Why we need to know the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims for a GCSE

A few weeks back you heard the President of the USA criticise Iran for supporting terrorism, whilst he was standing in Saudi Arabia.

Then this week after a terrorist attack carried out by Islamic State killed 17 innocent civilians in Iran, President Trump’s sent both his condolences: “We grieve and pray for the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Iran, and for the Iranian people, who are going through such challenging times,” and these additional comments: “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.” You can imagine how Iran felt about this latter comment.

The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, tweeted: “Repugnant WH (White House) statement … as Iranians counter terror backed by US clients.”

This is where what we learn in GCSE Religious Studies comes in handy in making sense of all this. It is so important that when you read about world politics you are aware of the difference between Sunni and Shia Islam.  The Sunni jihadis of Isis (Islamic State) consider Shia Iran to be apostates (a defection or revolt against the true Islam), and Iran is deeply involved in fighting the group in both Syria and Iraq. To make things trickier for Iran they have a sizeable Sunni population along their restive borders with Iraq and Pakistan, and it is from here that Isis is hoping to recruit. Understanding the Syrian Civil War also needs you to know about Sunni and Shia Muslims, as Newsround tried to explain.

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Only know about the conflict in Syria? Don’t forget the Yemen.

The United Nations believe that over 10,000 have been killed in the two years that conflict has resided in the Yemen. And that 3 million people have been displaced by the conflict.

The United Nations are urging the two sides to bring this conflict to a peaceful end so that the huge humanitarian costs can stop. So who is fighting? The Houthis group, backed by Iran, overthrew the president of Yemen two years ago and took over the capital. The Saudi Arabian backed president fled to the south of the country and is now being supported with the military might of Saudi Arabia. Adding to that, the Saudis are hugely supported by the US and UK.

When it comes to killing innocent civilians both sides can be found guilty. You can also add to the mix child soldiers and over 80% of the Yemen population requiring humanitarian aid to survive.

Isn’t it sad that nobody really talks about it; that so few people really know about it?

Hajj brings most of Islam together

The scenes from Saudi Arabia when Hajj is on each year are always breathtaking. To see millions of Muslims together celebrating their faith and asking forgiveness from Allah, walking in Muhammad’s footsteps. With all the news coverage you can easily learn about this Muslim pilgrimage, one of the five pillars and about the numerous stories which appear in the Qur’an.

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This year though there is a political story too with Iranian Shia Muslims not making the journey, partly in response to last year’s stampede deaths but also because of the conflicts in the Yemen which pits Shia and Sunni Muslims against each other. The biggest leader of Islam in Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the grand mufti, who has given a speech for the last 35 years to pilgrims is this year not giving the sermon. Perhaps his recent comments that Iranians are not proper Muslims has lead to him sitting it out this year.

Knowing the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims has become paramount to anybody trying to understand current world politics, never mind RE Lessons! The BBC iWonder pages gives a really thorough but easy to understand explanation. Or you could check out this Daily Express article for a basic idea.