The real roots of Sunni-Shia conflict: beyond the myth of ancient religious hatreds
11 Jan 2016 Read article
Yes, it is the case that a seventh-century succession dispute led to Islam's schism between Sunni and Shia. But that is quite literally ancient history. Today's divide between Sunni and Shia isn't primarily about religion, and it's not ancient: It's quite recent, and much of it is driven by politics, not theology.
But it is very much the case that Sunni and Shia differences have only quite recently become such a defining issue for the Middle East, and certainly that they have become so violent.
It is true that Saudi Arabia is an officially Sunni theocracy and that Iran is an officially Shia theocracy. But they don't hate one another because of religious differences, and in fact both countries have in the past defined themselves as representing all Muslims. Yet they can't both be the true representative of all Muslims, and that's the thing to understand here: The two countries have mutually exclusive claims to leadership of the Muslim world. The sectarian difference is largely coincidental.
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