Middle East Notes and Comment: The Real Shi'a-Sunni Conflict
March 12, 2007
Religion, sometimes, is a continuation of politics by other means. Growing Shi‘a-Sunni tensions in the Middle East provide further proof this is so.
Politics, not theology, was at the root of the Shi‘a-Sunni split to start with. The Prophet Muhammad was both a religious and political leader, and he left no clear heir. Shi'a argued that leadership should be reserved to members of the Prophet Muhammad's family. Sunnis argued that it should be the most capable among the leadership, regardless of parentage. Doctrinal differences have emerged since—having to do with things such as the assessment of charitable responsibilities, inheritance laws, the position of one's hands during prayer, and other practical issues—but those differences came after the schism. Politics created the Shi'a-Sunni split, not theology.