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In Islam, the struggle for control among the leaders began right after Muhammad’s death (632 AD). Unfortunately, the Prophet made no written will, and his choice about his successor was left to speculation, or—more correctly—to ferocious disagreement, since in Islam there is no separation between political and religious leadership, and stepping into the footsteps of Muhammad meant enormous temporal power. Thus, from the outset, violent struggle ensued for the caliphate between Muhammad’s deputies. The major contenders were Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law (husband of Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima) and Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s father-in-law (the father of the Prophet’s nine year old wife, Aisha). Resulting from this conflict, the Muslims split into two main divisions, the Shias and the Sunnis. The followers of Ali (the Shias or Shiites) wanted to keep the position of the caliphate hereditary, while the supporters of Abu Bakr (the Sunnis) maintained that blood relationship was not necessary for holding the office. These two parties and their allies created a bewildering number of separate groups within both major branches of Islam.

The patroness of the Sunnis, Aisha became a widow at 18, and remained childless. After Muhammad’s death she helped her father, Abu Bakr, become the first caliph. Even after her father’s death, she consistently opposed the succession of Ali, the husband of Fatimah, Muhammad’s only daughter from his first wife, Khadijah. Thus, the split between the Shias and the Sunnis may be traced to the jealousy of the Prophet’s child bride.
The True Imam
The bone of contention in the Islamic world