As a Buddhist, I did not know much about Muslims, their sects, and beliefs. During the course of an interview session with my friend, Turki, a Muslim from Saudi Arabia, I learned a lot about the two main sects of Islam, Sunni and Shia Muslims. I got a better understanding about the religion and culture of Islam, Sunni and Shia Muslims, and their history. Historically, there used to be only Sunnis. However, following the death of the fourth caliphate of the Rashidun, the sect of Shia is born. The views of companions of the Prophet are actually a very controversial question between the two sects. In addition, the main difference between the two sects is the Aqidah/creed. Moving forward, we are both confident and convinced that the entire world, including the Muslim World, will be a peaceful place.
Key words: Sunni, Shia, Prophet, Muslims, creed
In completing this assignment and paper, I have to conduct an interview with an individual or member belonging to a major religious faith that is distinct and different from the one practiced and followed by me. As a practicing Buddhist, I approached and explained the situation to my friend, Turki, who is a Muslim from Saudi Arabia. Turki readily agreed to be interviewed and offered to talk about the two main sects of Islam, Sunni and Shia Muslims.
The first question that I asked Turki was: “What sect of Islam do you belong to?” The answer I got from Turki was: “I am just a Muslim, who follows the Book of the creator and the Sunnah/lifestyle of his Messenger.” As a traditional Sunni Muslim, I thought that Turki would be the perfect person to talk about the topic of Sunni and Shia Muslims, and help me understand more about the religion and culture of Islam.
The second question that I asked Turki was: “Can you please tell me something about the history of Sunni and Shia Muslims?” In response, Turki said: “Yes, I can tell you about the Sunni and Shia Muslims and their history. Historically, there used to be only Sunnis. However, following the death of the fourth caliphate of the Rashidun, the sect of Shia is born and known since that time.” It is a precise answer, which is really accurate and detailed. I used to believe that Muslims started their divide between Sunni and Shia after the death of Prophet Muhammad. The answer Turki gave me is apparently a better answer and it corrected my misconceptions by pointed out that it actually happened after the death of the fourth caliphate of the Rashidun, which was about 30 years after the death of Muhammad. According to Malise:
Muhammad's death in 632 CE creates a crisis of authority that has never been resolved. Abu Bakr, his close companion and father of his favourite wife 'Aisha, is elected leader in Medina, following Arab tribal custom. The claims of 'Ali, Muhammad's cousin and soninlaw, his closest male relative, are bypassed on this and two subsequent occasions. Only after the death of 'Uthman does 'Ali come into what his Partisans (Arab. Shi'a) regard as his lawful inheritance. But by now it is too late. 'Ali's leadership is contested, and he fails to impose his authority over the whole community. (1997, p. 53)
Malise’s narration tells a complicated story for explaining how the two sects appeared. However, the divide seems to have more of a political reason since with the key question being if Ali should be the only legitimate successor of the Muslim community? According to Phillips and Media (2015), “The majority of Muslims chose Abu Bakr, one of Muhammad's companions to lead them. However, a smaller group argued that Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law and cousin, should become the new head.”
Foe the third question, I asked Turki: “What do you think about Shia Muslims? For example, do you consider them as brothers and sisters or enemies? ” I got the answer from Turki as: “I think Shia brothers and sisters are fine as long as they do not blackguard and revile the companions of the prophet.” This answer gave me a new sense and view of understanding the conflicts between Sunni and Shia Muslims. It came up with the question to me: What’s the Shia Muslims’ view of companions of the prophet? According to Shiasunni.info (2013), “Shia says neither all the companions were righteous nor all companions were bad. There were so many pious and righteous personalities among the companions of the holy Prophet but not all.” It clearly explains that Shia Muslims have different opinions about the companions of the Prophet, and they believe some of those companions could be considered as bad. On this point, Sunni Muslims have a different opinion. Alsamail (2012) states that, “The Sunnis believe that all companions were pious and that their word should be trusted and they should be followed. They have a false narration that says: ‘my companions are like stars, whichever of them you follow, you will be guided’.” The answer that Turki gave me taught me that the views of companions of the Prophet are actually a very controversial question between the two sects.
The fourth question that I asked Turki was: “What kind of main differences exist between Sunni and Shia Muslims?” For the answer, Turki said: “The main difference between the two sects is the Aqidah/creed.” Although both sects follow Quran, it is true that there are actually many differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims regarding creeds. According to Phillips and Media (2015), “Both groups use hadiths, or stories of Muhammad's sayings and actions, to help them interpret the Quran. However, Shiites place more weight on the hadiths that came from Muhammad's close family and companions, while Sunnis consider a much wider range of sources to be valid.”
As the last question, I asked Turki: “How do you think the current relationship between Sunni and Shia Muslims will go in the future? Do you think it is going to be better and more peaceful or more conflicts and fights?” The answer from Turki was: “I think the world in general is heading into more peaceful times, so the relationship between Sunni and Shia Muslims is going to be better after some changes in the political decision makers in the Muslim World.” I completely agree with Turki regarding the expectation. World peace, as a great wish, enjoys popular support across many nations, and the Muslim World is coming along. We are both confident and convinced that this world will be moving towards a peaceful world, the right direction with a better future.
In conclusion, both Sunni and Shia Muslims follow Quran and have the same beliefs regarding God and Prophet. Relatively, Sunnis are the dominant majority in most Muslim countries as well as many entire Muslim communities. Conflicts as well as cooperation have been part of Sunni–Shia relations throughout history. The main conflicts between them have roots in historical events. Since those times, Sunni and Shia Muslims have different creed. However, according to Turki, a normal Sunni Muslim from a traditional family, the Muslim communities will be harmonious and peaceful eventually.
Alsamail, A. (2012, April 25). WHAT IS THE SHIA VIEW OF THE COMPANIONS OF THE PROPHET, ESPECIALLY THE FIRST 3 CALIPHS? Retrieved from http://www.askthesheikh.com/what-is-the-shia-view-of-the-companions-of-the-prophet-especially-the-first-3-caliphs/
Malise, R. (1997). Islam : A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.
Phillips, B., & Media, D. (2015). What Are the Two Major Sects in Islam? Retrieved from http://people.opposingviews.com/two-major-sects-islam-5869.html
Shiasunni.info. (2013, February 9). Shia point of view about the companions (Sahaba). Retrieved from http://www.shiasunni.info/about-companions/26-shia-point-of-view-about-the-companions-sahaba