Translated from Hebrew by SallyZahav with permission from the author.
Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.
This week, on the tenth of the month of Muharram, the first month of the Hijri calendar, is Ashura, which at first was akin to the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, occurring on a similar date. However, over the years, this day has become a memorial day for Hussein bin Ali, leader of the Shi’ite sect, who was executed by the army of the Sunni regime in southern Iraq in the year 680 CE, 1333 years ago. He was decapitated and his head was ceremoniously brought to Damascus as proof that the deed had been carried out. Caliph Yazid bin Muawiyah placed Hussein’s head on his table and left it there for a month, so that all could see the fate that befalls a rebel and would be deterred from behaving as he did. The fact that Hussein was the grandson of Mohammad the prophet of Islam did not prevent the caliph from treating Hussein’s head in this manner.
What is the cause of the Shi’ite-Sunni conflict? Why the terrible cruelty that has been characteristic of this conflict even until today?
The story begins in the year 632, the moment that Muhammad died. Immediately upon his death the struggle began over who would succeed to the most powerful position in Islam – the office of Caliph, Muhammad’s replacement and the leader of Islam. Ali bin Abi Talib was Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, since he was married to Fatima, daughter of Allah’s messenger and his first wife, Hadija. Fatima bore to Ali two sons, Hasan and Hussein, and two daughters – Zainab and Umm Kulthum.