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Islam ~ understanding Sunni and Shiite


For those of us who are not Muslim, it is somewhat difficult to understand a religion that is characterized everyday in the media as a religion of terrorists. We constantly hear the terms, “Muslim terrorists” or “Islamic terrorists,” key propaganda terminology. That same media is reticent in mentioning Christian terrorists related to acts committed in this country; the Oklahoma City bombing of the federal building, numerous terrorists acts committed by the Ku Klux Klan, and other white supremist groups. All of whom hold up Christianity as their cherished faith.

An attempt will be made here, not an authoritative one, to try to bring some clarity between the two dominant groups of Muslims: Sunni and Shiite.

Over the years, the most conscious, disciplined and charitable individuals I have known have been Muslims. After all, we have to remember that the man that changed the consciousness of a whole generation, causing various cultural progressions, was a Muslim: El Haaj Malik El Shabazz (Min. Malcolm X). His influence continues to remain potent.

What has been bothersome is how Muslims have been cast in the mainly corporate, Christian media. It is as if the Crusades have started all over again (European Christians v. Muslim Afrikans, called Moors, who conquered parts of Europe for hundreds of years, bringing a level of civilization, science, medicine, architecture, education, literature etc., unknown to Europe). In spite of the negative depictions, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world.

Most religious historians view Islam as having been founded in 622 AD by The Prophet Muhammad. He lived from about 570 to 632AD. The religion started in Mecca, when the angel Jibril (a.k.a. Jibreel; Gabriel in English) read the first revelation to Muhammad. Islam is the youngest of the world’s great religions — those with over 300 million members – including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

Sunni Muslims agree with the position taken by many of the Prophet’s companions, that the new leader should be elected from among those capable of the position. Sunni’s interpret the Quran themselves or look for educated theological experts for guidance. Sunni Muslims make up approximately 85% of the world’s Muslims.

Shia (or Shiites) believe in a living Imam, equivalent to a pastor in Christianity, (Ali was first Imam) who is responsible for interpretation of the Quran. The Shia Muslims believe that following the Prophet Muhammad’s death, leadership should have passed directly to his cousin/son-in-law, Ali. Throughout history, Shia Muslims have not recognized the authority of elected Muslim leaders, choosing instead to follow a line of Imams which they believe have been appointed by the Prophet Muhammad or God Himself.

Sunni Muslims counter that there is no basis in Islam for a hereditary privileged class of spiritual leaders, and certainly no basis for the veneration or intercession of saints. Sunni Muslims contend that leadership of the community is not a birthright, but a trust that is earned and which may be given or taken away by the people themselves.

Shia Muslims believe that the Imam is sinless by nature, and that his authority is infallible as it comes directly from God. Therefore, Shia Muslims often venerate the Imams as saints and perform pilgrimages to their tombs and shrines in the hopes of divine intercession.

Because of numerous interpretations of the above, it is advised that if one wanted to further their knowledge, consult with a Muslim who can guide towards a wider understanding. Thus, if there are inaccuracies, if is highly suggested that knowledgeable followers write letters to the editor for clarification. It is understood that western sources are not favorable towards Islam, and attacks have come from many places. The question has never been answered, if Islam was so abhorrent, why is it one of the largest religions in the world and the fastest growing?

There is no effort here to state that one religion is greater than another, but it is important to at least have a working knowledge of any religion that has such world influence and dominates policies of so many countries.

The greatest criticism of the tyrannical behavior of terrorists who are known to be Muslim, have been from Muslims themselves. They consistently state their behavior does not represent the true tenants of Islam. Every Muslim asked that particular question has consistently stated, “Islam is a religion of peace.” Based on personal experience with Muslims in this country, that statement seems to be very accurate.

– Dr. Kwaku’s youth class, Black History 4 Young People, continues this Saturday and can be attended on an individual basis. See for details.