else and were willing to accept the political authority necessary to maintain it. The Shiites believed that supporting a legitimate ruler (Ali) had precedence over maintaining peace within the Muslim community. A third group also emerged: the Kharijites, or Seceders, who advocated the right of the Community to elect its own leaders and throw them out if they were accused of committing sins.
Divisions between Sunnis, Shiites and other groups were reinforced and deepened by repeated suppression of armed revolts. Over time a division that was essentially political in nature developed theology, laws and beliefs that distinguished one group from the other, always with the understanding the Sunni view was the view of the majority and Shiites were the minority, with the implication that were cultish and on the fringe.
head of Hussein There has been some assertions that the Sunnis were largely Arab and the Shiites were primarily Persian. That is not necessarily true. There are many Shiite Arabs in Iraq and Lebanon and elsewhere. Shiite Islam did not become the state religion of Iran until the 16th century.
The death of Ali and Hussein also resulted in a lot of soul searching about what Islam was supposed to be. In many these issues have not been resolved and discussion of them continues today. Among the question that are still debated are: Does being a Muslim mean total submission to God and adherence to Muslim law? Is there a place for free will, rationalism and individuality? Is Islam something that is ultimately to be embraced by all of mankind or can it exist as a community with other religions? On top of that, who is to rule over Muslims? How are these leaders to be chosen? What qualities do they need to possess? And how is change and poor leadership to be handled?
Development of Shiite Islam and Safavids
Shiite Islam grew formally in the 10th and 11th century under the Fatamid dynasty in Egypt and in Assassin city states in Iran, the first powerful Shiite states. The theology of the sect also developed around this time. Shiite sharia law was created in the 13th and 14th centuries and was based only on the Koran and hadiths that has been passed down by the Prophet’s family. It allowed things like temporary marriage.
Shiite Islam reached new heights under the Safavids (1502-1736)—fanatical Iran-based Shiites who fought with Sunni Ottomans for over a century and influenced the culture of the Moguls in India. They established the great city of Isfahan, created an empire that covered much of the Middle East and Central Asia and cultivated a sense Iranian nationalism. At its height the Safavid empire (1502-1736) embraced the modern states of Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Afghanistan and parts of Syria, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan.
Battle of Karbala
The Safavids claimed descent from Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed and the inspiration of Shiite Islam. They broke from the Sunni Muslims and made Shiite Islam the state religion. The Safavids are named after Sheikh Safi-eddin Arbebili, a widely revered 14th century Sufi philosopher.
Like their rivals, the Ottomans and Moghuls, the Safavids established an absolute monarchy that maintained power with a sophisticated bureaucracy influenced by the Mongol military state and a legal system based on Muslim law. One of their great challenges was to reconcile Islamic egalitarianism with the autocratic rule. This was achieved initially through brutality and violence and later through appeasement.
Rise of the Safavids
Safavid Flag Safavids originated in what is now Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani region of northwest Iran. The began as a Sufi order that converted to Twelver Shiite Islam and emerged as a major power by taking control of northwest Iran and raiding Christian areas in Georgia and the Caucasus. Many of the warriors in the Safavid armies were Turks.
Shah Ismail (ruled 1501-1524), the founder of the Safavid Dynasty, was a descendant of Sheikh Safi-eddin He was regarded as a great poet, statements and leader. Writing under the name Khatai, he composed works as a members of hf his own circle of court poets.
In 1500, 16-year-old Ismail became the leader of the Safavids after his father was murdered by regional military commanders. His first order of business was to avenge his father’s death. In 1501, he conquered Tabriz. Within a decade he had captured all of Iran. Shah Ismail forged relations with Hungary and Germany, and entered into negotiations regarding a military alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor Karl V.
Safavids and Shiite Islam
Safavid map Ismail declared Twelver Shitte Islam to be the state religion and based his legitimacy on dubious claim to be a descendant of the Shiite imams. This was a major development in Islam. Before that time most Shiites had been Arabs and the previous Shiite dynasties had been made been ruled by Arabs. Although few Iranians were Shiites when the Safavids took power, most of them were Shiites by the 17th century and remain so to this day.
The creation of a Shiite state caused great tensions between Shiites and Sunnis and led to not only intolerance, repression, persecution directed at Sunnis but to an ethnic cleansing campaign. Sunnis were executed and deported, administrators were forced to a vow condemning the first three Sunni caliphs. Before that time Shiites and Sunnis had gotten along reasonably well and Twelver Shiite Islam was regarded as fringe, mystical sect.
Twelver Shiite Islam went through great changes. It had been previously practiced quietly in homes and emphasized mystical experiences. Under the Safavids, the sect became more doctrinal and institutionalized and less tolerant of dissent and mysticism. Individual soul searching and discovery and Sufi acts of devotion were replaced with mass rituals in which throngs of men collectively beat themselves and moaned and cried and denounced Sunnis and mystics.
Religious Differences Between Sunnis and Shiites
The declaration of Shiism
as the state religion of Iran
by Shah Ismail, Safavids dynasty There is little difference between Sunnis and Shiites on basic beliefs about God, prophecy, revelations and the Last Judgment. The differences that exist are comparable to those between Catholic and Orthodox Christians or Catholics and Protestants. Vali Nasr, author of the The Shia Revival , compares Shiites to Catholics because of their emphasis on religious hierarchy, mysticism, worship of a holy family (in the case of Shiites the Prophet’s descendants) and clerical intercession while the Sunnis lack a unified clerical establishment and rely more on Koran and the Sunnah, the way of the Prophet, as the sole authority on religious questions.
Shiite Muslims arguably takes a more emotional and gloomy view of religion than Sunni Muslims. Shiites affirm man's free will, tend toward the ecstatic and are obsessed with martyrdom while Sunnis are more deterministic, staid and simple They don't question the Koran they simply do what it says.. Shiites take a more rational and philosophical approach to the Koran, often questioning what the sacred book really means. Many Shiite beliefs—in reincarnations, messiahs and Gnosticism—are perceived as wacky by Sunnis.
Shiite Islam places greater importance on the individual in the religious hierarchy. Sunnis believed hat clerics are guides or advisors and that the relationship with God is direct, a belief that mirrors the Protestant view. Shiites on the other hand believe that clerics are empowered to interpret God’s will for the faithful and is somewhat comparable to the Catholic view of a powerful hierarchy.
Sunni “pays attention to the sincerity of belief by enjoining interior states of pious intents called niat .” Some Shiite sects make a distinctions between big sins, which exclude an individual from salvation, and little sins which are forgivable.
Shiites are required to pay two kinds of tithes— khums , or fifth of their income, and zakat , a smaller payment. Sunnis only pay the zakat. Shiites are expected to give one fifth of their income to the household of the their cleric mentor and he in turn uses the money for good works, establishing madrassahs and providing stipends for theological students. The Zakat is 10 percent for Shiites (compared to 2.5 percent for Sunnis).
History of Relation Between Sunnis and Shiites
Safavids Flag,1715 Sunni Islam has always been he dominant sect and often has managed have control even in places where Sunnis were outnumbered by Shiites, which today includes many of the major oil-producing areas of the Middle East (even in Saudi Arabia. Shiite make up the majority population in key oil-producing regions). A key to the Sunni strategy of domination has been excluding Shiites for the military and bureaucracy. Historically Shiites have been the underclass, often forced to do manual labor and denied their far share of state resources.
Despite being repressed Shiite Islam never went away and a sense of victimhood and being the underdog seems to drive Shiites forward. A popular Shiite saying goes: “Every day is Ashura and every city is Karbala.”The Shiite way has traditionally appealed to those who were oppressed, whether they be individuals or small or medium size group that felt disenfranchised or had different beliefs than Sunnis or kingdoms or states that chafed under Sunni rule.
To justify their political dominance Sunnis have characterized Shiites at best as incomplete Muslims and at worst as heretics. Shiite rituals have been characterized as pagan and their fondness of images of Ali has been condemned as idol worshiping. Shiite festivals such as Ashura have been periodically banned out of fear might turn into political gatherings used to ignite an uprising.
Despite all this Sunnis and Shiites have managed to coexist for 1,300 years. The Sunni Caliphs of Baghdad tolerated the Shiites and even contributed to the development of Najaf and Karbala. Sectarian tensions rose when the seat of Sunni power fell into the hands of the Ottoman Turks in Istanbul. The Turks fought a number of battles with the Shiite Safavids of Persia and Shiites caught in predominately Sunni Arab territories suffered. Things didn’t improve that much for the Shiites when colonial Britain and France moved into the Middle East.
In secular state Sunnis and Shiites formed close bonds. Saddam Hussein was for the most part was a nasty ruler but his secular government did go a long way towards bridging the gap between Sunnis and Shiite. Before the American invasion of Iraq, marriages between Shiites and Sunnis were quite common in Iraq. Sociologist have estimated that nearly a third of all Iraqi unions were between members of different sects. Sunnis and Shiites also shared neighborhoods, socialized and formed businesses together.
Frictions Between Sunnis and Shiites
Funeral of Imam Husayn Tensions between Sunnis and Shiites were notched up a level when Ayatollah Khomeini launched the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and began calling transnational Islamic revolution, with Shiites leading the charge. Arab monarchs felt threatened by this as did Saddam Hussein in predominately Shiite Iraq. Saddam cracked down on Shiites and ordered the murder of a popular ayatollah. Iraq and Iran fought a bloody war between 1980 and 1988. Tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousand, of Shiite were killed by Saddam after an unsuccessful Shiite uprising after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
After the American invasion of Iraq, friction between Shiites and Sunnis communities that had gotten along under Saddam became quite intense and it was not uncommon for people to get killed because they belonged to the wrong sect. There were some concerns that he sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiite in Iraq would spill to other places with large Shiite populations such as Lebanon and even Kuwait and Saudi Arabia The Shiite group Hezbollah has maintained a powerful presence in Lebanon for some time.
In the eyes of many Wahhabis and other Islamists, Shiites are heretics, even apostates further removed from the Muslim faith than Christians and Jews. Under Islamic law, apostasy carries the death penalty. Shiites have been the targets of attacks by Al-Qaeda, Taliban and other Muslim extremists in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and other places.
Sometimes Arab newspapers run articles with conspiracy theories on how Shiite aim to take over the Muslim world and form a Shiite crescent from Lebanon to India. There are also stories of vile, lecherous Shiites that are similar to those circulated about Jews. A number of books with similar themes are widely available.
Sunni and Shiite Prayers and Prayer Positions
Shiites and Sunnis hold their hands in different positions when they pray. Shiites tend to hold their arms straight down and with their hands in front them with their palms touching the body or facing downwards. Sunnis cross their arms just over the rib cage. [Source: Time magazine, March 15. 2007]
Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq During prayers members of both sects kneel, bend and touch their foreheads to the ground. Devout Shiites touch their heads to a small clay disc, known as a turba , made in to the holy city of Najaf. Over time the turba can make a small callus on the forehead. Some Sunnis develop calluses from rubbing their forehead against their prayer mats.
All Muslims are required to pray five times a day. Sunnis have five separate prayer times. Shiites have the option of doubling up their prayers and praying at three prayer times (before sunrise and twice in the afternoon at one's discretion). On the call to prayer Shiites add ”Come to the best deed” after “Come to security” and add Ali’s name to those of God and the Prophet Mohammed. Shiites also have a special ritual ablution and their call to prayer is typically a couple minutes behind those of Sunnis.
During Ramadan, Sunnis and Shiites often break the fast at different times and observe their celebrations a day or two apart. In Iraq, the Shiite-dominated government angered Sunnis when it decided to hang Saddam Hussein on the first day of Sunni Eid in 2006. The festival started the next day for Shiites.
Sunni and Shiite Mosques and Homes
Kerbala Sunni mosques tend to have domes and minarets. Shiites often worship at Huseiniyas, which combine the functions of a mosque and community center and don’t necessarily have domes. In Iraq, Shiite places of worships are often draped with traditional green and black flags and are decorated with portraits of Ali and sometimes Hussein. Sunni mosques tend to be more austere; portraits of any kind are regarded as forms of idolatry. [Source: Time magazine, March 15. 2007]
Shiite fondness of portraits often extends to their homes. An image of Ali is often hung on the walls of their living rooms. Sunnis tend to favor calligraphy with quotations from the Koran. During important religious occasions Shiite may unfurl colorful flags on their roof. Sometimes Sunnis display a white flag when they have returned from the Hajj.
Shiite fondness of portraits also extends to their vehicles. Shiites often have pictures or stickers of Ali in their cars, especially in their rear windows. The also like to hang religious amulets (like a strip of green called am Alek ) from the rear view mirrors. In Iraq, such markers can be dangerous. In the mid 2000s, it was not uncommon for Sunni militias to pull over cars with Ali stickers and murder the passengers,
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Arab News, Jeddah; Islam, a Short History by Karen Armstrong; A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). Also articles in National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011