Thursday, February 20, 2014

The vicious schism between Sunni and Shia has been poisoning Islam for 1,400 years - and it's getting worse

    Thursday, February 20, 2014   No comments

Rendering of Imam Hussain after Karbala
The war in Syria began much earlier than is generally recognised. The conflict actually began in the year 632 with the death of the Prophet Mohamed. The same is true of the violence, tension or oppression currently gripping the Muslim world from Iraq and Iran, though Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

A single problem lies behind all that friction and hostility. On Tuesday, Britain's leading Muslim politician, the Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi, obliquely addressed it in a speech she made in Oman, the Arab state at the south-east corner of the Arabian Peninsula strategically positioned at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. The religious tolerance of the Sultanate, she suggested, offered a model for the whole of the Islamic world. It certainly needs such an exemplar of openness and acceptance.

What most of the crucibles of conflict in the Middle East have in common is that Sunni Muslims are on one side of the disagreement and Shia Muslims on the other. Oman is unusual because its Sunni and Shia residents are outnumbered by a third sect, the Ibadis, who constitute more than half the population. In many countries, the Sunni and the Shia are today head-to-head.

The rift between the two great Islamic denominations runs like a tectonic fault-line along what is known as the Shia Crescent, starting in Lebanon in the north and curving through Syria and Iraq to the Gulf and to Iran and further east.


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