Thursday, January 27, 2005

Who the Shiites are and what they believe

Sorraya Sarhaddi Nelson writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers a brief primer on the Shite community. For instance:
While Shiites make up a majority of the population in Iraq, they belong to a minority sect of Islam, encompassing roughly 15 percent of Muslims worldwide and often discriminated against by the dominant Sunni sect.

The branches disagree about who succeeded Islam's prophet Muhammad after his death in 632. Shiites believe religious authority should have gone to Muhammad's son-in-law, Ali, and 11 of his descendents. ...

The slaughter of some of these Shiite successors or "imams" by the ruling caliphs 13 centuries ago led the sect to idealize suffering and martyrdom more than its Sunni counterpart. Caliphs were the religious and political leaders for Sunnis, although unlike Shiite imams, they were not considered infallible.

Shiite theology subsequently evolved under the auspices of the sect's spiritual leaders, or marja'iya. They interpret Islamic law and dogma for most of the world's Shiites and issue commandments known as "fatwas" that adherents are expected to obey. more