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The Causes of Shia-Sunni Conflcit -1-



Many blogs like SaudiJeans, SaudiWoman and Living In KSA have recently talked about the story of Shia-Sunni conflict in Madina. I am not going to talk about the conflict and who is right or wrong because it is simply not in the area of my interest. I consider my self to be both Shia and Sunni in the same time. In the past, I  devoted part of my blog to resolve the conflict between Islam, Christianity and Judaism but since we have a conflict within Islam, i think it is important too to discuss the possible resolutions of the conflict here and how it can be implemented.

The Conflict:

The firs thing that psychologists and sociologists look for when they try to resolve a conflict is understanding the causes of it because simply we can eliminate the conflict by  eliminating the causes of it. So I spent a lot of time thinking and researching about the causes of the conflict. Here, I will talk briefly about the causes and you are welcome to discuss and question anyone of them.

The Causes of Shia-Sunni Conflict:

  • The Absent of Rationality and Independent Thinking in Saudi Society:

Our (web of belief) is built upon what we hear and see from our families and friends. We consider any information we get from our families and friends as facts. We don’t question, research or even doubt! We just believe what they tell us and that is it.

  • Confirmation Bias

We are very bias. We don’t feel comfortable when we see something that may  disconfirm our web of beliefs. Sometimes, We even feel threaten by that. because if what I heard isn’t true, this means that the persons ( my family and my friends) who told me about it are wrong. Therefore, we always seek to confirm what we heard or learned.

For example, if my father told me that people who belong to this sector  allow adultery in their homes, then i would unconsciously make an image about them in my mind and then i would start looking at YOUTUBE trying to find anything that can confirm that, of course without questioning the reliability of that movie!

  • The Absent of Communication Channel Between Shia and Sunni:

We live in one country and maybe in one small town but we don’t like to talk with each other. Every group views the others as an alien. Even in our universities, which is suppose to be the center of diversity, Shia students like always to be with Shia student and Sunni student like always to be with Sunni students. Even in the mosque, Sunni have their own mosque and Shia have their own mosque.

If you don’t talk to me, and I don’t talk to you, how can I understand you and how can you understand me? How can I know that what i heard about you is wrong or correct and how can you know that what you heard about me is wrong or correct? It is only by communication that we can have a better understanding of each other.


10 thoughts on “The Causes of Shia-Sunni Conflcit -1-”

  1. Oh I’d like to add something to that. The conflict exists in my country too. Here’s what I’d like to add:

    Shia and Sunnis all think they’re the better Muslims. I’m Sunni, but although I am tolerant of other faiths (partly because my mother was Catholic) I don’t like it when some guy comes and says I’m bound for hell or I’m not Muslim because of this and that. I had a bad experience with the other sect regarding this. If there’s going to be some unity among Muslims, which we sorely need, both groups have to humble themselves first and stop thinking they’re the better ones.

  2. “It is only by communication that we can have a better understanding of each other.”

    This is true, of course, but it presupposes that both parties set aside their agendas. What good is communication when each side seeks to disparage comments from the other? What good is communication when the goal of each is to find fault with the beliefs of the other?

    The basis for rapprochement must be established; each side must allow the other its own its truth, and seek to validate it rather than tear it down.

    The root cause of conflict seems to be found in the ethnocentric nature of human beings. Psychologists are better qualified than me to explain this quality, but it underlies conversations between all groups of people, especially with regard to religious beliefs.

    Why should religious beliefs be so notoriously suseptible to inflaming the adherents of the other side? The nature of religion is that it is not scientifically verifiable, and therefore easy to grasp, and even easier to defend from any viewpoint chosen. Indeed, the psychological need to defend one’s own position may well be borne of the ease, and the psychological necessity, of strengthening one’s own position at the expense of the other’s.

    And Allah knows best.

  3. I completely agree. Though I won’t claim that it is only the Saudi society which can be characterized by lack of rational and independent thinking. The circle is much wider in Arab and Islamic countries. Talking from personal experience and around 37 years being a Saudi, it is so much difficult to be different here. It is not only your sect or faith, but much simpler things like your looks!.

    On the second reason you explained which is “communication”. I don’t really know how can Sunnis and Shia communicate in such culture where judgments and categorization of the other gets through generations. In the era of information and the internet, people can have more resources yet with the first issue you mentioned “rational and independent thinking” knowledge will not break the walls!.

  4. for me, I wouldn’t trouble myself and others wasting time solving conflicts, but I would accept them the way they are.

    regarding the facts you mentioned in the post, I think it’s Law of Similarity, principle known in Psychology
    it’s scientifically proven we are more comfortable making friend, living with those whom with we have much in common, it’s easier for us, and for our ego.

    Communicating, yes I agree this would lead to better understanding of the other but won’t solve any conflict,

  5. Murtadha,

    I finally found your new blog.

    I have a different take on this. In my opinion the conflict is caused by a split in the Islamic nation between 2 prominent families. Both with ambitions, either directly or through their followers, to setup a monarchy system. These families are Banu Harb (Mua’awiah and decendants) and Banu Mutalib (Ali and descendants). We all know through history how that was settled initially.

    However, the fights and the massacres that were the result if this split created distinct branches of the religion, which are hostile against each other at their inception and core teaching. This animosity was supported by clerics and ambitious rulers throughout the centuries for purposes of maintaining control over their followers. The social issues, discrimination, etc. are just symptoms of a deep core problem of hostile believes and teachings.

    So here we are in the 21st century and we are still fighting a feud between 2 families that started 1400 years ago. This will not stop if we just look at the thin veneer of visible signs of abuse we have to change the teaching on both sides.

    Before any one gets upset on either side. Realize, I was born to a Shia-Sunni parents and I often have the urge to clobber myself anyway 🙂

  6. I have read all of your comment thoughtfully and carefully. I am gonna discuss what you have said in my next part of analysis. Thank you so much for taking your time to share your though in such an important topic.

  7. Murtadha,
    I read and re-read your opinion, trying to find a hint of resentment or bitterness. Surely, as a member of repressed or opressed minority in an X Country , you would somehow show some signs of revolt..
    I didn’t find any. To which I applaud you.
    Further, I tried to understand if you really didn’t , or you “thought” you didn’t understand the reasons behind the sectarian violence. There, I got abit confused.
    Surely, Murtadha, you understand that the reason you, me, others are hated or worse , killed, is not just because they think that we , as you wrote , commit adultery ?! Even if we were the purest of the pure, the saints, even if you , Murtadha , were holding tight to you “high principles of morality”, even if you were not in love (I’m just kidding, lol), that will not save you from not being called “kafir”, being hated , oppresed or killed.
    Even if you fasted all your life, didn’t miss a single prayer, went to Mecca and Medina every month, observed ardently the 5 pillars, you are STILL a “kafir”. And you will end up in hell, by the way.
    Because that’s what they will always think of you , me, and the others. No channels of communication, no nothing will ever change it, and the sooner you understand it, the better is for you.
    It took me years and numerous ” encounters” to fugure out all that .
    But as a young child, I was unfortunate enought to be born into a member of a minority group, in an X country, deep radical south, where the majority belonged to a rival “x” sect . I recollect the years of fear, as I walked to my school alone , being thrown pebbles at, otherwise harrased and called “kafir”, people looking at me as an “outsider”, someone to be resented.
    Even after all these years, whenever I have nightmares, for some reason it always happens in those streets. Despite the fact that I have changed many cities , countries, places, but these place is engraved deep into my mind.
    I could never understand at that age what “kafir” meant, but by the look on their faces I realised it was a grave insult.
    I could never understand why I was being hated, but I realised I had to escape and find other , friendlier streets to go to my school, even though they were much further on.
    I could never understand why the neighbours kept their doors shut to my mother, wether there was a funeral or a wedding ,or some other parties, why weren’t we welcomed into their houses, why were their men looking at us, girls of tender ages like they were plotting something…
    But it must have been the reason why one day, my father, who’s biggest fear in his life was how could he, a frail father of 7 young beautiful daughters protect us againg being raped or kidnapped , if one day there was any confrontation. Which made him one day to take us all and move to another city.
    I could go on telling some other ugly, unpleasant situations or encounters I had with “the others”, but over the years I realised that hatred will only “corrode” my soul, that there are always the “good people and the bad ones, and I leant not to focus on the “ugly ones” .
    “Write your wounds on the sand, so that its washed away, and write the good deeds of other people on the stone, so you won’t forget”.
    Because I met really nice people among them , along the years, and made friends with .
    I know that maybe deep whithin our hearts we both think differently of each other’s believes, but we also understand that we BOTH have the right to live, and that’s to my mind the only solution.

  8. I would add another cause: the urge to use superlatives in debate. Disagreements between too many Muslims – layman and scholar alike – veer quickly to accusations of kufr, shirk and bida.

    In the UK we study persuasive techniques from a young age. One technique is when you emotionally bully the opposition. A modern non-Muslim example would be the way hijab is condemned as a ‘symbol of oppression’. Muslims quickly descend to defending their point of view by accusing their opponents of uttering heresy. This type of bullying in a Muslim country carries grave consequences. One might even say accusing someone of uttering heresy is tantamount to inciting violence.

    This is not just a Muslims weakness. Dangerous superlatives in debate lurk everywhere in the developing world. It stems from base human instincts to crush the enemy by whatever means available.

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