Speaker's Bureau

The Rise of ISIS and the Sunni/Shiite Schism

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This presentation focuses on the differences between the beliefs and customs of Shiite Moslems in Iran and those of their neighbors, the Sunnis in Iraq. Focusing on the theoretical underpinnings of these two extreme branches of Islam, Dr. Williams discusses the historical changes which gave rise to ISIS in the light of the historical role of the Caliphate in the Middle East. Dr. Williams spent two years in Iran studying the language and customs of this 2500-year-old nation, and his Ph.D studies include Middle Eastern Folklore. He describes in detail some ancient Shiite traditions, such as their most famous holy day, Ashura, when mourners beat and cut themselves as part of a procession reenacting the death of Husein, a Shiite martyr.   Understanding the roots of this and other bleak customs together with the Zoroastrian new year celebration in which young men leap over fires to celebrate Spring helps us appreciate the differences between Western Christian customs and Muslim Middle Eastern ones. The discussion concludes with an overview of various terrorist groups and their allegiances.

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