The Birth of Islam: Unveiling the Sunni-Shia Split

Foto von Fahrul Azmi auf Unsplash


The birth of Islam is a significant chapter in the history of humanity, marking the emergence of a powerful and transformative faith. Central to the history of Islam is the division into two major groups: the Sunnis and the Shia. Understanding the roots of Islam and the subsequent split between these two groups sheds light on the wealth of Islamic history and its profound impact on the world.

Islam traces its origins to the 7th century in the Arabian Peninsula. The Prophet Muhammad, born in Mecca in 570 CE, received revelations from Allah (God) through the angel Gabriel, which were later compiled into the Quran, the holy book of Islam. The core teachings emphasized monotheism, social justice, and compassion.

Muhammad's role as the final prophet, delivering a message that unified the diverse tribes of Arabia, drew both admiration and opposition. In 622 CE, facing persecution in Mecca, Muhammad and his followers migrated to Medina in what is known as the Hijra. This event marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.

Islam spread rapidly across the Arabian Peninsula, uniting tribes and establishing a strong community based on the principles of justice and equality. The death of Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE marked a pivotal moment, giving rise to a leadership succession issue that ultimately led to the Sunni-Shia split.

When Muhammad died in 632, he did not name a successor. One faction, the Shi'a, believed that only individuals with direct lineage to the Prophet could guide the Muslim community righteously. They thought that 'Ali, Muhammad's closest surviving blood male relative, should be their next leader (caliph). The other faction, the Sunnis, believed that the Prophet's successor should be determined by consensus and successively elected three of his most trusted companions, commonly referred to as the Rightly Guided Caliphs (Abu Bakr, 'Umar, and 'Uthman), as leaders of the Muslim community; 'Ali succeeded them as the fourth caliph.

Today the Islamic community remains divided into Sunni and Shi'i branches. Sunnis revere all four caliphs, while Shi'is regard 'Ali as the first spiritual leader. The rift between these two factions has resulted in differences in worship as well as political and religious views. Sunnis are in the majority and occupy most of the Muslim world, while Shi'i populations are concentrated in Iran and Iraq, with sizeable numbers in Bahrain, Lebanon, Kuwait, Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

The historical tensions between Sunnis and Shias have manifested in various forms over the centuries, from political disputes to theological differences. These tensions often flared up during periods of leadership transition, resulting in conflicts such as the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE, a tragic event that solidified the division between the two groups.

Despite these differences, it is crucial to recognize the shared foundations of Islam and the common reverence for Prophet Muhammad and the Quran that unites Sunnis and Shias. The majority of Muslims worldwide identify as Sunnis, while Shias constitute a significant minority, primarily concentrated in countries like Iran, Iraq, and parts of Lebanon.

The birth of Islam is a story of profound spiritual awakening and societal transformation. The division into Sunni and Shia branches, while rooted in historical events, reflects the diversity of interpretations within the Islamic tradition. Today, both groups coexist, sharing a commitment to the fundamental tenets of Islam while navigating the historical and theological nuances that have shaped their respective identities. Understanding this historical context is essential for fostering dialogue and unity within the diverse tapestry of the Muslim world.