What every American should know about the Middle East

By Daniel Miessler on March 30th, 2008

middle_east

Basics

1.

Shia Muslims are similar to Roman Catholics in Christianity. They have a strong clerical presence via Imams and promote the idea of going through them to practice the religion correctly. Sunni Muslims are more like Protestant Christians. They don’t really focus on Imams and believe in maintaining a more direct line to God than the Shia.
2.

People from Iran are also known as Persians, and they are not Arabs.
3.

Arabs are Semites. We’ve all heard the term anti-Semitism being used – often to describe Arabs. While antisemitismJews, the word “Semite” comes from the Bible and referred originally to anyone who spoke one of the Semitic Languages.
4.

According to the Bible, Jews and Arabs are related [Genesis 25]. Jews descended from Abraham’s son Isaac, and Arabs descended from Abraham’s son Ishmael. So not only are both groups Semitic, but they’re also family.
5.

Sunni Muslims make up most of the Muslim world (roughly 90%). 1
6.

The country with the world’s largest Muslim population is Indonesia. 2
7.

The rift between the Shia and Sunni started right after Muhammad’s death and originally reduced to a power struggle regarding who was going to become the authoritative group for continuing the faith.

The Shia believed Muhammad’s second cousin Ali should have taken over (the family/cleric model). The Sunni believed that the best person for the job should be chosen by the followers (the merit model) and that’s how the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, was appointed.

Although the conflict began as a political struggle it now mostly considered a religious and class conflict, with political conflict emanating from those rifts.

Sunni vs. Shia | Arab vs. Non-Arab

Here’s how the various Middle Eastern countries break down in terms of Sunni vs. Shia and whether or not they are predominantly Arab. Keep in mind that these are generalizations; significant diversity exists in many of the countries listed.

*

Iraq Mostly Shia (roughly 60%), but under Saddam the Shia were oppressed and the Sunni were in power despite being only 20% of the population. Arab.
*

Iran Shia. NOT Arab.
*

Palestine Sunni. Arab.
*

Egypt Sunni. Arab.
*

Saudi Arabia Sunni. Arab.
*

Syria Sunni. Arab.
*

Jordan Sunni. Arab.
*

Gulf States Sunni. Arab.

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