By Seyyid Huseyn Nasır

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Debates and sometimes confrontations continued in the various religious sciences between Shī‘ite and Sunni positions, dialogues that played no small role in the development of religious thought in both 14 ISLAM worlds. However, despite periods of Sunni-Shī‘ite political, and sometimes military, confrontation and the exploitation of these differences by Western powers that began to colonize the Islamic world in the eleventh/seventeenth century, Sunnis and Shī‘ites have also lived in peace in many climes and times.

In fact, it stands diametrically opposed to uniformity. When one looks at the Islamic world today, one sees several major ethnic and cultural zones with their own subdivisions but unified in their attachment to the Islamic tradition and composing in their totality the Islamic ummah. The Global Distribution of Muslims and Zones of Islamic Civilization Most people in the West automatically identify Muslims with Arabs. Today, however, Arabs compose about a fifth of the world Muslim population. But they remain of central importance in the ummah because of their historical role in the Islamic world; their language, which is that of the Quran; and the significance for all Muslims of the sacred sites of Islam that lie within the Arab world, especially the cities of Mecca and Medina, in the Hejaz in present-day Saudi Arabia, and old Jerusalem, which was historically in Palestine but has been occupied by Israel since 1967.

As for Ismā‘īlism, it had major political manifestations earlier in Islamic history, especially with the establishment of the Fā timids, who ruled a vast area from Tunisia to Syria, with . their base in Egypt, from 297/909 to 567/1171. Turning to Zaydism, its power base became Yemen, where its followers ruled until the invasion by Egypt in 1962. Shī‘ism, however, must not be considered simply a political movement. Rather, Shī‘ism developed its own schools of law, theology, philosophy, and other religious sciences, including methods of Quranic exegesis.

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Islam - Religion, History, and Civilization by Seyyid Huseyn Nasır
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