"Our followers are of three kinds, one who follows us but depends on others, one who is like a glass involved in his own reflections, but the best are those who are like gold, the more they suffer the more they shine." - Muhammad al-Baqir
Different branches of the same religion are the exception more than the rule, and they have had a profound impact upon history. The schism between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches influenced relationships between nations across Europe, and religious intolerance based on different Christian faiths led to persecution and outright violence across the continent for centuries. The Protestant Reformation split Christianity further, and the results culminated in the incredibly destructive Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century.
Today, the most important religious split is between the Sunnis and the Shias (Shiites) within Islam. Unlike divisions in other faiths - between Conservative and Orthodox Jews or Catholic and Protestant Christians - the split between the Sunnis and Shia has existed almost as long as the faith itself, and it quickly emerged out of tensions created by the political crisis after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. In a sense, what are now two different forms of Islam essentially started as political factions within the unified body of Muslim believers.
Over the past few centuries, Christians have mostly been able to live alongside their co-religionists, but the split between the Sunnis and Shias is still so pronounced that many adherents of each branch view each other with disdain if not as outright apostates or non-believers. The religious divide is perhaps the most important fault line in the turbulent Middle East today, with Sunni nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia at odds with Shiite nations like Iran. At lower levels, non-state groups like the Islamic State and Hezbollah are fighting each other in ways that cross state lines in places like Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. Although it is technically a split in religion, the divide has had substantial global ramifications for decades, and there seems to be no end in sight.
The History of the Sunni and Shia Split traces the origins of the split and the historic effects of the main divide within Islam. Along with pictures of important people, places, and events, you will learn about the history of the Sunnis and Shias like never before, in no time at all.