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The differences between Shia and Sunni

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Religion
Wordcount: 2539 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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I. The differences between Shia and Sunni

A. History

The conflict within Islam arose after Prophet Muhammad died in A.D. 632. When the Prophet died, the followers of Muhammad couldn’t agree on the issue of who should become the first caliph after Muhammad. One group, later know as Shia, insisted that the Prophet had already picked that Ali will be first Imam after him (Eckman 31). This means the Prophet intended that caliph should continue within the Prophet’s bloodline. So, they admired Ali, who was the Prophet’s cousin and husband of the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima to be the first one (Abdulwaheed 30). While another group, later known as Sunni, claimed that the Prophet had left this issue to them, his followers, to decide whether who should become the first caliph. Sunni selected Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s father in law, to become first Imam. This unsolved issue led to a civil war between Sunni and Shia for many years. As a result, Abu Bakr won and became the first Imam (Eckman 31). After Bakr died, there were 2 more Imams, Umar and Uthman, before Sunni decide to select Ali to become the caliph (Abdulwaheed 30). But, Shia did not accept this decision and refused to join with Sunni. They continued their belief that the leaders of the Islamic world should remain within the Prophet’s family through Ali and Fatima and that they recognized Ali to be the first Imam (Abdulwaheed 30). After Ali died, Shia believed that there were 11 more Imams after Ali within the Prophet’s family. Unexpectedly, the 12th Imams, Al-Mahdi, disappeared after he became a caliph for a few days. Shia refused to accept that Mahdi had died, but they insisted that he actually hid himself and he will return one day to reestablish a new order and Islamic law in the earth again (Eckman 32).

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B. Theological Belief

Although Shia and Sunni are Muslim, and both of them believe in the Quran and the Five Pillars, the core fundamental belief of Islam, they are totally different from each other in many ways. Firstly, there are differences between clerical and church structure. (Abdulwaheed 33). Shia Islam is seen to similar to Catholic Church in the way that their structure of their church are both very hierarchical, while Sunni Islam are more resemble to the Protestant Church with relying more on self-independent (Abdulwaheed 33). Like Pope, Shia Imam “is divinely inspired and infallible in any judgments.” Unlike Shia Imams, this belief does not appear among Sunni (Eckman 34). The belief that Shia Imam is divinely inspired came from “the Shia Muslim believe Muhammad designated all 12 sucessors by name and that they inherited a special knowledge of the true meaning of the scripture that was passed through the Prophet’s descendant (Dallal 27). Secondly, Shia strongly holds the value and the importance of the idea of martyr and suffering (Abdulwaheed 33). This idea of martyr and suffering appear and express in many of Shia’s ritual and demonstration while Sunni rejects to accept this idea (Eckman 34). Thirdly, Shia and Sunni both acknowledge the idea of “the end times” according to the Quran says, but the Suuni refused to acknowledge the idea about “the Expected and Awaited” Imam which is taught among Shia that he will return one day to prophesy the end of times to his people (Eckman 34).

C. Practical Differences

The Shias have a different way to do the ritual to the Sunni, wudu and salat practices performed by them differ from the ones practiced by the Suuni, for instance of Shias, forehead is placed “onto a piece of hardened clay from Karbala, and not directly onto the prayer mat” when they perform worship (Abdulwaheed 51). Prayers are often combined by the Shias also, and sometimes only three (instead of five) worshipping is performed per day. The Shias prefer some different ahadith, especially the ones narrated by Ali and Fatima rather than the ones by other companions of the Prophet (pbuh) (Abdulwaheed 51). The ones narrated by Aisha are one of the least preferred due to her opposition to Ali. Shia Islam also allowed a fixed-term temporary marriage called “muttah” which is currently prohibited by the Sunnis (Abdulwaheed 51).

II. The plight of Shia minority

There are 2 main religious sections in Saudi Arabia which are Sunni and Shia. The majority one is Sunni while the minority is Shia (Al – Qudaihi 1). Shia in Saudi Arabia consists of about 15 percent of its whole population and they mostly live in eastern part of the country, such as, Qatif, Dammam, and Al-Hasa, the oil-riches area. (Al – Qudaihi 1) In 1930, when King AbdulAziz Ibn Saud found Saudi Arabia, he declared his kingdom to be free to practice Shia (Al – Qudaihi 1). But, King AbdulAziz Ibn’s intention to create free religious country does not really go into effect. Evidently, Shias still have a very harsh life as they have to face persecution and discrimination everyday life by Saudi Sunnis who views them as traitor and heretic (Megalommatis 49). Moreover, in some area, Shias even have to conceal their faith secretly doing the ritual as they are frighten that their live might not be safe from those radical Sunni people who hate them (Al.Hassan 16). From these reasons, many Saudi Shias are very connected with Shias in Iran who share similar belief (Yamani 8). As Saudi government sees this closely relationship between Iranain Shias and Saudi Shias, they perceive it as a threat to national security. Thus, the Saudi government acts more suppressive to Shias than ever. Because of the oppressive acts committed by the government, the Saudi government has been world widely recognized as “the most anti-Shia government in the world” (Megalommatis 49).

A. Religious Freedom

The tension between Sunni and Shia in Saudi Arabia reaches its climax these past few years (Al – Qudaihi 1). During February 2009, Shia Pilgrims from eastern part of Saudi Arabia came to Medina to commemorate “the anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad’s death”, but they were refused by the Sunni religious police to join the ceremony due to their different belief in doctrine and ritual. This brought Shia Pilgrims to collide with Sunni religious polices who were at the front gate. (Human Right Watch 4) At a result, many Shia Muslims were wounded and captured and 3 of them died (Yamani 7). After the confrontation between Shia and Sunni religious police, many Shias in London, Berlin and the Hugue came out and protested in front of Saudi consulate to call for their independence state from Saudi Arabia (Yamani 8). Since the situation both in the country and outside the country became worse and worse, King Abdullah decided to release the religious prisoners. Still the problems remain explosive (Al – Qudaihi 1). In March 2009, Saudi Shias, living in Qutif and Safwa, protested against unfair treatment by its government. Many of them were arrested and detained for many months (Human Right Watch 5). In May, June and July 2009, the authorities were ordered by Eastern Province governor to close down private halls and also imprison many Shias in Kholar and Ahsa because they had secretly practice religious activities where it banned by the government (Human Right Watch 5). In April 2010 in Khobar, Eastern Saudi Arabia, a Shia English teacher, Hussan Al Makki, was arrested by Intelligence Administration force. Makki was charged of violating the government’s prohibition to practice any Shia ritual. Moreover, there were other 3 people that were arrested on the same charge as Makki (Rasid News Network 28). Although Shia’s ritual and public celebration of their religious events are considered illegal to perform, but Shias still continue to practice both publicly and secretly. (Human Rights First Society 38).Moreover, Shias’ mosques are forced to shut down frequently. According to the Saudi law, to open the mosque, it has to get a license from government first. It is often the case that the government will not grant this license, particularly, to Shia mosque. Thus, it becomes a common and legal thing for the Saudi government to shut down the Shia mosque under the charge of not having license to operate (Human Rights First Society 38). In addition, the government also restricts on how Shia can build their house. The government prohibits the Shia from having basement within their house because the government does not want Shias to turn it into prayer hall, Hussueniyas (Jafariya News 47).

Up to today, the government does not allow publication of Shia religious books, it blocks their websites, and does not allow them any expression in the public media.” (Human Rights First Society 38). Many religious books, used in universities for courses, disrespect Shia at all by using bad and demeaning words to describe them and even referring them as “Rafuda” which means “rejectionists of religion.” (Al.Hassan 13).

B. Education

Not only Shias are limited the right to practice religious freedom, but also in education (Human Right Watch 5). From the statistic, there are only 7 Shia headmasters out of 319 boy schools and no Shia headmistress in girl schools at all in Eastern Province where majority of Shias live. Also King Faisal University, where its headquarter located at Ahsa in Eastern Province, is consisted of only 7 professors out of 287 professors (Human Rights First Society 37). Moreover, any private schools or nurseries operated by Shia people are not allowed be opened. (Al.Hassan 16). Shia’s theological belief is not allowed in teach in school (Human Right Watch 6). Moreover, in the school, it becomes a normal thing that many Sunni teachers publicly condemn and look down on Shia students viewing them as heretic (Wikipedia 12). Dr. Mohamed J. Al.Hassan, a professor at King Saud University, once said that his daughter was insulted by Sunni teacher and he called the school to call for justice by firing the teacher, but nothing happened to the teacher. Moreover, some radical people saw that the teacher should have done more than that (Al.Hassan 18). But this cannot only be blamed on those teachers themselves. As throughout of the teachers’ lives, they have been brainwashed to hate and insult Shia Muslims so when they become a teacher, they will pass their belief to their kids. This will continue from generation to generation (Al.Hassan 16). Not only Shia students are insulted by Sunni teachers, but even Shia teachers or professors are also insulted by Sunni students as well (Al.Hassan 16).

C. Social Opportunity

Socially, Shias sometimes have to hide their faith and secretly worship to prevent them from any persecution. Moreover Shias are always treated as a second citizen by their government. For example, the Fatima Shia of Najaran, an ancient native community, received very bad treat from the government. More Than 3000 members from the community were forced to leave their home to move to else without any good reason (Megalommatis 50). The government also limits their freedom on how Shia named their children in order to “discourage them from showing their identity.” (Wikipedia 12)

before court where everyone claims a justice department. For example, Sunni judge will not allow or accept the witness who is Shia. Moreover, the court judges any cases based on Sunni religious law. Moreover, no Saudi Shias have right to serve as a judge in court and also in any high-rank position within government and military (Human Right Watch 6).

Government passes out several decrees that encourage people with hatred, violence and discrimination against Shia. Some decrees recognize Shia as illegal and non-Muslim and cannot live harmoniously with Shia. (Al.Hassan 13) Other decrees claim Shia to divert the real meaning of Islam and polytheists. ( 14)

This type of discrimination and hatred also widely appear on the internet promoting violent and segregation against Shia. Surprisingly those violent Sunni website are allowed to go on while Shia website which promoting peace and unity are blocked very fast by Saudi government. (J, 25)

Saudi Shia are forbidden to take any senior position in Government. “There are no Shia ministers, diplomats, security officers, army commander, air force pilots, religious teachers, head of government agencies, judges, mayors, official imams, Royal officers, head of public company and many other senior government.” (Megalommatis 49).

III. Reaction

A. Shia

“All the Saudi Shia wants is for their government to respect their identity and treat them equally. Yet, Saudi authorities routinely treat these people with scorn and suspicion.” (Human Right Watch 4). Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia have been so long looking for more equality in their daily life in society including freedom to worship. They want to have legal right to have their own mosque, Shia religious book, and also are accepted by everyone (Al – Qudaihi 2). Saudi Shias has set up a new opposition group to call for more equal treatment for their people called “Khalas”. This group claims that the government has chances to reform its society to be more openness toward Shia, but they are just not willing to do it so (Al – Qudaihi 3). Tawfik al-saif, a Saudi political activist, states that to end these prolonged conflicts, the Saudi government should introduce both political and social reforms to make Sunni and Shia much more integrate to each other (Al – Qudaihi 2). To end these problems, Mai Yamani, a Saudi scholar, suggests that Saudi should change from “molithic Wahabi national identity” to be more open and inclusive everyone. This means that Saudi Arabia has only 2 choices to choose either ending discrimination against Shia and giving them their right socially and politically, or sitting down and watch them to gain their strength from outsiders and the country become disintegration (Yamani 9). Recently, King Abdullah has tried to encourage Saudi people to practice religious tolerance and live together peacefully, but a large number of state institutions still commit to discriminate Shias not to be able to hold any public offices (Human Right Watch 4).

D. King and the Saudi government

In 2003, Prince Abdullah began the idea to get both Sunni and Shia Clerics to come together for the first time. 5 years later, Prince Abdullah also supported “a pan-Muslim World meeting” for Shia and Sunni holding in Mecca (Financial Times 25).

Since 2001, Saudi government stated that they have prepared to edit textbooks, curricular, teaching method to advocate tolerance and remove insulting word from the book. Despite their attempt to change the bias view toward Shia, textbooks used in schools still contain the words that show intolerance view toward Shia promoting violence and hatred against Shia. (Scripture Seed Foundation 42)


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