Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Short video: What is the Difference Between Shiite and Sunni Muslims?

Sectarian warfare is tearing apart Iraq. In this short video Richard Engel makes a clear historical distinction between Shiite and Sunni Muslims on the Today Show.

Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq

A look at the historical and current divides between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq.


HISTORY - A dispute over succession after the Prophet Muhammad's death in 632 split the Muslim world into Sunni and Shiite branches. Shiites believe Ali, the prophet's son-in-law, was Muhammad's rightful heir. Sunnis believe the succession went to Abu Bakr, the prophet's close associate. Both branches follow the same basic tenets, but important differences include commemorations of rival historical figures, and the Shiite practice of giving greater authority to top clerics to interpret the Quran and traditions.


IRAQ - Sunni Arabs account for about 15-20 percent of Iraq's 27 million people. Their cultural bonds are strongly linked to Sunni neighbors such as Jordan and Syria. Under Saddam Hussein, a fellow Sunni, they enjoyed a privileged position. Shiites, who represent about 60 percent, are bonded by tradition with neighboring Iran, the most populous Shiite nation. Several of the most important Shiite shrines and pilgrimage sites are in Iraq.


CURRENT BATTLES - Sunnis boycotted the election in January 2005 and have led the insurgency against the Washington-backed government and U.S.-led forces. Some militant factions also have made alliances with foreign Sunni jihadists, including al-Qaida in Iraq. Shiites have widely supported the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite. But Shiite militias, including the powerful Mahdi Army, have waged fierce battles with U.S. troops.

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