On January 24, 661, Ali ibn Abi Talib, simply known as Ali, was assassinated in the Great Mosque of Kufa, in what is now Iraq. Ali’s death would lead to a permanent schism in Islam, between the Sunni and Shia denominations.Sunnis and Shias have many more common beliefs than differences. Both believe in one god (Allah); daily prayers; charitable giving; one divine prophet (Muhammad); and one holy book (the Quran).Following Muhammad’s death, conflict emerged about who should lead the powerful spiritual and political caliphate. Sunnis wanted to elect independent leaders of the caliphate. In particular, they supported Muhammad’s friend and father-in-law, Abu Bakr, as the caliph to follow Muhammad.Shias supported Ali, Muhammad’s close friend, cousin, and son-in-law. In fact, the name “Shia” or Shi’ite” is a shortened form of shi’at Ali, or “party of Ali.” Shias believed the caliphate should be led by members of Muhammad’s family.Today, more than 75% of the world’s Muslims identify as Sunni. Shias, however, have larger populations in Iran and Iraq, and strong minority communities throughout the Middle East.
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry assassinate Verb
to murder someone of political importance.
spiritual and political Islamic leadership structure based around a caliph, or successor to the prophet Muhammad.
a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.
branch of a church or larger spiritual faith.
having to do with a god.
to choose by vote.
to develop or come into view.
spiritually blessed or sacred.
religion based on the words and philosophy of the prophet Mohammed.
place of worship in the Muslim or Islamic religion.
constant or lasting forever.
total number of people or organisms in a particular area.
person who delivers a message from a god to religious followers.
holy book of the Islamic religion.
split or separation.