What is the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims?

A recent question from a highly intelligent tdaxp reader made me think about the arrogance of much of the blogosphere. Many of us bloggers have been dismissive of politicians who confuse Shia and Sunni, but we never take the take to actually lay-out those differences.

The difference between Sunni and Shia is the difference between the Holy Roman Empire and the Priori of Sion (from The DaVinci Code). Like the Holy Roman Empire, the Sunni Caliphate was determinedby “elections” which were designed to make sure that powerful elements in the community were OK with the new leader. This may have lasted for a short while, but quickly it became a title that was passed, father-to-son, in some family. In the Holy Roman Empire the family were the Habsburgs, and in the Sunni Caliphate the last family to own the title were the Ottomans. Humorously, just as the Holy Roman Empire ended life as a secular German confederacy during the Napoleonic Wars, the Sunni Caliphate ended its life in in the secular Turkish republic following World War I. After the fall of the last Caliph, some individuals tried to revive the title (for themselves), but nothing came up this. So there is no current Caliph, just as there is no current Holy Roman Emperor.

Meanwhile, the Shia Imamate (like the secret society in the DaVinci Code) is based on blood-descent from a Holy Figure (Jesus Christ through Mary Magdeline, or Muhammed’s son-in-law Ali through his daughter, Fatima). Both the Priori of Scion and Shia believe that their current leader (or “Imam”) is hiding. Shia additionally believe that this Imam is several hundreds of years old, persecuted by the wicked religious establishment (in this case, the Sunnis), and perhaps hiding in a well. The Imam, like the leader of the Priori of Scion, will reveal himself when the time is right.

Now, in spite of the quirky Shia view of leadership, actual religious Shia organization makes more sense to me. A Shia Muslim “Ayatollah” is a combination of a Bishop and a Doctor of Theology. The reason that no one calls Sadr an “ayatollah” is that he hasn’t completed the coursework. So he’s a cleric which, like political priests, are a dime a dozen. Shia Islam is run similar to the Catholic Church, except with no strong “Pope.”

Ayatollah Khomeini called himself “imam,” or “leader,” but claimed that this was separate from Imam, the hiding guy. In a similar way, the Catholic Church calls its leader Papa, or “Father,” while recognizing this is a very different title than God-the-Father. This didn’t catch on though, and the title has not remained in use. So Shia Islam is where the Catholic Church would have been if the First Vatican Council — which established papal infallibility — had failed.

Meanwhile, the Sunni Muslims run their religion similar to low-church protestants. How do you get to be a Sunni Muslim cleric? Say you are, and get other Sunni Muslims to follow you. Thus Osama bin Laden is a real Sunni Muslim cleric in the same sense that a KKK prayer-leader was a real baptist cleric.

In short: Sunni Muslims have to wait until some mass movement declares a new Caliph — an event exactly as likely as the European Union naming some person Holy Roman Emperor. Shia Muslims, for their part, have to wait until their hidden Imam reveals himself and the world ends. In the meanwhile, Sunni Muslims operate similarly low-church protestants while Shia Muslims operate similarly to Lutherans.

And that’s the difference between Sunni and Shia.

Roll back Russia. Support Belarus

I’m no fan of Belarus’s dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. He is a third-rate goon in the mold of Slovak strongman Vladimir Mecier. I’ve previously called for Lukashenko’s overthrow. However, while Belarus is a beach of authoritarianism to the island of democracy that is Europe

Democracies in Green. Belarus (dictatorship) in Pink and Russia (dictatorship) in Red

But Russia is much, much, much more dangerous than Belarus could ever be. Indeed, seen in the proper context, Belarus is infinitely more useful if she is a buffer to Russia than if she serves that Bear

Democracies in Green. Belarus (dictatorship) in Pink and Russia (dictatorship) in Red

Roll back Russia. Support Belarus.

Free Belarus from Russia. Then Free Belarus

Democracy can come to a Belarus free of Russia faster than it can come to a Belarus that belongs to Russia. Europe and the west must take Russia’s blackmailing of Belarus as the opportunity it is to splinter Moscow’s hold on the Eurasian Heartland.

Don’t let Russia threaten Belarus.

History Lesson

And Ehud hath come unto him, and he is sitting in the upper chamber of the wall which he hath for himself, and Ehud saith, `A word of God I have unto thee;’ and he riseth from off the throne

and Ehud putteth forth his left hand, and taketh the sword from off his right thigh, and striketh it into his belly; and the haft also goeth in after the blade, and the fat shutteth on the blade, that he hath not drawn the sword out of his belly, and it goeth out at the fundament.

Judges 3:20-22 (Young’s Literal Translation)

Joseph Graves “The Emperor’s New Clothes”: Biological Theories of Race

Graves’ begins the last section of his book (“Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium,” starting on page 155) with a discussion of psychometry. It should be quickly noted that Graves chooses to criticize the field, in part, for its belief in “g” — a single-measure of intelligence. Belief in the power of “g” has been criticized even by those who believe genetic factors do help determine intelligence (Gardner 1983, 2003). Thus there could be significant, group variations in verbal ability, or abstract thinking, or analogical thinking, or some other domain without there being any different in general intelligence.

The author then proceeds to make several questionable assertions. He claims that the President and the Chief Justice discussing a case is a “violation of the principle of the separation of powers” (162) without evidence. On the very next page he argues that The Bell Curve was “uncritically accepted by elements of the popular press” (163) — a strange accusation considering how the book was controversially received (a controversy that no-doubt increased its sales). He questions “the correlation between SAT scores and intelligence” (164), which is as brave an assertion as wondering if Europe and Australia are separate continents, as the SAT is an achievement and aptitude, not an intelligence, test. Similarly, Graves shows ignorance of the concept of an ecological niche. He writes that “There is no reason to suppose that these should have produced intellectual inferiority only in sub-Saharan Africans… one would have to suppose some form of natural selection was operating” (169). Well, actually, all one would have to assume is that in some way high intelligence and the increased energy consumption that goes along with it was somehow maladaptive in in sub-Saharan Africa or that, alternatively, it was high intelligence which led the ancestors of non-African humans to be able to leave that continent. Are any of these true? I have no idea. But Graves’ dismissal of these claims is flimsy.

I’ve criticized Graves’ poor grasp of statistics before, so I will not retread old arguments. However, he makes two new fallacies in his work’s last section. He argues that assuming that Asians have genetically different rates of disease is spurious because, while this holds true for specific Asian nationalities, “when the individual Asian groups are combined into one large category, these data no longer support this idea” (179). How is Graves’ poor use of statistical aggregation evidence of anything? Likewise, on the same page notes that even though “Japanese and Korean populations are genetically closely related” they show different rates of cancers. Yet earlier in the book Graves notes that Volga Germans suffer from maladies at different rates than other Germans. How can this news possibly be surprising?

Unfortunately for a book that focuses on social views of race, Graves’ view of race’s cultural role is either simplistic or extremist. On page 196 he asks us to imagine what life would be like if “we had recognized that there are no races in the human species.” An obvious explanation is nearly nothing: race serves as just one of many markers of in-group and out-group. Recognition of race as a salient factor can trivially be erased merely by altering the membership in coalitions (Kurzban, Tooby, & Cosmides, 2001). If race doesn’t matter, than some other feature would.

The last pages of the conclusion show this. Graves spills some ink describing hate crimes around the turn of the millennium, supposedly stemming from “the idea held among white supremacists that the millennium would signal the start of the final race war” (199). On the next page there is hope, however: “There can be no race war if there are no races.” True, I guess. Black churches would then be burned in the name of Satan (“National News Briefs…”, 2000), instead of the white race. And whites would no longer have to worry about local rioters destroying their office building: Islamists will happy fill the gap. War was with us – it was part of our genetic adaption to our environment – long before humans discovered racism, or chimpanzees became humans (Wrangham, 1999).

However, race (whether or not it is a social construction) covaries with other categories that surely do matter. Even if we did not recognize “race,” would cultural or geographic? Graves maintains “There would have been no reason to maintain marital prejudices in such a society” (196) but this claim surely is not true. Geography and race are independent variables in determining the dependent variable of mate selection – eliminating one does not eliminate the other. (To put this is concrete terms, even if there was never any social stigma toward white-black miscegenation, there are all sorts of cultural and practical stigmas with a northerner marrying a southerner – or for that matter someone from the Bronx marrying a Log Angelino).

This is my final reaction paper for this class, so it is appropriate I state my beliefs. Are there separate breeding populations within the human race? Yes, obviously – any inbred family would count for that. Are there large-scale breeding populations with the human raec? Yes. If you do not live in the same country, speak the same language, have similar cultural mores, and are in the same height quintile (for the appropriate sex) of a potential mate, mating is unlikely. Do these constitute “races”? Probably. Are their racial differences in intelligence? I have no idea. Would racial differences in these traits effect anyone’s worth as a human being? No.

The Apostle writes, in Galatians 3:28, that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The New Testament is the founding document of western civilization and clearly it states that whether the difference between two individuals is clearly genetic (as with sex), clearly socially constructed (as with enslavement), or the result of genetic-environmental interaction (one’s nationality, or race), no one is more important than any other. We should not be afraid of race, just as we are not afraid of culture. Because regardless of our race, regardless of our culture, we are all created equal.

Gardner, H. (1983). Multiple Intelligences. Basic Books: New York, NY.
Gardner, H. (2003). Multiple Intelligences After Twenty Years. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association.
Graves, J. L., Jr. (2001). The emperor’s new clothes: Biological theories of race at the millennium. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Kurzban, R., Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (2001). Can race be erased? Coalitional computation and social categorization. PNAS 98(26):15387-15392.
“National News Briefs; Satanist Pleads Guilty to 26 Church Fires.” (2000). New York Times: 12 July 2000. Available online: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E02E1D91138F931A25754C0A9669C8B63.
Wrangham, R. (1999). Evolution of Coalitionary Killing. Yearbook of Anthropology 42 1-30.

Reactions to The Emperor’s New Clothes, part of Biopsychological Development
1. The Origin of the Race Concept
2. Darwin and the Survival of Scientific Racism
3. Applications and Misapplications of Darwinism
4. Biological Theories of Race At the Millennium