Sunni and Shia groups in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia- KSA

Sunni and Shia groups in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia- KSA
i) Definitions of Sunni and Shia groups
ii) Provision of statistics and demographic data concerning the two groups
iii) Geographical distribution of the two groups
Purpose of the Research
i) Brief description of the purpose of what the research paper is discussing (why the Sunni and Shia groups should be considered as ethnic groups)
ii) Discussions and definitions of what constitute an ethnic group.
iii) A brief relation of how the characteristics depicted by the two groups depict ethnicity and therefore qualify them to be referred to as ethnic groups.
Discussion of the Subject Matter
i) A brief overview of facts and historical occurrences that led to the rise of the Sunni and Shia Muslim groups.
ii) A review of related literature serving to ascertain the points made above regarding the two Muslim groups.
iii) In depth exposition of each particular characteristic that is present within the Sunni group, right from their geographical distribution, shared language and cultural practices amongst others, with particular importance being attached to religious beliefs and practices.
iv) An in depth exploration of the particular characteristics identified above, amongst the Shia Muslim group. These characteristics similar to those of the Sunni group will include: geographical distribution, shared language and cultural practices, as well as others, especially religious beliefs and practices.
v) An in depth discussion of how these characteristics fall in line with the requirements for a group to be considered as an ethnic group. Qualifications and evidence pointing to exactly why the two groups qualify as ethnic groups.
i) A conclusion containing a restatement of the thesis as well as of the facts surrounding the matter of whether or not the Sunni and Shia groups can be described as ethnic groups.
ii) This will then be followed by a discussion of the significance of the findings for the field of science.
iii) A mention of potential areas for further research will then be made to encourage further exploration of the matter of the Sunni and Shia groups.
Sunni and Shia groups in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia KSA
i) Definitions of Sunni and Shia groups
Sunni and Shia Islam are the two largest denominations of Islam. It is difficult to tell the accurate breakdown of the two groups based on the fact that there are multiple sources that provide varying demographics. However, good approximation is that 75 to 90% of the world’s Muslims are made up of the Sunni Islam while10 to 20% are made up of the Shia Muslims. Most of the Shia Muslim belongs to the Twelver Shia Baharama community which is located in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia. The rest of the Shia Islam in divided in small groups in different locations. The Sunnis who make up the largest Islam group are distributed in various communities all over the world. The Sunnis are easily found in large numbers in South East Asia, South Asia, Africa but the highest numbers being found in Arab world. While the Sunnis occupying the better population of Muslim region in Iran, Iraq, Baharin and largely in Pakistan, the Sunnis are fewer in this areas.
ii) Provision of statistics and demographic data concerning the two groups
The division between Shia and Sunni Islam began after the death of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed who died in the year 632. Following his death, the Muslim community began to have debates regarding the prophet succession, but they did not agree. The disagreement did not only split the Islamic community but also to violence and rise of wars such as the Battle of Siffin. The main point of disagreement was on who would attain leadership after Prophet Mohammed with the Sunnis arguing that leadership should be granted to the most capable leader. The Sunnis insisted that all those who acted as prophets companions should line up for the election and the most favorable leader would take office. This is exactly what happened and Abu Bakr a good friend and advisor of the prophet elected as the first Caliph of the Islamic nation. The word “Sunni” is a word that had a traditional meaning of followers of the prophet. On the other hand, the Shia muslim completely opposed the Sunnis system of electing the Caliph since they argued that the leadership should have be directly passed to those in the prophet Mohammed family mostly his cousin or his son in law. Shia complained and voiced that Ali bin Abu Talib a member of Prophet Mohammed family should have been the new caliph after the death of the prophet. Due to this disagreement, the two major Islam groups were formed. Up to date the Shia Islam do not recognize the Muslim leaders and its leadership style, instead they honor and follow the leadership of Imams. Imams are Muslim leaders who are believed to selected straight by Prophet Mohammed or by God. The differences and disagreements of the Sunni Islam and Shia Islam are not in their beliefs, culture or religious practices but purely political.
iii) Geographical distribution of the two groups
Sunni and Shia relationship is marked with both with conflicts and cooperation. Tensions constantly arise due to power struggles but we also see cooperation in religious beliefs, ceremonies and customs. However, due to the frequent power struggles which cause common civil war such as the Syrian civil war, the cooperation of these two groups has continued to suffer. Though both the Sunni and Shia Islam have common beliefs like Quran as a divine book, difference have began to, for instance in their opinion on Hadith. The countries that have both the Sunnis and Shia Islam are the ones that are greatly affected by the discrepancies and cooperation between the two groups. Saudi Arabia for instance, is the country where Shia Islam is largely found. As earlier stated, the Shia Islam is the smaller group of Islam while compared to the Sunnis. The Shia community group Twelver Bahrama is the largest group of Shia Islam and are found in Nakhawila of Medina, Ismaili Sulaymani and Zaidiyyah of Najran which are some of the major provinces in Saudi Arabia. In the country they total to about 2 to 4 million accounting to about 15 % of the Saudi population. Considering the fact that both Shia and Sunni are found in Saudi Arabia especially in the eastern and coastal regions differences and similarities in their region and culture can easily be identified. Using the demographics of these two groups, it is clear that Shia and Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia are no longer simply representation of leadership differences but rather religious differences that represents ethnic groups.
Purpose of the Research
i) Brief description of the purpose of what the research paper is discussing
By analyzing the two major groups of the Islam; the Shia and Sunni Islam one can wonder if Islam is purely a religion, culture or an ethnic group. This is because, the way of live of the Shia and the Sunni highly depend on their religious beliefs and the teachings from the religious leaders. From the two major Islam group we can easily learn the major characteristics of Islam. Both groups clearly understand that and belief in the existence of a private relationship between man and God. The way of life is also based on the guidance given by the scriptures; books considered to have been written by people of God. Leaders also dictate several practices in the lives of the believers. For instance, the Christians belief in the teachings and guidance given by Jesus while Muslims on the teachings of Prophet Mohammed. Clearly, religion tends to dictate peoples way of live and practices even on personal issues. Marriage beliefs, divorce, leadership styles and even death beliefs are based on our religious beliefs. Therefore, it is right to argue that religion commands most of our cultural practices and ethnicity.
ii) Discussions and definitions of what constitute an ethnic group
Ethnicity is a word used to describe persons with distinctive elements of culture. common cultural heritage is depicted by language, history, territory, habits, customs and beliefs. In other words, religion is one of the key factors to the establishment of cultural heritage which further assist in the building of ethnicity and as a result a nation. Religion just like ethnicity assist in playing the role of developing cultural heritage which today dictate the leadership styles and social communications of individuals and nations. The relationship of ethnicity and religion cannot be avoided since the two are responsible for determining self indentify. By determining what a person belief in the world today we are easily representing him to a particular human society. For instance, the Islam groups; Shia and Sunni prove that by having a common belief in the ways of appointing leaders they end up having distinct identification which explains why we can easily identify a Muslim as purely a Shia Islam or a Sunni Islam. As a result to this religious groups brought about by differences in religious groups, each group embraces the particular ethnicity as evidenced by having distinct locations, social communication, history of origin and cultural heritage.
An ethnic group is a representation people sharing the same commonality. The common traits are based on the appearances as well as in customs and language. People understand ethnicity differently but all the definitions and assumptions towards the topic sum up to the fact that ethnicity is simply a representation to what a person beliefs in. Everybody belongs to an ethnic group and the reason is that ethnicity recognizes human cultural variations and therefore issues relating to accuracy and interpretation do not really constitute to developing a ethnic group. Meaning that, since each and every person belongs to an ethnic group, which depicts our beliefs and cultural heritage issues of what is correct on issues such as beliefs and locations only apply to a specific ethnic group. For instance, American, Blacks or Indians have different beliefs and cultural practices hence make up difference ethnic groupings. This is also the same case when we consider religious difference. Since there are different beliefs, practices and locations, religious group can also equal to be ethnic group especially when religious beliefs dictate ways of live, history or origin as well as cultural heritage.
There are several relationships between religion and culture. Belonging to a particular religious group equate to belonging to an ethnic group. Just like ethnicity it is not easy to change a religious group since it is regarded viewed as rejection or denial of our heritage, history or culture. For instance trying to change our race which is an ethnic identify is likely to elicit similar critic from our friends and family as changing our religion such as Islam to Hindu. Even as simple as changing from a Shia Islam to Sunni Islam, it will still be viewed as rejection. Therefore, both religion and ethnicity are similar in that they are not personal. In addition, religion and identity are used in a similar way to ethnicity identify. What the western may refer to as religion is not just a formal adherence to a member but is an integral defining characteristic of unique identity of some human social group. By stating that a person belongs to a particular religious group, it is easily to tell what their social stands and well as beliefs in several real life issues, this is a similar case in the analysis of ethnic identity.
iii) A brief relation of how the characteristics depicted by the two groups depict ethnicity and therefore qualify them to be referred to as ethnic groups.
The relationship between ethnicity and religion can better analyzed using the two major groups of the Islam region. Shia and Sunni Islam groups are so well established that the members regard themselves as people of a common origin. The feeling concept of brotherhood is so well established that the members of the same Islamic groups regard themselves as brothers and sisters. The Shia and Sunni members are not separated by racial differences but rather they concentrate of the unity brought about by the beliefs of each group. An ethnic group is brought about by having a common history, territory, language, customs, habits and believes, mainly by having a common way of life. These are the same concepts that brought about the rise of the two Islam groups. For instance, the history of either of the group is based on the succession of Prophet Mohammed, in Saudi Arabia they have a distinct region that they occupy. The Shia Islam people are found in the eastern region of the country and hardly relocate to other regions, hence have a distinct territory. Further, just like most ethnic group they associate with specific habits and beliefs. The Shia Islam and the Sunni Islam differ in their belief on the place of origin of faith, whereby the Shia belief that origin of faith is Kufa while the Sunni belief is Medina. The two groups also differ in relation to authority, to the Shia Imams are the actual clergy while to the Sunnis Imaam are simply saints but the real leaders are the chosen Caliphs. The differences in the two Islam groups are well understood by the members, they are also accepted and respected making them measures of individual identification.
Facts and historical occurrences that led to the rise of the Sunni and Shia Muslim groups
Shia and Sunni are the two main branches of the Islam. The two groups depict the main principles or religion in today’s tenets. The differences of the two groups are defined by their political strife as well as their spiritual disagreements. The history and rise of the Shia and Sunni Islam groups is based on the succession of prophet Mohammed where each group felt different in regards to the appointed of the new clergy members. The Shia felt that prophet Mohammed should be succeed by a member of his family while the Sunni felt that the successor should be elected from Prophet Mohammed close friends. Today the two Islam group can be distinguished and characterized depending on their beliefs, history, language and region just like any other ethnic grouping. Therefore, Shia and Sunni depict the relationship between religion and ethnicity.
As already mentioned above, ethnicity is usually intertwined with religion, hence any group that depicts characteristics of a shared religion, essentially depict characteristics of ethnicity. In a way, this assertion holds particularly true for Muslims, particularly along the Sunni, Shiite divide. A huge number of Muslims, in a way suffer a degree of loss of identity, due to the lack of a clear distinction between the two groups. Basically, it is a fact that ethnicity is usually a term applied to a group that share a cultural heritage, with the common heritage coming about due to history, territory, habits, beliefs, environment and in a majority of cases language. All these characteristics as already mentioned, are shared by the two groups. When these aspects are put into consideration for the two groups, it comes across quite clearly that these two are indeed different ethnic groups, more so considering that religion usually is a very important component of what anyone can consider their cultural heritage (Stephaniants, n.d).
At the same time, the relationship between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims also raises a very interesting fact about religion, as it demonstrates that while it is possible to share religion (Islam) it is possible to be diverse even within this given common religion. As such, these differences that have led to the recognition of the existence of two different groups within one religion, that serve to imply the existence of differing cultural heritage lead one to suggest that these two groups, though sharing a common religion, should indeed be considered as two different ethnicities. The two groups differ significantly when it comes to certain components of ethnicity, not to mention the differences that also exist within their interpretations of the doctrines guiding the practice of Islam. The second important aspect of ethnicity, other than a cultural heritage, is undeniably the existence of a common shared ancestry. Within Islam, the fact that the state and religion are intertwined, further serves to create ethnical unity on the basis of religion, hence the rise of a situation in which one’s most important identity determinant is not just Islam, but the Islamic group they belong to. Within Saudi Arabia, a number of factors are influenced by the group to which one belongs, suggesting that ethnic unity is primarily determined on the basis of whether one belongs to the Sunni group or the Shia group.
The split between the two different factions of Islam occurred more than 700 years ago, and the fact that the split persists to date, and certain practices differ significantly, suggests that it is indeed possible to delineate each group and treat each individually as an ethnic group. This is more so, if one simply looks at the two groups on the basis of guidelines provided by Marrietta when it comes to defining ethnicity. Significant differences in various aspects of the Sunni culture, when compared to the Shia culture. Further, there is no denying that there is a significantly high possibility that if traced along ancestral lines, distinct lineages can be traced to having led to the rise of the two major Islamic groups. Due to the fact that the split occurred quite a while back, all current practicing Muslims other than the ones who converted to Islam after birth, were born into either of the two groups, rather than chose to belong to either. By virtue of this, most Sunni Muslims will belong to a common ancestry, while most Shiite Muslims likely belong to a separate common ancestral tree. This is despite the main difference between the two groups being ideological, as both groups essentially descended from the original groups that had these ideological differences.
The Sunni group of Muslims shares a common history that dates back to the religious and political struggles that followed the death of the third caliph Uthman ibn Affan. The struggles arose as a result of a failure by Mu’awiyah to acknowledge Ali ibn Abi Talib as the leader of the Islamic community. These disputes led to qualms within the Islamic community regarding basic tenets of the religion such as true belief, predeterminism and freewill, as well as the state of those who though profess Islam, continue to live in sin. These questions essentially formed the basis of early Sunni thinking, with most of the responses being based on both the Sunnah and Qur’an. The firm establishment of Sunni Islam, however, occurred following the fall of the Umayyad caliphate to the Abbasids, descendants of al-Abbas the prophet’s uncle. Within the Sunni school of thought, four schools of Sunni law emerged during the Abbasid caliphacy: the Maliki, Hanbali, Hanafi, and Shafi’i, with the main differences coming about due to different levels of reliance on ijma and qiyas when forming laws. These four schools of the law are all considered authentic, although each group follows the school that is prevalent locally. In Saudi Arabia, the Hanbali School of law, established under Ahmad ibn Hanbal which enjoyed a strong revival following the emergence of the Wahabi, is considered as officially authoritative.
Habits, Beliefs and Ancestry
As already mentioned, the habits and beliefs of the Sunni Muslims are mainly determined by the Quran and the Sunnah, although the different four schools of law further bring about differences amongst the believers. In Saudi Arabia, the majority of Sunnis practice the Hanbali, which is mostly identified by its strict belief in the supremacy of the Qu’ran and the Sunnah. However, under the Hanbali School of law, an opinion given by a companion of the prophet is usually considered as authoritative, and in cases where such opinions contradict, the one that is nearest to the Qu’ran is considered the right one. Essentially, the Hanbaliyyah advocates for a strict adherence to the law as established under the Qu’ran and the Sunnah, without regard for personal opinion or analogy. Further, the Sunni usually practice a higher degree of intolerance towards others to the point of believing in the need to exclude opponents from judicial office and power (Iqbal, 1951). Other than these basic differences in how the law is interpreted, the Sunni Muslims in Saudi Arabia usually engage in a majority of practices similar to the other Muslims.
Due to the strict adherence to Islamic law, the cultural environment within the Sunni of Saudi Arabia is quite conservative. Due to this conservatism, cultural presentations are usually deliberately structured to conform to the narrowly defined standards of ethics. Amongst common practices include the belief that men and women must not attend public events together, as well as gender segregation in the workplace. A huge majority of the Suadi population are Arabs, although some are descended from Turksindonesians, Iranians, Indians and Africans. On the basis of the history of the split, it would be plausible to argue that ancestors of Sunni group of Muslims are primarily those who disagreed with the caliphacy of Ali ibn Talib, as well supporters of Mu’awiyah (Esposito, n.d)
Although widely spread across the State of Saudi Arabia, the two groups are essentially distributed in pockets, resulting in certain regions predominantly being Sunni, while others are Shia. The distribution of the two Muslim groups is patterned, with seemingly imaginary demarcations determined primarily by the Islamic group that has the largest presence within the given area. However, most of the Shia, reside to the East of Saudi Arabia, while a majority of those along the coast are mostly Sunni.
Similar to the case of the Sunnis, the origin of the Shiites can also be traced back to the succession struggles after the death of Prophet Muhammad. The Shiites mainly believe that the rightful heir to the prophet was Ali ibn Talib due to his blood relations to Prophet, and fail to recognize the three caliphs that came before him after the death of the Prophet. The key defining factor when it comes to the split in Islam is therefore, the choice over whether or not to follow Ali, with followers developing into what has come to be known as the Shia Muslims.
Habits, Beliefs, Territory and Practices
The Shiites, just like the Sunnis, believe in the Quran, the hadith,, the Sunna, and the five pillars of Islam: the recitation of the creed, the zakat, the salat, fasting during the month of Ramadhan, and Hajj, as well as in the need for pilgrimage to Mecca. The differences however arise when it comes to the application of Islamic law, as well as in the recognition of authority. Whereas the Sunnis only believe in the authority of the first four caliphs after Muhammad, including Ali, the Shiites continue to grant a divine inspired status to their imams, believing that the imams are essentially descendants of the Prophet and their opinions must be revered. As such, the interpretation of the doctrine, and of Islamic law is more open under Shiitisn, in that the opinions of the imams count. Although Sunnis are quite strict in the interpretation of Islamic law, they are by contrast quite flexible on the hierarchical leadership of their religion, compared to Shiites who consider the Imams as having the final say in all matters, as opposed to leaders of the state.
Within the Shiites, there is still further subdivision, based on the question of hierarchy. The Shia Muslims are therefore, split into the Twelvers, the Zaidi and the Ismaili, with each group following its own unique line of Imamate. The main difference usually comes about due to beliefs in different Imams, while all three groups recognize the first four Imams, differences arise after how many there were after the first four, as well as their identities. In Saudi Arabia a majority of the Shia group that make up roughly 15% of the Muslims, are Twelvers. They are mostly found within the Eastern province, in Dammam, Al-Hasa, Qatif and Medina, although small concentrations of Ismaili and Zaidi Shia Muslims reside along the border of Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Twelver group believe twelve leaders divinely ordained, who collectively are referred to as the Twelve Imams. The doctrine practiced is mainly based on five principles (Usul ad Din): justice, monotheism, leadership, last judgment and prophethood. Essentially, each sect of the Shia group of Muslims usually has its own form of Jurisprudence, as they believe was defined by Prophet Muhammad and his twelve followers.
All in all, both groups of Islam, though similar in many respects, exhibit significant differences in how they profess Islam. To an extent, these differences form a basis upon which the two groups carry out or fulfill their obligations and duties. The differences even stretch into the aspects that define cultural heritage. Both groups have different histories dating as far back as the rise of Ali ibn Talib as caliph of Islam. In fact, part of the reasons for the significant differences is history, as the two groups recognize different religious leaders. The differences are also evident when it comes to territory, with the Shiite minority remaining concentrated in the Eastern and Najran Provinces. Further, due to the fundamental doctrinal differences, the type of social environments within which these two groups exist are significantly distinct, with the Sunni belief in and strict adherence to Islamic law, creating a rigid society essentially creating a different culture altogether. Although both groups of Islam profess the same faith and essentially share the same religion, these fundamental differences also lead to the creation of two totally different approaches to professing the faith, perhaps to the extent that the two are perhaps even comparable to the situation between Protestants and the Catholic Church.
These differences if compared upon the framework of ethnicity, gives rise to two groups that are essentially distinct. It is plausible to argue therefore that the Sunni and Shia Muslim groups should be considered as ethnic groups. In addition to fulfilling conditions already described above, the two groups, it is plausible to argue, portray two distinct forms of religion. The consistent nature with which the differences exist not just within Saudi Arabia, but across the Muslim populations of the world, is testament to the differences that disqualify the current state of defining both under the umbrella of Islam. Due to the diligent manner with which Islam is practiced, a majority of the individuals who practice the two differing approaches to Islam essentially belong to distinct ancestries, further strengthening the need to identify these two groups as distinct ethnic groups.
These findings, not only serve to highlight the narrow manner with which existing definitions of ethnicity essentially define it. The research serves to demonstrate the need for a shift in focus, from simply defining ethnicity first on the basis of ancestry then on culture, but rather on culture then on ancestry. These groups of individuals who fall under these two different factions of Islam essentially exist in totally different parts of Saudi Arabia, or even the world, but share a common cultural heritage, that has existed over a very vast period of timer. This highlights the possibility of individuals to share ethnicity even without necessarily sharing the same territory. Further, the study also highlights the possibility of an individual having more than one ethnicity. Essentially, the research in a way, implies the need for a second look at the existing ethnicities, as well as the creation of further ethnicities, more so based on religion. The need for a more robust definition of ethnicity cannot also be overlooked (Ferguson, 2013).
In terms of future research, the research was concentrated on one particular country, implying the need for a more robust inquiry, in order to corroborate the assertions made regarding the widespread nature of common practices based on the two doctrines. Findings that affirm the existence of common practices across the board for the two groups, would go a very long way towards affirming the need to define and recognize the two groups: Sunni and Shia as Ethnic groups.
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