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.
assassinate
Verb

to murder someone of political importance.

caliphate
Noun

spiritual and political Islamic leadership structure based around a caliph, or successor to the prophet Muhammad.

conflict
Noun

a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.

denomination
Noun

branch of a church or larger spiritual faith.

divine
Adjective

having to do with a god.

elect
Verb

to choose by vote.

emerge
Verb

to develop or come into view.

holy
Adjective

spiritually blessed or sacred.

Islam
Noun

religion based on the words and philosophy of the prophet Mohammed.

mosque
Noun

place of worship in the Muslim or Islamic religion.

permanent
Adjective

constant or lasting forever.

population
Noun

total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

prophet
Noun

person who delivers a message from a god to religious followers.

Quran
Noun

holy book of the Islamic religion.

schism
Noun

split or separation.

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