Sunni Wahhabism vs. Shi’a Islam — Who foments the violence?

So who should the United States align itself with?


(INTELLIHUB) — It may be time for the United States to reevaluate its allies in the Middle East. The majority of the world’s Muslim population, some 85 to 90%, is Sunni. The rest of the Muslim population either follows a Shi’a interpretation of Islam or one of the smaller offshoot branches.

The elemental difference between Sunni and Shi’a Islam is based on interpretations of Mohammed’s successorship, subsequent to his death.

For the record, it should be noted that some people confuse Arabs with Muslims. Arabic is a language and individuals belonging to many different belief systems, including Muslims, Christians and those of the Jewish faith speak Arabic.

While the majority of Iran’s population is Shi’a they are not Arabs since the lingua franca in Iran is Persian.

Now that the ethno-linguistic variations are out of the way let’s examine a few very important fundamental differences.

Despite all of the saber-rattling between the Western world and Iran the majority of terrorism is committed by groups which align themselves with certain belief systems within Sunni Islam.

Ultraconservative Sunnis, often referred to as Salafists, adhere to a very fundamentalist view of Islam. The post-Ottoman Empire birth of Wahhabism occurred in the Najd region of Saudi Arabia. To this day the Wahhabist or Salafist movement sees its most popular support on the Arabian Peninsula.

Salafism is often used synonymously with Wahhabism. One of the basic tenets of Salafism or Wahhabism is the belief in a very strict form of Shari’a; the Islamo-Juridic framework which depicts non-Wahhabists as non-believers who should either be punished or “excommunicated.” This is referred to as a “Takfirist” philosophy. Takfirs are Salafists who see themselves as being empowered by the Shari’a to punish apostates or non-believers.

Many of the ultra-conservative Wahhabist or Salafist groups which follow their own fundamentalist interpretation of the Shari’a, opine that non-believers, those guilty of apostasy, should be punished with death (“Ultra-Takfirism”) for straying from the “true” path of Islam.

While “jihad” can be interpreted as an internal or mental battle against submitting to transgressions and temptations which run counter to the Islamic belief system (similar to worldly “temptations” in Christianity), the Salafist version of jihad allows those with a puritanical view to wage a physical and often violent battle against any transgressors engaged in apostasy.

Transgressors can include Sunnis who do not follow the puritanical, Wahhabist-Salafist interpretation of Islam, Shi’a Muslims, Christians, Jews or followers of any other religious faith.

Sunni Wahhabist/Salafists believe in proselytizing. They will actively try to force apostates through threats of violence and death to live according to their interpretation of Islam which actually runs counter to the more mainstream Muslim beliefs.

Now the Shi’a are a bit different, especially when it comes to the Iranians.

While both Shi’a and Sunni leaders have a tendency to lean in a fundamentalist direction, the Shi’a do not normally proselytize. There is no attempt to convert Sunnis to Shi’a Islam under penalty of death. Shi’a Takfirism is an oxymoron in all but the most exceptional cases. The second difference is that regardless of the hardline which the Iranian Shi’a leaders promote, the population is quite moderate and well-educated.

The Sunni population, which is subject to Wahhabi influence on the Arabian Peninsula, has a tendency to adopt the religious perspective and practices of their leaders and their level of education and literacy is much lower than that of the Iranian population.

This does not mean that the Iranians have clean hands in all matters. There are fundamentalist Shi’a groups as well — such as Hizb’allah.

There has also been widespread Sunni-Shi’a Violence in Iraq. But careful study reveals that deeply-seated divisions emanating from clan and territorial disputes are the true genesis for regional conflicts, instead of what appears to casual observers as conflicts rooted in religious differences.

During academic exchanges with colleagues I have suggested that Iran seems more preoccupied with fortifying its own borders, expanding its buffer zones via territorial acquisition and protecting Shi’a minorities in other Middle Eastern states, than forcing other religious groups to adopt its particular brand of Shi’a Islam.

Even if one does a per capita analysis of Sunni Salafist versus Shi’a terrorism across the globe those following the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam are responsible for the majority of the violence. Remember that the Shi’a also have adherents who maintain a fundamentalist view within their own brand of Islam but they are not engaging in multi-continental sprees of violence and terrorism.

Are the Iranian Shi’a invading Europe or are the majority of the refugees Sunni Muslims who maintain a Wahhabist interpretation of Islam? Who has stepped in to battle ISIS which is a Sunni Wahhabist group that unabashedly runs what equates to a Takfirist extermination program
Actions speak louder than words. Saudi Arabia steadfastly maintains that they are our allies, yet violent Sunni Wahhabism is funded by some of the Kingdom’s richest families. Iran arrogantly struts like a peacock, engages in questionable weapon systems development, but at the end of the day — which groups are fighting the massive wave of terrorism in the Middle East — which is presently overtaking Europe, other than the Russians and the Kurds?

So who should the United States align itself with? Did the Shi’a play a role in the 9/11 tragedy? Which Islamic groups are responsible for the lion’s share of terrorism, even if one utilizes a population/percentage based assessment?

Maybe it is time that the United States and the Western world took a few steps back in order to reassess who they maintain allegiances with. Lip service doesn’t save lives. Boots on the ground in order to quell the movement of the enemy does.

About the Author:

The author of this article, who prefers to use the nom de plume “XKeyscore” in order to maintain his anonymity, is a Doctoral Candidate and multiglot with two Master’s Degrees and a Baccalaureate specializing in Middle Eastern Studies. He holds one Master’s Degree specializing in Intelligence and Counter-intelligence operations, and a second Master’s Degree in Security Studies. XKeyscore has studied under a United States intelligence agency analyst and now-retired, high ranking, American military officers. XKeyscore writes exclusively for Intellihub News & Politics. Read more articles by this author here.