Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Sunni-Shia divide and the future of Islam

APM's Speaking of Faith frequently airs reruns of old shows and then republish them in the podcast feed also. This week the interview Krista Tippett had with Vali Nasr was published again. Last year I wrote about this issue and here is the review once more:

In the latest edition of Speaking of Faith, Krista Tippett speaks with Vali Nasr, Islam expert in the US or Iranian descent. (The Sunni-Shia divide and the future of Islam) Nasr and Tippett delve into the divide between Sunni and Shia that make up a 90 and respectively 10% of Muslims in the world. However, this division is not evenly dispersed. In Iran 90% are Shia and in Iraq 60%. Elsewhere Shia are a minority by far, if existent at all. (transcript, full interview)

Little attention is awarded to what makes up the divide and what are the cultural and historical differences. What Nasr has come to speak of is the effect on the world that the regime change in Iraq has. Iraq had been ruled by the Sunni minority, but American intervention has brought a fledgling democracy a majority rule. Not only does this mean for Iraq, the Shia suddenly find themselves in power, it also enhances the power of Iran, the previously only Shia ruled state. It also brings the Shia influence into the Middle-East, into the Arab world and has put Shia power on the map for the whole world, Muslim or not. Where Shia was formerly unknown or ignored, it has become a power to reckon with. And where Shia people accepted their submissive position, the idea is rising that political power is an availability for them.

The change in Iraq was triggered by force, because the Americans, as Nasr with tangible disappointment continues to point out, thought they could fast-track Iraq to western society. However, as impossible as it is to fast track any development in whole countries, let alone cultures, the power change has only revealed and unleashed old fashioned tribalism. In spite of that, no more and no less, Islam on the whole is struggling with modernity. In Nasr's mind, modernity will eventually find its way in to Islam, but not for another 60 or 100 years.

More Speaking of Faith:
Wangari Maathai,
Rumi,
The story and God,
The Buddha in the world,
Doubt.
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