It is a mandatory religious duty for all Muslims, at least once in their life, to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Now that Saudi Arabia and Iran are on the outs, the Saudis have forbidden all flights linking their two countries. This alone has the potential of leading to further nastiness. Admittedly, Iranian pilgrims can still go by boat (and risk being robbed by Somali pirates) or by land (and risk being robbed by bandits).
I cannot help but think that the real reason for all this nastiness is the conflict in Yemen between Shi’a rebels (called the Houthis) and the Saudis and their allies. In the end, the Saudis may think now is the time to rid themselves of the Shi’a menace once and for all.
Now what is this Sunni/Shi’a split all about? According to the BBC:
In early Islamic history, the Shia were a movement – literally “Shiat Ali” or the “Party of Ali”. They claimed that Ali was the rightful successor to the Prophet Muhammad as leader (imam) of the Muslim community following his death in 632.
Ali was assassinated in 661 after a five-year caliphate that was marred by civil war. His sons, Hassan and Hussein, were denied what they thought was their legitimate right of accession to the caliphate.
Hassan is believed to have been poisoned in 680 by Muawiyah, the first caliph of the Sunni Umayyad dynasty, while Hussein was killed on the battlefield by the Umayyads in 681. These events gave rise to the Shia concept of martyrdom and the rituals of grieving.
There are three main branches of Shia Islam today—the Zaidis, Ismailis and Ithna Asharis (Twelvers or Imamis). The Ithna Asharis are the largest group and believe that Muhammad’s religious leadership, spiritual authority and divine guidance were passed on to 12 of his descendants, beginning with Ali, Hassan and Hussein.
The 12th Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, is said to have disappeared from a cave below a mosque in 878. Ithna Asharis believe the so-called “awaited imam” did not die and will return at the end of time to restore justice on earth.
In other words, the roots of the conflict go all the way back 1,400 years and show no signs of slackening.
It’s a sobering thought that we, who cannot even pronounce the name “Muawiyah,” may be affected in some way by this stramash.