General Question

cockswain's avatar

Why do the Sunni and Shiite fight?

Asked by cockswain (15181 points ) November 15th, 2010

I don’t know what their ideological differences are, nor why they kill each other. Can someone enlighten me?

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22 Answers

squirbel's avatar

Think Protestants and Catholics.

Sunni = Protestants, Shiite = Catholics.

The Shiite are heavily focused on traditions, rituals, and their “special people” aka saints aka imams.

The Sunni are not focused on the above at all, and look down on the Shiite for putting traditions and rituals and special people above God, and a relationship with Him.

This is the super duper cliff notes version, but it’s translated efficiently.

Winters's avatar

I can’t remember which is which but the original argument between them originates on who should be the religious leader of Islam. One believes that it should be someone related to Mohamed while the other believes in being able to choose who is to lead next. And from there it’s spiraled into a pathetic but lethal situation.

mammal's avatar

The issue is exacerbated by ethnicity, and racial enmity, between Persians, Arabians and Kurds etc of differing denominations too. These differences have been cynically exploited by imperialist powers historically and by the Coalition most recently. Except during the Great War when it was expedient for the British to unite tribes and denominations against the Ottoman Turks. But subsequently set them upon each other to keep the region politically weak and cheaply accessible in the pursuit of oil.

mattbrowne's avatar

Validity of the hadiths. Shiites reject anything related to the Prophet’s wife Aisha.

Plus who should be considered successor of the Prophet.

jerv's avatar

While some raise valid points about the differing beliefs of the two sects leading to friction and violence, the truth is that there are many on both sides that have actually forgotten why they fight and now do so because their ancestors fought.

Seriously, after a few centuries, does it really matter what the original reasons for the conflict were?

mammal's avatar

@jerv i know, such silly childish behaviour. Why can’t they be more mature like us?

Winters's avatar

@mammal Oh come on, they’re a pretty young religion, we can’t expect them not to have internal conflict, look at Christianity, or even some sects of Buddhism, universal religions just have a bad tendency to get off on the wrong foot somewhere.

mammal's avatar

@Winters i was being sarcastic

Winters's avatar

I’m kidding around too, I almost always kid.

mattbrowne's avatar

@mammal – Catholics and Protestants killed each other from 1618 to 1648, see

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_Years'_War

iamthemob's avatar

It’s helpful if we think about the sects as both religious and political, for these purposes.

Sharia law, like any, requires that there be ruling bodies sitting in judgment of legal violations. The split is between who the rightful rulers of the Islamic state are – the group now known as Sunnis chose Abu Bakr, the prophet’s adviser, to become the first successor, or caliph, to lead the Muslim state (therefore, choosing one who would most likely follow the traditions of Islam), and the Shiites favored Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law (therefore, choosing a bloodline-based inherited rulership).

Ali and his successors are called imams, who not only lead the Shiites but are considered to be descendants of Muhammad. After the 11th imam died in 874, and his young son was said to have disappeared from the funeral, Shiites in particular came to see the child as a Messiah who had been hidden from the public by God.

So Sunni leadership is based on appointment (I would say like a democracy, but it is, of course, more like a dictatorship) and the Shiite is based on inheritance (a monarchy).

cockswain's avatar

@iamthemob Great answer, thanks. So nuts to think they care so much about who should rule that they’ll kill so many of each other. As down as I get about Evangelicals around here, these guys are a different breed of freaks.

iamthemob's avatar

@cockswain – is it really nuts, or are you being sarcastic? The choice of who should rule, or who represents what rules or laws people think they should live by, I think, is really the only reason why we have conflict. In the end, any conflict can be broken down to this basic, general point.

Winters's avatar

@iamthemob I think probably the most basic point in many conflicts is that you have something that I want/need, hence, I’m going to attack/kill/enslave/etc. you for it.

iamthemob's avatar

@Winters – I agree that the above is a way to generalize many, if not the vast majority of conflicts.

However, I also think that there are times when that’s not a motivation. Resources are a common, common reason. However, those that possess the resources will fight back because they don’t want to submit to the other’s control of the resources. People will also fight back to protect their freedom to govern themselves, regardless of whether they or the other party has resources of a desirable nature.

Often, the most basic right that human beings have has been described as the right to be left alone. The Bill of Rights, in many ways, is an expression of this – it limits the government as to what it can do to control its citizens.

The resource-based type of conflict you mention, on the other hand, can also be described generally as a control-based conflict. Those who control the resources, in any sense, are those who rule.

cockswain's avatar

@iamthemob I’m not being sarcastic, but maybe ignorant. Unless there are substantial differences in how each leader would govern, it does not seem worth killing over. So I don’t know enough about how each side would rule.

iamthemob's avatar

@cockswain – Well, consider the enormous rift (which appears for the most part rhetorically manufactured to me) between the right and the left in the U.S. It can get nasty, even violent at times. In the end, however, there’s no real significant difference between how either side ends up governing.

In democratic nations, it’s easy to forget that we have achieved something that has been almost unheard of throughout history – the steady and regular violence-free transition of one leader/administration to the other. We are expected to respect the transition, even in profoundly suspicious situations where the legal validity of the transition can be called into question (without judgment onto whether it was right or wrong, the most profound example is the Bush/Gore election of 2000). We forget that this is, historically, miraculous.

But even though these transitions are essentially violence-free, they are never conflict-free. From that perspective, and when you bring God into the equation, it is almost unfathomable to me that there wouldnt’ be violent conflict regardless of whether there would be a significant difference between the leadership of one group versus the other.

cockswain's avatar

At a minimum, they need to mellow out.

iamthemob's avatar

At a minimum, most of us do…

mammal's avatar

@mattbrowne i’m aware of that episode, i am also aware that behind every sectarian conflict, between Protestant/Catholics, Sunni/Shiite, Hindu/Muslim is a fundamentalism that is fundamentally economic, more often than not.

mattbrowne's avatar

@iamthemob and @cockswain – Well, there are more advanced and democratic ways of organizing religious congregations, for example

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelical_Church_in_Germany#Structure_and_practices

As a German Protestant, my vote counts. Catholics like Sunnites and Shiites are governed by totalitarian systems. An individual Catholic can’t influence who gets to be Pope. Popes appoint like-minded ultra-conservative cardinals who in turn elect new ultra-conservative Popes. Great show, though, with black and white smoke to get people excited. Unlike Muslims, Catholics have one choice. They can quit being Catholics. Muslims can’t, unless they are very brave and go into hiding and live their life in fear.

iamthemob's avatar

@mattbrowne – there are democratic ways to organize everything, of course.

But to refer to Muslims as a blanket group – you know the problems with that.

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