On the radio, on television, and in the newspaper everyday words like "Shi'ite", "Sunni", "Shi'a" and maybe even "Qu'ran" pass us by, but not many people have an understanding of what they mean. Islam is a complicated religion, and to the western outsider its ideals, practices and teachings seem far too foreign to ever understand. And most Americans will never have a full understanding of the religious implications of a divided Islam, but today I'm going to try and explain to you whats going on in the Middle East
Its my belief that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all worship the same God, only with three different prophets speaking Gods word. Now that may sound crazy to you, but let me make my case first. Now firstly let me tell you that i am not trying to prove or disprove the existence of God, and my religious views have no effect on what i am about to say. I believe it is fundamental to understand that if you cannot prove the existence of god, you have only the teachings of his/her followers and prophets to correlate between religions. Judaism has Abraham as its founder, building altars to the one god "Yahweh" all across the middle east. Christianity of course uses the teachings of Jesus as its primary source of moral guidance, but the Old Testament (AKA The Hebrew Bible) is also part of the Christian faith. Add to that the fact that Jesus was Jewish, and spreading the teachings of the Old Testament, so we can establish that Jesus was teaching the word of Abraham. And since i said before i cant prove its the same god, I cant at least prove its the same book, with a different ending.
Now we come to Islam, the third piece in the triangle of the three major Religions in the world. Islam accepts the teachings of Abraham, and Jesus (although they do not acknowledge the holy trinity with Jesus as the son of god) and they add to that with the teachings of their prophet, Mohammed. Given that Christianity is the son of Judaism, with its teachings and practices taking root in the Hebrew bible and expanding with the New Testament. And given that Islam acknowledges and accepts the teachings of both Abraham and Jesus, and given the fact that i cant prove gods existence, we can prove that all three religions believe in the Old Testament. Since the Old Testament includes the creation of the world in its text, we can accept that Muslims, Christians and Hebrews all accept that the same God created the Universe
Muslims also believe that the Angel Gabriel (For all you Christians, he was the one who told Mary she was pregnant with Jesus) preached Gods word directly to Muhammad ibn Abdullah between the years of 610-632. Muhammad had many children (the number is widely disputed among scholars) but it is generally accepted that only one child, his daughter Fatima, outlived him. Fatima married Alī ibn Abī Tālib, and he is considered to be the father of Shia Islam. We will come back to that but imagine for a moment if the rumors of the Da Vinci Code and Dogma were true and Jesus and Mary Magdalene really were married, and had children. What would that mean for the religion? Whose words would have been more important, the apostles who served their entire lives to spread the word of Jesus, or his Children? This is the critical issue between Shia and Sunni Islam, because Muhammad had children, and disciples and never appointed a successor before he died. The Shiite's believe that Muhammad's son-in-law Ali was the rightful Imamah, or political and spiritual leader of Islam. While Sunni Muslims regard Abu Bakar, one of Muhammad's Sahaba (disciples), as the caliph (head of state) of the Islamic world. This is an area of interest because Abu was the first elected political leader of Islam (not religious), and to make matters more interesting Ali (the Shia Imamah) was the fourth man to be elected Caliph. Now things could have gone smoothly from there, but Ali was murdered by and the war between the bloodline of Muhammed (Ali-Fatima) and the rule of the Caliph began. Ali lived on after Fatima, and would have over thirty children with several wives, but his two most famous sons Husayn and Hasan who lived on to continue Shia Islam
With the differences in leaders, overtime there became a great difference in the religious laws of the two sects. As the laws changed, so did practice of religion with those laws. Sunni Muslims accepted westernization more and adapted to change, while Shia Muslims adhere to stern practices and values. A lot of the major hat rid stems from the liberation of women in Sunni Islam, and the freedom they are given in everyday life. This doesn't mean that all Shia Muslims are evil, but the Shia seem to be the ones causing a lot of the trouble in the Middle East. In the end its always how you interpret the words you are given, how your own values affect your faith that truly makes you who you are. Shia Muslims have been a minority for centuries, and maybe they have a right to be angry. After all, if it we're really true that Jesus had children, wouldn't you want the world to know? Wouldn't that be important enough to fight for? If anything can be certain its that Religion, all Religions have caused war at some point or another, and Christians should not look down on Muslims because they fight for their beliefs. For thousands of years, Christians did the same thing.
To bring us back to my continuing saga, we have established that Shia Muslims tend to be the most Radical. Guess what country has the highest percentage of Shia Muslims? Iran...
Aslan, Reza "No God But God" (Random House, 2006)
Nasr, Vali "The Shia Revival" (Norton, 2006)
Lewis, Bernard "What Went Wrong" (HarperCollins, 2003)