Islam’s Sunni-Shia Divide, Explained

Muhammad and Abu Bakr

The death of the prophet Muhammad depicted in a 16th-century Turkish miniature. Abu Bakr, later leader of the Islamic community, is seen bending over him. 

Archiv Gerstenberg/ullstein bild/Getty Images

Though the two main sects within Islam, Sunni and Shia, agree on most of the fundamental beliefs and practices of Islam, a bitter split between the two goes back some 14 centuries. The divide originated with a dispute over who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad as leader of the Islamic faith he introduced.

Today, about 85 percent of the approximately 1.6 billion Muslims around the world are Sunni, while 15 percent are Shia, according to an estimate by the Council on Foreign Relations. While Shia represent the majority of the population in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Azerbaijan, and a plurality in Lebanon, Sunnis are the majority in more than 40 other countries, from Morocco to Indonesia.

Despite their differences, Sunni and Shia have lived alongside each other in relative peace for most of history. But starting in the late 20th century, the schism deepened, exploding into violence in many parts of the Middle East as extreme brands of Sunni and Shia Islam battle for both religous and political supremacy.


Mehwish Hayat among top 5 Muslim women breaking stereotypes

246010_4565649_updatesEarlier this month, one of the most sought after actresses of our country, Mehwish Hayat received the Pride of Performance in Norway. This was followed by multiple appearances on various international platforms where she spoke about how the world of cinema is fueling Islamophobia. Meanwhile, the Chhalawa actress has also been appointed as the Brand Ambassador of Muslim Islamic Charity, Penny Appeal.

The good news is that Mehwish Hayat has now made it to the list of The Muslim Vibe’s top five Muslim women in the world who are striving to make the world a better place to live in.

“I am so honoured to be chosen by the international magazine, The Muslim Vibe, as one of the top five Muslim women in the world who are breaking stereotypes and changing the world,” Mehwish wrote on her Twitter handle. “To be thought of in the same breath as women I look up to is humbling.”

This list was released on Women’s Equality Day 2019, which is observed on August 26 around the globe.


Interfaith group pledges to use religion’s influence to address climate change, poverty

EC68olyX4AMHqmMLINDAU, Germany (RNS) — The international interfaith organization Religions for Peace introduced its first-ever female and first-ever Muslim secretary-general at its World Assembly on Friday (Aug. 23) and unveiled a joint declaration in which attendees vowed to join forces to confront an array of the world’s most difficult problems.

The final day of the Aug. 20-23 Religions for Peace World Assembly also included an emotional farewell to William Vendley, who retired after 25 years at the helm of the organization that he helped build into a global coalition of religions that acts as a consultative body for several United Nations agencies.

The joint declaration is a dense but optimistic four-page document drafted by delegates.

It shines a light on contentious areas where, according to the declaration, “religious communities have fallen short.”

Among the areas of contention are income inequality, gender issues, violent conflict, poverty, the spread of nuclear arms, human development, education and climate change — all of these fall under the wide umbrella of the world’s “shared well-being,” which is the motto of the assembly.




The political impotence of the Muslim American community


Sheikh Hamza Yusuf speaks during a fund raising event at the Alliance Francis in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on July 2, 2015 [File: AP/Kamran Jebreili] [Daylife]

There was a time when Islam was a revolutionary force in America. Decades ago, “Muslim” was a political identity grounded in an ethos of dissent, exemplified by Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. Being Muslim meant standing up against white supremacy and global empire, whether in Alabama or Vietnam; it meant standing in solidarity with the struggles of black and brown people everywhere.

Today, many American Muslims eagerly claim the legacy of brothers Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X as their own, but lack the political courage and moral integrity by which they lived.

We have become a community without a principled political vision, impotent in the face of state oppression: the continuous FBI surveillance and entrapment and ever-expanding anti-Muslim legislation. Not only are we unable to organise on these issues, but we have also lost the common ethical ground that could unite us around a common political vision and action.

Until recently, despite the divisions within the community, the Muslim American community seemed united at least in its opposition to the Trump administration; that appeared to be the lowest common denominator of a shared American Muslim political identity. But then on July 8, Secretary of State and top Islamophobe Mike Pompeo announced the creation of a Commission on Unalienable Rights to advise the Trump administration – a serial human rights violator – on human rights. One of our most prominent leaders, Hamza Yusuf, accepted to become part of the theatrics.


Most U.S. Muslims are patriots. Asking them to choose between faith and nation has a pernicious consequence.

August 23

5CR4WBV3ZAI6TDUDJZTIP2MYCQDuring his campaign and presidency, Donald Trump has frequently targeted the Muslim community, both within and outside the United States. In 2015, Trump famously indicated he might support a “database” of Muslims living in the United States. In 2017, he succeeded in imposing restrictions on travelers to the United States from certain Muslim-majority countries.

More recently, Trump has targeted two Muslim members of Congress, Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). They were among four Democratic members who he said in July should “go back” to their home countries, although all but Omar were born in the United States. Then just last week, he attacked them again and seemingly persuaded Israel not to allow them entry as part of a congressional delegation.

Implicit in Trump’s comments, and in much of the criticism of Tlaib and Omar, is that they are not fully “American.” This is a problematic implication for two reasons. First, surveys show that, in fact, Muslim Americans are highly patriotic and mirror non-Muslims socioeconomically. Second, new research shows that even implicitly framing Muslim and American identities as separate may reduce Muslim Americans’ willingness to engage in politics.


Memphis Muslims sign up to vote as part of national registration drive


On a Friday afternoon after prayers, 17-year-old Haneen Jaber filled out a form on the patio of the Muslim Society of Memphis.

About to turn 18, Jaber was registering to vote.

“A lot of the things that are going on in the government are made by the decision of the people,” Jaber said. “Don’t just stay in the back. Be up there in the front. That’s what you should do as an American. I believe I should put my part in and decide on good choices for America.”

Jaber was one of many Muslims around the country registering to vote as part of National Muslim Voter Registration Day. In Memphis, the American Muslim Advisory Council is holding registration drives at five area mosques, trying to increase civic engagement before the municipal elections in October.

The National Muslim Voter Registration Day is part of the #MyMuslimVote campaign, also taking place across the country.

Najmun Noor, West Tennessee program manager for the American Muslim Advisory Council, said Muslims around the world feel “beleaguered.”

“Others look at us differently,” Noor said. “This is a time (when) we want our voices to be heard (and) at the same time our rights to be established.”

Mariam Khayata, a political science and international studies major at Rhodes College, has done registration drives in previous years. There’s a realization among Muslims that they need to become more active in U.S. elections, she said.


Constructing a Muslim identity in a predominantly Christian society

‘My first years as a new Muslim were definitely tough. I was previously unaware of how difficult life was as a Muslim, because it was a struggle that I could not relate to as a Christian.’

ispeak-muslim-convert-struggles_73C910C4E6D54A469B51EF67A19602C1I grew up Christian.

Unlike a lot of students who “lose” their faith and become skeptical of organized religion as they step foot in University of the Philippines-Diliman, it was in UP that I fully committed to converting to Islam.

Actually, “converting” is not the proper word for embracing Islam as a previous adherent of another religion. We Muslims believe that everyone, regardless of race or nationality, is born a Muslim, but that we come to adopt any religion or faith that is predominant in the society or community to which we are born. So Christianity was a religion that was, for all intents and purposes, forced upon me. That’s why “reverting” to Islam as a faith and a way of life was something that Ichose for myself. I started reading about it long before my decision, but it was only about 5 years ago that I felt the freedom to choose a religion that was going to lead my way moving forward.

Since I am not Muslim by birth, and I only proclaimed my “shahada” in 2014, I have been taking slow, tentative baby steps in learning my new faith little by little. For some weird metaphysical reason or another, it just appealed to my curiosity, and I was fascinated with the finer points of the religious traditions and habits that a Muslim should follow. Needless to say, have embraced the Pillars of the Faith, including prayers and keeping other religious obligations such as abstaining from food and drink that is considered “haram.”

My first years as a new Muslim were definitely tough. I was previously unaware of how difficult life was as a Muslim, because it was a struggle that I could not relate to as a Christian. However, upon converting, I was confronted by many issues such as the lack of public prayer spaces. Often, mushallahs or prayer rooms in public establishments are hidden in embarrassing, dark corners or moth-eaten nooks, such as a dead end in a shopping mall hallway or a quiet corner at the end of a row of cell phone repair stalls. Keeping with the commandment to pray at prescribed times was definitely a struggle, and I often found myself in cramped department store dressing rooms because Iinitially tried to pray and stick to the ever-changing schedule of the 5 daily prayers. I just gave up in the end, and consolidated my prayers at home every evening. This is in great contrast to the ubiquity of prayer rooms and mosques in other countries. Speaking of mosques, the only mosques in the city are dilapidated and run-down; again, a great contrast to the beautiful and well-maintained churches that are located all over Metro Manila.

Islamic Society of North America gathering seeks to help Muslims discover their passions

gallery_xlargeWhat’s your superpower?

Participants at ISNACON’19 are invited to take a deep dive — to discover their passions and strengths, as well as the paths they can take to make a positive impact.

ISNA, the Islamic Society of North America, seeks to unify the Muslim population and create a better understanding of the religion, while also building interfaith relations and increasing civic engagement.

Each year ISNA hosts a conference in a different city in the U.S. This 56th annual event will mark the second time the conference is held in Houston.

Slated for Labor Day weekend, from Friday to Sept. 2, ISNACON’19 will be held at George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston.

Each conference has a theme — this year’s is about how superpowers are not just überspecial abilities found in science fiction and comic books. Instead, each individual has unique characteristics and gifts.

The conference was designed to pull out these special traits and inspire and empower attendees. Special guests include presidential candidates and a popular late-night talk-show host.


Romania, a beacon of coexistence for Muslims in Eastern Europe

c1537b95ac3740f4b0bd870e075a1fda_18Romanian Muslims, some with Ottoman roots, largely spared Islamophobic rhetoric seen in neighbouring countries.

Constanta, Romania – The Grand Mosque of Constanta in southeast Romania has a hulking minaret nearly 50 metres high overlooking the Black Sea. 

It was constructed as a symbol of gratitude to the city’s Muslim community on the orders of King Carol I in 1910.

Much has since changed in Romania, but that sentiment remains. 

Constanta lies in Dobruja, an ethnically diverse region split between Romania and Bulgaria, where the River Danube meets the sea.

Ottoman Turks invaded the region in the late 15th century and subsequently expanded further into Romania. 

Several centuries of Turkish rule followed, bringing settlers from across the empire.

Northern Dobruja came under Romanian control only in 1878, after the young kingdom defeated the ailing Ottoman Empire with assistance from Russia.

Some of the region’s Muslims left for Turkey, but others stayed on; their descendants now form the backbone of Romania’s Muslim community of about 64,000 people, roughly 0.34 percent of the country’s population.

Compared with other countries in Eastern Europe, Romanian Muslims say their experience has largely been one of peaceful coexistence.


UN Resolution on Violence in the Name of Religion

1942744-maleehalodhi-1554271842Resolution adopted by the General Assembly
on 28 May 2019

 International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts
of Violence Based on Religion or Belief

The General Assembly,

Reaffirming the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United
Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,Seriously concerned at continuing acts of intolerance and violence based on religion or belief against individuals, including against persons belonging to religious communities and religious minorities around the world, and at the increasing number and intensity of such incidents, which are often of a criminal nature and may have international characteristics, Recalling that States have the primary responsibility to promote and protect human rights, including the human rights of persons belonging to religious minorities, including their right to exercise their religion or belief freely,

Recognizing that the open, constructive and respectful debate of ideas, as well
as interreligious, interfaith and intercultural dialogue, at the local, national, regional
and international levels, can play a positive role in combating religious hatred,
incitement and violence, Reaffirming the positive role that the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and full respect for the freedom to seek, receive and impart information can play in strengthening democracy and combating religious
intolerance, and reaffirming further that the exercise of the right to freedom of
expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities, in accordance with
article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 2.