If I were a Muslim, would I be a Shiite or a Sunni?

But now you all know my love of counterfactuals.  Vali Nasr writes:

…what separates Shiism from Sunnism is not so much the divergences in practice as the spirit in which Islam is interpreted.  First, whereas Sunnism took shape around belief in the writ of the majority and the legitimating power of communal consensus.  Shias do not put much stock in majority opinion in matters of religion.  Truth is vested not in the community of believers but in the virtuous leadership of the Prophet and the descendents.  Whereas Sunnis have always placed greatest emphasis on the Islamic message, Shias have also underscored the importance of the vehicle for that message.  Some have explained this difference by saying that Sunnis revere the Prophet because he relayed the Quran to Muslims, whereas Shias reverse the Quran because the Prophet relayed it [TC: to this non-specialist, this seems like an exaggeration of the difference on the Shiite side; here comes the qualifier though…].  Although most Shias stop short of holding such a view, there is no doubt that more extreme Shias have subscribed to it, and that Shiism places great emphasis on the prophetic function in tandem with the Islamic message.

That is from Vali Nasr’s The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future.  This is the most informative non-fiction book I have read in at least a month; I learned something — or at least thought I did — from every page. 

Addendum: Here is a good article on Islam and capitalism in Turkey.


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