Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sunni-Shia war engulf the new Middle East

OpinionJournal - Leisure & Arts :: A Faith Divided by MASOOD FARIVAR : "In the succession crisis that followed the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, the majority of Muslims elected as caliph one of the Prophet's closest companions. A minority dissented, arguing that the Prophet had passed the leadership of his community to Ali, his cousin and son-in-law. The dissenters became known as "Shiat-Ali," or Partisans of Ali. The followers of Muhammad's "Sunna," or tradition, became known as Sunnis. In time, each side developed what Mr. Nasr calls a distinct "ethos of faith and piety."

The Shia got their wish when Ali became the fourth caliph, but the pivotal moment in Shia history came in 680 when Ali's son Hussein and 72 of his followers were massacred in the desert of southern Iraq after challenging the authority of Islam's sixth caliph. For the Shia, Hussein came to symbolize resistance to tyranny; his martyrdom is commemorated to this day as a central act of Shia piety.

With the exception of a few short-lived Shia dynasties (Iraq is not the first Shia Arab state), the Shia never really wielded political power, living mostly as a marginalized minority under Sunni rule. This historical experience, Mr. Nasr observes, has long imbued the Sunnis with a sense of "worldly success," and a presumption of mastery, while furnishing the Shia underdogs with a narrative of "martyrdom, persecution, and suffering."

Vali Nasr, author of "The Shia Revival,

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