How Do Sunni and Shia Islam Differ?

January 4, 2016


How Do Sunni and Shia Islam Differ?








Saudi Arabia’s execution of the Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr could escalate tensions in the Muslim world even further. In the Shiite theocracyIran, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Sunday that Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, would face “divine vengeance” for the killing of the outspoken cleric, which was part of a mass execution of 47 men. Sheikh Nimr had advocated for greater political rights for Shiites in Saudi Arabia and surrounding countries. Saudi Arabia had accused him of inciting violence against the state.

Here is a primer on the basic differences between Sunni and Shia Islam.

What caused the split?

A schism emerged after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632. He died without appointing a successor to lead the Muslim community, and disputes arose over who should shepherd the new and rapidly growing faith.




Shiite pilgrims at the shrine to Imam Hussein in Karbala, Iraq, in December. Each year millions visit the city to mark Arbaeen, the end of the 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein, one of Shiite Islam’s most revered figures.
CreditEuropean Pressphoto Agency

After Ali also was assassinated, with a poison-laced sword at the mosque in Kufa, in what is now Iraq, his sons Hasan and then Hussein claimed the title. But Hussein and many of his relatives were massacred in Karbala,Iraq, in 680. His martyrdom became a central tenet to those who believed that Ali should have succeeded the prophet. (It is mourned every year during the month of Muharram.) The followers became known as Shiites, a contraction of the phrase Shiat Ali, or followers of Ali.

The Sunnis, however, regard the first three caliphs before Ali as rightly guided and themselves as the true adherents to the Sunnah, or the prophet’s tradition. Sunni rulers embarked on sweeping conquests that extended the caliphate into North Africa and Europe. The last caliphate ended with the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.

How do their beliefs differ?

The Sunni and Shiite sects of Islam encompass a wide spectrum of doctrine, opinion and schools of thought. The branches are in agreement on many aspects of Islam, but there are considerable disagreements within each. Both branches include worship


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Some believed that a new leader should be chosen by consensus; others thought that only the prophet’s descendants should become caliph. The title passed to a trusted aide, Abu Bakr, though some thought it should have gone to Ali, the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law. Ali eventually did become caliph after Abu Bakr’s two successors were assassinated.

Saudi Arabia and Iran, the dominant Sunni and Shiite powers in the Middle East, often take opposing sides in regional conflicts. In Yemen, Shiite rebels from the north, the Houthis, overthrew a Sunni-dominated government, leading to an invasion by a Saudi-led coalition. In Syria, which has a Sunni majority, the Alawite Shiite sect of President Bashar al-Assad, which has long dominated the government, clings to power amid a bloody civil war. And in Iraq, bitter resentments between the Shiite-led government and Sunni communities have contributed to victories by the Islamic State.

Correction: January 3, 2016
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the relationship between the Prophet Muhammad and Ali, one of his successors. Ali was the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, not grandson.

A version of this article appears in print on January 4, 2016, on page A6 of the New York edition with the headline: How Do Sunni and Shia Islam Differ?



Christian Praise

January 2, 2016


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Even as a kid, I loved great sports writing.

I commend this story to you.

Click above.


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Christian McCaffrey Dazzles as Stanford Runs Away With Rose Bowl Victory


Christian McCaffrey returning a punt 63 yards for a touchdown during the second quarter of the Rose Bowl.

CreditStephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Christmas Revolution

December 26, 2015


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The Christmas Revolution



BECAUSE the Christmas story has been told so often for so long, it’s easy even for Christians to forget how revolutionary Jesus’ birth was. The idea that God would become human and dwell among us, in circumstances both humble and humiliating, shattered previous assumptions. It was through this story of divine enfleshment that much of our humanistic tradition was born.

For most Christians, the incarnation — the belief that God, in the person of Jesus, walked in our midst — is history’s hinge point. The incarnation’s most common theological take-away relates to the doctrine of redemption: the belief that salvation is made possible by the sinless life and atoning death of Jesus. But there are other, less familiar aspects of Jesus’ earthly pilgrimage that are profoundly important.

One of them was rejecting the Platonic belief that the material world was evil. In Plato’s dualism, there was a dramatic disjuncture between ideal forms and actual bodies, between the physical and the spiritual worlds. According to Plato, what we perceive with our senses is illusory, a distorted shadow of reality. Hence philosophy’s most famous imagery — Plato’s shadow on the cave — where those in the cave mistook the shadows for real people and named them.

This Platonic view had considerable influence in the early church, but that influence faded because it was in tension with Christianity’s deepest teachings. In the Hebrew Bible, for example, God declares creation to be good — and Jesus, having entered the world, ratified that judgment. The incarnation attests to the existence of the physical, material world. Our life experiences are real, not shadows. The incarnation affirms the delight we take in earthly beauty and our obligation to care for God’s creation. This was a dramatic overturning of ancient thought.

The incarnation also reveals that the divine principle governing the universe is a radical commitment to the dignity and worth of every person, since we are created in the divine image.

But just as basic is the notion that we have value because God values us. Steve Hayner, a theologian who died earlier this year, illustrated this point to me when he observed that gold is valuable not because there is something about gold that is intrinsically of great worth but because someone values it. Similarly, human beings have worth because we are valued by God, who took on flesh, entered our world, and shared our experiences — love, joy, compassion and intimate friendships; anger, sorrow, suffering and tears. For Christians, God is not distant or detached; he is a God of wounds. All of this elevated the human experience and laid the groundwork for the ideas of individual dignity and inalienable rights.

In his book “A Brief History of Thought,” the secular humanist and French philosopher Luc Ferry writes that in contrast with the Greek understanding of humanity, “Christianity was to introduce the notion that humanity was fundamentally identical, that men were equal in dignity — an unprecedented idea at the time, and one to which our world owes its entire democratic inheritance.”

Indeed, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (blessed are the poor in spirit and the pure in heart, the meek and the merciful), his touching of lepers, and his association with outcasts and sinners were fundamentally at odds with the way the Greek and Roman worlds viewed life, where social status was everything.

“Christianity placed charity at the center of its spiritual life as no pagan cult ever had,” according to the theologian David Bentley Hart, “and raised the care of widows, orphans, the sick, the imprisoned, and the poor to the level of the highest of religious obligations.” Christianity played a key role in ending slavery and segregation. Today Christians are taking the lead against human trafficking and on behalf of unborn life. They maintain countless hospitals, hospices and orphanages around the world.

We moderns assume that compassion for the poor and marginalized is natural and universal. But actually we think in this humanistic manner in large measure because of Christianity. What Christianity did, my friend the Rev. Karel Coppock once told me, is to “transform our way of thinking about the poor and sick and create an entirely different cultural given.”

One other effect of the incarnation: It helps those of us of the Christian faith to avoid turning God into an abstract set of principles. Accounts of how Jesus interacted in this messy, complicated, broken world, through actions that stunned the people of his time, allow us to learn compassion in ways that being handed a moral rule book never could.

For one thing, rule books can’t shed tears or express love; human beings do. Seeing how Jesus dealt with the religious authorities of his day (often harshly) and the sinners and outcasts of his day (often tenderly and respectfully) adds texture and subtlety to human relationships that we could never gain otherwise.

Christians have often fallen short of what followers of Jesus are called to be. We have seen this in the Crusades, religious wars and bigotry; in opposition to science, in the way critical thought is discouraged and in harsh judgmentalism. To this day, many professing Christians embody the antithesis of grace.

We Christians would do well to remind ourselves of the true meaning of the incarnation. We are part of a great drama that God has chosen to be a participant in, not in the role of a conquering king but as a suffering servant, not with the intention to condemn the world but to redeem it. He saw the inestimable worth of human life, regardless of social status, wealth and worldly achievements, intelligence or national origin. So should we.

Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, served in the last three Republican administrations and is a contributing opinion writer.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on December 25, 2015, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: The Christmas Revolution. Today’s Paper|Subscribe


New Yorker Review of “Spotlight”

December 12, 2015


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I thank Lawrence Quilici for this link.

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  • Doing the Right Thing

    “Spotlight” and “Trumbo.”

    By Anthony Lane


Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Brian d’Arcy James play Boston Globe reporters in Tom McCarthy’s film.

Credit Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson

The title of the new Tom McCarthy film, “Spotlight,” refers to the investigative section of the Boston Globe. The main action begins in 2001, with the arrival of a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), lately of the Miami Herald. He has lunch with the head of Spotlight, Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton), who tells him, “We’re trolling around for our next story,” adding that a year or more can be spent on a single case.

Recently, the paper ran a column about a local priest who was charged with abusing children; Baron wonders if this was an isolated incident, or if there might be more to dig up. The movie, to put it mildly, has news for us: there’s more.

Robinson has a crew of three at his behest: Matty Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), a quiet family man with a mournful mustache; Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), pushy and restive, the kind of guy who will never stroll across a street when he can hustle and barge; and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams). Any film that can make McAdams look resolutely unglamorous is flashing its heavyweight credentials, and “Spotlight” gets bonus points for giving her a thrilling scene in which she struggles to load a dishwasher. The movie adheres to the downbeat and the dun, with cheerful colors banished from our sight. The exception is a youthful choir, chanting “Silent Night” in a church ablaze with the trappings of Christmas. Even then, we see Rezendes watching, with a sour expression on his mug, and clearly thinking, Are these kids safe?

He has a point. The film is a saga of expansion, paced with immense care, demonstrating how the reports of child abuse by Catholic clergy slowly broadened and unfurled; by the time the paper’s exposés were first published, in 2002, Spotlight had uncovered about seventy cases in Boston alone. (In a devastating coda, McCarthy fills the screen with a list of other American cities, and of towns around the world, where similar misdeeds have been revealed.) The telling of the tale is doubly old-fashioned. First, there are shots of presses rolling and spiffy green trucks carrying bales of the Globe onto the streets; we could be in a cinema in 1945. Second, the events take place in an era when the Internet still seems an accessory rather than a primary tool. As the journalists comb through Massachusetts Church directories, looking for disgraced men of God who were put on sick leave or discreetly transferred to another parish, we get closeups of rulers moving down lines of text. Don’t expect “Spotlight” to play at an imax theatre anytime soon.

On balance, this arrant unhipness is a good thing. So crammed are the details of the inquiry, and so delicately must the topic of abuse be handled, that a more intrepid visual manner might have thrown the movie off track, and one of its major virtues is what’s not there: no creepy flashbacks of prowling priests, or—as in the prelude to Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River”—of children in the vortex of peril. Everything happens in the here and now, not least the recitation of the there and then. You sense the tide of the past rushing in most fiercely during some of the plainest scenes, as Globe staffers listen to victims like Joe (Michael Cyril Creighton) and Patrick (Jimmy LeBlanc) explain what they underwent decades before. They are grown men, but they are drowning souls. Boldest of all is the brief appearance of Richard O’Rourke as Ronald Paquin, a retired priest, who answers the door to Pfeiffer and answers her questions with the kindliest of smiles. “Sure, I fooled around, but I never felt gratified myself,” he says, as if arguing the finer points of doctrine.

“Spotlight” comes across as the year’s least relaxing film, thanks to the attention that McCarthy and his fellow-screenwriter, Josh Singer, oblige you to pay. Consider one conversation between Rezendes and a lawyer named Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), about addenda to court documents. It’s so complex that you feel like pausing the action for a quick rewind, yet it has the crunch of truth, all the more so because Garabedian is sitting on a bench and eating from a plastic container while he talks. He’s been wading through the issue of pedophile priests, and of the secret legal settlements made by the Church in response, for many years, and Tucci—whose presence in any film, however grim its theme, is guaranteed to lift the heart—does a great job of showing how an obsession, especially a morally compelling one, can stifle a life. (“I never got married,” he says. “I’m too busy.”)

What matters most about Garabedian, though, is that he’s not paranoid, and the movie is uninfected by the noirish unease that drifted through “All the President’s Men.” Even the unseen caller who phones the Spotlight office, or the guy who arrives with a box of hoarded evidence, half-resigned to being dismissed as a crank, turns out to be right, and, as for the knock on the door that Rezendes hears one night, in the throes of the investigation, don’t expect a hooded figure standing on the threshold with a scythe. It’s only Ben Bradlee, Jr. (John Slattery), the deputy managing editor of the Globe, bearing a pizza.

If “Spotlight” feels dogged in its procedure, then why does it exert such command? Because, I think, McCarthy is tackling something more basic than paranoia—namely, pride of place, and the way in which it offers both an embrace and a choke hold. “Born and raised,” Robinson says, when asked if he’s from Boston, and the same rings true, throughout the film, for the hunter and the hunted: for the Spotlight squad, for the fund-raisers at a charity gala, and for the authorities at Robinson’s old high school (across the street from the Globe), who harbored an abusive cleric in their midst. And what of the paper’s subscribers, who are fifty-three per cent Catholic? Will they be willing to read of rot in the foundations? Paul Guilfoyle has a wonderful turn as a Bostonian grandee, confident that any unpleasantness can be smoothed away with a hand on the shoulder and a quiet drink. He’s not a monster, or a hypocrite; he’s a decent sort, oiling the wheels of society. To stop them turning, in the interests of justice, takes not only guts but imagination, and that is why Marty Baron, of all people—shy, taut, and humorless, in Schreiber’s clever portrayal—struck me as the hero of the hour. He is mocked for being, as one insider labels him, “an unmarried man of the Jewish faith who hates baseball,” but it is precisely his status as an outsider that allows him to initiate the quest. Folks in the Church, and elsewhere in the city, know what went on, yet they don’t really want to know. It’s all too close to home. Baron wants to know.


Thanksgiving message from SNAP — Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

November 26, 2015

SNAP is the engine that makes the Movement go and grow.


Happy Thanksgiving

November 26, 2015


I hope you and your loved ones have a very Happy Thanksgiving.


Please notice my new email address: frankjdouglas@gmail.com





November 23, 2015




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