The Sunni and Shiites
The Islam religion was formed by Prophet Mohammed in the 7th century. In 622 he formed the 1st Islamic state, a political unit in Medina, and a city in west of Saudi Arabia situated to the north of Mecca. The religion he founded has two branches. The Sunni branch of the two believes that the 1st 4 caliphs who are Prophet Mohammed’s followers legally took his place as the leaders. They treat the heirs of the 4 caliphs as lawful religious leaders. These caliphs ruled successfully in the Arab world until the shatter of the Ottoman Empire by the end of the 1st World War. Shiites, on the contrary, maintains that only the heirs of the 4th caliph, Ali, are the legal successors of Prophet Mohammed. In 931 the 12th Imam disappeared and this was an important event in the Shiite Muslim history( Esposito, 2002).
To an outside person, the differences between the Sunni and Shiite Islamic sects are difficult to understand. As per Professor Scott Appleby, history teacher at the University de Notre Dame, "Shiite Muslims, who are concentrated in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, think that they had encountered the loss of divinely formed political leadership when Imam disappeared". Not "until the ascendancy of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1978" did they think that they had once again begun to live under the governance of a legit religious leader. The five principles of Islam – everyday prayer; Ramadan fasting; alms giving; the Mecca pilgrimage; and belief in a single, god – are at the centre core of the two faiths, and most mainstream clergymen in each denomination believes the adherents of the opposite side as "legitimate" Muslims(Shi’ite Islam,1975).
For both the sects the Koran is the sacred text. They firmly believe that Prophet Muhammad is their leader and that there will be a resurrection followed by an ultimate judgment when the world comes to an end. In addition to the potential confusion already existing is the insistence of many Muslims not to be considered as Shiite or Sunni, telling that they are Muslims and Muslims only. But, as the latest events in Iraq and Lebanon have revealed, the differences between the two sects are not only seen as important by the communities but now, as they have for a very long period, rest at the center of bloody political issues. While there are superficial differences between the sects – differences in prayer and carrying out customary ablutions, for example – the sphere of conflict between the 2 sects has long been political.
The issues between the two main sects of Islam is almost 1,400 years old, and began with a conflict over who should preside the faithful after the death of Prophet Muhammad in 632. One sect maintained that direct descendants of the prophet Mohammed should wear the cloak of the caliph – the leader of the faithful in the world. They became widely known as the Shiat-Ali, or "devotees of Ali," after the prophet’s son-in-law Ali, whom they preferred becoming caliph. Over time, they were widely known as Shiites.