Saturday, December 4, 2010

What Is the Difference Between Sunni, Shiite and Sufi Muslims?

Almost 100 people were killed recently when a suicide bomber targeted Shiite Muslim pilgrims in Pakistan. Closer to home,
a Sufi cleric's plans to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero have ignited controversy that seems inextinguishable.

Clearly Islam is not monolithic. But what are the differences within the religion, and how deeply do they run?

Although the majority of Muslims are Sunnis, Shiites are the majority in Iran and Iraq, where they were persecuted by
Saddam Hussein. The schism between the groups dates to 632, when a controversy arose over the successor to Muhammad.

The Sunnis believe that Muhammad did not designate a successor. But the Shiites believe he did: his cousin and
son-in-law, Ali. They also believe that Ali's authority was usurped by the first three caliphs: Abu Bakr and Umar ibn
a-Khatab, both fathers-in-law of Muhammad, and Uthman ibn Affan, also a son-in-law. Unlike Ali, none of the men were
blood relatives of Muhammad. This was a point of contention for Ali's supporters, who believed that the succession should
be hereditary.

After Uthman's assassination in 656, Ali became leader, but discord erupted into civil war. He fought and defeated
opponents, one of whom was Aisha, Muhammad's third wife and Abu Bakr's daughter.

After Ali's assassination in 661, Sunni caliphs regained power for more than 20 years. Ali's son, Hussein, fought them
and was killed by Sunnis at Karbala, in Iraq. Scholars say that his death, which the Shiites consider martyrdom, helped
transform a political movement into a religious one.

Shiites and Sunnis share the Quran but have different collections of the hadith, which are the traditions and deeds of
Muhammad. Shiites believe that the imams are the source for the hadith. Sunnis believe the hadith come from the Prophet's

Both groups have imams, but the word is defined differently. Sunnis use imam to refer to both local clerics and top
religious scholars. Among Shiites, the top religious scholars are called ayatollahs, not imams. In the Shiite tradition,
the imams were 12 individuals who, like Ali, were directly related to Muhammad. They were infallible and divinely guided.
Shiites believe that the last imam, Mahdi, who disappeared in 874, will reappear in the last days.

"Because the Shiites gave their imams a higher level of spiritual and political authority than the Sunnis did to the
other companions of Muhammad, the Shiite religious scholars have had greater authority in the lives of Shiites than Sunni
religious scholars have had in the life of Sunnis," says Robert J. Riggs, a visiting assistant professor of history at
Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

The sects use different sources to settle matters not directly addressed in the Quran or in the hadith. The Sunnis weigh
community consensus; the Shiites rely on the infallibility of the imams.

"For Sunni Muslims, since there's no real central authority, decisions about proper Islamic practice take place at a
local level," says Keith David Watenpaugh, an associate professor of modern Islam, human rights and peace at the
University of California, Davis. "[Shiite] Muslims have a top-down approach. They spend a lot of time training [religious
scholars], who go through rigorous years of instruction in law and theology."

Sufi, on the other hand, is a contemplative school of Islam that aims to develop an individual's consciousness of God
though chanting, recitation of litanies, music and physical movement. Practitioners belong to different tariqa, or
orders, that are described as "sober" -- restrained in religious practice -- or "drunk," open to achieving religious

"For Sufis, what's important is approaching the inner meaning of God through mysticism. They try to reach an
understanding of the hidden meanings of the world," Watenpaugh says. "They tend to be less wedded to an orthodox reading
of the Quran. As a consequence, they have an open relationship with other religions."

Sufis avoid politics because it "complicates their ability to contemplate God," Watenpaugh says. "They see themselves as
transcending labels, so the Sunni-[Shiite] thing is ... irrelevant."

Sources for this article include Islam: The Key Concepts, by Kecia Ali and Oliver Leaman; Muslims: Their Religious
Beliefs and Practices, by Andrew Rippin; and the CIA World Factbook.

Afi-Odelia Scruggs is a regular contributor to The Root

Is a White Barber Racist for Rejecting a Black Customer?

It's not as if we haven't heard this story before, folks. Black customer walks into a white hair-cutting establishment
and asks for service. White hairstylist-barber promptly turns customer away because the supposed professional cannot
manage "black hair." Drama ensues. It recently happened to a black doctor visiting the town of Bellows Falls, near the
New Hampshire-Vermont border. When he walked into the barbershop, the white barber lied and told him that the barber
wasn't in because, as the barber later admitted, he didn't have the "skills" to cut his hair. In situations like these, a
lot of people are of the mind that the black folks are dodging a bullet. Who wants people who don't know how to do their
hair jacking up their heads? My take: If I want service, I should get service -- even if someone struggles through the
job. I shouldn't be turned away because of the color of my skin or the texture of my hair. Now, if I'm given service and
it's not what I wanted, well, I should have known better. But that's my choice! It's America! The doctor felt the same
way. He wrote an op-ed in the Bellows Falls newspaper. And now all of those small-town New Englanders, 97 percent of whom
are white, are so scared that the world might consider them racist that they are picketing the barber, who apparently
dropped the word "Negro" several times when recounting his story. Smart.

Here's the moral of the story for white barbers and hairstylists of the world: Just do it. Even if you think you don't
know how. The consequences are often worse if you refuse.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thanks "Squashed"!

(Updated) Pros and Cons of the Healthcare Reform Bill

My previous list of pros and cons of healthcare reform has gotten a bit dated. I’ve updated it. Once again, I’ve attempted to keep it as simple and non-partisan as I can manage. Let me know if you think I have misrepresented anything or left out anything crucial.

A lot of people who don’t have health insurance will now have health insurance.
95% coverage of legal U.S. residents under 65 will be covered. Compare this with 83% and dropping now. This is an increase of 32,000,000 people. (Those over 65 are already covered by Medicare either way.)
Insurers will not be able to stop paying for people who are sick, even if they lose their jobs.
People who cannot afford health insurance won’t have to pay as much money for it. If you are particularly poor, insurance will be very cheap or even free.
People who are already sick will be eligible for healthcare.
Medicaid availability will expand significantly
Children will be able to stay on their parents’ insurance plan until they are 26.
Insurers must spend at least 80% of premiums on actual medical care.
There will be a federally regulated insurance marketplace that should make health insurance more portable.
The bill will reduce the deficit.
Medicare fraud will be cracked down on.
The prescription drug “donut hole” will be closed. (If you don’t know what that is, you will now never have to worry about it.)

Most of the bill won’t go into effect until 2014
For the first ten years, it will cost $94 billion a year on average. This is a bit less than the yearly cost of the Iraq War. Unlike the Iraq War, there are cost savings and tax increases to more than cover all of this expense.
The bill might increase the cost of health insurance in some states. This depends on whether the gains from increased efficiencies and increased competition are outweighed by the cost of providing additional benefits.
The Individual Mandate. You will have to either buy health insurance if you don’t have it or have a 2.5% tax increase. This insurance will be subsidized for most people—but there is no guarantee that the subsidy will suffice for your specific situation.
There will be a tax on very expensive health insurance plans.
There will be a tax increase on very high income people. If you are making more than $200,000 (or $250,00 for a family) your Medicare Payroll tax will increase and you will need to pay Medicare taxes on investment income.

Other stuff that might be good or bad, depending how you feel about things:
Increased government involvement in healthcare. Government already pays for huge amounts of healthcare—so this won’t be anything new.
The bill is abortion-neutral. There will be no federal money for abortion. It will also not have additional restrictions on it. Neither side gets everything it wants on this one.
Additional regulation on insurance companies. This might increase costs. It will increase quality.
Doctors will have increased access to information about what treatments are most effective for their cost. If two treatments work equally well and one is cheaper, doctors can recommend that one. This was almost universally considered a good thing until a few years ago, but some people have started criticizing it lately.
Large employers will have to offer health insurance all of their employees or pay a fee.
Medicare Advantage plans will get less federal money. They will still get the money normal medicare patients get. So the Federal government will still be giving extra money to private insurance companies—but it won’t be giving them as much extra money.
In the long run it will (hopefully) reduce medical costs. Rising medical costs are the main reason the long-term budget projections are so alarming. Something has to be done. Unfortunately, this bill might not do enough. While there will definitely be some savings, it’s not clear that they will be as transformative as hoped.
There will not be a public option for people who want it.

I think we’ve moved beyond the part of the debate where people are screaming about death panels, euthenasia, rationing of healthcare, forced abortion, one-child policy, and putting a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor. I don’t think I need to reiterate how none of that is in the bill. Additionally, Nebraska no longer gets special treatment in the reconcilliation bill.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


I don't understand...if no one likes Obama as President, then how did he get to be the President?! Did all these people forget they had the right to VOTE?