A disagreement 14 centuries ago over Islamic leadership following the death of the Prophet Mohammed –whether it should be by merit or bloodline–divides a religion that will be world’s largest this century.
CHR Comment: Reporter Gregg Zoroya attempts to make the Sunni-Shiite conflict more understandable to western readers by comparing it to the conflicts that followed the Protestant Reformation. Both the Muslim conflict and the Christian conflict had issues of authority at their center and resulted in wars, which makes the different events comparable to some extent.
Zoroya points out that the conflict in Islam was over who would succeed the prophet Mohammed as a leader. In the Reformation, the conflict was different. Before the Reformation took place, the medieval church was developing the modern papacy and often conflicted with kings and councils over issues of authority . Martin Luther appealed to the Scriptures as the ultimate authority since popes and councils erred. When the papacy took offense at Luther’s teaching and concluded that he was harming the church, Luther and his supporters appealed for a council to address the issues. The papacy did not wish for such a counsel to take place, which would undermine papal authority by putting the Protestants and the papal supporters on equal footing. Ultimately, the papacy did call what we know today as the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which established the doctrine and practice of Roman Catholicism in distinction from Protestantism. Not long afterward, the European wars of religion arose (Thirty Years’ War; 1618-1648), which brought horrible devastation.
When reviewing religious history, it is important to note that conflicts often have their origin not in religion itself but in the varied interests of religious people. There are always political and economic factors that attach themselves to the spiritual issues.