I’m often asked, when speaking on the topic of Islam, why Muslims kill each other. A day rarely goes by without a suicide bomber killing fellow Muslims. Shiite and Sunni factions appear to hate each other as much as they do the West. The enmity between them is not a recent development, but rather the result of a schism nearly as old as Islam itself.
Conflict between Shiites and Sunnis has existed since the 7th century. Because Mohammed didn’t appoint a successor, or caliph, there was disagreement as to who should succeed him. Sunnis believe the caliph should be appointed. Shiites believe he should come from Mohammed’s bloodline.
After Mohammed’s death in 632, his close friend and advisor, Abu Baker, was appointed caliph. Shiites, however, regard this appointment as illegitimate. They believe the successor to Mohammed should have been Ali, Mohammed’s cousin and son in law.
As it turned out, the first three caliphs were all appointed. It wasn’t until 656, that Ali became caliph after the third caliph, Uthman, was assassinated. During Ali’s rule, however, fighting escalated amongst Muslims ultimately leading to a civil war that split the Islamic empire into two major kingdoms – the Sunnis and Shiites. These two kingdoms have been fighting each other ever since.
Additional differences have developed over the centuries as well as various sects within these two major branches. Unfortunately, each faction not only believes their view is orthodox and dissenters are mistaken, but in many instances they are willing to kill to make their point.