Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Shias and Sunnis

Shias are the largest breakaway sect from Islam, split from the main body over the question of " Who should suceed the prophet ?" Shias believe the prophet appointed Imam Ali, his son-in-law as his successor.

The Shia prayer( Shadah- Declaration of faith) reads "There is no god but Alláh, Muhammad is the Messenger of Alláh, Alí is the Friend of Alláh. The Successor of the Messenger of Alláh And his first Caliph."

Ali, known as Imam Ali was the cousin of the Prophet, husband of his daughter Fatima, father of Hassan and Hussein and the second person ever to embrace Islam. The term Shia is the shortening of Shiat Ali or partisans of Ali. Shias believe the caliphate belongs only to direct descendants of Prophet.

Sunnis consider this as a corruption of the Quran and claim Ali had no divine sanction whatsoever.

The prophet died in 632. Abu Bakr ( prophet's father in law ) ruled for two years, Umar for 10 years and Uthman for 12 years. Ali became the caliph after Uthman was murdered at prayer. Ali was opposed by Aisha, wife of prophet and daughter of Abu Bakr, who accused Ali of sheilding Uthmans killers. Ali fought with her forces, defeated them and forced her to withdraw from public life.

Uthmans cousin Muawiya Ummayad , governer of damascus refused to recognise Ali till Uthman's killers were brought to justice. In a battle Ummayad's soldiers stuck verses of Quran to the ends of the spears and Ali's supporters refused to fight them . Ali later made peace with Muawiya, which shocked his supporters, so much so that one murdered him. Ali's rule lasted just 5 years.

Muawiya declares himself as the Caliph and Ali's elder son Hassan accepts a pension so as not to stake a claim. He dies within a year, allegedly poisoned. Ali's younger son Hussein patiently waits for Muawiya's death to stake his claim to the caliphate. He has to wait for 19 years. But Muwaiya's son Yazid declares himself as Caliph. Hussein marches against him, hopelessly outnumbered and gets slaughtered at Karbala ( In Iraq) . Hussein's infant son Ali survived and continued the line. Yazid forms the Ummayad dynasty.

Muslim world was split into those who accepted obly Prophet's direct descendants as caliphs ( Shias ) and who did not ( Sunnis)

So for Shia's Ali is the first caliph, whereas for Sunnis. he is the fourth and last caliph.

The direct line of Prophet Mohammed disappeared in 873 when the last "Imam" Al-Aksari disappeared at the age of four. After waiting for a few centuries for his return, the shias passed on the spiritual power to the Ulema, a council of 12 scholars who elected a supreme Imam. Ayatolalh Khomeni was a Shia supreme Imam. Supreme Imam is very much like a pope and is considered infallible. Sunnis do not have a supreme leader.

Shias place an emphasis on martyrdom and suffering as exemplefied by the Ashura, where during a 10 day period they mourn the Battle of Karbala with a wailing imam whipping up a frenzy of tears and chest-beating. Karbala assumes great significance in Shia affairs. They pray always at Karbala symbolised by the small round piece of karbala mud they bend and touch with their foreheads while praying. The massacare is mourned by songs of lament called Aza's which sends believers into fits of mourning.

90% of the muslim world is sunni. Shia majority exists in Iran and in Bahrain. Pockets are Shias exist in Iraq and Saddam has placed numerous restrictions on them ( No barefoot march to Karbala, no lamentations on the Karbala massacare etc ) Hizbollah, the only Arab group to record victories against Israel is shia. WIthin Shia, there are various sects . Some recognise 12 Imams, some only seven or 5 Imams.

Sunnis follow the sunna ( Traditions). Shias dismiss them as apocryphal.

Both Shias and sunnis accuse each other of corrupting the Quran.

For Sunnis, God is infallible( ma'soom) and for shias, God and Imams are infallible

Muta or permission for temporary marriages exist among shias. Shias are permitted to renounce their religion temporarily to save their skin ( Taqiya) and believes the following verse of the Quran permits them.

"If anyone is compelled and professes unbelief, with his tongue while his heart contradicts him, to escape his enemies, no blame falls on him because God takes his servants as their hearts believe"

Sunnis believe Muta is adultery and Taqiya is sheer cowardice.


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