THAT BIBLE-QUR'AN CONGRESSIONAL CONTROVERSY
No doubt you've been following the story of Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, and his desire to take his oath of office using the Qur'an instead of the Bible. Ray Hanania is a fellow member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists with me and an interesting Arab commentator -- and comedian. For something a little different on this subject, I thought you might be interested in Ray's take on the Ellison controversy.
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FACTORING IN RELIGION IN IRAQ
As you also know, the primary three factions fighting for control of Iraq are the Sunnis, the Shias and the Kurds (who are mostly Sunni, also). The Saddam Hussein regime represented oppressive Sunni control of a largely Shia country. The Kurds mostly control their own area in the northern part of Iraq.
(A photo disclaimer: The picture you see here today is not from Iraq. Rather, it's the Mosque of Muhammad Ali -- no, not that Muhammad Ali -- at the Citadel in Cairo, sometimes called the Alabaster Mosque. I took this photo when I was there in 2002, and in many ways to me this building represents Islam worldwide.)
Well, with all of that as background, I thought today it might be helpful to give you some resources to help you better understand the Sunni-Shia split in Islam. There are a few theological differences between them, but the split isn't so much theological as it is rooted in an ancient disagreement over who should have been the proper successor to the Prophet Muhammad as the leader of Muslims. Sunnis today make up 85 to 90 percent of the approximately 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide while Shias represent 10 to 15 percent. (For an interesting Shia site, click here.) A third path in Islam is known as Sufism and is considered the mystic approach.
First, for a general introduction to Islam from an Islamic perspective, click here. A section here called "Introduction to Islam" has some brief basic information about the differences between Sunnis and Shias. Another introduction is Islam, also from an Islamic perspective, can by found by clicking here.
As regular readers of this blog may know, I'm reluctant to provide many links to Wikipedia because it's a source known for occasional inaccuracies. But the Wikipedia link on Islam seems pretty decent. I suggest you pay special attention to Section 5, which outlines the Sunni-Shia split and offers some thoughts on historical relations between the two branches.
One of the more helpful academic sites is from the University of Georgia. It devotes quite a bit of space to understanding Shias and Sunnis.
Fordham University also has a useful site. If you go there, scroll down to "Islamic Faith and Theology" under "Contents."
There are dozens of books that can be helpful, too. Let me just name two relatively recent ones: Understanding Islam: An Introduction, by C.T.R. Hewer, and The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity, by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Another excellent scholar of Islam is John L. Esposito. Try his book, What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam, or Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, or Islam: The Straight Path.
I hope the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group has drawn on the expertise of religious scholars so that its report is not blind to how religious realities affect what is happening in Iraq and how things might go better there. We'll see. After we get a chance to read what was releaseed today, in fact.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.
P.S.: I'll be giving the sermon at an Advent service at 7 o'clock tonight at Old Mission United Methodist Church on Shawnee Mission Parkway in Fairway, Kan. The service will be a joint gathering of Old Mission, St. Agnes Catholic Church, Roeland Park United Methodist Church, Southridge Presbyterian Church and Westwood Christian Church. Please come if you're interested.
P.P.S.S.: At the instigation of one of the regular readers of this blog, a small group of the folks who often leave comments here gathered for a meal and some discussion the other night. What a fascinating group of folks. Patricia, whose idea this was, brought along Michelle, a reader just back from living in Egypt. Keith was there, along with Kansas Bob and his wife. Howie showed up, as did "openmind" and his fiancee. And D.A. joined us a little late but in time for some great talk. My bride Marcia was the photographer. If the group gathers again, please join us.