The Egyptian army has disbanded Parliament and negated the Egyptian constitution. Why, what a surprise. Egypt is a mainly Sunni Muslim country. The average Westerner has heard about the two main sects of Islam, without really being able to distinguish the two of them.
What divided the two groups in the very beginning of Muslim history was Muawiyah I, the first Caliph of the Umayyad Dynasty. After the Muslim conquest of Mecca, his family converted to Islam. Muawiyah became a scribe for Muhammad, and during the first and second caliphates of Abu Bakr and Umar, fought with the Muslims against the Byzantines in Syria.
When his cousin. Uthman ibn Affan, became the third caliph, he appointed Muawiyah Governor of Syria. However when Ali (Mohammed’s son-in-law) was appointed the fourth and final Rashidun (“Righteous) Caliph, he expelled Muawiyah from the Governorship. Muawiyah refused to obey Ali, and had some level of support from the Syrians in his rebelliousness, amongst whom he was a popular leader. Ali called for military action against Muawiyah, but the reaction of the political classes in Medina was not encouraged, and thus Ali deferred. Eventually Ali marched on Damascus and fought Muawiyah’s supporters at the inconclusive Battle of Siffin (657 CE). Ali’s son Hasan ibn Ali signed a truce and retired to private life in Medina. Muawiyah thus established the Umayyad (“global”) Caliphate, which was to be a hereditary dynasty, and governed from Damascus in Syria instead of Medina in Arabia.
A caliph is the head of state in a Caliphate, and the title for the leader of the Islamic Ummah, an Islamic community ruled by the Shari’ah. It is a transcribed version of the Arabic word which means “successor” or “representative”. Following Muhammad’s death in 632, the early leaders of the Muslim nation were called “Khalifat Rasul Allah”, the political successors to the messenger of God (referring to Muhammad). Some academics prefer to transliterate the term as Khalīfah.
On other hand, Imāmah is the Shia doctrine of religious, spiritual and political leadership of the Ummah. The Shīa believe that the A’immah (“Imams”) are the true Caliphs or rightful successors of Muḥammad, and Twelvers and Ismā‘īlī Shī‘ah further believe that Imams are possessed of divine knowledge, authority, and infallibility (‘Iṣmah’) as well as being part of the Ahl al-Bayt, the family of Muhammad. The word imam denotes the one who stands or walks in front. He is the guide. It is commonly used to mean the person who ‘guides’ the course of prayer in the mosque; in many cases it means the head of a school. From the Shi’i point of view, this is merely a metaphorical usage of the word. Properly and strictly speaking, the term is applicable only to those members of the House of the Prophet (ahl al-bayt) designated as the infallible. These beliefs distinguish the Shīa from Sunni.
Hasan ibn Ali was appointed as Caliph in 661 following the death of Ali and is also regarded as a righteous ruler by Sunni Muslims, although he was recognized by only half of the Islamic state and his rule was challenged and eventually ended by the Governor of Syria, Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan.
What does it all mean? Well, the Sunni believe the Caliphate will be restored by battle and political power. The Shia, no less war-like, believe that the state and the religion of Islam must be one. The Shia believe that the Sunni are more interested in political power than religious power. They feel they will gain the ultimate victory in an apocalyptic battle led ultimately by a messianic Imam – the 12th Imam, or “Mahdi” (Messiah). The Shias believe the Sunnis will be misled by a Sufyanic military leader similar to Christianity’s version of the Anti-Christ, sufyan being the last name of the hated Muawiyah.
No matter how divided they are (the Sunnis make up the majority of the Muslim population), they are both antithetical to Western notions of “democracy.” They don’t believe in elected presidents, legislatures or Constitutions. They certainly do not believe in individual rights, a belief they hold in common with the Communists.
Many Sunni historians view Muawiyah as a companion of Muhammad, and hence worthy of respect for this reason, and some Sunnis Muslims take great issue with the Shi’a criticism and vilification of him. However, other Sunni Muslims, while refusing to adopt the negativity of Shia sentiment to Muawiya nevertheless quietly withhold according him religious status owing to his rebellions against Ali and al-Hassan, who are regarded as pious rulers, Muawiyah being regarded as a worldly king of dubious sincerity. Finally Muawiyah transformed the caliphate from an elective monarchy with some emphasis on religious qualification into a hereditary one with no such stringent requirement, by designating his son Yazid as his successor.
Caliph Umar (Umar ibn al-Khattab) had appointed Muawiyah as governor of Syria in 640, when his brother died of the plague. Muawiyah gradually gained mastery over the other areas of Syria, instilling remarkable personal loyalty among his troops and the people of the region. By 647, Muawiyah had built a Syrian army strong enough to repel a Byzantine attack and, in subsequent years, to take the offensive against the Byzantines in campaigns that resulted in the capture of Cyprus (649) and Rhodes (654) and a devastating defeat of the Byzantine navy off the coast of Lycia (655).
Muawiyah I, after capturing Rhodes, sold the remains of the Colossus of Rhodes (which was toppled in an earthquake in 226 B.C. and left to lie where it had fallen for hundreds of years, with the hope it would someday to re-erected) to a traveling salesman. The buyer had the statue broken down, and transported the bronze scrap on the backs of 900 camels to his home. Pieces continued to turn up for sale for years, after being found along the caravan route.
The Shi’a view Muawiyah as a tyrant, usurper and murderer. His supposed conversion to Islam before the conquest of Mecca is dismissed as a fable, or mere hypocrisy. He is also described as a manipulator and liar who usurped Islam purely for political and material gain of his father’s loss. He was also widely regarded as a tyrant and usurper by both Shia Arabs and Persians, who despite being ruled by Sunni Arabs and their vassals for centuries, ultimately found the egalitarian Shia creed more palatable than the oppressive, Arab-supremacist tribal rule of Muawiya. Ali was noted for upholding the rights of non-Arab Muslims, whereas the Umayyads are remembered in Persian history for squashing them. The Umayyads suppressed Persian culture and language, and a number of Iran’s greatest contributors to Persian literature.
How does this religious theory hold up in the light of reality, however? The Ayatollah Khomeini was a Shi’ite. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni. Khomeini reinstated Shariah law and outlawed all things Western. Hussein, though a brutal dictator, was a secularist who permitted Western culture to flourish in his country. Since the Iraq War, the Shi’ites have gained control and women are dressing in the habib again and Westerners, Christians and apostates are being driven out. Both countries are predominantly Shia, the only two Arab countries that are.
The majority of Egyptians are Sunnis. Presumably they don’t want Western influence in their country. Mohammed Atta was a Sunni who hated the West with a notorious venom. If he is representative of Egyptian Sunnis and the Muslim Brotherhood, of which he was a member, them someone is lying to the Western Media, whose fashionable boots are on the ground in Cairo.
We need some objective reporting from the Media, or at least from Fox News. This isn’t a Tea Party over there, although the news reports made much of the fact that the protesters came out today to clean up the mess they made the last three weeks.
It might be a good idea, too, if the Media did a little research on actual Muslim history and their beliefs (especially regarding the end of the world) before they report at face value on what’s going on over there. It’s pretty hard to report to the West, when you’re bowing to the East in a desperate attempt to be politic and save your own hides.
Sand is very unreliable ground for a firm foundation for true democracy.