Streams

Alawites to Yazidis: A Guide to Religious Communities in the Middle East

Friday, August 22, 2014

Iranians shout slogans during a protest against the Sunni Arab militants offensive led by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq on June 24, 2014 in Tehran. (ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty)

The divide between Shiites and Sunnis plays an important role in the current politics and turmoil in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. On this week’s Please Explain we’ll learn about the differences—and similarities—among the many religious communities in the Middle East. Zachary Lockman, Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and History at NYU, explains the power struggles in the Middle East and discusses Syria, Saddam Hussein, Yasar Arafat, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, the Kurds, and ISIS.

 

Guests:

Zachary Lockman

Comments [22]

Andre Oliveira from Portugal

Hi,

Just wanted to say that I loved this show. It helped me a great deal to differentiate religious groups in the middle east.

Good luck for the show.
Andre

Sep. 08 2014 03:12 PM
RonCharles from Arizona

One has to be extremely careful about attributing characteristics of peace, tolerance and benevolence to all Muslim groups in history. They did not even show these traits to each other a great deal of time.

At the battle of Karbala, most of the important male members of Mohammed's family were killed by the Umayyads. When the Umayyads were overthrown, the Abbasids proceeded to slaughter most of the male Umayyads in turn.

As a reward for their treason in opening the gates of the capital city of the Visigoths in Spain to the Moors, Jews were given special privileges by the Muslim conquerors. These were maintained by the fleeing Umayyads who took over Spain. However, the later more-fundamentalist Almoravid and Almohad regimes persecuted both Christians and Jews, and launched pogroms against them. Many Jews, then, fled to the more-tolerant, Spanish Christian kingdoms to the North.

The Almohads had already put the male members of the previous Almoravid dynasty to the sword, and their oppression of the Christians and Jews in Spain helped turn both groups against them and strengthen La Reconquista.

From just this brief sketch, one can see that things are a lot more complicated than what is falsely portrayed about Islam in our popular media. It has never been the perfect religion of peace that so many have been led to believe.

Aug. 23 2014 05:07 AM
Observer

Prof. Lockman noted that historically, Jews fared far better under Muslim rule than under Christian rule. Mr. Lopate pointed-out that this changed (radically) at some point during the twentieth century.

Incredibly, I heard no mention of what is clearly the primary, overwhelming reason for this radical change: the advent of Zionism.

How could a factor so critical be completely overlooked?

(Fear of offending Zionist supporters of WNYC, perhaps?)

Aug. 22 2014 02:33 PM
Bijan from NYC

Yazid being the most despised person in Shia history, somehow became the name of the so called yazidis. It is believed they were originally called "izadis". Izad being the Zorostrian god of the pre-Islamic Iran(Persians). This may have either been done by Saddam or the Sheiites!

Aug. 22 2014 02:18 PM
Iris Tarafdar from New Jersey

Saying that Baha'i Faith is an offshoot of Islam is like saying that Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism. Rather it is an independent religion and Baha'u'llah claims that he is the promised one who brings the teachings from God for the unification of all mankind. He did not bring a teaching just for the people of Iran or the middle east but rather a teaching for all mankind. It's pivotal teachings is the oneness of God, the oneness of all religions, and the oneness of mankind. The teachings he brought deal with the time in which we live. Check it out!!!

Aug. 22 2014 02:05 PM
Amy from Manhattan

WB: Like most things, it's not that simple. Muslims ruled Spain for nearly 800 years, & conditions weren't the same that whole time, or throughout the whole country. There were long times when it was much as described.

Aug. 22 2014 02:02 PM
vtip from New Jersey

I find it hard to lend credence to so-called experts who can't seem to be bothered to make the effort to learn to pronounce words, particularly proper nouns (Shi'ia, Sun'ni, Sufi'i, and so on), in languages upon which the subject matter, of which they proclaim expertise, rests! The current guest is point in case.

Aug. 22 2014 02:02 PM

Wow, what a great segment! So clear and concisely explained for an even more complicated story than I imagined! More of this, please!

Aug. 22 2014 02:01 PM
Amy from Manhattan

But the members of the Alawi "trinity" aren't considered to be divine like the Christian trinity, right?

Aug. 22 2014 01:57 PM
Lucienne from New York

Isn't Shari'a consistent as to the status of people of the book (Jews and Christians) and polytheists and how they should be treated?

Aug. 22 2014 01:54 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

The concept of "saint" came down from the Jewish belief that there are a handful of "tzaddikim" or people so good, and so just, and so exceptional and beloved by God that they may even sometimes be able to practically create miracles. So the "tzaddik" or "holy man" became "saint" in Greek and Latin I suppose. And in Catholicism saints are proposed and then possibly accepted by the Pope and Church hierarchy if there is sufficient evidence of the goodness and holiness of this candidate for sainthood.

Aug. 22 2014 01:54 PM
WB from ny

can you talk about the Alevi persecution in Turkey, and what is the relationship to Alawites

Aug. 22 2014 01:53 PM
pliny from soho

where does the Mahdi fit in?

Aug. 22 2014 01:50 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Lenny

There simply was no vilayet (province) or sanjaq (district) called "Palestine" in the Ottoman empire. This geographic area was divided into four administrative districts from 1516 till its defeat in 1917. The geographic label "Palestine" was used by Europeans and Americans and others but not by Arabs nor Ottomans until the 20th century. When the British gained control they restored the name Palestine to the area but it usually referred to Zionist Jews. But when the Jews became Israelis in 1948, the others had to give themselves a national identity, and so the name "Palestinian" was hijacked to generally mean any non-Jew from that region.

Aug. 22 2014 01:49 PM
WB from ny

Islamic Spain was not the fabled land of tolerance that the professor and other's claim. During the dynastic change, fundamentalist cam from Syria and Iraq to impose strict sharia law all the way back then. This made the Reconquista necessary for the Christian Nobles.

Aug. 22 2014 01:49 PM
Linda Griggs from LES

Can you please ask about Muslim saints? How does that work? Are they folkloric or canonized or what?

Aug. 22 2014 01:40 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Islam was initiated by an Arab prophet and its holy book is written in Arabic and few non-Arab Muslims actually read the Quran very much. Eighty percent of Muslims are non-Arabs and don't really relate much to the jihadist doctrines in Islam, just as most Christians don't relate very much to the Old Testament written in Hebrew. They just accept Islam as a basic monotheistic religion with certain moral precepts. Very few are interested in strict Sharia.
Just as most Jews have little interest in Halacha, the body of Jewish law developed over the centuries by the rabbis, 80% of today's Jews don't relate to most of it. Only the raw basics if anything.

Aug. 22 2014 01:39 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Islam was initiated by an Arab prophet and its holy book is written in Arabic and few non-Arab Muslims actually read the Quran very much. Eighty percent of Muslims are non-Arabs and don't really relate much to the jihadist doctrines in Islam, just as most Christians don't relate very much to the Old Testament written in Hebrew. They just accept Islam as a basic monotheistic religion with certain moral precepts. Very few are interested in strict Sharia.
Just as most Jews have little interest in Halacha, the body of Jewish law developed over the centuries by the rabbis. Just the raw basics if anything.

Aug. 22 2014 01:38 PM
WB from ny

Sunni Islam is on a whole less tolerant than any other version of Islam. Violence and fundamentalism are built into this religion, persecution was a feature of Sunni Islam since conception. "Moderate" simply means observant. The Hadith is a guide to oppress and purge decent from Muslim lands.

Aug. 22 2014 01:29 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

The problem started in 636 AD at the Battle of Yarmouk:

wikipedia-

"The Battle of Yarmouk was a major battle between the Muslim Arab forces of the Rashidun Caliphate and the armies of the Eastern Roman Empire. The battle consisted of a series of engagements that lasted for six days in August 636, near the Yarmouk River, along what today are the borders of Syria-Jordan and Syria-Israel, east of the Sea of Galilee. The result of the battle was a complete Muslim victory which ended Byzantine rule in Syria. The Battle of Yarmouk is regarded as one of the most decisive battles in military history,[5][6] and it marked the first great wave of Islamic conquests after the death of prophet Muhammad, heralding the rapid advance of Islam into the then Christian Levant."

Aug. 22 2014 12:42 PM
sanych

Question:

Is cutting someone's head off with a dull knife a religious or a cultural practice? What is its significance?

I know the answers, but I would like to double-check with an expert.

Aug. 22 2014 11:07 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Please discuss the Catholic and Orthodox groups in the Middle East, they were driven out of Syria and Iraq but the irresponsible media never mentions them.

Aug. 22 2014 09:33 AM

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