The war in Middle East began much earlier than is generally recognised.

The conflict actually began in the year 632 A.D. with the death of the Prophet Mohamed. The same is true of the violence, tension or oppression currently gripping the Muslim world from Iraq and Iran, though Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan. What most of the crucibles of conflict in the Middle East have in common is that Sunni Muslims are on one side of the disagreement and Shia Muslims on the other. Oman is just an exception because its Sunni and Shia residents are outnumbered by a third sect, the Ibadis, who constitute more than half the population.

In many countries, the Sunni and the Shia are today head-to-head. The division between Sunni and Shia Muslims is the oldest in the Middle East and yet it is one which seems increasingly to be shaping the destiny of this troubled region as thousands of devotees from both sides pour into conflict zones. The rift between the two biggest Muslim factions emerged because of controversy that who should succeed the Prophet Mohamed as leader of the emerging Islamic community.

In those days in Arab society often succession would pass to the leader’s son. But Prophet Mohamed had no son, only a daughter Fatima. And his inheritance was spiritual as well as political. The majority of his followers thought his closest associate, Abu Bakr, should take over. They became the Sunnis. But a minority Shia thought the Prophet’s closest relative, his son-in-law and nephew Ali, should succeed.

So if we go to the grass roots of this conflict Shia-Sunni divide it’s of political nature rather than religious one. For centuries, Sunnis and Shias have lived closely intertwined with one another to a degree without parallel elsewhere in the world. The Sunni Ottoman Empire and Shia Safavid Empire experienced their share of conflict but they also lived peacefully alongside one other for hundreds of years even considering it shameful to engage in conflict with one another as Muslim powers. In many countries across the region it has become common for members of the two sects to intermarry and pray at the same mosques. As a legacy of this co-existence today the greatest seat of learning in Sunni Islam al-Azhar University in Cairo also teaches Shia theology as an integrated school of thought even recognizing Shia Islamic laws as the fifth school of Islamic law.

A remarkable example of Sunni–Shia cooperation was the Khilafat Movement which swept South Asia following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the seat of the Caliphate, in World War I. Shia scholars “came to the caliphate’s defence” by attending the 1931 Caliphate Conference in Jerusalem. This was despite the fact they were theologically opposed to the idea that non-Imams could be Caliphs or successors to Muhammad, and that the Caliphate was “the flagship institution” of Sunni, not Shia, authority.

The two Islamic sects share common traditions, beliefs, and doctrines. All Muslims, whether Shia or Sunni, believe that the Prophet Muhammad was the messenger of Allah. All believe that they must abide by the revelations given to the Prophet by Allah as recorded in the Quran and by the hadith sayings of the Prophet and his companions. Sunni and Shia are purely monotheistic they believe in only one god, Allah. Both Sunnis and Shias believe that the body of Koranic laws (called sharia) supersedes worldly laws.

Sunni and Shia Muslims all embrace the Five Pillars of Islam, five core acts that are considered essential to commitment to the faith. These include the declaration of belief in Allah as the one true god and of his one prophet Muhammad (shahada), daily prayer (salat), charitable deeds or alms giving (zakat), ritual fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (sawm) and a pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj). Surely some differences between two sects exits like- doctrine, ritual, and law but they are not major ones.

As these kind of differences exist in every religion of the world like- In Christianity we have sects like- Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestant, Buddhism is followed in different manner by Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana, and in Hinduism various school of thoughts like-Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism exits. But in modern history any other religion sectarian divide is not as deadly as Islam has witnessed.

It’s a need of the hour that religious leaders from both Shia and Sunni sects should do some introspection and try to bridge the wide gulf between the Muslims. Theological differences between Shia and Sunni are old and are better left for God to judge, as He knows best and has said in the Quran that He is the final judge of religious disagreements.

The killing of anyone just on the basis of Shias or Sunnis will not resolve these disputes. Shia-Sunni unity can prove a big step to finish the terrorism in the world. Shia and Sunni Muslim scholars in the past have long engaged in dialogue and influenced the religious thought of one another for centuries, blurring the already largely superficial distinctions between the two communities. It’s high time that these religious dialogue should be reintroduced so that sectarian violence which is going on across the Middle-East can be stopped. If Islam is to continue as a constructive social phenomenon it is important that this deadly sectarian divide of Shia and Sunni should be curtail down and all the followers of Prophet Mohamed should give shape to a new Islamic society which is based on integration and harmony.

(The author is a columnist for Middle-East and Af-Pak region and Editor of news agency Views Around News and its geo-political division ViewsAround can be reached at manishraiva@gmail.com)