The Shi'is also believe in martyrdom, Hussayn's intended and benevolent sacrifice being their way to salvation just as Jesus' is for the Christians. The Shi'is believe that God's words were brought to the world only by means of the Prophet and his inheritors, the twelve divinely inspired Imams, starting with Ali. The last one will reveal himself at the end of the world to bring justice in a world that is unjust starting with the appointment of the first of Muhammad's successors and relieve its people from oppression and suffering.
So, the differences and the similarities between the Shi'is and the Sunnis rely on the issue of succession at the leadership of the ummah after Mohammned's death. Mohammed's life accounts and his words are not contested by the shi'is, they are putting under discussion the rightfulness of the decision in flavor of one leader or another to follow Mohammed. The Shi'is view of leadership differed a great deal from what leadership meant starting with the caliph Abu Bakr and culminating with the death of Ali's son, Husayn, thus the later becoming a martyr. The Shi'is were completely against a total monarchy such as it was beginning to take shape under the Umayyads, in an incipient form and then it began to grow into a real monarchy under the Abbasid dynasty whose members first claimed to have Shi'i beliefs in order to replace the Umayyads and thus promising an Islamic state under the ruling of one of Muhammad's descendants.
Muhammand's teachings according to God's rule were in the spirit of equity and they were destined to reintroduce what was considered the right way to conduct one's life. Justice had its special place in his preaching and they were founded on compassion for the fellow humans. These rules are more like those of a political work from today and they were very much concerned with the pragmatic aspects of the community's life from this world. The Shi'is counterarguments to the leadership of their ummah after the prophet's death are strongly relying on this primordial social justice all the preaching of the divine inspired Mohammed also relied on it. Mohammed's successors were easily but firmly drifting away from those primordial rules and Ali's partisans eventually declared themselves totally separated from the rest of the Islamic world. In the Shi'is eyes, "Muslim rulers following 'Ali were illegitimate because they had usurped the leadership of the ummah from the Imams and governed unjustly"(Fuller and Francke, 2000).
The rightful leaders in the Shi'is' beliefs are perfect beings, without sin and preaching God's words, like the Prophet, through direct divine inspiration. They are the only humans that are able to bring and explain God's rules for the ummah on earth and even though they are of human descent, they are faultless beings and the twelfth Iamam, Muhammad al-Mahdi went into the great occultation at some point of his life and will reveal himself for the world at he End of Time. The leadership of the ummah in the Shi'is' point-of-view differs fundamentally from that of the Sunni beliefs. The Sunni leaders are chosen from among the worthiest of the faithful and they are elected to lead the Islamic community based on their qualities as followers of the Islamic rules. The righteous leaders from the Shi'is' point-of-view are only the descendents of Mohammad through his cousin and son-in-law Ali and his daughter, Ali's wife, Fatimah and they are human beings divinely inspired and their rule is based on direct communication with God through revelation.
The Shi'i and the Sunni beliefs regarding Islam start to part starting with the Prophet's death and they become pretty different in regarding the religion they share once Husayn was killed and became the martyr, a Messianic figure, a way for salvation.
Armstrong, K. Islam. A Short History. Phoenix Press. London.2003.
Fuller, G.I, Francke R.R. "Is Shi'ism Radical?" The Middle East Quarterly. March 2000. Volume VII: Number 1. Retrieved: Aug., 22, 2007. Available at http://www.meforum.org/article/35
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