2015 Explanatory Reporting, Small Newsroom finalist

InfoGuide: The Sunni-Shia Divide


About the Project

Sunni and Shia Muslims have lived peacefully together for centuries.Struggles between Sunni and Shia forces have fed a Syrian civil war that threatens to transform the map of the Middle East, spurred violence that is fracturing Iraq, and widened fissures in Gulf countries. Growing sectarian clashes have also sparked a revival of transnational jihadi networks that pose a threat beyond the region. The Council on Foreign Relations has produced “The Sunni-Shia Divide,” an interactive guide, to explain the escalating tensions.

Tens of thousands of organized sectarian militants throughout the region today could trigger a broader conflict. Despite the efforts of many Sunni and Shia clerics to reduce tensions through dialogue and other counterviolence measures, many experts express concern that Islam’s divide will lead to escalating violence and threaten international peace and security.

Islam’s schism, simmering for fourteen centuries, doesn’t explain all the political, economic, and geostrategic factors that contribute to these conflicts, but it has become one prism by which to understand the underlying tensions.

The InfoGuide begins with a seven-minute overview video. The conflict is explained through visuals and b-roll, statements from world leaders, and expert analysis provided by Johns Hopkins’s Vali Nasr, Dean of the School of Advanced International Studies, author and scholar Reza Aslan, CFR’s Ed Husain, NPR’s Deborah Amos, Stimson Center’s Geneive Abdo, and Georgetown’s Bruce Hoffman, Director of the Center for Security Studies.

Interactive timelines chronicle the origins of the schism as well as recent sources of tension. Infographics offer demographic details about the divide , and a clickable chart depicts the branches of Islam. An interactive map shows majority-Shia and majority-Sunni countries and highlights hotspots where sectarian tensions are prevalent.

The InfoGuide also features resources for educators, including discussion questions that allow the guide to be used in the classroom.