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why do the sunni and shia fight

The divide between Sunnis and Shia is the largest and oldest in the history of Islam. Members of the two sects have co-existed for centuries and share many fundamental beliefs and practices. But they differ in doctrine, ritual, law, theology and religious organisation. Their leaders also often seem to be in competition. From Lebanon and Syria to Iraq and Pakistan, many recent conflicts have emphasised the sectarian divide, tearing communities apart. Who are the Sunnis? The great majority of the world's more than 1. 5 billion Muslims are Sunnis - estimates suggest the figure is somewhere between 85% and 90%. In the Middle East, Sunnis make up 90% or more of the populations of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Sunnis regard themselves as the orthodox branch of Islam. The name "Sunni" is derived from the phrase "Ahl al-Sunnah", or "People of the Tradition". The tradition in this case refers to practices based on what the Prophet Muhammad said, did, agreed to or condemned. All Muslims are guided by the Sunnah, but Sunnis stress its primacy. Shia are also guided by the wisdom of Muhammad's descendants through his son-in-law and cousin, Ali. Sunni life is guided by four schools of legal thought, each of which strives to develop practical applications of the Sunnah. Who are the Shia? Shia constitute about 10% of all Muslims, and globally their population is estimated at between 154 and 200 million. The deaths of Ali, Hassan and Hussein gave rise to the Shia concept of martyrdom
Shia Muslims are in the majority in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Azerbaijan and, according to some estimates, Yemen. There are also large Shia communities in Afghanistan, India, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Qatar, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In early Islamic history, the Shia were a movement - literally "Shiat Ali" or the "Party of Ali". They claimed that Ali was the rightful successor to the Prophet Muhammad as leader (imam) of the Muslim community following his death in 632.

Ali was assassinated in 661 after a five-year caliphate that was marred by civil war. His sons, Hassan and Hussein, were denied what they thought was their legitimate right of accession to the caliphate. Hassan is believed to have been poisoned in 680 by Muawiyah, the first caliph of the Sunni Umayyad dynasty, while Hussein was killed on the battlefield by the Umayyads in 681. These events gave rise to the Shia concept of martyrdom and the rituals of grieving. There are three main branches of Shia Islam today - the Zaidis, Ismailis and Ithna Asharis (Twelvers or Imamis). The Ithna Asharis are the largest group and believe that Muhammad's religious leadership, spiritual authority and divine guidance were passed on to 12 of his descendants, beginning with Ali, Hassan and Hussein. The 12th Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, is said to have disappeared from a cave below a mosque in 878. Ithna Asharis believe the so-called "awaited imam" did not die and will return at the end of time to restore justice on earth. What role has sectarianism played in recent crises? In countries which have been governed by Sunnis, Shia tend to make up the poorest sections of society. They often see themselves as victims of discrimination and oppression. Sunni extremists frequently denounce Shia as heretics who should be killed. The Iranian revolution of 1979 launched a radical Shia Islamist agenda that was perceived as a challenge to conservative Sunni regimes, particularly in the Gulf. Tehran's policy of supporting Shia militias and parties beyond its borders was matched by Sunni-ruled Gulf states, which strengthened their links to Sunni governments and movements elsewhere. Today, many conflicts in the region have strong sectarian overtones. In Syria, Iranian troops, Hezbollah fighters and Iranian-backed Shia militiamen have been helping the Shia-led government battle the Sunni-dominated opposition. Sunni jihadist groups, including Islamic State (IS), have meanwhile been targeting Shia and their places of worship in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

In January 2016, the execution by Saudi Arabia of a prominent Shia cleric who supported mass anti-government protests triggered a diplomatic crisis with Iran and angry demonstrations across the Middle East. When we watch the news and see reporters talking about the conflicts that are playing out across the Middle East, we hear a lot about fighting between the Sunnis and the Shiites, the two main sects of Islam. But many of us have no idea what the actual difference between the two groups is, and why there is so much friction between them. So let's take a look at some of the history and the geopolitics to get a sense of what is really going on. There are 1. 6 billion Muslims across the world. Roughly 85% of them are Sunnis. The division began after the death of the Prophet Mohammed some 1,400 years ago, as a disagreement about who should succeed him. The Sunnis felt that Abu Bakr, a close friend of the prophet's, ought to be the next Muslim leader. But the Shiites claimed that Mohammed had annointed his son-in-law, Ali, as his rightful successor. The Sunnis won out, but a split was born, and that rift was cemented when Ali's son was later killed by the ruling Sunni's troops -- an event which the Shiites commemorate every year. Fast-forward more than a thousand years, and the situation is worse than ever. According to a poll by Pew Research, some 40% of Sunnis don't even regard Shiites as real Muslims. But there's more than theology at work here. Perhaps even more important is geography. One hundred years ago, around the time of the First World War, the Middle East was carved up in a Franco-British pact called the Sykes-Picot Agreement. But the Europeans had little interest in understanding the religious and ethnic intricacies of the Middle East when they divided up the region. Still, these arbitrary borders became the blueprint for today's maps. The Shiites were divided primarily among Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, with Alawites (an off-shoot of Shia Islam) in Syria.

This area has come to be known as the Shia crescent. Sunni Muslims make up the bulk of the population of other countries in the region, with pockets of Shiites scattered among them. As you might expect, problems arise in countries where both sects are vying for power, or one feels oppressed. In Syria, for example, a Sunni majority has been ruled for the last 45 years by an Alawite minority. In Iraq, a Sunni minority ruled over the Shiite majority for decades. After the U. S. invasion, Saddam Hussein -- a Sunni -- was overthrown, and a Shiite government took over. That government proceeded to marginalize the Sunnis, and now some of those disenfranchised Sunnis have gone on to form the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS. Let's do a quick who's-who in the Middle East: Al Qaeda and ISIS are Sunni Muslim groups. Hezbollah is Shiite. Osama bin Laden was a Sunni. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite. And the Iranian mullahs are Shiites as well, which helps explain why Iran has gotten involved in the conflict in Syria. And where does America stand in all this? Traditionally, the U. S. 's strongest allies in the region have been Sunni powers, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. But now the U. S. is pursuing a nuclear deal with Shiite Iran, and is working alongside Shiites in Iraq to try to destroy ISIS. But at the same time, Washington still supports Saudi Arabia, which is currently bombing Iran-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen. Confused yet? So what we can conclude? At the end of the day, it's important to remember that the majority of ordinary Sunnis and Shiites do not hate each other, and both groups share the same core tenets of Islam. In a sense, it's similar to the differences between, say, the Catholics and the Protestants. And the fighting and the bloodshed going on across the region today are less about religion than they are about power.

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