The Sunni-Shi’i split in Islam refers to a disagreement of who should succeed as the spiritual authority of the Muslim community after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
The Sunni group believed that spiritual authority given by God ended with Muhammad as the final prophet, and political leadership should be determined through the consensus of the community. Today, Sunnis make up about 85 percent of all Muslims.
The Shi’i group believed that the prophet chose his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, and Ali’s descendants as his successors. Today, Shi’i Muslims live mostly in Iran, Iraq, parts of South Asia and parts of Europe and the U.S.
Ali Asani is Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures and Director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University. A scholar of Islam in South Asia, Prof Asani's research focuses on Shia and Sufi devotional traditions in the region. In addition, he is interested in popular or folk forms of Muslim devotional life, Muslim communities in the West and the role of the arts in promoting religious literacy.
Matthew Duss is a Policy Analyst at American Progress, where his work focuses on U.S. national security policy in the Middle East, with a concentration on Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Duss’ work also focuses on the issue of Islamophobia in the United States. He is a co-author of the Center’s 2011 report, “Fear, Inc: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” which tracked millions of dollars of funding for Islamophobic organizations in the U.S.
Carl W. Ernst is the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a specialist in Islamic studies, with a focus on West and South Asia. His published research, based on the study of Arabic, Persian, and Urdu, has been mainly devoted to the study of three areas: general and critical issues of Islamic studies, pre-modern and contemporary Sufism, and Indo-Muslim culture.
Hussein Rashid is currently a faculty member at Hofstra University and Associate Editor at Religion Dispatches. He is the convener of islamicate and a contributor to Talk Islam and AltMuslimah. He received an MA and PhD from Harvard’s Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. His dissertation focused on the role of music as a means of integration amongst South Asian immigrants to the US and the UK. His larger research interest is the representation and self-representation of Muslims in America. He is currently expanding his research to include graphic novels and the Muslim-American blogistan.
Omid Safi is an Iranian-American Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he specializes in Islamic mysticism (Sufism), contemporary Islamic thought and medieval Islamic history. He has served on the board of the Pluralism project at Harvard University and is the co-chair for the Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. He is also the author of Progressive Muslims, which contains a diverse collection of essays by and about Muslims committed to social justice and pluralism.