For Educators

The Sunni/Shia Split in Iraq: What Does the Future Hold? – Background


The rift between the Sunnis and Shiites is over 1,300 years old. Despite the factions’ shared beliefs, which include the “oneness” of Allah (Islam requires its followers to hold the belief that there is only one God) and the annual hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca, their differences are great enough to sustain an ongoing sectarian schism. The conflict between the groups has particularly escalated in Iraq — a situation likely attributable to a number of factors — where Sunni-Shia violence is constant and seemingly unrelenting.

In this lesson, students examine the historic Shia-Sunni conflict to assess its present-day status in Iraq and determine how it might play out in postwar Iraq.

Grade Level:

Grades 9-12

This lesson is intended for high school grades, but can be adapted for middle school students.

Time Allotment:

Time frames accompany each activity.

Subject Matter:

Social Sciences (world history, geography)

Learning Objectives:

As a result of completing the lesson, the students will:

  • trace the origins of the Sunni-Shia relationship and conflict
  • determine and rank the factors that contribute to the current schism between the two groups in Iraq
  • predict the status of the Shia-Sunni relationship in postwar Iraq
  • list three concerns that the Sunnis and Shiites will have to address before they heal their rift
  • make suggestions on how they might begin to address these concerns


McREL: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning
Level IV (Grades 9-12)
4th Edition Standards & Benchmarks

World History

Standard 13: Understands the causes and consequences of the development of Islamic civilization between the 7th and 10th centuries
Standard 44: Understands the search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world


Standard 6: Understands that culture and experience influence people’s perceptions of places and regions
Standard 10: Understands the nature and complexity of Earth’s cultural mosaics
Standard 13: Understands the forces of cooperation and conflict that shape the divisions of Earth’s surface

Behavioral Studies

Standard 4: Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions

Thinking and Reasoning

Standard 1: Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument
Standard 2: Understands and applies basic principles of logic and reasoning
Standard 6: Applies decision-making techniques

This lesson was prepared by: Michele Israel