Have you come to learn about the divide between the Sunni and Shiite? You've come to the right place. :)
Background:


Sunnism is the largest branch of Islam, about eighty- five percent of the Umma, or community of Islam, consider themselves Sunni Muslims. The word Sunni is a shortening of ‘ ahl al-sunna wa'al-jamaa’, an Arabic word which means ‘the people of the prophetic tradition and community’. This refers to the Sunni reverence for the Sunna, a gospel- like description of the actions of the Prophet Muhammad, as well as the Quran, a collection of Muhammad's teachings.
Shiism, is another major faction of Islam, while smaller than Sunnism (Shiites make up about ten percent Muslims worldwide) there is a Shiite majority in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon. there are also a sizable number of Shiites in Pakistan, East Africa, and India. After the death of Muhammad, the Shiites claimed that Muhammad's son-in-law, Ali, was the only one one qualified to be Caliph, or ruler, of the Muslim empire. The Shiites believe that only Ali's (and therefore Muhammad's) direct descendants are qualified to lead the Umma and they refuse to accept the legitimacy of anyone else.
Sunni Muslims believe that anyone willing to according to rule Islamic law, regardless of genealogy, is eligible to be Caliph. Also, while a Caliph is important, he should not hold all the power. In Sunni orthodoxy, the Caliphate, or community of all Islamic leaders, is more significant. Finally, Sunni Muslims believe that the Ulama, or scholars, are the real keepers of the Islamic tradition, and therefore more powerful than the Caliph AND the Caliphate.
However, recently the importance of the ‘Legal Schools’ in which Sunni Muslims were originally educated has broken down, and there number of schools able to educate the Ulama in the specifics of Sunni tradition is dwindling. Sunnism, which has always been grounded in intellectualism, is “In a crisis of Identity.”(Paige)

The disagreement over succession caused a riff in the Islamic community. The Sunni/ Shiite schism created a major divide in the Umma around 660.
While both groups accept the primacy of the Quran as a holy book, Shiites believe that the Quran was created by God and is eternal and infallible, whereas Sunni’s believe the Quran was made by humans, and is not eternal.


Iskander, John. "Sunnism." Facts in File. Facts on File Inc. Web.

Page, Willie F. "Shiism." Http:www.fofweb.com/NuHistory/default.asp?ItemID=WE49&NewItemID=True. New York: Facts on File, 2005. Facts On File. Web. <http://http:www.fofweb.com/NuHistory/default.asp?ItemID=WE49&NewItemID=True>.

THE CONFLICT:
Conflict arose between the Shiite and Sunni when the question of who would rise to power came up. Many Islamic people prefer practicing Sunni as opposed to Shiite. The Shiite Islamic community believes that Ali, son-in-law to Muhammad, and his descendants are the rightful rulers to the Islamic community overall. The Shiites are a minority in Islam, although they have been known to make significant contributions to the culture of the world. The Shiite are prosecuted by the rest of the Islam world for practicing their sect religion. According to the Sunni Islamic community, however, the prophet Muhammad did not leave a successor. The Sunni and Shiite both believe in Muhammad, but their differences occur when the topic of who should rule over the Islamic community comes up. The Shiites and Sunni also differ in their views on Islam because they believe differently in how the community learns what is right and wrong. The Sunni believe that the community learns right and wrong from the Qur’an. The Shiite, however, believe right and wrong are learned from the imam, or the leaders of their community. The Sunni and Shiite have been fighting over this decision for a new leader since the time of their previous leader, Ali’s death. What are the Shiite and Sunni to do?

Masters, Bruce. "Shi'ite Islam." Facts On File Online Databases. Modern World History Online. Web. 02 Apr. 2010. <http://www.fofweb.com/NuHistory/default.asp?ItemID=WE53&NewItemID=True>.
Masters, Bruce. "Sunni Islam." Facts On File Online Databases. Modern World History Online. Web. 02 Apr. 2010. <http://www.fofweb.com/NuHistory/default.asp?ItemID=WE53&NewItemID=True>.


For more information, check out these websites:
http://hnn.us/articles/934.html
http://www.fofweb.com/NuHistory/default.asp?ItemID=WE53&NewItemID=True




What is Happening Today:
85 percent of Muslims in the world today are Sunnis. The remaining 15 percent are Shiites, who rule Iran and form majorities in Lebanon and Iraq. Throughout history, Sunnis have largely held the status as the superior class. They have held the majority of political power, even in countries with overwhelming Shiite majorities. Shiites have long been subject to second-class citizenship and in some cases down right oppression. This disparity in status is the main cause of Sunni-Shiite conflicts today. The tension between the two is rooted in the different religious beliefs that go back to the death of Muhammad in 632 CE. However, today the tensions have morphed into a fight for political power. “Sunnis and Shiites are fighting for a secular prize: political domination” (Ghosh). This point can’t be made any clearer than by looking at Iraq today. Sunnis and Shiites aren’t political factions trying to make their beliefs dominant. Instead, they are communities trying to gain or regain political power.

Muslim's_Map_of_Distribution.jpg
The distribution of the Sunni-Shiite Population


Ghosh, Bobby. "Behind the Sunni-Shi'ite Divide." Time Magazine. 22 Feb. 2007. Web. 5 Apr. 2010.

"The Unending Feud: Shi'ites vs. Sunnis." TIme Magazine. 17 Aug. 1987. Web. 5 Apr. 2010.