Sunni? Shia? Or Just Muslim?

sunnishiaWhat is a Sunni? What is a Shia? These two labels–which many still struggle to clearly define–have been used to explain some of the most violent confrontations in recent years. Now it seems that discussions on the conflict in Iraq, for example, require framing the discourse with the colorings of sectarianism. In the mainstream media, it seems that the explanation for all intra-religious fighting is solely the result of longstanding discord between these two main divisions of Islam.

Personally, I never thought of myself as anything but Muslim. I suspect many other Muslims also share that sentiment. It was only in high school that I even became aware of the division. I would give talks with my friends about Islam and the question “Are you Sunni or Shia?” started to come up. Of course, your family and community play a big role in what you come to know and how you know it. Since my family was of Sunni background, I was raised in that tradition. However, I was never taught to hate or harbor ill will towards the Shia. They were Muslims who shared much with Sunnis but had certain religious doctrines that we just agreed to disagree about. Continue reading



Regions & Themes


Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Russia

Eastern Europe/The Balkans

With strong ties to the historical Turkish-Ottoman Empire, the Balkan countries of Southeastern Europe contain several Muslim-majority states. Islam is the dominant religion in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo. Other Balkan countries with significant Muslim minority populations include Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro. Religious worship was generally prohibited in these countries until the collapse of the Soviet government in the 1990’s. Religion and ethnicity remain closely linked in these countries and discrimination and tensions continue to be reported. Continue reading