How the US invasion affected sectarianism in Iraq

Sunni and Shiite Islam

From: “”Baghdad: Truth Lies Within”
A man chants a sura of the holy Qur’an before evening prayer in Al Kadhimein mosque on March 14, 2003

Many Sunni Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) died without setting a line of rule or guidelines forsuccession for leadership after the Islamic community he led, the umma. Shiite Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad(Peace be upon him) chose his cousin and son-in-law, Ali as the new leader of the umma.  Ali was also one of the first converts to Islam, and the husband of Fatima, one of the Prophet’s (PBUH) daughters. Shiites continue to believe that legitimage succession comes only from those descending from Ali.

Conflict appeared over whether the Prophet (PBUH) designated how new leaders should be chosen in the Muslim community, and though at first Ali was not chosen as the new leader of the umma when an assassin killed the third caliph, Uthman, Ali become the new leader and civil war erupted.

Today Shiite-majority countries include Iraq, Iran, Bahrain, and Azerbaijan, while Sunni-majority countries include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and Indonesia, among others. The holy book of Islam, the Qur’an, and the five pillars of Islam are central to both Sunni and Shiite Islam.

The 5 pillars include:

1) The Declaration of Faith – This consists of the two sentence declaration described above.

2) Prayer – Muslims perform five obligatory prayers each day. Islamic prayers are a direct link between the worshiper and God. Islam has no hierarchical authority or priesthood. A learned Muslim chosen by each congregation leads the prayers.

3) Zakat – One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God and that wealth is held in trust by human beings. Zakat, or charitable giving, “purifies” wealth by setting aside a portion for those in need. This payment is usually two and a half percent of one’s capital.

4) Fasting – Every year in the Islamic lunar month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from first light until sunset. The fast is another method of self-purification.

5) Pilgrimage – A pilgrimage to Mecca, or Hajj, is an obligation for those who are physically or financially able.

Information on the 5 pillars of Islam was taken from the Council on American-Islamic Relations; for more information on Islam visit:


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