Islam (Arabic: الإسلام; al-'islām (help·info)) is a monotheistic religion based upon the Qur'an, which adherents believe was sent by God (Arabic: الله Allāh) through Muhammad. Followers of Islam, known as Muslims (مسلم), believe Muhammad to have been God's final prophet. As a result, most of them see the actions and teachings of Muhammad as related in the Sunnah and Hadith to be indispensable tools for interpreting the Qur'an.
Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is an Abrahamic religion. There are estimated to be 1.4 billion adherents, making Islam the second-largest religion in the world. Under the leadership of Muhammad and his successors, Islam rapidly spread by religious conversion and military conquest.
Today, Muslims may be found throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. The majority of Muslims are not Arabs; only 20 percent of Muslims originate from Arab countries. Islam is the second largest religion in the United Kingdom, and many other European countries, including France, which has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe. If current trends continue it will soon become the second-largest religion in the United States.
Sunni Muslims are the largest denomination of Islam. They are referred to as Ahl ul-Sunna (Arabic: أهل السنة; "people of the tradition"). The word Sunni comes from the word sunna (Arabic : سنة ), which means the tradition of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad. Sunnis are also referred to as Ahl ul-Sunna wa-l-Jama'ah (Arabic: أهل السنة والجماعة) (people of tradition and congregation) which implies that the Sunnis are united. They represent the branch of Islam that came through the caliphate, which started with Abu Bakr.
Sunni (Arabic: سني ) means follower of the sunna of the Prophet, with some details.
Shi'a Islam, also Shi'ite Islam, Shiite or Shi'ism (Arabic: شيعة , translit: Shī‘ah) is the second largest denomination of the religion based on Islam. Shi'a Muslims adhere to what they consider to be the teachings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and the religious guidance of his family whom they refer to as the Ahlul Bayt. Thus, Shi'as consider the first three ruling Sunni caliphs a historic occurrence and not something attached to faith. The singular/adjective form is Shī’ī (شيعي.) and refers to a follower of the Household of Muhammad and of Ali ibn Abi Talib (Imam Ali) in particular.
Shi'a has at times been divided into many branches but today there are just three branches. The best known and the one with most adherents is Twelvers, the others being Ismaili and Zaidiyyah.
Long path to Iraq's sectarian split
For more than 1,000 years, Iraq has served as a battleground for many of the events that have defined the schism between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
Sectarian tension has been a catalyst for violence in Iraq
In more recent decades, the political and economic dominance of Iraq's minority Sunni Arabs and their persecution of the country's Shia majority have only served to stoke sectarian tensions.
The US-led invasion in 2003, in which the nominally secular Baath government of Saddam Hussein was overthrown, finally gave Iraq's Shias an opportunity to seek redress and end the imbalance of power.
Though sectarian tension has undoubtedly been a major catalyst of the violence that has plagued Iraq since the invasion, many argue that blaming sectarianism alone overstates the case.
Sunnis and Shias differ in doctrine, ritual, law, theology and religious organisation.
It is the largest and oldest division in the history of Islam.
But the origins of the split lie in a dispute over who should have succeeded the Prophet Muhammad as leader of the Muslim community when he died in 632.
One group of Muslims elected Abu Bakr as the next caliph (leader) of the community, but another group believed the prophet's son-in-law, Ali, was the rightful successor.
Shias re-enact the battle near Karbala in which Hussein was killed Though Ali eventually became the fourth caliph, his legitimacy was disputed and he was murdered in 661.
The Shiat Ali ("Party of Ali") refused to recognise the legitimacy of his chief opponent and successor, Muawiya.
Ali's sons Hassan and Hussein continued to oppose Muawiya and his successor, Yazid, and fighting between the two sides resulted. Hassan was poisoned in 669 and Hussein was killed in battle near Karbala in 680.
Click here for a map of Shia communities in the Mid-East Ali, Hassan and Hussein became the first of the 12 imams who Shia Muslims believe are the divinely-appointed leaders of the Muslim community.
The leadership by imams continued until 878, when the 12th Imam, Mohammed al-Mahdi, is said to have disappeared from a cave below a mosque in Samarra.
Not accepting that he died, Shias still await his return more than 1,100 years later. The Hidden Imam's arrival will, they believe, reverse their fortunes and herald the reign of divine justice.
Sunnis, as they became known, reject the principle of leadership by imams, and instead believe in the primacy of the Sunna - what the Prophet Muhammad said, did, agreed to or condemned.
MIZAN DISTRICT, Afghanistan — In Mizan District this week, U.S. soldiers decorated their base with Christmas ornaments and helped locals celebrate Eid al-Adha — a Muslim holiday that is like a combination of Halloween, the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.
The three-day holiday, that ended Friday, celebrates God’s test of the patriarch and prophet Abraham, explained Parwaiz Noori, an Afghan interpreter working with 1st Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, at Forward Operating Base Mizan.
Abraham prayed for a son but when he had one, God commanded the new father to sacrifice him. Abraham took his son Isaac to the desert to kill him, but God sent a lamb to sacrifice instead. Abraham had passed the test, Noori said.
In Afghanistan, gunfire at midnight traditionally marks the start of Eid. The 1-4 soldiers got into the spirit by firing mortars to light up a hillside above the Mizan District center.
“We have two Eids. After 30 days of Ramadan there is a three-day Eid (al-Fitr) celebration. Then 70 days later is ‘Big Eid’ or ‘Sacrifice Eid’ (this week’s holiday),” Noori said. “At Eid anyone who can afford to buy a sheep or cow should sacrifice it.”
In one small village in Mizan District, locals gathered by a riverbank to watch an old man slaughter several sheep with a large knife as part of the Eid celebrations. Muslims with enough money should travel to Islam’s holiest place, Mecca, Saudi Arabia, at Eid and sacrifice a sheep there, Noori said.
In Mizan’s district center, local security forces personnel and the assistant district chief ate lunch — meat from a cow sacrificed by the Afghan National Army that morning — with U.S. soldiers to celebrate the holiday.
The Afghans dressed in their best clothes, which included gold-threaded turbans and, in a younger man’s case, new jeans and a fashionable yellow shirt. Some men wore perfume and eyeliner and painted their fingernails for the occasion.
“On the first day of Eid we pray in the morning at the mosque. After Eid prayers everyone hugs. Then the elders of a street will start from the first house and visit each house to say, ‘Happy Eid.’ After that we visit relatives and go to parks and the children also go to houses and get cookies and sweets,” Noori said.
At FOB Mizan the 1-4 soldiers are preparing for a religious holiday of their own — they’ve decorated their dining facility/television room with a Christmas tree, tinsel and stockings filled with sweets and cookies from care packages.
One of the soldiers who lives there, Spc. John Yanni, 31, of Rockford, Ill., said that if he were home for Christmas this year, he would visit his parents or, perhaps, go sightseeing in Chicago. Instead, he put the holiday out of his mind and focused on his mission.“You have family back home who are thinking about you and I think about that from time to time. It’s just a hard feeling but you just do your job and get on with life,” he said.
The 1-4 troops will get a Christmas service from a U.S. Air Force chaplain, who is at their base for the holidays along with a chaplain assistant, U.S. Navy Petty Officer Suchon Yi, 28, of Yokosuka, Japan.
“I don’t think anybody likes being here for Christmas, but it is something I volunteered for,” Yi said. “I was curious to see how life was out here.”