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Theology Matters

posted Jan 7, 2016, 2:26 PM by First Baptist


The Middle East has long been a powder keg that seemingly could explode at any moment. Typically, we think in terms of Muslim versus Jew, or Muslim versus Christian. But, most of the problem in the Middle East is Muslim versus Muslim, specifically Shiite versus Sunni Muslims.


The situation became especially perilous last Friday when the government of Saudi Arabia (which is Sunni) executed 47 Islamic militants, including a prominent Shiite cleric. In response, protesters ransacked the Saudi embassy in Shiite-dominated Iran. This prompted the Saudi government to break off all diplomatic relations with Iran.


The situation remains very tense.




There are two major branches within Islam – Sunni (85% of the world’s Muslims) and Shii (15%). Shii Muslims are largely confined to the nations of Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon; Sunni Muslims are dominant everywhere else. (By the way, Muslims represent the majority population in 57 countries worldwide.)


The division between Sunni & Shii goes back to the death of Muhammed in 632 AD.


Muhammed had not named a successor, so two major factions were formed. The majority of Muslims believed that Muhammed should be succeeded by his right hand man, Abu Bakr. This faction came to be called Sunni, or followers of the Sunnah (example) of the Prophet.


The other faction, much smaller, believed that Muhammed should be succeeded by his closest male relative – i.e., a son-in-law named Ali. This faction became known as the Shii, or Party of Ali.


The two factions fought each other and Ali was eventually assassinated. Nevertheless, both factions endured, with the Shii faction existing throughout the centuries as an oppressed and disinherited minority within the Muslim world. Significant resentment has built up over the years.


Current Situation


As you might expect, the Shii minority is heartened (and emboldened) by the ascension of Iran as a regional and soon-to-be nuclear power, putting the Sunni world on edge. Historically, the United States has sided with the Sunnis, but our recent deal with Iran appears to signal a new direction. The situation is very unstable at the present time and a regional war could easily break out at almost any moment.


As Christians, operating out of a biblical worldview, we understand that theology matters. The Shiites have adopted an apocalyptic version of Islam and are motivated by the desire for a world-wide caliphate. I’m afraid this is a struggle that isn’t going away until God’s purposes for it have been realized.


Pastor Dan