Sunni-Shia relations

strife and dialogue between the two major branches of Islam

Sunni Islam and Shia Islam are the largest denominations of Islam.

Quotes edit

  • The Saudi-Iran rivalry went beyond geopolitics, descending into an ever-greater competition for Islamic legitimacy through religious and cultural domination, changing societies from within—not only in Saudi Arabia and Iran, but throughout the region. While many books explore the Iranian Revolution, few look at how it rippled out, how the Arab and Sunni world reacted and interacted with the momentous event. All the way to Pakistan, the ripples of the rivalry reengineered vibrant, pluralistic countries and unleashed sectarian identities and killings that had never defined us in the past.
    • Kim Ghattas, Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East (2020)
  • The schisms that arose during medieval Islam’s formulative years dogged the medieval near and Middle East, and have also continued to inform foreign affairs in the modern world. The roots of the Sunni-Shia divide can be traced back to the days of the first caliphs, while the Arab-Persian division that emerged in the eighth century lives on in the modern Middle East in geopolitical rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    • Dan Jones, Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages (2021), p. 125
  • The sects and factions that formed during the first and second fitnas gave birth to what we now know as the Sunni-Shia divide. Shia Muslims refused to accept the legitimacy of the Umayyad caliphate, or indeed the legitimacy of Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman’s regimes. Instead, they insisted that Ali was Muhammad’s rightful successor: the first imam. This in turn implied an alternative succession, through Hasan and Husayn, then a bloodline of further imams descended from Muhammad. Now this was not solely a dynastic dispute. The Shia framework of Islamic history proposed a significantly different model of organizing the umma, and a different set of leadership values. The Sunni-Shia divide came to be tremendously important during the later Middle Ages, particularly (as we shall see) during the crusading era. But it has lasted far longer than that. During the twentieth century, a revived, poisonous sectarianism established in part along Sunni-Shia lines began to inform world geopolitics—playing a role in the interconnected Iran-Iraq War, U.S.-led Gulf wars, and long-running “Islamic cold war,” which has pitted Saudi Arabia and Iran against one another for regional hegemony in the Middle East since 1979; as well as other, painful and deadly conflicts that have been fought in Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria. That all this can still be traced back to the machinations of powerful men in the seventh century A.D. may seem astonishing—but as so often proves the case, the Middle Ages remain with us today.
    • Dan Jones, Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages (2021),
  • By the second half of the sixteenth century the [Ottoman] empire was showing signs of strategical overextension, with a large army stationed in central Europe, an expensive navy operating in the Mediterranean, troops engaged in North Africa, the Aegean, Cyprus, and the Red Sea, and reinforcements needed to hold the Crimea against a rising Russian power. Even in the Near East there was no quiet flank, thanks to a disastrous religious split in the Muslim world which occurred when the Shi’ite branch, based in Iraq and then in Persia, challenged the prevailing Sunni practices and teachings. At times, the situation was not unlike that of the contemporary religious struggles in Germany, and the sultan could maintain his dominance only by crushing Shi’ite dissidents with force. However, across the border the Shi’ite kingdom of Persia under Abbas the Great was quite prepared to ally with European states against the Ottomans, just as France had worked with the “infidel” Turk against the Holy Roman Empire. With this array of adversaries, the Ottoman Empire would have needed remarkable leadership to have maintained its growth; but after 1566 there reigned thirteen incompetent sultans in succession.
    • Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500-2000 (1987)
  • To a distinct degree, the fierce response to the Shi’ite religious challenge reflected and anticipated a hardening of official attitudes toward all forms of free thought. The printing press was forbidden because it might disseminate dangerous opinions. Economic notions remained primitive: imports of western wares were desired, but exports were forbidden; the guilds were supported in their efforts to check innovation and the rise of “capitalist” producers; religious criticism of traders intensified. Contemptuous of European ideas and practices, the Turks declined to adopt newer methods for containing plagues; consequently, their populations suffered more from severe epidemics. In one truly amazing fit of obscurantism, a force of janissaries destroyed a state observatory in 1580, alleging that it had caused a plague. The armed services had become, indeed, a bastion of conservatism.
    • Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500-2000 (1987)
  • The attempts and propaganda of the enemies, especially those targeting the Islamic Republic of Iran, have so far proved to be futile because the Islamic Republic of Iran has extended the greatest support to the Sunni brethren in Palestine and made every effort to promote unity between Shia and Sunni Muslims in Iraq.

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