This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3| Volume 4 | Volume 5 | Volume 6

Sunni and Shia

Depending on the source you reference, it is thought that about 85 percent of all Muslims are Sunnis and about 15 percent are Shiites. This means that the Sunnis, taken as a whole, constitute the largest majority of any of the major religions. For example, if we take Catholicism as the majority in Christianity, it only represents 50 percent of all Christians.

The term sunni itself is taken from ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama’ah, which means basically the people who followed the Sunnah of the Prophet and the majority. Shia or Shiism comes from shi’at ‘Ali, meaning partisans of Ali ibn Abi Talib.

The origins of the division between these two primary ‘branches’ of Islam go back to events surrounding the death of the prophet and the appointment of his successor. It is said that Ali, who was son-in-law and cousin to the prophet, went to bury the Prophet immediately after his death. Meanwhile, the rest of the community gathered in Medina and selected Abu Bakr.

Here we need to pause and observe that the title given to Abu Bakr by the community was khalifah rasul Allah, or ‘viceregent of the Messenger of God.’ It is from this title that we derive the word ‘caliph’ which has been used again and again even by the Ottomans. This title is important because the disagreement between Sunni and Shiite interpretations hinges not only on who was chosen at this time but also in what the function of that successor was to be.

For Sunnism, the ‘caliph’ was appointed to take up the Prophets administrative mantle but not to fulfill any of his prophetic functions, which is to say he was not so much a spiritual guide as a political one. He would protect the borders of the Abode of Islam, appoint judges, etc.

For the Shiites, the successor to the Prophet would need further qualifications including those of a spiritual dimension: he would not only have a master of the Shariah but the esoteric teachings as well. Because he must have qualifications of a spiritual dimension, he could obviously not be ‘chosen’ by the community as if he were an elected leader—since spiritual qualities can obviously only be discerned by one who sits in a superior position—and so the Shiites claim that the true successor should be chosen by Divine command.

The Shiites believe that such a command did in fact come from the Prophet himself at Ghadir Khumm, and that the chosen successor was Ali. The small group holding this opinion rallied around Ali and became the first Shiites.

As for Ali, as we would expect from one of his character, he did not oppose Abu Bakr but rather supported him and cooperated with him in his leadership, and afterwards he performed in the same manner for the second and third caliphs, Umar and Uthman, at which point, after being ‘thrice passed over’, he was finally chosen as caliph himself. Thus, it is not so much that Sunnism rejects Ali, but rather that it sees Ali as its fourth caliph and interprets his role as much the same as the preceding caliphs: that of political and legal administrator, hence ‘viceregent’ of the Prophet. Ali was later killed by a member of the Khawarij, an extremist group that rejected both Ali and his opposition, and it was only after Ali’s death that Shiism became an organized movement.

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