In recent months, Palestine has been a major international news topic. With Israel’s relentless bombing and genocide of the Gaza region of Palestine, people around the world are coming together to gain insight into why these atrocities are being committed. What many people don’t know is that the majority of people who live in this region identify as Muslim. Specifically, they align with the Sunni branch of Islam. If you want to learn more about the religious customs and rituals of the Sunni people, take a moment to review these facts and gain more perspective. 

The Sects of Islam Separated Early

Unlike a religion like Christianity, where the separation of sects occurred hundreds of years after the initial founding of the movement, the division of Islam happened pretty quickly in its history. When the Prophet Muhammad died in 632 AD, there were two distinct groups of followers who wished to carry on the word of the Prophet. The two groups were known as the Shia and the Sunni. The Shia are aligned with the teachings of Ali, who was the son-in-law of Muhammad and considered to be his fourth caliph. Sunni believe in following only the traditional path of the Prophet. 

Despite having different beliefs, the two religious groups don’t always bump heads. In fact, there have been many periods of history where both groups work and exist in harmony. Unfortunately, there have also been plenty of conflicts between Sunni and Shia groups, as the history of Islam is quite complicated. 

The Sunni, the Shia and the Son-in-Law

While the main difference between Shia and Sunni groups is that the Shia follow the teachings of Muhammad’s son-in-law, the Sunni also respect these teachings. Ali ibn Abi Talib, the son-in-law, is considered an important figure in both groups. The Sunni acknowledge he was the relative and companion of Muhammad, but believe he was one of the Righteous Caliphs and not the first Imam, as the Shia believe. The caliphs are considered the rightful successors of Muhammad, meaning that the role is a vital one in both religious groups. 

Historically, caliphs ruled in succession across regions like Baghdad and Egypt. Unfortunately, the title was officially abolished in the 1920s when the Ottoman Empire fell and was replaced by the Turkish Republic. 

The Sects and Marriage

An interesting misconception that many Westerners have about the Sunni denomination of Islam is that members of the group are not allowed to marry those who identify as Shia. This is actually not true. While there are a number of different interpretations of Islamic law, it was agreed by academics and lawmakers across denominations that a person’s sect of Islam should not dictate whether he or she could marry a member of another sect.

However, it is rare for people of different racial backgrounds to marry if they are members of different sects. Statistically, when people marry between sects, they are usually marrying a person who has a similar ethnic background. 

The Moderate View

Religious extremism typically makes headlines more so than the actions of everyday members of a faith. With Islam, many Westerners have preconceived notions about wars, bombings, and attacks based around intense religious beliefs. However, those who take matters to extreme levels make up a very small minority of the religion. According to data, the vast majority of people who identify as Sunni have very moderate political and religious views. However, the leaders who speak for the Islamic populations of the world often do so with more extreme points of view.  

The Future

When a certain region of the world makes the news, it is important to learn about the area and its history. By understanding how the Sunnis of Palestine live their daily lives and practice their religious beliefs, it becomes easier to humanize those who have fallen victim to violent conflict.

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