What is the difference between Shia and Sunni muslims?

This neat explainer finds that Sunni muslims are:

  • After the death of Prophet Muhammad, the supporters of Abu Bakr, a friend of the prophet became Sunnis. They make up 80% of muslims today.
  • While both follow five pillars of Islam, Sunnis rely on Prophet and his teachings (the sunna), which is why Shias accuse Sunnis of dogmatism.
  • Sunnis consider Shias to have committed heresy (see below).

Shia muslims are:

  • After the death of Prophet Muhammad, the supporters of Ali, Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, became Shias (short for “shiaat Ali”, partisans of Ali).
  • While both follow five pillars of Islam, Shias rely on their ayatollahs (first 12 of whom were direct descendants of Ali) as the reflection of God on Earth. (This is what Sunnis consider heresy).
  • Mindful of their minority, Shias have mostly chosen to remain at peace with the Sunnis, unlike the sectarian violence that occurred among the Christians.

Religion and intelligence

More than 400 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, Greek playwright Euripedes wrote in his play Bellerophon, “Doth some one say that there be gods above? There are not; no, there are not. Let no fool, led by the old false fable, thus deceive you.”

Euripides was not an atheist and only used the word “fool” to provoke his audience. But, if you look at the studies conducted over the past century, you will find that those with religious beliefs will, on the whole, score lower on tests of intelligence. That is the conclusion of psychologists Miron Zuckerman and Jordan Silberman of the University of Rochester and Judith Hall of Northeastern University, who have published a meta-analysis in Personality and Social Psychology Review.

New meta-analysis checks the correlation between intelligence and faith,  Ars Technica, 11 August 2013.

This story set the news agenda that day. It received over 150,000 reads and 600 comments in just one day. It was then picked up by The Independent, Yahoo News, Huffington Post and Daily Mail.

Image credit: Sebastian Bergmann

The role of religion

Ever since I took the time to explore my own religious views, I’ve been rewarded with more and more questions about life. One that haunted me for quite sometime was: how to explain (concisely) the role of religion in our society?

So I tried. This is what I came up with: some people find it too hard to find meaning in life. Religion gives them one. And then they find meaning may be from scriptures, idols, stories, community or something else that being religious provides.

This is perhaps too simplistic an explanation. While I came to this conclusion on my own, I am not the first one to do so. Here’s Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow:

As people move through life, passing from the hopeful ignorance of youth into sobering adulthood, they sooner or later face an increasingly nagging question: “Is this all there is?” ……Traditionally, the problem of existence has been most directly confronted through religion, and an increasing number of the disillusioned are turning back to it, choosing either one of the standard creeds or a more esoteric Eastern variety.