Dialogue between Shia and Sunni

Shia-Sunni sectarian conflicts have been a feature over most of Muslim history, and they have closely linked to the competition for power. It was this that led Syed Amir Ali (writer on Islamic history and society) to remark in his book, The Spirit of Islam, "Alas! That the religion of humanity and universal brotherhood should not have escaped the internecine strife and discord; that the faith which was to bring peace and rest to the distracted world should itself be torn to pieces by angry passions and the lust of power".

Shortly after the death of the Prophet of Islam (PBUH), the early Muslim society was divided on the question of succession to the position of leadership of the community. A small group believed that the function must remain within the family of the Prophet, and backed 'Ali', whom they believed to have been designated for this role by appointment (ta'yin) and testament (nass). They believed that the spiritual heritage bequeathed by Mohammad (PBUH) devolved on Ali and his lineal descendants. Hence, they repudiated the authority of the jama'at (the people) to elect their leader.  They became known as his 'partisans' (shi'ah). On the other hand, the majority agreed on Abu Bakr as the leader on the assumption that the Prophet left no instruction on this matter. They gained the name 'The People of Prophetic Tradition and consensus of opinion' (ahl al-sunnah wa'l-jama'ah).

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