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A Reconsideration of the Sunni-Shi’a Divide in Early Islam

A Reconsideration of the Sunni-Shi’a Divide in Early Islam

By Michael Bufano

Master’s Thesis, Clemson University, 2008

Abstract: The purpose of this thesis is to explain how and why many modern Twelver Shi’a, Sunni, and Western scholars have structured political and religious conflict during the formative era of Islam (610-945 C.E.) around a partisan Sunni-Shi’a divide that did not truly exist, at least as we know it today, until the sixteenth century. By analyzing the socio-political and economic developments from the time of the Prophet Muhammad (570-632) to the Abbasid Revolution (750), I intend to show that there was no clear line that divided Sunni and Shi’a Muslims during the formative era of Islam, and that the concepts of Sunnism and Twelver Shi’ism took centuries to develop into the theological, legal, and spiritual characteristics that we associate with the two main sects of Islam today. In other words, I intend to show that Twelver Shi’ism and Sunnism were the products of several centuries of theological and legal speculation. During the first two centuries of Islam, a diversity of religious and political movements clouded the line between Sunnism and Shi’ism. Moreover, many of the life stories of important “Twelver Shi’ite” and “Sunni” historical figures of the formative era also blurred the line between what we know today as Sunnism and Shi’ism.

Click here to read this thesis from Clemson University

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