In the world that we live in, there are lots of religions that we know of as well as a large number of other religions that we have never heard of. The most common ones are Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism etc. In addition to these there are also many religions unique to different parts of the world, having followers living together in a particular place and passing on the religious ideas to their progeny only. These include many tribal religions etc. However, something that we do know of but do not realize the extent of is the sectarianism within one religion. For example the Catholics and Protestants in Christianity or the Sunnis and Shiites in Islam etc. Although there may be different sects of one religion, it must be noted that one sect is hugely different to another. Most of the times, the people will die or kill for but not accept the idea of another sect of the same religion. Many of the wars have been fought because of this. As if this is not enough, being part of the same religion and the same sect is also not supposedly considered as being one group of people. Many times people of the same sect also fight amongst themselves on the basis of their territorial identity. Also, their territorial identity becomes what they are associated with and it becomes a tag. Then it becomes common practice for the world to confuse religions and sects as these territorial patriots are part of the same sect but for them territory comes first. We would differentiate between Shiites and Kurds today where there is a similar confusion.
Let us first explain and describe who Shiites are. It is the second largest denomination in Islam. It refers to all those who followed Prophet Mohammad pbuh’s son in law, the fourth caliph Hazrat Ali A.S. and accepted him as the first Imam and his descendants as the imams who followed him. Within the Shiites, there are many divisions; the Twelvers are those who believe that there were only 12 imams including Ali A.S. The Twelvers form the largest sect of the Shiites. Then there are also others such as the Aga Khanis who have continued to follow the chain of Imamat and their current Imam is Prince Karim Aga Khan. On the other hand, when we use the term Kurds, we do not refer to a religious sect as is thought by most people. The Kurds are actually an ethnic group that reside in the Middle East. They have been there for a long time and the area where they live includes the adjacent parts of Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey; which are together known as Kurdistan. They mostly consist of Iranian people and speak the language of Kurdish. They have, in recent times, also spread to other countries of Europe and West Asia.
Shiites are a religious group and consist of the Twelvers, Buhris, Aga Khanis as well as other groups that believe in the Imamat of Hazrat Ali A.S. On the other hand, Kurds are people of a similar race and the word Kurds does not specify a particular religion. The Kurds can be Shiites or Sunnis with the majority being the latter. Furthermore, what we have described is a Muslim Kurd. A Kurd can also be a non-Muslim.
Another reason why the two are confused as one is because both of these groups have revolted a lot in recent times. The Shiites have revolted against the Sunni oppressing forces whereas the Kurds have revolted as part of a demand to unite the Kurd nations as a single Kurdistan. Since there have been people who have participated in both the revolts as they were Shiite Kurds, the two groups are often thought to be the same.
Summary of differences expressed in points
1. Shiites are the second largest denomination in Islam, all those who followed Prophet Mohammad pbuh’s son in law, the fourth caliph Hazrat Ali A.S. and accepted him as the first Imam and his descendants as the imams who followed him; Kurds-the people living in the Middle East. They have been there for a long time and the area where they live that includes the adjacent parts of Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey are together known as Kurdistan
2. Shiite is a sect which is part of the religion Islam, Kurds is an ethnic group
3. A Kurd can be a Shiite or a Sunni