Sunni-Shia divide in the UK

With many Islamic Societies at British universities mostly under Sunni leadership, the sectarian divides so bitterly apparent in much of the Middle East between the Sunni majority and the Shia minority are making themselves felt here in the UK.

The two main branches of Islam emerged following the death of the Prophet Muhammad, in 632, and a battle for influence across the Middle East between mainly Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia-dominated Iran is involved in much of the conflict.

However a Sunni student believes that the bigger divides in the UK are within Sunni Islam, rather than between Sunni and Shia. “I don’t necessarily know if the tensions have spilled over from the Middle East, as essentially that’s 1,400 years’ worth of disagreement,” she says.

At Leicester Central Mosque, Dr Ather Hussain al Asri – a Sunni Imam and writer – also believes that the increase in tensions here is caused by a particular strand of Sunni Islam. “Wahhabism is very small in terms of its numbers, but unfortunately in terms of finances, Wahhabi Islam is very strong in this country and that is because they are getting direct funding from the Middle East.

“So what they lack in numbers, they are making up for it in terms of organisation. Unfortunately, they are operating in universities and through social media, and they prey on the vulnerability of our youth.”