family feud

update 05/31/12: if you’re looking for info on the hatfield and mccoy feud, see here. (^_^)

sooooo … the whole sunnishi’a split just started as a family argument, huh?

lemme see if i got this straight:

muhammad, of the banu hashim branch of the quraysh tribe, dies.

his followers — a lot of them who are ALSO members of the quraysh tribe — disagree on who his successor should be.

on the one hand, muhammad’s closest family (wife and kids) and closest followers) want ali, muhammad’s paternal cousin AND son-in-law**, ANOTHER member of the banu hashim, to be the new leader of islam.

muhammad’s enemies, primarly the members of the umayyad family, aka the banu abd-shams, which is a DIFFERENT branch of the quraysh tribe, support abu bakr as the new leader of islam. abu bakr was muhammad’s father-in-law and a member of the banu taym branch of, again, the quaraysh tribe.

the umayyad branch of the family and their allies won, and they and all their fellows became sunnis. muhammad’s closest family and the banu hashim lost out, and they and all their fellows became shi’as.

so, we’ve got a minimum of three branches of ONE tribe (the quaraysh tribe) — the banu hashim on one side vs. the umayyad family and the banu taym — fighting over the succession.

afaics, then, the whole sunni-shi’a split started as one great arab hatfield-and-mccoy battle to secure supremacy over mecca and other territories as well as over any other clan-branches|clans|tribes that had happened to convert to islam at that time. no?

click for LARGER view:


“Me against my brother, me and my brother against my cousin; me, my brother, and my cousin against the world.”

**notice the inbreeding.

previously: cousin marriage conundrum addendum

(note: comments do not require an email.)


  1. Of course, the Sunni kingdom of Jordan has the official name of the “Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan” as the rulers trace their (doubtless very real) ancestry back to Muhammad and Sunnis recognize Ali as the fourth of the Rashidun Caliphs (whereas Shi’a simply reject the first three and you will certaintly never meet a Shi’a named Uthman,who himself was an Umayyad). But certainly, tribal feuding plays strongly into that history.

    On the inbreeding, it really does make one wonder what the long term impacts of that detail of Muhammad’s biography on the Muslim world were. To some extent, I’d suspect that the custom was already in place. But would it still be in place today if the final prophet and model man hadn’t married his daughter to his cousin?


  2. @meng – “To some extent, I’d suspect that the custom was already in place.”

    not just inbreeding, but the specific practice of father’s brother’s daughter (FBD) marriage was very much present in the arabian peninsula long before muhammad showed up. from korotayev (2000):

    “Islamic law does not prohibit FBD marriage, nor does it impose (or even recommend) it (Schacht 1964; al-Jazi:ri: 1990:60-61)….

    “Of course, the strong association between FBD marriage and Islam confronts what is traditionally called Galton’s problem (Naroll 1961, 1970; Naroll and D’Andrade 1963; Driver and Chaney 1970; Ember 1971; Strauss and Orans 1975; Ember and Ember 1998:677-78). There is little doubt that almost all the known cases of preferential FBD marriage are the result of diffusion from what appears to be a single source. There is some likelihood that the cognitive problem specified above was solved just once, or that just a single solution produced dozens of cultures having FBD marriage that spread in a large but circumscribed area of the Old World.

    “At the time of its origin, FBD marriage had nothing to do with Islam. The cognitive problem solution seems to have occurred somewhere in the Syro-Palestine region well before the birth of Christ. Rodionov (1999) has recently drawn attention to the fact that this marriage pattern is widespread in the non-Islamic cultures of this area (e.g., Maronites or Druze) and that it has considerable functional value in this non-Islamic context in facilitating the division of property among brothers after their father’s death (Rodionov 1999). Like Rodionov (1999), I believe that this marriage pattern could hardly be attributed to Islamic or Arab influence here. It seems, rather, that this marriage pattern in the Islamic world and the non-Islamic Syro-Palestinian cultures stems from the same source.

    “But prior to the time of Islam, the diffusion of the FBD marriage pattern was rather limited. The only adjacent area where it diffused widely was the Arabian Peninsula (Negrja 1981; Kudelin 1994), where its diffusion can be linked with a considerable Jewish influence in the area well before Islam (Crone 1987; Korotayev 1996; Korotayev, Klimenko, and Proussakov 1999). In any case, by the seventh century, preferential parallel-cousin marriage became quite common among several important Arab tribes (Negrja 1981; Kudelin 1994). In the seventh and eighth centuries, an explosive diffusion of this pattern took place when Arab tribes, backed by Islam, spread throughout the whole of the Omayyid Khalifate. Although preferential parallel-cousin marriage diffused (together with Islam and Arabs) later beyond the borders of the Omayyid Khalifate, the extent of this diffusion was very limited. Hence, the present distribution of FBD marriage was essentially created by the Muslim Arab conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries. The strong correlation between the degree of the Islamization and the presence of FBD marriages is to a considerable extent a product of network autocorrelation produced by the Arab-Islamic historical context.”


  3. I think one of the interesting aspects of Islam is the retention of children by the man after divorce. The retention of sons at least. All the focus is on preserving and spreading the male line. The spread of J haplogroup closely matches the spread of Islam – this is a social structure that expands male territory.

    Where the focus is on the maternal line, the paternity becomes diverse leading to plural paternal lines. This is quite a different strategy. Female territories tend to be either fragmented (East Asia) or larger than male territories (J and R share mt-R) and hence get subordinated to the male differences. Focusing on the maternal line seems to be not a territorial strategy as such (whatever that means!).

    Most of the world can be divided into less than 10 male territories – European (R), Arab-North African (E3-J v. closely associated), East Asian (O), Australian and Mongolian (C), American (Q), African (Ex) and Indian (L-H).

    The world of humans seems to be little different than a petri dish containing different bacterial colonies.


  4. @big nose kate – “The world of humans seems to be little different than a petri dish containing different bacterial colonies.”

    YES! that’s how i view it anyway. (^_^)


  5. On a more relevant note – shows the endogamous and exogamous marriages of Abraham’s family. I had a chart which was more clear but I can’t find it. The exogamous marriages are with one’s wife’s Egyptian slave girl. So why did the maternal line come to be so important?


  6. @big nose kate – “So why did the maternal line come to be so important?”

    in the jewish tradition, do you mean? prolly related (as it is in african and other matrilineal societies) to the fact that you can pretty much always know who the mother is, but it can be tricky to know who the father is.


  7. @(^_^)

    for a chick you can talk a lot of common – i wouldn’t call myself a chick if i was held upside down for three days (i might on the fourth), besides which, you do fem things like spreading your tentacles of knowledge :)

    and as for fakery…. I think i would be talking German right now if the Brits were such a load of practical jokers, cardboard tanks? I should co-co :)

    actually i would very much like to be able to talk German, all the clever words seem to be german or perhaps i’m just having a gestalt moment picking up on some zeitgeist. :)


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