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Two Sides of the Same Coin

For my second blog post, I chose to focus on the two principal sects of Islam, the Sunni and the Shi’a. As Professor Asani discussed in lecture, the Battle of Karbala and the subsequent martyrdom of Hussein, the son of Ali and the grandson of Muhammad is one of the most important events in Shia Islam. The first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram, marks an important time of commemoration and mourning for Hussein. The most important day of Muharram is known as Ashura when Umayyad caliph Yazid beheaded Hussein and killed most of his family. While observances of this event differ throughout the Islamic world, our lectures and readings focused on ta’zieh, a passion play re-enacting the Battle of Karbala originating from Iran. Ta’zieh is unique in how performers are able to evoke raw emotion from the audience, regardless of the number of times the play has been seen or that the participants are all aware of its ending.

The principle reason for these strong emotions is that Shi’ite Muslims consider Hussein to be part of Ahl al-Bayt and therefore the rightful successor of Muhammad after Ali. From the Shi’ite perspective, the Battle of Karbala was the prototypical conflict between good and evil, with Hussein representing good and Yazid evil. It is their belief that all those who are pious and righteous suffer in this world as suffering is ultimately redemptive and leads to salvation in the afterlife – a notion reflected in many other religions (consider the story of Jesus).

In discussing the importance of the Battle of Karbala, Professor Asani noted, “Sunni theology developed in the context of historical triumph and Shi’i in the context of worldly defeat”. My piece attempts to depict that while these two sects may have differing theological beliefs and religious practices, they are both part of the same religion and followers of Allah.


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