CRN: Middle East expert Nasr explains the Sunni/Shia divide

The foundations of the deadly divide between the two great sects of Islam, the Sunni and the Shia, date back nearly 1,500 years to a period of time when Muslims disagreed as to who should succeed the prophet Muhammad following his dead as the leader of the faith. The Shia believed it should be Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law Ali (hence the name, Shiite, or literally the Shait-u-Ali or “supporters of Ali”). The majority of Muhammad’s followers supported Aub Bakr, Muhammad’s lieutenant, and believed that his leadership was more in keeping with the traditions of Islam (hence the name Sunni, followers of the sunnah or “traditions”). Sunni and Shia have been debating, arguing, and killing over this disagreement ever since.

Vali Nasr joins Coy Barefoot to discuss this divide and explain how westerners can hopefully make sense of the situation in the Middle East today. Nasr is the Senior Adjunct Fellow on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is also a professor of Middle East and South Asia Politics and Associate Chair of Research at the Department of National Security at the Naval Postgraduate School. Nasr’s new book is The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future.

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