By Sean Savage/JNS.org
The recent double suicide bombing outside of Iran’s embassy in Lebanon by an al-Qaeda-linked terror group is the latest attack in a complex and growing sectarian war between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. As Islam’s two largest sects battle for supremacy, Israel is caught in the middle. With recent reports indicating that Israel and Saudi Arabia may be cooperating on covert plans to strike the Iran nuclear program, the battle for Middle East supremacy may be forcing old foes into a new alliance.
Noted Mideast author and scholar Dr. Faoud Ajami, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, explained that there is “a contest between the wealthy countries like Iran, holding the banner of the Shi’a world, and Saudi Arabia, representing the Sunni world.”
“The cleavage between Sunni’s and Shi’a has widened and sharpened,” Ajami told JNS.org.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are fighting today for control of Syria. Iran, with the support of Hezbollah, has been aiding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Saudi Arabia, along with Qatar and Turkey, have favored the rebel groups, who increasingly consist of Sunni extremists.
“It’s an astonishing phenomenon to be honest with you. If you can just look at historically, the fight over Syria has ignited it [the Sunni/Shi’a divide] like never before,” Ajami said.
The battle between Sunni and Shi’a Islam dates back to the very beginning of the religion of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries, when a dispute erupted over who should be the rightful rulers of Islam following the death of the Prophet Mohammed in 632 CE. The split was cemented in 680 CE in Karbala (modern-day Iraq) when the grandson of Mohammed, Hussein ibn Ali, was killed in battle by the armies of the Sunni Caliph from Damascus.
Today, Sunnis comprise the overwhelming majority of Muslims, 80-90 percent, and most are deeply skeptical of the Shi’a minority, with more than 40 percent of Sunnis believing that the Shi’a are not true Muslims, according to the Pew Research Center.