Hardly a day goes by without news of sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims. In both Iraq and Syria, extremist Sunni ISIS forces have been fighting governments which are predominantly Shia. In Pakistan, sectarian attacks are now so common that they hardly make the news any more; and in the UK, the two communities have become polarized as a result of these international tensions.
Yet, even though the division between the two main branches of Islam is nearly as old as the faith itself, most people know little about how it began, or how different the beliefs and practices of both groups are today.
In this programme, Kristine Pommert seeks a Shia perspective on these questions from Sheikh Mohammed al-Hilli, a Shia researcher and lecturer. Born in Baghdad, he has lived in Iran and the UK and is a strong advocate of Shia-Sunni understanding.
He explains how the two groups went their separate ways over the succession to the Prophet Muhammad, and why the particular reverence Shias have for the family of the Prophet (known as the Ahlulbayt) means that they understand some aspects of Islamic law and practice differently.
Listen to the counterpart to this podcast, The Great Divide: A Sunni Perspective, featuring Cambridge scholar Tim Winter, here.