• This article was featured in Fair Observer.
  • You may also find my original Facebook post here

Note:  Today is the holy day of Ashoura (trans. “the tenth”). For the past 1,333 years, devout Shiite Muslims (as well as Alawites) all over the world join in deep grief on the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram to mourn the brutal martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad who was ruthlessly decapitated at the Battle of Karbala in modern day Iraq in 680. During this month, the Shiites mourn the painful loss of the Prophet’s lawful sovereign legacy, that of the vindicated Imam Ali and his two sons Hassan and Hussein whom Shiites believe were the only true lawful successors to the Prophet as leaders of the Islamic Community but who were betrayed, sidelined, and murdered by the rulers of Damascus and the Umayyad dynasty, men who allegedly usurped the caliphate from the hands of the Prophet’s lineage. This robbed legacy will forever demarcate the schism line between Sunnis and Shiites. In this article, I bring to you the story of this very schism, which has divided the Muslim community along very bloody lines for the past thirteen centuries. This Sunni-Shiite strife that dates back more than 1,300 years plays out every single day in the streets of Lebanon, the Gulf, in Saudi Arabia, in Iran, in the appalling Syrian conflict and as ferociously in Iraq, which everybody assumes will probably be severed into divisions following this very Sunni-Shiite dichotomy. We live in such an interconnected world where conscious disconnection has become effectively dangerous. Most of today’s complications are a byproduct of inherited problems that our hallowed ancestors have created, and subsequently passed on to us as if part of our DNA package. As the ages pass, those problems harden in form and our understanding of them coarsens in difficulty, thereby adding more complex layers to issues that could have formerly been solved with one simple, mature conversation. One of those problems is religion and the many self-claimed unequivocal interpretations of religion… Its wars, its manmade divine intractability and the subsequent insuperable damage it has created in our societies shape our lives, our mindsets and our identities to a very dangerous degree. Every single “branch” of our religions was created by some guy (always a guy) who didn’t like what the other guy was doing, and wanted to officiate his opinions into a divine sect, to which you adhere today. I don’t know about you but I am not okay with the concept that my identity and my social distinctions were set by some men who refused to agree centuries ago. What has historically divided our ancestors does not divide me from you today, and sometimes all it takes is a review of history to come to terms with our differences. And we won’t be able to make a difference without full knowledge of history in order to defy the weight of history. That is why I bring to you the story of Ashoura.

It all started as soon as Prophet Muhammad died.

It was a matter of succession which was never sorted out. During the course of his lifetime, Prophet Muhammad never officiated a successor. Historians don’t have the exact answer for why he didn’t explicitly do so, but this very lack of a designated successor brought about ruthless political divisions, civil wars and assassinations of many of the prominent men of the Muslim community who rose to power. The main succession disagreement basically lay along the lines of the following: Should the leadership power stay within “the Prophet’s family” or must it expand to “the Muslim community”? Should you say ‘family’, you agree with the Shiites; should you say “community”, you agree with the Sunnis. The Shiites believe that there is a holiness to the Muslim leadership that can only be inspired by divine order and that is the lineage of the Prophet, while the Sunnis believe that Muslim leadership should be primarily a matter of politics determined by the earthly realities of the Muslim world. In other words, it’s the Shiite divine Imamate versus Sunni political Caliphate; or Catholic versus Orthodox.

An Islamic Leadership made of a Divinely Appointed Family or of Nominated Political Officials? 

After the Prophet’s death, the elderly companions of the Prophet decided that the Caliphate (leadership) would go to the established men of the community (themselves), the ones who have experience and statute in politics, and not to 32-year old Ali, even if he was blood-wise closest to the Prophet as his cousin and son-in-law. Thus, the caliphate was given to Abu Bakr al Siddiq, the oldest companion of the Prophet, also his father-in-law; then it went to Omar ibn al Khattab, the second oldest companion, and fellow father-in-law of the Prophet; then it went to Othman bin Affan, an elderly Umayyad nobleman and fellow loyal companion of the Prophet as well; and upon the murder of the latter, the caliphate finally went to Ali ibn Abi Taleb, the Prophet’s cousin,  husband of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima, and father of the Prophet’s only grandchildren, Hassan, Hussein, Zaynab and Umm Kulthum. “Ali.” Remember this mighty name for it is over Ali that the schism will effectively be breached.

Ali waited 25 years to become Caliph, during which he became very respected for his unwavering sense of integrity undone by his reluctance to compromise his principles or the unity within Islam. His courage, nobility, obdurate devotion to Islam, utter faithfulness to the Prophet, legendary equal treatment of all and renowned generosity in forgiving his defeated enemies would make him an adored member of the community, but at the same time, a big threat to those who had their eye on the Caliphate. To the heartbreak of his followers, Ali would rule for only five years then he was assassinated…  Thus began the resentful division of the Muslim community, the “fitna” or “strife” that paved the road to continuous civil conflict.

Upon Ali’s death, the very powerful Governor of Syria, himself a distant relative of the Prophet and also the Prophet’s former secretary, Mu’awiya Ibn Abi Sufian impudently declared himself Caliph with all due pomp and circumstance ignoring the Prophet’s grandsons. Mu’awiya will turn the caliphate into hereditary monarchy and his dynastic, Umayyad despotism would now appropriate Islam in the same way that Byzantine despotism had appropriated Christianity. At that point, Ali’s elder son, Hassan, did not wish to fight for the Caliphate, wage more wars, nor risk dividing the community further, and out of sheer loyalty to Islam, he accepted a pension in return for not pursuing his claim to the caliphate. Hassan abdicated, then unfortunately, died within a year, Sunnis say of natural causes; Shiites say Mu’awiya poisoned him… The followers of Ali were devastated. Ali had been sidelined for 25 years then assassinated as soon as he became caliph, Hassan abdicated and died… The last strand of hope now lay in the hands of the last one of the Prophet’s household: Hussein, Ali’s younger son. He agreed to put his claim to the caliphate on hold until Mu’awiya’s death to avoid any clashes. However, when Mu’awiya died in 680, Mu’awiya’s son Yazid usurped the caliphate in accordance with the now hereditary monarchy established by his father, there was no mention of Hussein… and to add insult to injury, Yazid ordered Hussein to be arrested… But this time, the followers of Ali, Hassan and Hussein would not stand by this inadmissible treason, they decided to fight to “regain the soul of Islam.”

The Battle of Karbala 

It is this fight that will incise the disastrous rift between Shiites and Sunnis deep into the Muslim psyche. In September of 680, Hussein set out for Iraq, where Yazid lived. Hussein traveled with all members of his family and only 72 armed men. This would become the infamous journey toward his death. The debate is not the story, but rather the reason why it occurred for the answer to this question cruxes on the incomprehensible. What was Hussein thinking? How could he have thought of surviving this suicidal quest to take on an army of 4,000 soldiers and heedlessly lead all his men to their deaths? Did he want to die? To the Sunnis, Hussein’s resolve to travel to Iraq would be the evidence of his inaptness to be the leader of the vast Muslim empire. Hussein should have acknowledged reality, they say, and forgo of his romantic and impractical quest. In fact, Sunnis believe that if it wasn’t for Mu’awiya, the vast Islamic empire would have inevitably disintegrated, and Islam may not have been able to survive. But to the Shiites, Hussein’s journey to Iraq will become the fundamental act of bravery, the noblest form of self-sacrifice as he was taking the only way to expose the dishonesty and depravity of the Umayyad regime, a regime that would be willing to go to the extent of killing the Prophet’s own lineage.

And so it was… Hussein led his men against Yazid’s soldiers, an army battalion led by the ruthless Shimr, but, hopelessly outnumbered, Hussein and his men would be left under siege by Shimr, cut off from all access to the river and not allowed one drop of water. 4,000 against 72. There was no escape. And there, one after the other, the battle of Karbala would give birth to the tragic symbols of Shiite Islam that will feed the inconsolable sorrow of the Shiite believers for centuries. The tragedy started with Hussein’s nephew Kassem who was betrothed to Hussein’s daughter in the siege; when the wedding ceremony finished, Kassem set out to engage the enemy on his own on his wedding day and was cut down in his white embroidered wedding garment. Then there was Hussein’s eldest son, Ali Al-Akbar, barely an adult, who also decided to fight. As soon as they swung him open with their swords, Hussein is said to have pounced  like a tiger over his dying son whom he cradled in tears, a famed pose that is reproduced in Shiite images of Muqtada Al Sadr, the Iraqi Shiite leader, as he heartbreakingly embraces his dead father who was shot along with his two older sons by men of Saddam Hussein in 1999… The most heart-wrenching image is that of Hussein’s 3-month old son, Ali Al-Asghar, who was so frail from thirst that Hussein urged himself to walk out to the army of Shimr and hold his baby out in his arms begging them to just have pity on the young ones and exceptionally give them water. They responded with a fatal arrow shot into the neck of the infant who died in Hussein’s extended pleading hands… Then, on the tenth and final day, came Ashoura, bringing infinite streams of tears that would last 13 centuries and counting. Passion plays would be staged every year by Shiites to commemorate the torture felt by Hussein, his men and family; Shiite grievance meetings would be held over the course of the first ten days of Muharram with a minute retelling of the suffering endured by Hussein and his family.  Women sit together in a room and cry nonstop for hours and implore Hussein to intervene for them and their children. Men march in masses as they slap their cheeks and beat their chests in unison sounding like the drums of war, and some go to the extent of self-mutilation as they hack their backs with swinging blades and thump their heads and torsos with razors so blood can egregiously pour down their faces and bodies. Yes, grief and sorrow are encouraged because they are the signs of deep faith for the Shiites. But nothing equates the torturous sorrow brought about by Hussein’s death… Ashoura, the tenth day. He said farewell to the women of his family, mounted his valiant white horse Laheq, “the chaser”, and brazenly charged the enemy lines. An arrow first struck at Hussein and knocked him off his horse, the soldiers proceeded to crowd him and by the time they were done, he had 33 knife and sword wounds on his body, and was trampled by the spurring of their horses over his corpse. The last bout is the hardest, they decapitated Hussein, and Shimr ordered his head speared on a lance and paraded like a prize in front of everybody to see…

This story happened not even 50 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, the founder and the core essence of Islam…  Not even 5 decades after the Prophet’s passing, they found a way to massacre his own family. Yazid is said to have broken down in tears at the news of what happened swearing that he never wanted to kill Hussein. But remorse does not bring back the dead. And today 1,333 years later, the grief which ignited this schism still feeds the fires that burn the Muslim community’s unity, and still won’t bring any of them back from the dead.

This is Karbala. This is the ongoing stream that feeds the rupture of Islam.

Ode to Prophet Muhammad  

We must start to understand that religion is not faith. Religion is merely the storytelling of faith. With time, religion becomes dangerous to the harmony of society as it becomes institutionalized in hallucinatory dogmas of self-righteousness with its intractable symbols and metaphors, and we forget the initial composition of faith. All this divisive ruckus caused around the story of faith is nothing but disappointing to the very essence of what Prophet Muhammad and Imam Ali both stood for. If you read any of the stories that were catalogued by Prophet Muhammad’s biographers, Ibn Isshaq, Ibn Hisham and al-Tabari, one cannot but recognize that Prophet Muhammad’s message was a sweeping one aimed above all at tackling the injustices and inequalities of urban life where one’s standing was determined by what tribe he/she were born into. He preached and acted continuously that the poor, the orphaned, the enslaved, the ill – all were equal in the eyes of God. No one group had the right to raise itself up above others, for literally “submit yourself to God’s will”, the very meaning of “Al Islam” i.e. to surrender, is to forsake all the old divisiveness and recognize that nobody is superior to anybody except God, the one God. So there is no way that anybody’s story could be superior to anybody else’s. Harmony and acceptance is the gist of the Prophet’s message. So for anybody who terms themselves as “Sunni” or “Shiite” and believes in this difference is by definition disagreeing with the very core of Prophet Muhammad’s message. And I cannot think of anything more antithetical to the Muslim faith than this.


  • マイケルコース MICHAEL KORS 財布★★,マイケルコース 財布 MICHAEL KORS 32S12JSZ3B 200 JET SET 18K ZA CONTINENTAL 長財…


  • Beautiful. Some of the facts are not correct, but the point of the article is very correct. Unity, cooperation, understanding and love amongst muslims will make the a great power that can fight injustice and bring peace and justice to the world. I just watched Predestination movie it's weird in a good way.

  • Essan Labos says:

    Although a firm believer in the tenets of my own religion, I find this story sad with its tragic consequences. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Wassef Ezzedine says:

    Man you’re good ! 😉

  • Sam Wahab says:

    Can’t say I’m surprised. It’s a friggin great read!

  • Ali Al-Khalil says:

    Bravo Sara El-Yafi

  • Rami Masri says:

    Excellent Article Sara El-Yafi – Thanks for writing & sharing.

  • Karim Sarhane says:

    mabrouk! Onwards

  • Jordan Stone says:

    Great article. Very informative. It’s been about 12 years since my Medieval Islamic History class.

  • Salim Halabi says:

    Amazing article. Loved it.

  • Lina Anabtawi Jaghoub says:

    Thank you Sara for a great article again…I love the way you express yourself in your writing…We need more of you in our part of the world. Good luck always xx

  • Joumana El-Yafi says:

    Sara my love,I have a lot to tell you and to comment again and again on your great culture,your insight,your sensibility and your compassion to the world,your commitment to make it a better place,your honesty ,your integrity,your big pure heart and beautiful soul….!But for now my darling I will only say that I love you so so much,and that I am proud of you so so much and that I fervently and from all my senses hope and pray that the love,tolerance and understanding you have towards humanity and this painfully ailing world would become contagious and go viral spreading all over,so then maybe,maybe,wars,destruction,hatred,crimes,conspiracies,atrocities,fanatics and everything criminal and ugly would stop for ever!AAMEEN!

  • Hysham Abdelnour says:

    Nicely written… very articulate

  • Roba Hamam says:

    Thanks Sara for the great article and your comments.. It’s really nice to see there are people with clean and clear minds.. Who can actually pinpoint the real problems by growing out of the preconceived ideas that everyone has about each religion and sect and look at the essence and core of things by actually looking at the bigger picture to put everything in perspective even if it’s an event that happened so many years ago.

  • Wassef Ezzedine says:

    Clear summary of history and wise analysis !
    Along those lines I believe that all the pious Muslims, if left alone, would have come to your conclusion too, that “hey this was more than 1,000 years ago, can we turn that page ?”
    But how could they be left alone with such fertile grounds for power grabbing…?

  • R. Ali says:

    Very well written and inspiring. I wish people realize the truth in it.

  • Fouad Dajani says:

    excellent stuff Sara…. the Sunni-Shia schism is a festering wound on the conscience of our religion and region. It is the most utterly pathetic and saddening issue of our time.

    A Happy Ashoura to all those who celebrate it! 🙂

    • Sara El-Yafi says:

      Fouad, you are right. I really believe we can start healing those scars . And hopefully more time would be allotted to happiness and celebrating the beauty that can be found in this world.

  • Rakan Khalifa Al-Ajeel Tourbah says:

    God blthose for dancing like a bunch of twinks slapping their chests i could not stand the howling of the sheikh befss t I mean they re crying over some guy they never knew at some point in time they never existed. The disgust I possess for religeon is sometimes high but then again I got to respect others

    • Sara El-Yafi says:

      Rakan Khalifa respect is the only element that assuages people’s grief. Our differences should not be fuel for our grief, but they should be the fuel for our dialogue and compassion, egalitarianism and understanding. Their ‘howling and crying’ is not just about some guy they didn’t know, it’s also about the sadness that comes hand in hand with persecution, the persecution of the Prophet’s lineage, but also of themselves across the years. They reinforce their identity by upholding their misery to strengthen themselves, they being the minority of the Muslim world, historically unrecognized and delegitimized. The truth is Khalifa, I don’t like religion either. Politics hijacked faith by masking itself as “religion.” The world must understand that religion is just the storytelling of faith for faith cannot be based on storytelling. It can only be based on the higher precepts of morality and love.

  • Rami Salame says:

    Hi Sara, I don’t usually participate in religious/political conversations. But since I like your opinions , I found it interesting to share my thoughts and information with you. I sent you a message regarding the subject and it’s up to you if you want to post it or not.

  • Lamia Jallad says:

    I agree with your last point Sara El-Yafi, This should apply to many other lingering, almost obsolete conflicts from “ancient” history, that still resonate in wars and hatred to date…

    • Sara El-Yafi says:

      Lamia: Absolutely. Very well said. That is why I believe history must be recounted for storytelling purposes, not consolidating purposes. We must know history to be able to get over history, as long as we engage in constructive, compassionate debates. The ills of centuries ago are not our ills anymore.

  • Olivier Ceberio says:

    Another interesting article from Sara. Thanks!

  • Roba Hamam says:

    Sara El-Yafi what do you think of both Wissam and Jacki’s comments?

  • Hussein Chehab says:

    impressive writing as always, but any story involving imam ali, must be much more complex than stated. It’s not about some man not agreeing with another, it’s actually a story that shapes our world today, more research is advised on the subject.

    • Sara El-Yafi says:

      Thanks Hussein. I don’t think I understand what you mean though. The some man did not refer to Imam Ali at all, it refers to all the pundits that came afterwards and spoke in the name of religion and jurisprudence. Yes this story shapes our world, my whole point is to say that this story shapes our world but for the wrong reasons. And I never write before I have done my research. I think you and I may be saying the same thing, it’s the power of story. And what I want to elicit is why it’s essential we perceive religion only as storytelling, but faith cannot be based on storytelling. It can only be based on the higher precepts of morality, acceptance and love, which were preached by the Prophet and Imam Ali.

  • Molly Stacey says:

    Beautifully written. Thank you, as always for your insightful and intelligent words.

  • Sam Wahab says:

    A truly brilliant read. You should consider writing for textbooks. I know I’d have definitely paid more attention and, more importantly, ENJOYED, reading up on this. Bravo

  • Melanie Cumbo says:

    Wow! I really enjoyed this. Thank you Sarah.

  • Nadim Haddad says:

    If this was a fictional movie, I can’t see myself not rooting for “the family”, especially that they waited decades for their turn to lead but were killed off one after the other. Part of me hopes that an apology is way overdue and might heal their deep wound. And hopefully Islam will once again be one.

    • Sara El-Yafi says:

      Yes, Nadim absolutely. And if you get to know Imam Ali, you would be rooting for him even more. He had an abashedly sincere sense of integrity and honor, maturity and openheartedness, valiance and compassion, the antithesis of the politician, that was Muawiya, very similar to most politicians’ profile, machiavellian, strong and devoted to power. But the problem is that although this was the breaking point, the subsequent politics of the Islamic history hijack the holiness of these people. Even their names “Ali” “Hassan” and “Hussein” are today almost uniquely Shiite, and that is the work of modern history. Sunnis don’t usually name with these names. It’s sad. Politics hijacked faith by masking itself as “religion”. So today, our identity is political. I am supposed to share the name of Saddam and Al Qaida. And instead of engaging in a dialogue that mends wounds, the fundamental Sunni Islamic parties have repeatedly engaged in terrorist attacks on the day of Ashoura against Shiites, the most infamous being Ashoura of 2004 when Al Qaida massacred the pilgrims purposely at the same place where real Ashoura happened, Karbala. It’s insane. And before that the Shiite mass pilgrimage from Baghdad to Karbala was banned for years under Saddam. So the Shiites cling to their misery, and find strength in their persecution and delude themselves with Prophetic stories to reassure them that they’re the righteous ones, and the Sunnis, now 90% of the Muslim world, are just blindly following a ridiculous jurisprudence of chauvinism and misogyny based on followership of Prophet Muhammad yet completely ignoring everything that Prophet Muhammad said. How this makes sense, I don’t know. This is why I write.

  • Jacki Sara Kay says:

    Well said but none the less who are these people to decide how the msg of Allah will stay alive and who are they to break the word of rasool Allah which is exactly what they did when they pushed imam Ali (as) aside. THEY BROKE THE WORD OF ALLAH which wAs sent onto the earth via Gabriel to our beloved prophet mohamed (pbuh) which they claim to follow. They are the biggest hypocrites and they are trying to make out as if shitte Ali are wrong. IF THESE COWARDS CAN KILL THE PROPHETS GRANDSON then what gonna stop them from killing an innocent shitte. May Allah hasten the reappearance of imam Mahdi (ants). You made a comment that the succession was never pronounced but your wrong , prophet Mohammed (pbuh) after his last pilgrimage received a revelation that he must pronounce his successor or it’s as if his msg of Islam would not be complete. On his way back from Mecca at Khum gadeer ( please go read Khum gadeer sermon) he stopped around 100,000 pilgrims to announce he’s successor. Khum gadeer sermon will explain everything. I would really appreciate it if so called educated people got there information straight before making such statements about the prophet not announcing a predecessor. How wAs Islam to continue the msg if there was no one to carry the msg hence were the imams came into it .

    • Sara El-Yafi says:

      Thanks Jacki for your comments. The truth is, as with everything, there are conflicting accounts of what may have been said or not 1300 years ago by the Prophet. If the Prophet really said it, I find it alarming that people could be brash enough to ignore it the minute he died as they were gathered around his corpse. Regardless of the truth, whether he said it or not, the past 1300 remain the same, there is a strong disagreement over who was the righteous successor. It is a schism of pain, suffering masked as hateful radicalism. The so called educated people you talk about, who said that the Prophet did not officially announce succession are the Prophet’s earliest biographers, Ibn Isshaq, Ibn Hicham, and al-Tabari, as well as the early accounts of the early Muslim civilization. Is it accurate? We will never know. Is it important to know? Not anymore. 1300 years have passed now, and it is time to stop clinging to ancient stories to defend our plastic political identities but to really uphold the precepts preached by Prophet Muhammad and Imam Ali. Islam is egalitarian. No one group has the right to raise itself up above others, for literally “submit yourself to God’s will”, the very meaning of “Al Islam” i.e. to surrender, is to forsake all the old divisiveness and recognize that nobody is superior to anybody except God, the one God. As for Allah hastening the reappearance of Imam Mahdi, that may happen or it may not, but it is surely not a reason for us to stand still to the treason and hijack happening every day to the Muslim world as Muslim jurisprudences of chauvinism and misogyny take over our identities, ideologies that are inherently antithetical to everything that was preached by Prophet Muhammad and Imam Ali of unison, compassion and egalitarianism. Politics hijacked faith by masking itself as “religion”. As soon as anybody plays the “religious” card, they are disagreeing with the Prophet. It’s essential we perceive religion as mere storytelling, not foundational nor reasonable, because faith cannot be based on storytelling. Faith can only be based on the higher precepts of morality and love.

      • Moh'd S. Sasso says:

        I am sure if Imam Ali was alive now, he’d prefer us to stop the fight after 1300 years and grow out of it. We got a lot of issues in the region, lets eliminate one source of it lol

  • Wissam El Cheikh Hassan says:

    Very well written and great points portrayed but it is important to mention one thing. The main difference between the two sects although may have been triggered by the choice of caliphate isn’t because of who sided with whom. There is little debate on who should have been caliphate with many siding with Ali and the majority are of the opinion that Yazid’s actions were incorrect. The main difference between the two sects comes in the set of beliefs, practices and rituals, where one sect is considered to be a deviant and the other not.

    It is true that all who follow the Shia sect of Islam are devout to Ali and his sons, but that does not mean that the followers of Sunni sect claim that the caliphate was rightful for Muawiya or Yazid.

    The main difference in the belief structure of Shia and Sunni lies in the elimination of certain creed elements that were contributed by individuals who had strife (or thought to have strife) with Ali, and the addition of several elements that reinforce the importance of Ali in the Islamic faith.

  • Maher Jallad says:

    What an insightful read. What people don’t realize is that Muslims are one at the core.

    • Sara El-Yafi says:

      Thank you dear Maher, we humans are one at the core. And that is what we have yet to teach each other.

  • Rasha Hassanieh Tabet says:

    Great writing Sara,

  • Mohammed Zigby says:

    Great article. “Religion is merely the storytelling of faith”. Love it.

  • Noora Husseini says:

    If you haven’t already you should read ‘A deadly misunderstanding’ by Siljander. Exactly what you posted here except he actually takes the religious text (in its language of that time- Aramaic Arabic etc) and puts it into our modern context. Plus his adventures sound cool.

  • Paola Khoury says:

    Very interesting read.

  • Annie Tazbaz says:

    Thanks Sara ,and I will share .God Bless !

  • Nisrine Rawdah Naaman says:

    Very well written Sarah. Thanks for explaining it all. I frankly never understood what Ashoura referred to… 🙁

  • Very well written and great points portrayed but it is important to mention one thing. The main difference between the two sects although may have been triggered by the choice of caliphate isn’t because of who sided with whom. There is little debate on who should have been caliphate with many siding with Ali and the majority are of the opinion that Yazid’s actions were incorrect. The main difference between the two sects comes in the set of beliefs, practices and rituals, where one sect is considered to be a deviant and the other not.

    It is true that all who follow the Shia sect of Islam are devout to Ali and his sons, but that does not mean that the followers of Sunni sect claim that the caliphate was rightful for Muawiya or Yazid.

    The main difference in the belief structure of Shia and Sunni lies in the elimination of certain creed elements that were contributed by individuals who had strife (or thought to have strife) with Ali, and the addition of several elements that reinforce the importance of Ali in the Islamic faith.

    • Sara El-Yafi says:

      Wissam, thanks for your comment, you’re right. But this story goes back way way before any belief structure was in place. I never said that the Sunnis adhere to Muawiya or Yazid, those men were Umayyads and the Sunnis are far beyond anything Umayyad. But the role that these two men played mark a complete different resonance between the Sunnis and Shiites today. Sunnis sanction them as being political men, Shiites sanction them as being usurpers who committed one of the greatest crimes of the world. 50 years after the Prophet’s death, there was no proper ‘Sunni’ or ‘Shiite’ demarcation delineated by those names. In fact, they didn’t exist as those names were brought up more than a century later. But the fact remains that the breaking point was Karbala, the fuel to the fire of differences, and then each faction built their own religion. At the origin, the Sunnis who represent the Muslim orthodoxy have designated themselves by this term in order to mark their pretension of being, among Muslims, the ones who continue and perpetuate the “Tradition” of the Prophet. Shiites, as their name designates it in Arabic, are the ones who “took the party of” Ali ibn Abi Taleb (from the verb: tachayya’a, i.e. أَنْ يَتَحَزَّبَ). With time, each party would do things that would further delineate its difference from the other. The Sunnis and Shiites differ on a lot more than just succession, in fact I am sure that most Sunnis of today may agree with the Shiites of 1333 years ago. The main difference is their distinct jurisprudences which today take the toll, as well as the view of the role of politics in the world. Saudi Arabia and Iran. Hamas and Hezbollah. I am almost sure that both Prophet Muhammad and Imam Ali would fundamentally disagree with all of those above mentioned acting entities today. It brings me back to my point to the power of story, and why it’s essential we perceive religion as storytelling for faith cannot be based on storytelling. It can only be based on the higher precepts of morality and love.

  • Very well written account. And what a heartbreaking story…

  • Saud Hashmi says:

    Thank you…

find me on: