The two major sects of Islam are the Sunni and the Shiite. The differences between these two sects constitute one of the major causes of the conflict in the Syria – Iraq area today.
The major difference in the two sects center on who is, or will be, the leader of the revived Islamic caliphate which Islamic literature proclaims will be in modern day Turkey.
The conflict began with the death of Islam’s prophet Muhammad in 632. The Sunnis thought that Muhammad’s successor should be the most capable leader while the Shiites believed that the Islamic leader should be from the blood line of Muhammad after his death, i.e. his cousin and son-in-law Ali bin Abu Talib. Instead Muhammad’s advisor Abu Bakr became the first Caliph after his death.
In reality Islam is a religious-political entity meaning in essence that Islam is a combination of religion and politics. With the Sunnis the ‘state’ is considered the highest authority while Shiites contend that the cleric is the highest authority.
The Shiites believe that there will be a total of 12 Imams to rule Islam throughout their history. The twelfth Imam mysteriously disappeared in the 9th century. Shiites believe that the twelfth Imam will reappear as their Mahdi (Savior) to rule the coming final caliphate.
Iran’s previous president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed to be the one chosen to usher in the return of the 12thImam. He so stated while addressing the United Nations.
The present supreme leader in Iran is Shiite Muslim cleric Ali Hosseini Khamenei. Even though Khamenei is a religious cleric, as supreme leader he has authority over executive, legislative and judicial branches of government as well as authority over Iran’s military and media. He was not elected by the people, rather by a religious ‘council of experts.’
And while Iran’s president is elected by the people, each candidate must be vetted and approved beforehand by another council of clerics.
Even though there are major differences between the Sunnis and Shiites, primarily in the definition of leadership, both sects accept the authority of the Quran, hadith, and sunna. Also both sects accept the five pillars of Islam.
Sunnis far outnumber Shiites with a ratio approximating 4:1. The recent war in Iraq resulted in a power reversal from Sunni to Shiite which triggered major sectarian violence.
Briefly, another ‘sect’ in the region is comprised of Kurds. They are predominately Sunnis but include other minority religious groups including Jews and Christians. Their geographical area is known as Kurdistan which can be defined as a geo-cultural or transnational region, meaning Kurdistan covers portions of southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, western Iran, and northern Syria. The Kurds are generally neutral or independent.
Back to Islam. The last Islamic caliphate consisted of the Ottoman Turks. The caliphate sided with Germany in WW1 and was defeated. They reemerged as the Republic of Turkey. Pious Muslims were disenchanted with the resulting secularism and the Muslim Brotherhood was born. The Brotherhood is extremely active around the world today, including the United States.
How does all this affect Christianity today? Many well respected Muslim scholars contend that their Prophet Muhammad is a descendant of Ishmael. Inasmuch as Muhammad was born 500 years after the Bible was completed, that lineage cannot be Biblically confirmed.
The Bible does, however, describe Ishmael and tells that he was the progenitor of 12 Arab tribes. Also recall the Biblical description of Ishmael.
“He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” Genesis 16:12 NIV
Bible students have no reason not to take Islam at their word concerning Ishmael.
There is, however, a Biblical challenge for Islam. Five hundred years before Islam was born, Jesus, the Son of God, spoke in the final verses in the Bible.
“For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book…” Revelation 22:18 NKJV
Future history will reveal and confirm the truth.
Thrun’s book entitled: ‘America’s Vision vs. God’s Standard of Justice’ has much more to say about the Biblical future of the nations in the Fertile Crescent.