MALAYSIA - The rift between the followers of the Sunni and Syiah groups in the Islamic world stemmed from a disagreement over who should govern the then fledgling Muslim state following the death of Prophet Muhammad, whom Muslims believe was the last Prophet.
Explaining the differences between the two groups, the Institute of Islamic Understanding's (IKIM) Centre for Economics and Social Studies Senior Fellow Dr Mohd Farid Mohd Shahran said the original dispute was merely political in nature but it later widened into a schism.
Following the death of the Prophet Muhammad, some supporters of Saidina Ali bin Abu Talib - the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law - questioned the appointment of Abu Bakar as-Siddiq, a Companion of the Prophet, as the Islamic empire's first Caliph.
"They felt betrayed because they believed Ali was more deserving, but at that time the dispute was political in nature and could possibly have been reconciled," said Farid.
The term Syiah literally means the group or sect sympathetic to and supportive of Ali.
Sunni or Sunnah Wal Jamaah, meanwhile, means "followers of the Prophet's teachings who are the righteous majority in the Muslim community".
Ali would later become the fourth Caliph. For Sunnis, the first four Caliphs - Abu Bakar, Umar bin al-Khattab, Uthman bin Affan and Ali - are commonly referred to as "The Rightly Guided Caliphs".
The discontentment of Ali's followers, however, widened over the centuries and the movement later developed its own doctrines and rituals, some of which many Sunnis, including those in Malaysia, find objectionable.
Farid says these include the Syiah practice of striking their heads with swords, beating their chests or flagellating themselves to express their grief and devotion on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Saidina Hussein bin Ali.
Hussein was the grandson of the Prophet and the son of Saidina Ali. He was murdered in Karbala, Iraq, following an uprising against the Caliph Yazid bin Muawiyah.
There are competing versions of certain events in the killing of Hussein.
The episode consolidated the Syiah opposition towards the established Islamic state leadership and marked a divisive split between the Syiah and Sunni.
There is also the Syiah practice of placing a small clay tablet on the prayer mat when performing prayers, with the tablet made of soil from Karbala.
"Another Syiah practice is the shortening of some of the five daily prayers.
"The facility is known as jamak, which to Sunnis are only allowed for travellers who meet certain strict criteria," said Farid.