The conflict between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam dates back to the 7th century but recent sectarian violence has its
roots in more political events than religious tenets. To say that the conflict is strictly Sunni-Shia is incorrect and leads
readers and policy-makers to decisions that could ultimately stymie efforts against global terrorism increasing sectarian
violence in the meantime. Sectarian violence is a term used to describe violence directed toward a religious sect that is
disparate to that of the attackers and is being seen on a fairly large-scale in ndonesia. These events based in a radicalization
of Islam are being used as a tool to further the impact of terrorism. Sectarian attacks against Shia Muslims may unknowingly
be funded by members of the victim-groups. Continued sponsorship of this type of terrorism depends on western ignorance of
key differences of the sects and a basic lack of understanding of the Pan-Islamic movement. The technicalities of theological
differences may not be of much interest to most of the readers. However, the history must be developed because of its contemporary
Succession of Muhammad. The historical base of the conflict is in the transference of leadership after the death of Muhammad.
When the prophet of Islam died in 632 AD, a struggle developed among his followers as to who should assume leadership of the
newly established government of converts to Islam. The group of followers that ultimately became Sunni believed the position
should go to an elected representative with the consensus of prominent Muslim leaders and leaders of the ummah, body of Muslim
believers. The group of followers that ultimately became Shiite believed the succession should be based in familial ties
and that the successor, Ali, had been named by Muhammad prior to his death. Beyond these established facts, the presentation
of events leading to the development of two distinct sects of practiced Islam are often colored by adherence to, ignorance
or disbelief of one sect or the other.
Khulafa ar Rafidin, Rightly Guided Caliphs. Muhammad gathered around him a core of followers that acted as counsel and
messenger to the ummah, but the office of prophet remained and died with Muhammad. This core of believers along with Muhammad
came to be known as the salafiya, the pious predecessors, or Muhammad and his righteous companions. The righteous companions
that became the first four caliphs were Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali ibn Abu Talib. It is these first four caliphs that
Sunni believe were the rightful leaders of Islam in the seventh century.
Abu Bakr. Abdul Kabba ibn Abu Quhaafah, changed his name to Abdul Allah when he converted to Islam and is known in Muslim
history as Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr was one of the first converts to Islam and close friend to Muhammad. His daughter, Aisha,
became Muhammad's third wife. Aisha is considered by Sunni to be Muhammad's favorite wife but this is protested by Shia.
Upon Muhammad's death, Umar petitioned the ummah in the election of Abu Bakr as successor to the prophet. Abu Bakr's reign
as caliph lasted only two years but quelled resistance against Muslim governance in the area now known as Saudi Arabia and
initiated the establishment of the Islamic caliphate as a dominant power. According to Shia tradition, Abu Bakr used Umar
to force Ali and his followers to submit to Abu Bakr's caliphate and denied Ali's family the inheritance of Muhammad's property
and land. During this succession turmoil after Muhammad's death, Umar stormed Ali's house trapping Fatima, Ali's wife and
daughter of Muhammad, behind the door leading to the premature stillborn birth of the prophet's grandson and the death of
Umar ibn al-Khattab. Also known as Umar al Faruq, Umar the Redeemer, the second caliph was originally resistant to Islam
converting after persecuting Muslims relentlessly. Umar was the father of Hafsa, Muhammad's fourth wife and close friend
of Aisha. Prior to his death, Abu Bakr named Umar as his replacement and though several Shia accounts insist Ali rejected
the named succession again Ali submitted to the decision for another caliph in order to preserve a semblance of peace under
Muslim rule. Under Umar's rule the Muslim empire expanded throughout Egypt, Syria and into the Persian empire. Umar laid
the administrative structure for an expanded empire with the development of the bureaucratic structure of a pan-Islamic state.
Prior to his death Umar appointed a council to name his successor and upon his death the position again passed Ali and went
Uthman ibn al-Affan was from the wealthy Ummayid clan of the Quraysh tribe, the same tribe to which Muhammad was born
and bitter enemies of the Muslim movement. According to Sunni tradition, Uthman married Ruqqayah and Um Kuthulm, two of Muhammad's
daughters by Kadijya. According to Shia tradition, the girls were Muhammad's step-daughters and not in blood lineage to the
prophet. As the third caliph, Uthman expanded the empire through North Africa, the Caucasus and Cyprus further establishing
the pan-Islamic state as a world power. Uthman appointed family members to military and government positions to maintain
control over the quickly expanding Muslim territory. This led to extreme corruption and mismanagement though the Ummayid
dynasty lasted for 89 years.
Ali ibn Abu Talib was Muhammad's cousin by birth. Ali's father, Abu Talib, was Muhammad's uncle and influential member
of the Quraysh tribe. When Muhammad was orphaned Abu Talib took him in and raised him as his son. To return the kindness
when Ali was born some five years after Muhammad married Kadijya, a wealthy business woman, Muhammad took him in to raise
and educate. Ali is considered by Shia and some Sunni scholars as the first male convert to Islam though many Sunni scholars
refute this with the claim that Abu Bakr was the first male convert. Ali was chosen as the husband of Fatima, Muhammad's,
and according to Shia, only daughter by Kadjiya. During his short tenure as the fourth caliph, Ali put down a rebellion engineered
by Aisha and her followers but was later murdered by former members of his following who blamed him for not taking control
of the caliphate immediately upon the death of Muhammad.
The historical struggle for succession of the caliphate is laid out in multiple hadith, collected stories about Muhammad
and the salafiyah, is contested by both Sunni and Shia sects but a definitive split in the practice of Islam took place after
the death of Ali. The governor of Syria, Muawiyah, a cousin of Uthman, never accepted Ali's position of caliph and insisted
on the return of the caliphate to the Ummayid clan. Ali's son, Hassan agreed to the return of the caliphate after pressure
from overwhelming Ummayid military forces; however, after Hassan's death under suspicious circumstances, the subsequent death
of Muawiyah and the appointment of Muawiyah's son, Yazid, to the caliphate, Hassan's brother Hussein raised an army to march
against what the Shia call the Usurper's dynasty. At Karbala, Iraq on the 10th of the Islamic month Muharram, Hussein and
his army were decimated. This battle and defeat was believed by Shia to be the culmination of the lack of support to the
familial line of the prophet by true followers of Islam. This is now commemorated in the Shia ceremonies Ashura, ashura meaning
ten for the tenth of Muharram, and Arbaeen, arbaeen meaning forty for the forty days of mourning following the deaths of Hussein
and his half-brother Abbas ibn Ali.
From this point in history forward the Shi'at al Ali, literally Partisans of Ali, venerated the deaths of Ali and his
descendents and looked to the blood line of Muhammad for guidance. The blood line of spiritual, judicial and political leaders
followed by Shia is known as the Imamate. The Shia sect is further divided, based on beliefs in the number and line of succession
for the imamate, into the largest sub sect Shia ithna asheri, Twelver Shia. Twelver Shia believe in a line of succession
from the prophet to the twelfth generation ending with an Imam who disappeared. To the Twelver Shia, the imamate along with
Muhammad and his daughter Fatima is infallible and the origin of the perfect example set to be followed by Muslims.
Ismaili, Sevener Shia, disagree with the Twelver Shia on the succession of the seventh imam and the progression of the
imamate. Ismailis believe the imamate was divine and ended with the seventh Imam. Zaydi, Fiver Shia differ with both sub
sects on the fifth imam, the infallibility of the imamate. Fiver Shia believe in "right by might" succession and
are closest to the Sunni in jurisprudence within Islam.
The global Muslim population is approximately one billion. The Shia population is estimated at 150,000,000 or roughly
15% of the Muslim population. Though it is a minority sect in Islam, Shia populations are the majority in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain
and Azerbaijan. Yemen has the largest concentrated population of Zaydi numbering five million in the northern mountains of
the coastal state. Azerbaijan is a declared secularist state with a long history, minus the Soviet era discouraging practice
of any religion, of tolerance for the practice of multiple sects of Islam and non-Muslim religions; however, an Islamist movement
is detectable in the northern Dagestani border area.
Until 2003 Iraq was ruled by the secular Ba'athist government made up of mostly Sunni Muslims. The minority sect in Iraq,
the Sunni Muslim population has several pockets of Salaf-Wahab extremists in North Babil, Kurdish held Sulaymaniyah, Ninewah
and Al Anbar provinces. Salaf-Wahab is the same fundamentalist sect as practiced by the Sa'ud family and is the state religion
in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but adherence to the sect does not translate to participation in the Islamist movement. Saudi
Arabia is currently fighting Islamist elements attempting to usurp the authority of the constitutional monarchy currently
in place. Bahrain is ruled as a constitutional monarchy placing the minority Sunni population of Bahrain as the authority
within the government. In spite of a failed coup attempt in 1981 by Iraqi exiled Ayatollah Taqi Mudarissi suspected of being
backed by Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the subsequent clamp down on Shia religious observances throughout the eighties,
Bahraini officials boast a national environment free from overt sectarian strife. Shia Muslim political parties in Bahrain
boycotted 2002 elections but are expected to dominate the political scene in the 2006 elections.
The Twelver Shia practice of jurisprudence after the disappearance of the last imam is maintained with ijtihad, independent
judgment, exemplified by a marja al taqlid, spiritual scholar and leader as a source of emulation. This form of judgment
is likened by Islamist scholars to imitation rather than independent judgment and rejected as valid practice. The practice
of veneration that developed with the deaths of Hussein and Abbas is loathed by Sunni as a form of idolatry and rejected by
Sunni as the practice of ignorant people and unbelievers. The Shia Muslims look to the oversight of Ali as the rightful successor
to Muhammad as the beginning of the persecution of their practiced form of Islam resulting in their victimization throughout
Muslim history. Shia Muslims believe this persecution continues today in the form of Sunni dominant practice and discrimination
against Shia Muslims in predominantly Sunni Muslim states. However, the Shia and Sunni Muslims in Azerbaijan, Lebanon, Palestine
and Iraq have worked together for well over a millennium to oust oppressors, against common enemies and achieve common goals.
A large number of Sunni scholars discount Shia dedication to Islam because of their veneration of martyrs through pilgrimages
to shrines and the depiction of martyrs in art and ceremonies. The veneration practiced by Shia offer many opportunities
to Islamist organizations in the form of symbolic and high casualty rated targets. Few Sunni scholars will go so far as to
openly declare Shia Muslims as apostate. However, many Islamist groups and leaders routinely focus on the differential Shia
practices as justification to use violence as a means to exert control over what Islamists view as takfiri. Takfiri are Muslims
who have deviated from faithful practice and are worse than kafir, the unbelieving infidel. The Islamist declaration of Shia
as takfiri finds its roots in a practice developed during the birth period of Islam and continued by Shia during the persecution
of Ali's family. This practice called takiya allows a Muslim to disavow his faith or take up the practice of locals in order
to protect Islam. The Shia extend this practice to self-defense and preservation. Ironically several Islamist groups, while
criticizing Shia for the practice, use takiya to cloak the intents and plans of their organizations against western and secular
governments as in the case of the and Pentagon attackers in 2001.
Takfir wa Hijra, an Islamist group whose origin can be traced to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood of the 1960s, openly
declares Shia and moderate Sunni Muslims are takfir and further criticizes them as the reason the greater Arab and Islamic
states are in disarray, corrupt and struggling economically as they sit on the greatest supply of wealth in the world, oil.
The ideological base outlines a purification of Islam, Muslim holy land and establishment of the Islamic Caliphate as the
means to restore Islam and Arabs to their eleventh and twelfth century glory. Takfir wa Hijra recruits disenfranchised, young
men in much the same way the Soviet Union developed insurgent armies to fuel communist uprisings in Latin America. The follow-on
Islamist groups, like the al Qaedas and Jemaah Islamiya are full of recruits and leaders who have been disenfranchised in
some way, exiled from their homeland or oppressed economically, politically or religiously: Ayman Zawahiri, Abu Musab Zarqawi,
Osama bin Laden, Abu Bakar Bashir, Noordin Mohammed Top, and Khalid Shaikh Muhammad.
As the fundament of contemporary sectarian violence is an adherence to radically exclusive belief, Indonesian violence
which consists of primarily Christian targets is included as it is viewed by its violent proponents as attacking the a moderate
western-focused government of predominantly Sunni members by members of an Islamist movement adhering to radical exclusivity.
Sectarian violence as seen recently is indicative of a Greater Salafist Movement.