How has the "schism" ( the split between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam) shaped Islamic history?

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farouk23 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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The Islamic schism occurred as a result of a civil war and internal squabbling over the right to succession in the early Islamic empire. After the death of the prophet Mohammad in 632 CE, the Islamic empire was ruled by a relative quick succession of three caliphs. All the caliphs were in one way or the other either related to the prophet Mohammad or were among his earliest companions. The final caliph Ali was the cousin and son in law of the prophet Muhammad and was the preferred designated successor of the prophet. Ali was deposed and assassinated by rivals within the empire, this incident coupled with assassination of both his sons Hassan and Hussein is what eventually led to the Sunni/Shia split. The followers of Ali and his sons become what is now known as the Shia and the followers of the rebel group became the Sunni. Prior to the split and for a significant period after the split, there were no particular differences in the religious or political practices of the two groups.  Over time significant ideological and political differences emerged that have had a profound impact on the course of Islamic history. These differences all stem as a result of the civil war and argument over who was the rightful successor to the prophet Muhammad. The consequences and results of the Sunni/Shia split include but are not limited to:

  1. Ongoing inter-communal violence and conflict – in countries throughout the Islamic world, especially Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, Pakistan and Afghanistan there is ongoing and constant violence between Sunni/Shia.
  2. Weakening of the Islamic Empire – the split between the Sunni and Shia meant that neither group was strong enough to cope with the pressures of foreign invaders. The Crusaders were able to take advantage of the weakness caused by the split and later on the Mongol Empire exploited this fault.

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