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Middle Eastern Studies : Islam and its offshoots

Resources and content of interest for researchers and students of Middle Eastern Studies

Islam and its offshoots

Islam is divided chiefly into two sects: Sunnis and Shi'a. Sunnis believe that the traditional line of Caliphs after Muhammad was the correct one. Sunnis are the majority of Muslims today; most countries in the Middle East are Sunni (such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait,  Egypt, etc.) It is estimated that 90% of Muslims are Sunni. Most Shia's are from Iran (90-95% of Iran's population) and Iraq.

Shi'as, or Shi'ites, believe that Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad was the true heir of the faith. Countries that are predominantly Shi'a are Iran, Syria, and parts of Yemen and Iraq. The distinctions between the sects has led to conflict in the Middle East in the past, particularly between Saudi Arabia and Iran recently in their civil war over Yemen. 

Islam has other offshoots such as Sufism, Druzes and Ibadis. There are also smaller offshoots such as the Alawites, Ahmadiyya, and the Nation of Islam. All Muslims believe in the Five Pillars of the faith, they are: the Shahadah, which is the profession of faith, the salat (the 5 ritual prayers that Muslims do each day), the sawm (fasting), zakat (charity), and hajj (pilgrimage-every Muslim has to make a pilgrimage to Mecca).

Sufism

Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam, taking root a little after 900 AD, where believers often focus heavily on asceticism, leaving an impact on Islam with their rituals and devotional practices. They mainly identify as Sunni. 

Islamic Holidays

Al-Hijra: Islamic New Year, it marks the movement of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina.

Eid al-Adha: The most important feast in the Muslim calendar, it celebrates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son (Muslims believe it was Ismael, while Jews and Christians believe it was Isaac.

Mawlid: The celebration Muslims hold to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad's birthday.

Ramadan: a Holy month of fasting, it commemorates the time when the Quran was revealed to Muhammad, Muslims believe. Fasting during it is one of the five pillars of Islam.

Sunni and Shi'a

Ibadi Sect

Ibadism is a Muslim sect centered in Oman, and has practitioners also in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and East Africa. 

Druze

Druze is a religious offshoot of Islam, forming around 900-1000 AD. It is a mixture of Jewish, Christian, Islamic and Gnostic beliefs. There are around 1 million practitioners worldwide, mostly in Lebanon and Syria, with smaller numbers in Israel and Jordan.

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