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Sunni and Shia Islam

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 25 June 2009

Melvyn Bragg and guests Amira Bennison, Robert Gleave and Hugh Kennedy discuss the split between the Sunni and the Shia. This schism came to dominate early Islam, and yet it did not spring at first from a deep theological disagreement, but rather from a dispute about who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad, and on what grounds. The supporters of the Prophet's cousin Ali argued for the hereditary principle; their opponents championed systems of selection. Ali's followers were to become the Shia; the supporters of selection were to become Sunnis.

It is a story that takes us from Medina to Syria and on into Iraq, that takes in complex family loyalties, civil war and the killing at Karbala of the Prophet's grandson. Husayn has been commemorated as a martyr by the Shia ever since, and his death helped to formalise the divide as first a political and then a profoundly theological separation.

Amira Bennison is Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge; Robert Gleave is Professor of Arabic Studies at the University of Exeter; Hugh Kennedy is Professor of Arabic in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

  • Further Reading

    Kennedy, Hugh, The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates: The Islamic Near East from the 6th to the 11th Century (2nd ed.), (Longman, 2004)

    Rogerson, Barnaby, The Heirs of the Prophet Muhammad: And the Roots of the Sunni-Shia Schism (Abacus, 2006)

    Bennison, Amira, The Great Caliphs: The Golden Age of the 'Abbasid Empire (I B Tauris, 2009)

    Yann, Richard, Shi'ite Islam (Blackwell, 1995)

    Crone, Patricia, Medieval Islamic Political Thought (Edinburgh University Press, 2004)

    Momen, M., Introduction to Shii Islam (Yale University Press, 1984)

    Madelung, W., The Succession to Muhammad (Cambridge University Press, 1996)

    Afsaruddin, A., Excellence and Precedence: Medieval Islamic Discourse on Legitimate Leadership (Brill, 2002)

    al-Mufid, Shaykh (translated by I.K.A Howard), Kitab al-Irshad: Book of Guidance (Tahrike Tahsil, 1981)

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