Shia vs. Sunni: The Schism Western Politicians Don’t Understand and Won’t Discuss

Shia vs. Sunni: The Schism Western Politicians Don’t Understand and Won’t Discuss, by John Hayward.

Western politicians rarely acknowledge the schism between Shia and Sunni Islam. There is nothing remotely comparable to this schism in any other religion in the modern world.

The Sunni-Shia conflict defines the political structure of the Middle East, from the international rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia to the internal politics of Muslim nations. And yet, Western politicians, eager to portray Islam as a “religion of peace,” speak of Muslims as homogenous.

At the hard core of political correctness, Islam is treated more like a race than a religion, a monolithic ethnic bloc like “Hispanics” or “Asians.” …

In truth, there are Shiite Muslims who do not think Sunnis count as Muslim at all, and vice versa. Adherents of the more extreme sects within the Sunni and Shia schools view moderate followers of the same basic tradition as apostates. …

The Sunni-Shiite rift … flows from a doctrinal dispute that might seem trivial to modern outsiders. When Mohammed died in the 7th Century, there was a profound disagreement among the early followers of Islam about who should succeed him as leader. …

Iran still believes its theocracy has rightful authority over Islam under the Shiite model of descent from Mohammed, for example. One of the candidates in the recent Iranian presidential election, cleric Ebrahim Raisi, wears a black turban to signify he is a sayed, a descendant of Mohammed. …

The royal family of Jordan is seen by some analysts as key to bridging the Sunni-Shiite divide, because the Hashemite ruling dynasty of Sunni Jordan claims direct descent from Mohammed’s family, satisfying the Shiite criteria for authentic leadership of Islam. Unfortunately, this also means the Jordanian regime gets to enjoy the violent hatred of both Sunni and Shiite extremists. …

Another branch of Islam that often suffers discrimination and violence from other Muslims is the Sufi sect. The Sufis are neither Sunni nor Shiite — or they might say they are both, since both Sunni and Shiite Islam have Sufi chapters. …

None of these branches of Islam are themselves homogeneous. There are dozens of different Sufi orders, for instance. …

To be sure, not all Muslims feel any of this doctrinal animosity. It would be a fool’s game to say “most do” or “most don’t,” given the size of the global Muslim population, the differences between Muslims of different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds, and the effects of emigration and assimilation. …

Muslims abuse and kill each other over doctrinal conflicts on a horrifying scale. Most of that violence and oppression is not “terrorism.” It comes from military conflicts and government crackdowns on religious minorities.

hat-tip Stephen Neil, Scott of the Pacific