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Thread: Differences Between "Sunni" and "Shi'a" Moslems

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    Arrow Differences Between "Sunni" and "Shi'a" Moslems

    Shi'a Islam (also called Shiite, or Shi'i) is the second largest division of Islam, constituting about 10-15% of all Moslems. The Sunni Moslems recognise the Four Caliphs as ‘rightly guided’, while Shi’a Moslems recognise Ali as the First Caliph and his descendants.

    Shi’as differ on how many Imams there have been. Some talk of Twelve and others of Fourteen. They also differ on who is the last Imam (Mahdi). Imamites say it was the Twelfth Imam, Muhammad al’Mahdi, the Zaydites say the Fifth, Zayd, and, the Isma’ilites say the Seventh Imam, Ismail. However, Shi’as agree that the Last Imam went into hiding and will return to bring in the end of the world. Shi’a Beliefs

    The five Shia principles of religion (usul ad din) are:

    - belief in divide unity (tawhid)
    - prophecy (nubuwwah)
    - resurrection (maad)
    - divine justice (adl)
    - the belief in the Imams as successors of the Prophet (imamah).

    The latter principle is not accepted by Sunnis. Most Sunnis believe the Sharia (religious law of Islam) was codified and closed by the 10th century. Shia followers believe the Sharia is always open, subject to fresh reformulations of Sunna, hadith, (traditions of what Muhammad and his companions said and did) and Qur’an interpretations.

    Like Sunni Islam, Shia Islam has developed several sects. Because of their belief that the leader of the Moslem community must be a blood relative of the prophet, disputes arose when two sons of an Imam (the title given to the Shia leader) both claimed to be the rightful successor. These disputes caused the Shia sect to further divide into three groups: Zaids, Ismai’ilis, and Ithna Asharis. The Twelver or Ithna-Ashari sect is the most important of these, as it predominates not only in Iraq but in the Shia world generally.

    Broadly speaking, the Twelvers are considered political quietists as opposed to the Zaydis who favor political activism, and the Ismailis who are identified with esoteric and gnostic religious doctrines.

    Canonical schools in Islam, are called "Fiqh's"; the only Fiqh's in Shia Islam, are Usuli, Akhbari, and Shaykhi. These 3 all belong to the Ithna-Ashari or mainstream Shia Islam, which believes in the 12 Shia Imams; hence the name which means "Twelver's". The dominant Shia legal school is sometimes termed the Ja'fari Fiqh, after lmam Jaafar Sadiq (a.s.), the Sixth Infallible Imam of the world of Shiism. The term "Jaafari" is something of a pejorative term, just like "Wahhabiyyah" is; and one that is not used by Shias themselves. It is used by Sunnis, to derided Shias, just as "Wahhabiyyah" is used by Westerners and Shias, to deride Sunnis, but neither term is correct in and of itself.

    A student assimilates from very early the ijtihad methodology as he assumes religious ranks: preacher, then mujtahid, hujjat Al-Islam [Proof of Islam], and then hujjat Al-Islam wa Al-Muslimeen until he becomes a Source or ayatollah, and thereafter the great ayatollah or ayatollah al-`uzma. The 1964 Afghan Constitution, which was the basis of new 2003 constitution, stated: "Islam is the sacred religion of Afghanistan. Religious rites performed by the state shall be according to the provisions of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence."

    This stipulation left Afghan Shia without proper representation. Thus in March 2003, Ayatollah Mohammad Asef Mohseni, leader of the predominantly Shia Harakat-e Islami-yi Afghanistan, proposed that, along with the Sunni Hanafi school of jurisprudence, the Shia Ja'fari school of jurisprudence be included in the new constitution as an official sect. Mohseni said he proposed two additional formulas if his proposal is not accepted: mentioning "Islam and the Islamic sects," or just mentioning Islam without any mention of sects to ensure that Afghan Shia have their jurisprudence recognized and are allowed to "perform their religious duties according to it."

    The Ja'fari [Hafari] fiqh of the Imami Shias is in most cases indistinguishable from one or more of the four Sunni madhahib, except that "Muta'h" or temporary marriage is considered lawful by the Fiqh Jafari, whereas it is prohibited in all the Sunni schools. But the Shia are still viewed with great caution by the Ulema of the Sunni world. Although Sunni and Shi'a Moslems are historically ambivalent, this traditional enmity was dampened in Central Asia due to shared resistance to Russian and Soviet rule.

    Indeed, both Sunni and Shi'a delegations to the 1905 Third Congress of Moslems in Russia declared Ja'farite Shi'ism as a fifth legal school, equivalent to the Hanafi, Maliki, Hanbali, and Shafi'i madrasehs.

    Shi’as do not believe in predestination. They accept the teachings of the Mu’tazilities, a group of Sunni scholars who were later declared heretical. The Mu’tazilities believed that God cannot be responsible for evil, and therefore, humans must have freewill and be independent of God’s authority in this life. A further belief of Shia Moslems concerns divine justice and the individual's responsibility for his acts, which are judged by a just God. This contrasts with the Sunni view that God's creation of man allows minimal possibility for the exercise of free will.

    Two distinctive and frequently misunderstood Shia practices are mutah, temporary marriage, and taqiyah, religious dissimulation.

    Mutah, that is, marriage with a fixed termination contract subject to renewal, was practiced by Moslems as early as the formation of the first Moslem community at Medina. Banned by the second caliph, it has since been unacceptable to Sunnis, but Shias insist that if it were against Islamic law it would not have been practiced in early Islam. Mutah differs from permanent marriage because it does not require divorce proceedings for termination because the contractual parties have agreed on its span, which can be as short as an evening or as long as a lifetime. By making the mutah, a couple places the sexual act within the context of sharia; the act then is not considered adulterous and offspring are considered legitimate heirs of the man.

    Taqiyah is another practice condemned by the Sunni as cowardly and irreligious but encouraged by Shia Islam and also practiced by Alawis and Ismailis. A person resorts to taqiyah when he either hides his religion or disavows certain religious practices to escape danger from opponents of his beliefs. Taqiyah can also be practiced when not to do so would bring danger to the honor of the female members of a household or when a man could be made destitute as a result of his beliefs. Because of the persecution frequently experienced by Shia imams, particularly during the period of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, taqiyah has been continually reinforced.

    Shia practice differs from that of the Sunnis concerning both divorce and inheritance in that it is more favorable to women. The reason for this reputedly is the high esteem in which Fatima, the wife of Ali and the daughter of the Prophet, was held. The Imamate

    Among Shias the term imam traditionally has been used only for Ali and his eleven descendants. None of the twelve Imams, with the exception of Ali, ever ruled an Islamic government. During their lifetimes, their followers hoped that they would assume the rulership of the Islamic community, a rule that was believed to have been wrongfully usurped. Because the Sunni caliphs were cognizant of this hope, the Imams generally were persecuted during the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. Therefore, the Imams tried to be as unobtrusive as possible and to live as far as was reasonable from the successive capitals of the Islamic empire.

    The Imamate began with Ali, who is also accepted by Sunni Moslems as the fourth of the "rightly guided caliphs" to succeed the Prophet. Shias revere Ali as the First Imam, and his descendants, beginning with his sons Hasan and Husayn, continue the line of the Imams until the twelfth, who is believed to have ascended into a supernatural state to return to earth on Judgment Day.

    Shias point to the close lifetime association of the Prophet with Ali. When Ali was six years old, he was invited by the Prophet to live with him, and Shias believe Ali was the first person to make the declaration of faith in Islam. Ali also slept in the Prophet's bed on the night of the hijra or migration from Mecca to Medina when it was feared that the house would be attacked by unbelievers and the Prophet stabbed to death. He fought in all the battles the Prophet did except one, and the Prophet chose him to be the husband of his favorite daughter, Fatima.

    The Sunni-Shia division of Islam originated as a succession dispute shortly after the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632 A.D. Shia believe that the proper successor of Muhammad was Ali. The word “Shia” means partisan or faction of Ali. Ali was elected to be the fourth Moslem ruler or caliph, but was later overthrown and assassinated.

    Shia Moslems believe that the first three caliphs Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman were usurpers, and that Ali was the first true Imam. Shia hold Ali in equally high regard as Muhammad. Ali was buried in the Iraqi city of Najaf, which established an early connection between Iraq and Shiism and became a shrine city that continues to be a destination for Shia pilgrims. In 661 A.D. Mu’awiya, the governor of Syria, named himself caliph and made the caliphate hereditary in his own family, the Umayyads, who the Shia rejected as usurpers of Ali and his sons’ rights to the caliphate. In the year AD 661, Imam Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law and the fourth caliph of Islam, was assassinated in southern Iraq in a struggle over who would rule the faithful. Ali was buried in Najaf, and his tomb is housed in a mosque in the city's center.

    Nineteen years after Ali's death, his two sons were killed in battle and subsequently buried in nearby Karbala. Their battlefield deaths made martyrdom one of the most important tenets of Shiism. Shia attempts to challenge the Umayyad leaders resulted in the death of Ali’s son and the third Shia Imam, Husayn, at the Battle of Karbala in 680. The city of Karbala has become a Shia shrine city.

    Husayn’s death is commemorated annually in the Ashura ceremony, and is seen as a symbol of the persecution and oppression experienced by the Shia community. Celebration of Ashura can also be a form of Shia political dissent. Male participants in the Ashura rituals beat their chests and chant in an action called lahtom. Some use swords to lacerate their heads to symbolize the beheading of Husayn, or use chains to beat their backs to evoke the suffering of Husayn.
    Shia may place a piece of stone or clay, known as a turba, from the shrine of an Imam or other Shia figure on the ground so that their forehead touches the stone when they prostrate themselves in prayer. The possession of such a disc is a sign of Shia identity.

    Jaafari [Jafari] Faith means the Religion according to lmam Jaafar Sadiq (a.s.), the Sixth Infallible Imam of the world of Shiism. Ascription of the Shiite Religion to Imam Jaafar ben Muhammad A]-Sadiq (a.s.) was due to the fact that this noble Imam lived longer than all other Infallible Imams and, thus, he has had more time and opportunity for action. Because of the conditions of his time, the role of imam Sadeq (a.s.) in reviving true, genuine Islamic teachings, formation of numerous education centers and training of faithful men was exceptional to the point that the Shiite religion by ascription to him has been named the "Jaafari Faith".

    The infirmity and confusion of the Caliphate due to the clashes between the Abbasid, and the Omayyad dynasties, in particular, afforded wider opportunities to the Imam to teach, instruct, discuss and train the faithful and sincere forces and to establish lbeologic Centers and promulgate the Islamic truths.

    During the eighth century the Caliph Mamun, son and successor to Harun ar Rashid, was favorably disposed toward the descendants of Ali and their followers. He invited the Eighth Imam, Reza (A.D. 765-816), to come from Medina (in the Arabian Peninsula) to his court at Marv (Mary in the present-day Soviet Union). While Reza was residing at Marv, Mamun designated him as his successor in an apparent effort to avoid conflict among Moslems. Reza's sister Fatima journeyed from Medina to be with her brother, but took ill and died at Qom, in present-day Iran. A major shrine developed around her tomb and over the centuries Qom has become a major Shia pilgrimage and theological center.

    Mamun took Reza on his military campaign to retake Baghdad from political rivals. On this trip Reza died unexpectedly in Khorasan. Reza was the only Imam to reside or die in what in now Iran. A major shrine, and eventually the city of Mashhad, grew up around his tomb, which has become the most important pilgrimage center in Iran. Several important theological schools are located in Mashhad, associated with the shrine to the Eighth Imam.

    Reza's sudden death was a shock to his followers, many of whom believed that Mamun, out of jealousy for Reza's increasing popularity, had the Imam poisoned. Mamun's suspected treachery against Imam Reza and his family tended to reinforce a feeling already prevalent among his followers that the Sunni rulers were untrustworthy.

    The Twelfth Imam is believed to have been only five years old when the Imamate descended upon him in A.D.874 at the death of his father. Because his followers feared he might be assassinated, the Twelfth Imam was hidden from public view and was seen only by a few of his closest deputies. Sunnis claim that he never existed or that he died while still a child. Shias believe that the Twelfth Imam never died, but disappeared from earth in about A.D. 939.

    Since that time, the greater occultation of the Twelfth Imam has been in force and will last until God commands the Twelfth Imam to manifest himself on earth again as the Mahdi or Messiah. Shias believe that during the occultation of the Twelfth Imam, he is spiritually present--some believe that he is materially present as well--and he is besought to reappear in various invocations and prayers. His name is mentioned in wedding invitations, and his birthday is one of the most jubilant of all Shia religious observances.

    The Shia doctrine of the Imamate was not fully elaborated until the tenth century. Other dogmas were developed still later. A characteristic of Shia Islam is the continual exposition and reinterpretation of doctrine.

    Shia Moslems hold the fundamental beliefs of other Moslems. But, in addition to these tenets, the distinctive institution of Shia Islam is the Imamate -- a much more exalted position than the Sunni imam, who is primarily a prayer leader. In contrast to Sunni Moslems, who view the caliph only as a temporal leader and who lack a hereditary view of Moslem leadership, Shia Moslems believe the Prophet Muhammad designated Ali to be his successor as Imam, exercising both spiritual and temporal leadership. Such an Imam must have knowledge, both in a general and a religious sense, and spiritual guidance or walayat, the ability to interpret the inner mysteries of the Quran and the sharia.

    Only those who have walayat are free from error and sin and have been chosen by God through the Prophet. Each Imam in turn designated his successor--through twelve Imams--each holding the same powers. Implied in the Shia principle of the imamah is that imams, are imbued with a redemptive quality as a result of their sufferings and martyrdoms. And, although imams are not divine, they are sinless and infallible in matters of faith and morals, principle very similar to the notion of papal infallibility in the Roman Catholic Church. That man needs an intermediary with God is an Iranian idea that long predates Islam, as is the idea of a savior or messiah (Mahdi) who will come to redeem man and cleanse the world. To expect that the Mahdi, who is the last (twelfth) Imam, really will one is a religious virtue (intizar).

    [Poster's Note:] Keep in mind the only two places professing Shia Islam are Iran and Iraq, the latter of which was once part of the Persian Empire in Medieval Times. Note Shia Islam's concept of the Mahdi coincides with the Zoroastrian belief in the last prophet Sayoshant who will raise the dead and lead the faithful, the believers in Ahura Mazda, against Ahriman, the Zoroastrian Shaitan.
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    Re: Shi'a Islam.

    I already knew most of this stuff but it was a nice refresher. I did't know about the return of Mahdi was parallel to the Zoroastrianist belief, tho. What is the original source for the article?

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    AW: Shi'a Islam.

    Excellent text for making some of the most basic differences between Sunni and Shia Islam clear.

    In my personal opinion Shia Islam is more open to new developments and a rational approach to actual problems than most Sunni groups are.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Agrippa View Post
    Excellent text for making some of the most basic differences between Sunni and Shia Islam clear.

    In my personal opinion Shia Islam is more open to new developments and a rational approach to actual problems than most Sunni groups are.
    The essential difference is that the Persian identity of Iranians presumes a more noble path than the Semitic underbelly is capable of, but still too enthralled by the latter to shake off Mohammed, as he would be the most famous of them in the vein of Assyria or Babylonia that lived under Aryan domination. So, even the 'master race' in this case, gets dragged down into the mud by the sand people. It's too easy to be king of the dung heap, but why would you want to? If not for the Achaemenid legacy, Shia would not exist and Sunni would be universal. Shia's grasp of things is illusory, by contending it has any influence outside Iran, even amongst other, more truly Indo-Iranian peoples in the Subcontinent as far as Bengal or the Maldives.

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