Sunni Vs Shia and the trouble with Islam
The conflict between Sunni and Shia is deeply rooted and intractable, it has existed for almost 1400 years. The divide was traced to 632 A.D, when Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) died and a debate emerged about who should be his successor. One group (which eventually became the Shiites) felt that the Prophet’s successor should be someone in his bloodline, particularly his cousin Ali, while the other group (which became the Sunnis) felt that a pious individual and companion of the Prophet, Abubakar should lead. At the end, leadership position was passed to Abubakar by the majority, but Ali didn’t pledge his allegiance. It took him over 6 months to do so and when he eventually did, the followers were already divided.
Why they differ on who should lead
The group that eventually became Shia claimed that the Prophet had anointed Ali to be his successor before his death, but the other group said it’s not true. Additionally, while Ali is Prophet’s cousin, he is also the husband of his only surviving child, Fatima. Abubakar on the other hand is not just the Prophet’s trusted companion; he is also father of one of Prophet’s wife, Aisha.
After the death of Abubakar, leadership was passed to next trusted companion Umar, and then to Uthman, before it eventually came Ali’s turn when Uthman was martyred by those who felt he was not ruling well, some of which were Ali’s supporters. Let it be clear however that, while Ali openly disagreed with Uthman on certain policies and appointments, he wasn’t aware of any conspiracy against him. As a matter of fact, when Information leaked about certain conspiracy to kill Uthman, Ali sent 2 of his children to join those guarding the leader, but somehow, the plotters succeeded. The community eventually came together to persuade Ali to lead and he accepted, after several rejection.
Uthman's Family versus Ali's Family
When Ali took charge, he reportedly reshuffled the cabinet and other group felt alienated. A group led by Uthman's cousin, Muawiyah whom Ali had tried to replace as Governor of Syria formed opposition and successfully overran Ali's newly appointed Governors. The Muslim community was divided. One led by Ali and the other by Muawiyah. After several mediation, negotiation was done and Ali accepted the verdict to the displeasure of some section of his own followers. In the crisis that ensured between his own camp, Ali was assassinated by Khawarij (breakaway), and his son Hassan negotiated a peace treaty with Muawiyah.
After Hassan and Muawiyah died, Hassan's brother, Hussaine refused to pledge allegiance to Muawiyah's son, Yazid who took over from his father and this led to another battle. Yazid's army massacred Hussein's small forces on the 10th of Muharram 680 CE and this day was venerated by Shias as the day that marked the irreversible split of Sunni and Shia.
It was simply put this way, ‘’the supporters of Ali's family became the Shia, while the followers of Uthman's family along with Muslims who didn't particularly care about who was in charge became Sunni’’.
For the purpose of emphasis, let me also agree with those who maintained that Sunni and Shia divide has nothing to do with religion. The conflict, as it has been argued, is simply about politics and leadership. While Sunnis regarded all 4 successors of Prophet Muhammed, including Ali as rightly guided Caliph, Shias on the other hand regard only Ali as true successor, describing the 3 others as usurpers. Shias often use all sorts of defamatory languages against the others, thereby causing animosity with Sunni.
Modern Conflict, Global politics and U.S influence
According to a report from State University of New York, one hundred years ago, around the time of World War 1, Middle East was carved up in a Franco-British pact called the Sykes-Picot Agreement. But the Europeans had little interest in understanding the religious and ethnic intricacies of the Middle East when they divided up the region. Still, these arbitrary borders became the blueprint for today's maps. The report stated that, Shiites were divided primarily among Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, with Alawites (an off-shoot of Shia Islam) in Syria.
Meanwhile, Sunni Muslims make up the bulk of the population of other countries in the region, with pockets of Shiites scattered among them. As you might expect, problems arise in countries where both sects are vying for power, or one feels oppressed. In Syria, for example, a Sunni majority has been ruled for the last 45 years by a Shia minority, while In Iraq, a Sunni minority ruled over the Shiite majority for decades. After U.S. invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, a Sunni was overthrown, and a Shiite government took over. That government was perceived to be marginalizing Sunnis, and some Sunnis went to form the so-called ISIS. The bitter resentments between Shiite-led government and Sunni communities have contributed to victories by ISIS.
To understand the conflict better, know that Al Qaeda and ISIS are Sunni Muslim groups, While Hezbollah is Shiite. Osama bins Laden, Saddam Hussain are Sunni. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is Shia. And Iran is Shiites, which explain why Iran gotten involved in conflict in Syria.
Traditionally, reports have it that U.S.'s strongest allies in the Middle East have been Sunni powers, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. But now the U.S. is pursuing a nuclear deal with Shiite Iran, and is working alongside Shiites in Iraq to try to destroy ISIS. However, U.S is still supporting Saudi Arabia, which is currently bombing Iran-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen.
Role of sectarianism in recent crises
Saudi Royal family is Sunni and they control Islam’s holiest cities of Mecca and Medina. In countries being governed by Sunnis, Shia tends to make up the poorest sections of society. They often see themselves as victims of discrimination and oppression. Sunni extremists frequently denounce Shia as heretics who should be killed. The Iranian revolution of 1979 launched a radical Shia Islamist agenda that was perceived as a challenge to conservative Sunni regimes, particularly in the Gulf. Shia is seeking to lay claim to the holy cities. Iran's policy of supporting Shia militias and parties beyond its borders is to achieve that purpose and it is being matched by Sunni-ruled Gulf states, which strengthened their links to Sunni governments and movements elsewhere. This is what has been somehow transported to Africa and Nigeria in particular.
Abdulrazaq O Hamzat writes from Abuja, Nigeria. He is the President of Foundation for Peace Professionals and can be contacted on [email protected].
In detail: Sunnis vs. Shiites http://www.cbsnews.com/news/in-detail-sunnis-vs-shiites/