telling muslims apart
February 12, 2007 1:35 PM   Subscribe

Do shia look different than sunni?

If an iraqi (or american soldier) passed someone on the street would he be able to tell if they were sunni? Or is it just an abstract thing? How do you tell your enemy from friend?
posted by petsounds to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
No more than a Catholic looks different than a Protestant.

That's the problem with Iraqi factions. You can't tell just by looking, and an enemy isn't going to sit and discuss his religion with someone he's bent on driving out of the country at any cost.
posted by Saydur at 1:45 PM on February 12, 2007


No.

Sometimes names are telling (but not perfectly so). But no.
posted by zpousman at 1:53 PM on February 12, 2007


Not outwardly, no.
posted by divabat at 1:53 PM on February 12, 2007


But there are cues people use to tell, both Catholic/Protestant and Shia/Sunni. For instance, there are certain names that are more common in one than the other (Mary Margarets and Theresas are usually Catholic, Calvins and Luthers almost always Protestant; Ali is more commonly Shia name, while Omar is almost exclusively Sunni-identified.)
posted by katemonster at 1:58 PM on February 12, 2007


Good comparison, Saydur.... I was going to suggest that one cannot you can't tell a Yankee from a Redneck, but a little conversion goes a long way.
posted by Doohickie at 2:00 PM on February 12, 2007


The other thing to keep in mind is that Sunni Islam spreads over most of the world, so there are white-looking Sunnis, black-looking Sunnis, and what we might see as more "Middle-Eastern" Sunnis. Shias are spread as well, but are concentrated most heavily in the Iran/Iraw area. Here's a map. With Sunni Islam coming from regions as diverse as Algeria, Iraq, and Indonesia, it's highly unlikely there's a "Sunni look".
posted by ontic at 2:31 PM on February 12, 2007


katemonster writes "For instance, there are certain names that are more common in one than the other (Mary Margarets and Theresas are usually Catholic, Calvins and Luthers almost always Protestant; Ali is more commonly Shia name, while Omar is almost exclusively Sunni-identified.)"

I have a collateral question about this. Does the name Hussein fit into this pattern at all? I'd expect it to be Shia-identified, but it seems present, at least, in both groups.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:33 PM on February 12, 2007


Doohickie writes "...a little conversion goes a long way."

I tend to agree, but you'll probably have to plan on spending at least the afternoon there.
posted by JohnFredra at 2:57 PM on February 12, 2007


Does the name Hussein fit into this pattern at all?

No, it's popular among all Muslims. (Cf. King Hussein.)
posted by languagehat at 3:24 PM on February 12, 2007


Tangentially related... NPR is running an in depth story today on the what/why/when/how of the split.

At the very least it would seem to explain why Ali is a more commonly Shia name among other interesting tidbits.
posted by togdon at 4:26 PM on February 12, 2007


For those of you in Atlanta, GSU's Cinefest this week is running a 1976 film called "The Message" about Islam. Remaining screenings this week are Wed 11am and Fri 11am (yep, that's it).

Also, I got halfway through Stephen Kinzer's All The Shah's Men before getting derailed, but early in the book (pages 22-23 in my paperback edition, halfway into chapter 2) is the most fantastic description of Sunni vs. Shia I've ever read in 20 years of trying.
posted by intermod at 7:44 PM on February 12, 2007


Names are usually the best way. Followed by country of origin, if known. Iraq is rare in that it is one of the only middle eastern nations with such a large population of both.

Naturally they may not look any different, but that does not mean there are not cultural ways to tell them apart. Shia men are usually cleaner shaven. Smaller things like prayer style and posture are also telltale signs, though of course they are only apparent during prayer.
posted by chundo at 9:38 PM on February 12, 2007


See also
posted by chundo at 9:39 PM on February 12, 2007


As with many other things, generalizations are dangerous to rely upon. I'm shia, have a cousin named Omar, and certainly am not from Iran/Iraq (my family hails from South Asia). So while there may be statistical truth to some of the suggestions here, there are no absolutes.

By the way, an interesting stat I learned the other day is that 70% of Muslims are South Asia and S.E. Asia-- think India, Pakistan, and Indonesia. So while the Middle East has primarily majority Muslim nation states, the idea of what a Muslim looks like extends far beyond.
posted by ThinkNut at 11:14 PM on February 12, 2007


Something I just saw in an article on the BBC: "Long beards, traditionally associated with devout Sunnis, are out. Shia men keep beards much shorter." It has a few other ways people can try to pass, if they need to.

(Before I saw that, my response would have been that there was none).
posted by dilettante at 3:50 PM on February 13, 2007


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