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Old 06-20-2006, 10:37 AM   #1
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Sunni and Shiite??

Can some one with knowledge in Islam please explain the difference to me? Are they similiar in to the Catholics and Protestants? Is it the Sunnis who believe in Mohhameds teachings and the Shiites who believe in Mohammeds brothers or Cousins words? Why all the infighting?
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Old 06-20-2006, 10:46 AM   #2
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The split goes back to the early days of Islam. After Mohammed died, there had to be another leader of the Islamic community, someone with the title of "caliph". A leader was chosen, however, he didn't have the support of all of the community because some important people, including some of Mohammed's relatives, hadn't been consulted. One group believed that the leader had to come from Mohammed's family. The other group believed that the leader had to be chosen. The group that believed that the leader had to come from Mohammed's family are the Shi'ites, and are about 15% of the world's Muslims. The group that believes the leader has to be elected are the Sunnis. Most Muslims are Sunnis. Both groups practice Islam the same way. There are no doctrinal differences. It's politics.
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Old 06-20-2006, 11:01 AM   #3
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Ok thanks. It seems to me that the Shi'tes(more like Mohammeds family) believe they are the chosen ones like the jews believe to be the chosen people? Am I wrong in that interpretation?
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Old 06-20-2006, 11:16 AM   #4
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Would you say this is similar to sectarian conflicts in the Christian world - that it is politics, not religion?
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Old 06-20-2006, 11:17 AM   #5
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Politics pretty much controll everything. The Governments are playing the role of God.
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Old 06-20-2006, 12:07 PM   #6
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It's definitely politics. It's not really religion. They're all Muslims. The split is very historically rooted, like the disputes in Christianity are, and unfortunately it's not going to go away.
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Old 06-20-2006, 12:28 PM   #7
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Verte is right; differences are political in origin. But, over the centuries, some differences in spiritual practice and beliefs have evolved...so much so that many Sunnis actually want the Shiites to be deemed "non-Muslim."

Here's more on some of those differences:

http://islam.about.com/cs/divisions/f/shia_sunni.htm
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Old 06-20-2006, 01:31 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by Justin24
Ok thanks. It seems to me that the Shi'tes(more like Mohammeds family) believe they are the chosen ones like the jews believe to be the chosen people? Am I wrong in that interpretation?
Judah knows more than I do about Islam because he's actually a Muslim (I'm Catholic). The Muslims don't have a "chosen people" concept.
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Old 06-20-2006, 01:35 PM   #9
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ahh ok. Thanks.
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Old 06-20-2006, 01:49 PM   #10
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Originally posted by verte76


Judah knows more than I do about Islam because he's actually a Muslim (I'm Catholic). The Muslims don't have a "chosen people" concept.
Verte's right about the "chosen people" thingie.

And i'm an ex-Muslim, actually.

Devout athiest now.
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Old 06-20-2006, 01:53 PM   #11
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I know they are not "chosen people" but the way Verte76 put it, it seemed like it.

Curious how you became an Atheist? Is the Muslim Community not a stingit as those in the middle east were it would mean death for you, or did you simply stop going to the mosque and go Atheist from there?
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Old 06-20-2006, 02:33 PM   #12
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Originally posted by Justin24
I know they are not "chosen people" but the way Verte76 put it, it seemed like it.

Curious how you became an Atheist? Is the Muslim Community not a stingit as those in the middle east were it would mean death for you, or did you simply stop going to the mosque and go Atheist from there?
Well, being in the greatest country in the world (Canada), it's hard to feel in danger (even from fundamentalist Moslems) for disavowing Islam.

And, of course, it's not like i go about declaring "I'm not a Moslem anymore. Nyah, nyah, nyah!" Maybe some wackadoo would take the Islamists' dictates about killing all apostates to heart.

My leaving the religion seemed very natural (and still does)...it was an evolution (if i can use that term). And i was 17 at the time (now 42). Though, i still like to hang out with the community i'm in. I still like to go to the Mosque on religious holidays, and bond with my country men and women. And a lot of them know i'm not religious, but they're cool.

Of all the things that turned me off about religion, and specifically Islam, this Sunni/Shiite divide seemed the most stupid.
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Old 06-20-2006, 02:41 PM   #13
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Cool thanks for the information.
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Old 06-20-2006, 04:54 PM   #14
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Judah, how would you characterize the average Pakistani's experience of the Sunni-Shia divide at the everyday level? Are there regions or cities where extensive intermingling occurs? Does the distinction effectively have the force of an ethnic boundary in real life, or is it something more subtle or abstract than that?

I'm familiar with the historical and, broadly, the political backdrop there of course, but I really have never had much insight into the more everyday social consequences of it. Most of my fieldwork with Muslims in India involved Dalits who participated in mass conversions, plus of course the whole scenario is different there anyway because the need for a "unified front" against other ethnoreligious groups affects things. Still, my *impression* has always been that there is, in truth, very little social and cultural interchange between the two groups.
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Old 06-20-2006, 05:19 PM   #15
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Judah, how would you characterize the average Pakistani's experience of the Sunni-Shia divide at the everyday level? Are there regions or cities where extensive intermingling occurs? Does the distinction effectively have the force of an ethnic boundary in real life, or is it something more subtle or abstract than that?

I'm familiar with the historical and, broadly, the political backdrop there of course, but I really have never had much insight into the more everyday social consequences of it. Most of my fieldwork with Muslims in India involved Dalits who participated in mass conversions, plus of course the whole scenario is different there anyway because the need for a "unified front" against other ethnoreligious groups affects things. Still, my *impression* has always been that there is, in truth, very little social and cultural interchange between the two groups.
Yeah, i don't think i can answer those questions in any accurate way. Growing up in Pakistan in the late '60s, and early-to-mid-'70s (and i visit often), we, as Sunnis, were all aware of the division. And a lot of the time the Shiites did seem like "others," in the sense that they always received a lot of notice and media coverage during those holy days where they would parade in the streets self-flaggelating (it was ugly, because they would do it till they bled profusely).

But, at the same time, they seemed an integrated part of general society (though they were also a minority). I mean, Sunni and Shia used to pray side-by-side at most mosques i would go to (even though there were also designated Sunni or Shia mosques). And i don't recall any Pakistani government ever having to resort to quota programs to ensure the public service had hiring policies to make sure Shiites were not discriminated against (i.e. like the Indian government had to do, for example, for the so-called "untouchables"). I don't think the Sunni-Shiite divsions were that entrenched in social institutions.

It seems to me that it's been in the last 15 years that the voilence between Sunni and Shia groups in Pakistan has increased exponentially (bombings of Shia mosques, etc.). And i don't have any great insight into the real cause of that (other than the traditional historical differences that erupt from time to time in Pakistan along ethnic, political and religious lines). But i would venture that it's a result of the Sunni fundamentalist political parties and groups that want to exert their influence in every facet of Pakistan's cultural and political lives and will use the Shiites (or Hindus, or Christians, or Americans, or feminists, or Pakistan's liberal political parties, or ISRAEL...everything's about ISRAEL) as scapegoats and targets to recruit more uneducated, disenfranchised Pakistani youth as cannon fodder for their political aims.
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Old 06-20-2006, 06:00 PM   #16
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I once happened to be in Lucknow during Muharram and saw some of what you describe, which shocked me profoundly, as I had never heard about such practices.

Interesting that you remember both Sunnis and Shias using the mosques you attended. How could you tell which were which? And where, if I may ask, in Pakistan did you live? I'm asking partly because when I asked about the division having the "force of an ethnic boundary," I had in mind that ethnic boundaries matter a lot in some regions of Pakistan, and I wondered to what extent the Sunni-Shia divide might "feel" analogous to something like that...I guess, kind of like the way Jews, at least if wearing obvious religious garb or walking to a synagogue, might be viewed here--i.e., it's not quite the same perception as if we were just another bunch of folks strolling into whatever church we happen to attend; suddenly you become "one of those people." Does that make sense? Of course, if you lived in a big city, ethnicity probably mattered a lot less.
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political parties and groups that want to exert their influence in every facet of Pakistan's cultural and political lives and will use the Shiites (or Hindus, or Christians, or Americans, or feminists, or Pakistan's liberal political parties, or ISRAEL...everything's about ISRAEL) as scapegoats and targets to recruit more uneducated, disenfranchised Pakistani youth as cannon fodder for their political aims.
Yup, and isn't that always how extremists of whatever type go about it--politicizing and fortifying boundaries which have always existed, but were never categorically seen as denoting a "threat" before. That "everything's about Israel" bit is why, unfortunately, I probably won't be able to go back to Pakistan anytime soon--I've been to Rawalpindi once, and would absolutely love to see more...Lahore, Islamabad, some of the Indus sites...but, my last name's a dead giveaway, and there's an Israel stamp on my passport, so...Honestly, in so many ways it felt like I could've been in any number of places in India when I was there. I really hate being afraid to go places.
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Old 06-20-2006, 06:25 PM   #17
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I once happened to be in Lucknow during Muharram and saw some of what you describe, which shocked me profoundly, as I had never heard about such practices.

Interesting that you remember both Sunnis and Shias using the mosques you attended. How could you tell which were which? And where, if I may ask, in Pakistan did you live? I'm asking partly because when I asked about the division having the "force of an ethnic boundary," I had in mind that ethnic boundaries matter a lot in some regions of Pakistan, and I wondered to what extent the Sunni-Shia divide might "feel" analogous to something like that...I guess, kind of like the way Jews, at least if wearing obvious religious garb or walking to a synagogue, might be viewed here--i.e., it's not quite the same perception as if we were just another bunch of folks strolling into whatever church we happen to attend; suddenly you become "one of those people." Does that make sense? Of course, if you lived in a big city, ethnicity probably mattered a lot less.

Yup, and isn't that always how extremists of whatever type go about it--politicizing and fortifying boundaries which have always existed, but were never categorically seen as denoting a "threat" before. That "everything's about Israel" bit is why, unfortunately, I probably won't be able to go back to Pakistan anytime soon--I've been to Rawalpindi once, and would absolutely love to see more...Lahore, Islamabad, some of the Indus sites...but, my last name's a dead giveaway, and there's an Israel stamp on my passport, so...Honestly, in so many ways it felt like I could've been in any number of places in India when I was there. I really hate being afraid to go places.
I was born in Rawalpindi (ironically, in a Catholic hospital), and lived mostly there or Karachi (my father worked in the Atomic Energy Commission...moved around to wherever there was a new nuclear reactor being built). How could i tell between Sunnis and Shiites at mosques? The Shiite had slightly (very very slightly) different ways of praying...(also, they didn't cover their heads like we Sunnis did...we always wore prayer caps)...we would pray together, but whereas, for example, we Sunnis at the start of the prayer would say one "Allahu Akber" ("God is great"), Shiites would say three...little things like that. (I know...too much detail here for you.)

Living in those big cities, i couldn't identify a social Sunni-Shia "boundary" as you've defined it. But i'm sure they're there to the people who are looking for them. There are so many such boundaries, it's hard to keep track. For instance, there was this boundary between the native regional people of the lands of Pakistan (i.e. Sindhis, Punjabis, Balochis, Pathans, etc.) and the people who migrated from India because of the 1947 partition. My mom and dad (and their family) had come over from India at that time, but, i realized, we were all looked upon as outsiders or refugees ("Urdu-speaking" outsiders, specifically). Karachi, especially, has a high concentration of us, and, in the '80s and '90s, Karachi experienced a lot of voilence because of a couple political parties who wanted Karachi to be a separate city state because of this uniqueness.

Pakistan, to my mind, is very close (if not there) to being a failed state. Such a huuuuge mistake to partition India into East and West Pakistan in 1947. More Colonial mistakes.

And as for the Moslem world's hatred of Jews and Israel? Well, everyone knows so much of it is self-loathing being outwardly projected. The Palestinian issue is a godsend for them to use perpetually to keep their countries' populations from not turning on their own governments...we can all just keep blaming the Americans and Israel for the world's ills (i'm not saying that Israel here can't do more for the Palestinian question; of course they can; but the Arab/Moslem world, i get the feeling, is not in any hurry for a resolution).

(Uh, oh, i think i'm rambling, Yolland.) I remember being six in Pakistan (this is 1970), and the Imam coming to our house and teaching me to read the Koran in Arabic. That was all fine. But then the Imam would also teach me to hate the Jews. Even at the young age, i could tell something was not right. He would not teach me that the Koran says hate the Jews. It was his own opinions. That attitude, I am ashamed to say, is too prevalent in that country.

It's the reason i named my first son Judah (whose name i've adopted for Interference). A big fuck-you to my Islamo-centric relatives and family. Or, at least, a signal that, hey, Hebrew names can be cool, too.

[Geez, this could morph into an "Ask the ex-Moslem" thread. But, no, i won't put you through that.]
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Old 06-20-2006, 06:33 PM   #18
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Fascinating thread, I'm enjoying it very much, thanks.
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Old 06-20-2006, 07:33 PM   #19
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during those holy days where they would parade in the streets self-flaggelating (it was ugly, because they would do it till they bled profusely).

There are actually some Catholics who do this as well, in the Philippines during Easter week. Some reeeeeally penitent folks will even have themselves crucified. I've never seen it in person though some of my Filipino friends have but I saw articles and pictures in the paper last year when I was in Manila during Holy Week.

Fascinating thread. I've appreciated hearing your perspective, Judah.
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Old 06-20-2006, 07:46 PM   #20
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^ Yeah - fascinating to read.
I looked up "Flagellant" on Wikipedia, and found the following stub in the entry:

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Modern processions of hooded flagellants are still a feature of various mediterranean Catholic countries, mainly in Spain, Portugal and Italy and some former colonies, usually every year during Lent. For example in the comune of Guardia Sanframondi in Campania, Italy, such parades are organized once every seven years.

In modern times, it has been speculated that the more extreme practices of mortification of the flesh may have been used to obtain altered states of consciousness for the goal of experiencing religious experiences or visions; medical research has shown that great pain releases endorphines which can have such effect, and even get some fetishists addicted to pain.

Some Christians in Philippines practice flagellation as a form of devout worship, sometimes in addition to self-crucifixion (during the end of Lent season).
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