Islam Schools of thought: Sunni and Shia
Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam also developed different branches or schools. Like its sister religions, these branches or schools developed because of cultural, political and doctrinal frictions within the Islamic community. These divisions occurred after the death of the prophet Muhammad and at a point where non-Arab Muslims outnumber Arab Muslims.
The Caliph • Much of the disagreement stemmed from who would take Muhammad’s place and lead the Umma (Islamic community). • Islam was successful in uniting the Arab tribes, but there were still tensions when it came to leadership. • Also, most Muslims at this time were non-Arabs. The Caliph of Baghdad’s Standard Bearers
Why did Islam Expand? • The Arabs had become more numerous and needed more room and resources. • The Byzantine and Persian empires were weak because of their continuous wars with each other and both (especially the Byzantine) were seen as oppressive. • When the Islamic/Arab armies came out of Arabia and into Palestine and Mesopotamia they were hailed as liberators by both Jews and Christians.
Do not fear, Ben Yohay; the Creator, blessed be He, has only brought the Kingdom of Ishmael (the Arabs) in order to save you from this wickedness (the Byzantines)…the Holy One, blessed be He, will raise up for them a Prophet according to His will, and conquer the land for them, and they will come and restore it… Ben Yohay Jewish Rabbi and Apocalyptic Writer Therefore the God of vengeance delivered us out of the hand of the Romans (Byzantines) by means of the Arabs…It profited us not a little to be saved from the cruelty of the Romans and their hatred towards us. Syriac Christian Historian In Palestine both Jewish and Christian communities gave military assistance to the Arabs in hopes of getting rid of the Byzantine Empire.
The Four Rightly Guided Caliphs • Caliph means ‘deputy’ of the Prophet. He has political and religious authority but is not a prophet. • The four Rightly Guided Caliphs were: • Abu Bakr • Umar – who conquered most of the Middle East and was murdered by a Persian slave. • Uthman – a member of the Umayyad clan and killed by a mob. • Ali – the only blood relative of the prophet to be Caliph.
The issue became one of who could be Caliph. The Umayyads, a powerful clan of the Koreish tribe which came to Islam late, insisted that any good Muslim male could be Caliph. The family of the Prophet and many non-Arab Muslims believed that only a member of the prophet’s family could become Caliph. The faction based around the Umayyad’s idea of who should be Caliph eventually became the Sunni sect of Islam. The faction based around the Prophet’s family came to be known as the Shia sect of Islam.
Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā‘ah(Sunni) • Those who follow the example of the Prophet. • Sunnis make up about 80% of the world’s Muslims. • Dominated the early Islamic empires. • Believe that any righteous Muslim male could become Caliph. • In reality only the nobles from the Umayyad clan became Caliphs. • This exclusion of non-Arabs from power led to the downfall of the Umayyad Empire.
Shī‘atu ‘Alī (Party or Faction of Ali) • Originally led by Muhammad’s father-in-law and his nephew Ali. • Believed the Caliph could only come from the family of the Prophet. • Dominates southern Iraq and Iran. • Husayn (Hussain) ibn Ali was killed/martyred at the battle of Karbala in modern day Iraq. Husayn and 128 followers squared off against the Umayyad Caliphate and the entire army of Husayn was slain in battle including Husayn. • Being on the losing side is a sign of righteousness – similar to Christianity. • Although they only make up about 20% of the world’s Muslims, they are a majority in the oil producing areas of the Middle East. • Shias believe in 12 imams who preached the true Islam. The 12th one was taken away and hidden by Allah and will be revealed when the time is right.
Sufi Islam • Sufi Islam is the mystical branch of Islam. • Emphasis is on forging a mystical communion with the divine so that one can experience paradise here on earth. • This type of Islam was extremely attractive to the Indians because it fit in nicely with their mystic tradition growing out of the Hinduism. • Shrines to Muslim saints in India are visited by both Muslims and Hindus. • Because Sufis blur the barrier between the human and the divine, much of the Islamic world considers the Sufis to be heresy. • Perhaps the most famous incarnation of Sufism is the Mevlevi Order in Turkey – also known as the Whirling Dervishes.
Dervish comes from the Persian word ‘dar’ or door. Literally one who goes from door to door. Similar to Buddhist and Christian monks. The whirling dance is suppose to bring about spiritual ecstasy or trance.