In the past few years, as the United States gets more and more involved with Muslim-majority countries, we keep hearing more and more about Sunni-Shi’i conflicts. These conflicts include:
*Regional geo-political confli cts among Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey
*Sunni-Shi’a conflicts in Iraq
*Hyper-Sunni Taliban killing Hazara Shi’a groups in Afghanistan
*Sunni-Shi’a violence in Pakistan.
In spite of all these hot-spots and sectarian fighting, most Americans would be hard-pressed to offer an accurate assessment of the particularities of Shi’i and Sunni dimensions of Islam. It’s not just every-day people who are struggling. Even the very people entrusted to help guide US foreign policy towards these countries seem to be clueless about this matter.
Silvestre Reyes, nominated by Democrats in 2006 to head the House Intelligence Committee could not identify the sectarian identities of al-Qaeda and Hezbollah.
“Speaking only for myself,” he told reporters, “it’s hard to keep things in perspective and in the categories.”
When the FBI asked Willie Hulon, who was the FBI’s chief of the newly formed national security branch about whether Iran and Hezbeollah were Sunni or Shi’i tried to guess, and guessed wrong. [Hint: Iran is a Shi’i-majority country.]
So to help remedy this lack of information, I am making available my two-part lecture plus a slideshow with lots of images to help explain the origin and foundations of Shi’i Islam. You can access them here.
The lecture takes you through the succession debates after the passing away of Prophet Muhammad, looks at the character of Imam Ali, before exploring the significance of martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson (Imam Hossein) and many of the family members of the Prophet on the plains of Iraq in 680. We then end with a discussion of how Iran, which was a center of Sunni Islam, became converted to Shi’i Islam in the 1500’s.
I would suggest downloading the slideshow, and then beginning with the first lecture [“Shi‘ism: Imam Ali, first lecture”] and then moving on to: “Shi‘ism, part 2: Imam Hossein, Karbala, to Safavids.”
Oh, one last word: If you are a Sunni polemicist or Shi’i polemicist, kindly look elsewhere. This is an attempt to shed light, not heat, on the subject. The same goes for people who think all Muslims are eeeeevil.
Blessings to all.