When the original Islamic prophet Muhammad died in the year 632, there was a dispute over the succession.
The early leaders of the Muslim nation were called Khalifat Rasul Allah, the political successors to the messenger of God. Some academics transliterate the term as Khalīfah.
Sunnis believe that Abu Bakr, the father of Muhammad’s wife Aisha, was Muhammad’s rightful successor and that the method of choosing or electing leaders endorsed by the Quran is the consensus of the Muslim community.
Shias believe that Muhammad divinely ordained his cousin and son-in-law Ali (the father of his grandsons Hasan ibn Ali and Hussein ibn Ali) in accordance with the command of God to be the next caliph, making Ali and his direct descendants Muhammad’s successors. Ali was married to Fatimah, Muhammad’s daughter from his wife Khadijah bint Khuwaylid.
The dispute intensified greatly after the Battle of Karbala, in which Hussein ibn Ali and his household were killed by the ruling Umayyad Caliph Yazid I, and the outcry for his revenge divided the early Islamic community.
[I encapsulated these details from Wikipedia. Learn more details here.]
And thus the dispute started over 1300 years ago and continues to this day.
The two main sects still hate each other sufficiently, at least at the power and leadership level, that they are willing to kill each other and innocent bystanders for it.
Today 87–89% of the world’s Muslims are Sunni and 11-12% are Shia.
Did we really believe that by toppling Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, by the way, in Iraq, one of the countries where the Sunni were actually a minority, we would once and for good solve the ancient dispute between the two Muslim sects? Bush and Cheney, with presumably access to the advice of the best experts on Islam in the world, did apparently not consider this situation sufficiently before they dismantled the power structure in Iraq and the surrounding region. All they did was stir up the powder keg.
Cheney recently remarked that by 2007 or 2008, they had pretty much sewed up the situation in Iraq.
This is history we’re talking about. Things don’t happen in a matter of days, weeks or even months. History sometimes takes years or decades or more to “resolve” situations. The Shia – Sunni situation has taken more than a millennium now. Do we really think they’ll come together now just because the imperialist United States would like them to?
While many Americans now blast Obama for passivity, I applaud him. He actually seems to understand that further meddling with a situation that we don’t even properly comprehend can not result in any satisfactory outcome other than more innocent dead, more American soldiers dead, more billions of American money (that we don’t have) spent, and more anti-American sentiment around the world. Finally, there would be more terrorism directed against the United States as the great Satan, fomenting religious zealotry and escalating world-wide terrorism as a result.
If the Middle East were not rich in oil, none of us would care about it. We would not even be able to point to Iraq on a map. Do you need proof? Point to Liberia or Namibia on a map.
Now that oil as a valuable resource is in decline and the world is rapidly (on a historic timescale) converting to renewable energies, we will see the Middle Eastern countries revert to feudalism and religious irrelevance. I predict it will take no longer than a couple of hundred years and nobody in the industrialized world will give a hoot about the difference between Sunni and Shia – and they will still be killing each other.
Thus are the benefits of religion to mankind.