Before the birth Islam, the Arab Peninsula lacked any political organization in any form. No part of the Arabian Peninsula knew a government structure except for Yemen. The Arabs never acknowledged any law or authority.
They followed the tribal chiefs whose decisions were dictated not by a written law but rather by their character and personality. The written law of the land was non-existent; therefore, people took law into their own hands.
The tribe had an obligation to protect its criminal members in order to survive as a whole. Tribalism or ‘asabiyya, the clan spirit, took precedence over the ethics. With no law and no government, the Arabs were consumed by long years of inter-tribal fighting and secondary vendettas.
All things changed with the birth of Islam. Prophet Muhammad was born during 570 BC in Mecca, a part of western Arabia. He received his first revelation in 610 BC. Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad recited the Quran, the Muslim holy book, as revealed to him by the archangel Gabriel in Arabic.
They also believe that the Arabic language is the Quran language. The Quran can be “explained” in different languages but not translated. Hence, most non Arabic Muslims memorize the Quran in Arabic and not in their own language. Similar to the Bible, the Quran makes people responsible for their actions, for which they will be judged by God. The Quran, however, includes lots of rules about the Muslim daily life. In Arabic, it is known as a “Deen and Dunia”, i.e. a religion and rules of life.
Muhammad died in 632 BC. His successors, known as the four caliphs, spread the message of Islam through the sword using the rule: “Aslm Taslam,” meaning become a Muslim and you will be unharmed. The Muslim Arabs conquered Syria, Palestine, and Egypt from the Byzantine Empire, and Sasanian Empire, thus creating a global empire. The Muslim empire grew over time but it sustained a major blow with the dissension of the Shiites.
The dissension occurred at the contention of the fourth Caliph’s Chair between Ali Ibn Abi Talib (Ali the son of AbiTalib) son-in-law of the prophet Mohammed and Mu’awiyah ibn Abi-Sufyan, the first Umayyad Caliph and previous heir of the pagan throne of the city of Mecca and the governor of Syria. Ali Ibn Abi Talib became the fourth caliph but struggled to be accepted.
Mu’awiyah, the governor of Syria, rebelled against Ali. They met at the battle of Siffin (657 AC). The battle was inconclusive, so the two factions resolved to arbitration. The Shiaa still claims to this day that Ali’s representative was tricked into dethroning Ali while Mu’awiyah’s representative who was supposed to dethrone his Caliph confirmed him.
The Sunni are the dominant faction in the world today, estimated at 1.5 billion people. They are found in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Indonesia and previous Southern Soviet Republics. Sunni means “Orthodox”, the one who did not make false interpretations of the Quran. Mecca is their Jerusalem equivalent. The Shiaa is the second largest branch of Islam at 154 million persons, estimated to be around 10% of the entire Muslim population.
They believe the political and religious leadership should come from the descent of the Ali Ibn Abi Talib. The Shiaa are mainly located in Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Lebanon. They are powerful mainly in Lebanon and Iran. After Mecca, the Shiaa refer to Karbalaa’ as their religious capital because it marks the location where the sons of Ali Ibn Abi Talib were massacred.
Each Muslim has five duties to accomplish in life, named the Five Pillars of Islam. The duties include Shahada, Salat, Zakat, Sawm and Hajj. Shahada is the profession of faith, the acknowledgment that Allah is the only one worthy of worship. Salat, praying five times a day at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and night, allows the believer to connect directly with Allah.
Zakat, giving alms to the needy, in doing so, a believer purifies their wealth and gains the blessings of Allah to grow in goodness. Sawm is fasting, especially during Ramadan and is recognized as a way of purifying oneself. Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which all Muslims should take part in at least once in their lifetime, if economically possible, to worship and show submission to Allah as well as the unity of Muslims. The Shiaa Muslims developed eight practices, which substantially overlap with the five Pillars.
The rift between the East and the West or between the Christian civilization and the Islamic Civilization has been there since the birth of Islam. It started with Islam’s Byzantine conflict and progressed to Spain’s occupation and Crusades followed by the Turkish incursion into East Europe. With the fall of the “Sick Man” Empire, the Ottoman Empire, in World War I, the Muslims came under the occupation of the Western world. The rift was worsened with the establishment of Israel in 1948.