Friday, April 20, 2007

Shiia & Sunni Islam

6 Apr 07
Most westerners know Islam is broken into two factions: Sunni and Shiia. To use a western comparison, you might equate Sunni Islam with Roman Catholicism. There is one central doctrine and they believe the rulers of Islam after Mohammed were popularly elected.

Shiia Islam is similar to Protestants in that there are several “denominations” or sects based on the number of appointed rulers that came after Mohammed called “Caliphs.” (Not to confuse the comparison, though there are several denominations Shiia Islam, their religious leadership hierarchy is similar to Roman Catholic Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, etc.) All Shiia Muslims believe there were at least five legitimate Caliphs. The first group believes there were only five Caliphs. A second group believes there were two additional Caliphs after Mohammed for a total of seven. The third and majority group believes Mohammed was succeeded by twelve Caliphs and that the last Caliph, Imam Mohammed Al-Mahdi went into the hills several hundred years ago and exists spiritually there today.

The major denominations of Shiia Islam are called, uniquely enough, Fivers, Seveners, and Twelvers. (There is also a very small and secretive denomination of Shiias called “Alawi.” The President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, is Alawi.)

Twelvers believe the last/twelfth Caliph, Imam Mohammed Al-Mahdi, will return at Allah’s command with his army when the world is in turmoil and in dire need of religious leadership. The Imam’s army is called the “Mahdi Army.” The militia leader and top thug in Iraq, Muqtada Al-Sadr, named his militia group the Mahdi Army to conjure up notions of a greater historical significance in Shiias. It might be like an ultra-radical Christian militia group calling themselves “The Four Horsemen.”

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