The Sunni vs. Shia schism, and why it matters 1,300 years later

Source: Macleans

It would be simplistic to say the sectarian outrage over Saudi Arabia’s execution of a Shia cleric was only religion-driven—and would ignore key history

By Brian Bethune

Sunni Muslims generally fold their arms across their chests while praying, while Shia Muslims tend to extend their arms, with palms resting on thighs. The latter is the sort of practice that can get you killed in ISIS-occupied areas of the Mideast. In a 2013 video, ISIS militants are shown stopping three Iraqi truck drivers and demanding to know if they were Sunni (like ISIS) or Shia. Although the drivers claimed to be Sunnis, they were tripped up when asked to show how they prayed: all three were shot dead. Nor is the murderousness one-sided: bombings, suicide or otherwise, have been common on both sides.

All of this was driving sectarian passions before Saudi Arabia, Sunni Islam’s leading power, executed a prominent cleric from its Shia minority, rapidly escalating tensions between it and Iran, the world’s preeminent Shia Muslim state, to a level that seemed just short of war. The antagonism sent journalists and puzzled readers back to the seventh century in a search for the origins of the split between Islam’s two main branches.

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Categories: Arab World, Asia, Sectarianism

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