Tag Archives: caliphate

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.

Zarqawi Does Know Better

Well, in response to that quibble,” by Mark, Zen Pundit, http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2005/01/sure-sounds-like-they-hate-our-freedom.html, 24 January 2005.

‘What fuels this difference?’,” by Praktike, Zen Pundit, http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2005/01/sure-sounds-like-they-hate-our-freedom.html, 24 January 2005.

Earlier I argued that Zarqawi’s last message gives us hope. That is true. Praktike on Zen Pundit goes one step farther, wondering if he is insane

Indoctrination, time spent in prison, experiences in Afghanistan … I dunno. Zarqawi seems like the craziest mofo of them all. What tipped him into violence where another adherent of salafism might merely advocate separation from the West? If I knew the answer, I wouldn’t be just another blogger.

He is echoing an opinion by Mark

Well, in response to that quibble that I would say that while a Salafist or Hanbali scholar might hold the same opinion of Democracy as a form of government as Zarqawi does – he probably lacks the desire to go out and kill fellow Muslims who differ or believes that would be an appropriate response. What fuels this difference ? ;o)

Critical thinking and will fuels the difference. Zarqawi is an evil villian who must be killed. But that doesn’t change that fact that he does know better. He is not insane. He is acting rationally and deliberately to build a future he believes his worth creating. The odds are against him, and he realizes this. While he may be ignorant and not realize the depravity of his Ba’athi brothers-in-arms, he is not stupid. Unlike idle scholars who share his views but not his courage, he knows that he has to /work/ to build a future worth creating.

Zarqawi views the present as a nightmare not worth living. It is clear that the Arab and Muslim worlds are backward, disunited, and corrupt. The governments of the region are naturally weak, and are part of a globalized system of (to him) dubious morality.

His diagnosis of this is apostasy. The fall of the Caliph was a symptom of this, but not a cause. So long as Muslims turn their back on God and worship false idols (socialism, nationalism, capitalism, democracy) they will be weak. In his view, the Muslim world is in a vicious cycle. Corrupt governments promote weakness promote dependency on foreign infidel powers promote corruption. He sees globalization as possibly the final blow. Not only are Muslims to live under corrupt, weak, and depdendent governments, but these governments themselves are losing power to outside forces. I doubt he has heard of Friedman’s thesis of a “global herd,” but he feels the trampling stampede.

Compounding this is that these forces work to destroy freedom (as he sees it). A truly free man is infinitely free to walk in the path of the Prophets, in the shade of the Koran, and personally know God. But “freedom of religion” means that a man will be tempted to walk a differen path. What Zarqawi wants is not “freedom of religion” as much as “freedrom from wrong religions,” not “freedom of speech” so much as “freedom from wrong speech.” He knows that the people chose “freedom of speech” over “freedom from wrong speech” every chance they get, so the will of the people is just another force to be destroyed, not reasoned with.

Zarqawi wants to move the world away from this confusion back to its right place. But in this vicious cycle every force is forever corrupting Muslims. Therefore he has to destroy every power. He has to destroy the status quo. Doing nothing guarantees failure. Shaking up the world at least gives a chance for success.

Zarqawi sees his limitations. He has no conventional army or air force. He has no money, and does not have the charisma of Osama bin Laden. He doesn’t even have popularity. But he has the will to violence.

He will continue to use his will to violence to destroy the powers that be until he has a chance of winning in peace. This is a far way away, but remember that if his violence stops know, he knows he loses.

He will rationally work with the Ba’athis to destroy the government, because he knows under the government he would lose. If the Ba’athis win and seize the government, he will try to destroy them with violence. If the Iranians invade, he will try to destroy them. If al Qaeda (an organization he admires, which is why he rechristed “Monotheism and Jihad” as “al Qaeda in Iraq”) can attack New York, Washington, Madrid, surely someone it can attack Teheran and Qom. If mujahideen can assassinate people in the Netherlands, surely they could get to the Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.

Eventually, his movement might prevail. Communism sure did. The Czar was overthrown. The Last Emperor of China was reeducated to be a gardener. It might take a century, but his preferred future is creatable. And he does not need an army. He does not need charisma. He only needs small cadres, and the will to violence.

(Though having faith in God and a promise of an eternal reward sure helps!)

Zarqawi is not crazy. He is only the salafist who does know better.