“How do you pray?” Not that this has anything to do with Islam. Remember: this is all really about a “radical interpretation of Islam” that has “nothing to do with the religion.”
BAGHDAD — Whether a person is a Shiite or a Sunni Muslim in Iraq can now be, quite literally, a matter of life and death.
As the militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has seized vast territories in western and northern Iraq, there have been frequent accounts of fighters’ capturing groups of people and releasing the Sunnis while the Shiites are singled out for execution.
ISIS believes that the Shiites are apostates and must die in order to forge a pure form of Islam. The two main branches of Islam diverge in their beliefs over who is the true inheritor of the mantle of the Prophet Muhammad. The Shiites believe that Islam was transmitted through the household of the Prophet Muhammad. Sunnis believe that it comes down through followers of the Prophet Muhammad who, they say, are his chosen people.
But how can ISIS tell whether a person is a Sunni or a Shiite? From accounts of people who survived encounters with the militants, it seems they often ask a list of questions. Here are some of them:
What is your name?
A quick look at an Iraqi’s national identity card or passport can be a signal. Shiites believe that the leadership of Islam was passed down through the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali and his sons Hussain (or Hussein), Hassan and Abbas, among others. While some Sunnis and members of other Islamic groups may also have those names, ISIS would most likely associate them with the Shiites.
Where do you live?
In every city and province, even majority Sunni ones, there are enclaves that are known to be Shiite. People who said they came from one of those neighborhoods would most likely be killed.
How do you pray?
Shiites and Sunnis offer prayers in slightly different ways, with Sunnis generally folding their hands or crossing their arms in front of their stomachs and Shiites leaving them extended, palms resting on their thighs.
In a chilling video that appeared to have been made more than a year ago in the Anbar Province of Iraq, ISIS fighters stopped three truck drivers in the desert and asked them whether they were Sunnis or Shiites. All three claimed to be Sunni. Then the questions got harder. They were asked how they performed each of the prayers: morning, midday and evening. The truck drivers disagreed on their methods, and all were shot.
What kind of music do you listen to?
Recordings of religious songs could also be a tipoff. Similarly, even the ringtone on a person’s telephone could be a clue because it might be from a Sunni or Shiite religious song….