Here's Harpoon Siddiqui trying to explain the Sunni-Shia divide to know-nothing Toronto Star readers:
The Sunni-Shiite fault line is nearly always explained in religious terms. Shiites are followers of Imam Ali, a cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad who died in AD 632. Ali was passed over thrice and became only the fourth caliph. Shiites went on to develop a distinct identity and theology. Today, they are about 15 per cent of 1.3 billion Muslims. The majority are Sunnis — followers of the Sunnah, the way of the Prophet. Extremist Sunnis believe the Shiites are not quite Muslim.
Their clashes are "political" you say? Well, of course they are. But then, so is sharia law: it is both religious and political, since Islam does not separate the two. Their clashes thus arise from a desire to see their brand of sharia law--the only acceptable sort, as they see it--in the driver's seat In that sense, it's all about power--who has it and who wants it. (Odd how Harpoon pretends that it's a one-sided animus, and that "extremist" Shiites don't loathe Sunnis every bit as much as they are loathed, and as much as both Sunnis and Shiites loathe other Muslims, like, say, the Ahmadiyyas.)
Despite their differences, though, the two sects have lived mostly in peace. Their clashes have nearly always been political. So, too, in Pakistan, where the rise of sectarianism is dated to two events in 1979: the Islamic revolution in (Shiite majority) Iran and the Soviet invasion of (Sunni majority) Afghanistan...
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