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Shia Islam: a timeline

The key dates in Shia history, from the death of the prophet Muhammad to the modern day.

Historical beginnings

632 -- Muhammad dies, sparking the ongoing controversy about his rightful successor, or caliph. Sunnis believe that the Prophet nominated his close friend, Abu Bakr -- father of Aisha, Muhammad's youngest wife -- while the Shia maintain that he appointed his first cousin and son-in-law, Ali.

634 -- Abu Bakr dies after two years of serving as caliph. Another of Muhammad's father-in-laws, Omar Ibn al-Khattab, is named as his successor. He wins stunning military victories over both the Byzantine and Persian empires.

644 -- Omar is assasinated by a Christian slave. Othman Ibn Affan, a scion of Mecca's ruling Umayyad clan, takes over the caliphate.

656 -- Othman is murdered by dissenters from his army. Ali is finally appointed caliph, a role he reluctantly accepts - becoming the fourth so-caled Rightly Guided Caliph. For Shias, however, he holds the title of Imam, or leader -- the first of 12 Imams believed by "Twelver" Shias to be the true successors of Muhammad. Aisha, Muhammed's most outspoken widow, leads a military campaign against him but is defeated at the Battle of the Camel.

657 -- Ali moves the capital from Mecca to Kufa, situated in modern-day Iraq. Muawiya, an Umayyad brother-in-law of Muhammad's, and a cousin of Othman's, confronts Ali for rule of the caliphate but is defeated at the Battle of Siffin. Unable to overcome Ali in battle, he instead manoeuvres him into accepting arbitration -- a move that causes a schism among his followers, with a breakaway faction, known as the Kharijites, now rejecting Ali's rule.

660 -- Muawiya declares himself caliph in Damascus.

661 -- Ali is assassinated by Kharijites in his mosque in Kufa, leaving Muawiya I as the uncontested caliph.

669 -- Hasan Ibn Ali, Muhammad's grandson the second Imam in the Shiite tradition, is poisoned by his wife on orders from Muawiya I. His brother, Hussein Ibn Ali, becomes the third Imam.

680 -- Muawiya I dies, leaving his son Yazid as caliph. When followers of Hussein rise up against Yazid, he sends 4,000 troops to besiege the third Imam at the Battle of Karbala, leading to a massacre that is commemorated by Shia Muslims during the ten day mourning period known as Ashura. This is arguably the theological beginning of Shia tradition and practice.

Dynasties and splits - the next stage

765 -- Jafar al-Sadiq, the sixth Shia Imam, is poisoned and a dispute arises over his sucession. The dispute develops into a fundamental rift within the Shia community, with a breakaway faction known as Ismailis accepting al-Sadiq's eldest son, Ismail, as rightful seventh Imam, while the mainstream Shias (or Twelvers) accepting his younger son, Musa al-Kazim as successor. This creates a historical split within Shiism.

780-974 -- Foundation of the first Shia state, based in the Maghreb, under the Idrisid dynasty.

909-1171 -- Rule of the Fatimid Caliphate, one of the first and most powerful Shia (Ismaili) caliphates that controlled most of North Africa, the Levant and Arabia.

1501-1736 -- Rule of the Safavid dynasty in Persia marks a major turning point in the history of Shia Islam since it marks an end to the relative mutual tolerance between Sunni and Shia since the time of the Mogul conquests. Antagonism and sectarian strife between the two groups becomes increasingly prevalent. Also, during this period, Ismail I, the founder of the Safavid dynasty, initiates a religious policy to recognise Shiism as the official religion of the Safavid Empire. The fact that modern Iran remains an officially Shia state is a direct result of Ismail's actions. His violent enforcement of Shiism exacerbated sectarian tensions in the region.

In the 20th Century

1904-1908 -- Ongoing violent clashes between Sunni and Shia in South Asia, particularly the Uttar Pradesh area of the Indian sub-continent.

1919-1924 -- The Khilafat movement, a pan-Islamic political campaign, is launched by Muslims in British India to protect the Ottoman Empire during the aftermath of World War I. This provided a momentary rapprochement of the Sunni and Shia communities.

1935-1936 -- Iraqi Shiites stage violent uprisings against the minority Sunni government.

1959 -- Mahmud Shaltut, the rector of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, issues a fatwa recognising Shia Islamic law as the fifth school of Islamic law and authorising the teaching of courses in Shia jurisprudence as part of the University's curriculum.

1979 -- Zulifikar Ali Bhutto, Shia president of Pakistan, is excecuted on questionable charges by Sunni fundamentalist General Muhammad Zia al-Huq.

1979 -- Revolution in Iran overthrows the monarchy and establishes a Shia Isalmic Republic under the figure-head of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

1980 -- Following the Iran-Iraq war, persecution and violence against the Shia majority in Iraq becomes increasingly prevalent. Celebration of Shia festivals, such as the Ashura, is banned under Saddam Hussein's Baath governmet.

1991 -- Shia Muslims perpetrate a series of uprisings in southern and northern Iraq, which are ruthlessly and systematically crushed by Saddam's ruling Baath party. 50-100,000 people are allegedly killed, and thousands more forced to flee their homes.

1996 -- More than 200 people are killed in northern Pakistan during a shootout between Sunni and Shia factions.

2000 -- Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese Shia militia Hizballah, negotiates with Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, to end the Israeli occupaton of southern Lebanon.

2005 -- Iraqi parliamentary elections brings in a Shia majority government for the first time since the 2003 invasion.

2005 -- Anti-Shia insurgents led by Jordanian-born Raed Mansour al-Banna kill 127 people in Al Hillah, Iraq. Following the attack, Shia mobs attacked the Jordanian embassy in Baghad, causing ambassadors to be withdrawn from both countries.

2007 -- The sectarian violence in Iraq following the 2003 American-led invasion escalates to a level described by the United States national Intelligence Estimate as "civil war". At least 2.7 million people are estimated to have been displaced by inter-faction hostility.

Emanuelle Degli Esposti is the editor and founder of The Arab Review, an online journal covering arts and culture in the Arab world. She also works as a freelance journalist specialising in the politics of the Middle East.

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“I felt so frantic I couldn’t see my screen”: why aren’t we taking mental health sick days?

Some employees with mental health problems fake reasons for taking days off, or struggle in regardless. What should companies be doing differently?

“I would go to the loo and just cry my eyes out. And sometimes colleagues could hear me. Then I would just go back to my desk as if nothing had happened. And, of course, no one would say anything because I would hide it as well as I could.”

How many times have you heard sobbing through a work toilet door – or been the person in the cubicle?

Jaabir Ramlugon is a 31-year-old living in north London. He worked in IT for four years, and began having to take time off for depressive episodes after starting at his company in 2012. He was eventually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder last January.

At first, he would not tell his employers or colleagues why he was taking time off.

“I was at the point where I was in tears going to work on the train, and in tears coming back,” he recalls. “Some days, I just felt such a feeling of dread about going into work that I just physically couldn’t get up ... I wouldn’t mention my mental health; I would just say that my asthma was flaring up initially.”

It wasn’t until Ramlugon was signed off for a couple of months after a suicide attempt that he told his company what he was going through. Before that, a “culture of presenteeism” at his work – and his feeling that he was “bunking off” because there was “nothing physically wrong” – made him reluctant to tell the truth about his condition.

“I already felt pretty low in my self-esteem; the way they treated me amplified that”

Eventually, he was dismissed by his company via a letter describing him as a “huge burden” and accusing him of “affecting” its business. He was given a dismissal package, but feels an alternative role or working hours – a plan for a gradual return to work – would have been more supportive.

“I already felt pretty low in my self-esteem. The way they treated me definitely amplified that, especially with the language that they used. The letter was quite nasty because it talked about me being a huge burden to the company.”

Ramlugon is not alone. Over three in ten employees say they have experienced mental health problems while in employment, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Under half (43 per cent) disclose their problem to their employer, and under half (46 per cent) say their organisation supports staff with mental health problems well.

I’ve spoken to a number of employees in different workplaces who have had varying experiences of suffering from mental ill health at work.

***

Taking mental health days off sick hit the headlines after an encouraging message from a CEO to his employee went viral. Madalyn Parker, a web developer, informed her colleagues in an out-of-office message that she would be taking “today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health – hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100 per cent”.

Her boss Ben Congleton’s reply, which was shared tens of thousands of times, personally thanked her – saying it’s “an example to us all” to “cut through the stigma so we can bring our whole selves to work”.

“Thank you for sending emails like this,” he wrote. “Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health – I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organisations.”


Congleton went on to to write an article entitled “It’s 2017 and Mental Health is still an issue in the workplace”, arguing that organisations need to catch up:

“It’s 2017. We are in a knowledge economy. Our jobs require us to execute at peak mental performance. When an athlete is injured they sit on the bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different.”

But not all companies are as understanding.

In an investigation published last week, Channel 5 News found that the number of police officers taking sick days for poor mental health has doubled in six years. “When I did disclose that I was unwell, I had some dreadful experiences,” one retired detective constable said in the report. “On one occasion, I was told, ‘When you’re feeling down, just think of your daughters’. My colleagues were brilliant; the force was not.”

“One day I felt so frantic I couldn’t see my screen”

One twenty-something who works at a newspaper echoes this frustration at the lack of support from the top. “There is absolutely no mental health provision here,” they tell me. “HR are worse than useless. It all depends on your personal relationships with colleagues.”

“I was friends with my boss so I felt I could tell him,” they add. “I took a day off because of anxiety and explained what it was to my boss afterwards. But that wouldn’t be my blanket approach to it – I don’t think I’d tell my new boss [at the same company], for instance. I have definitely been to work feeling awful because if I didn’t, it wouldn’t get done.”

Presenteeism is a rising problem in the UK. Last year, British workers took an average of 4.3 days off work due to illness – the lowest number since records began. I hear from many interviewees that they feel guilty taking a day off for a physical illness, which makes it much harder to take a mental health day off.

“I felt a definite pressure to be always keen as a young high-flyer and there were a lot of big personalities and a lot of bitchiness about colleagues,” one woman in her twenties who works in media tells me. “We were only a small team and my colleague was always being reprimanded for being workshy and late, so I didn’t want to drag the side down.”

Diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which was then changed to anxiety and depression, she didn’t tell her work about her illness. “Sometimes I struggled to go to work when I was really sick. And my performance was fine. I remember constantly sitting there sort of eyeballing everyone in mild amusement that I was hiding in plain sight. This was, at the time, vaguely funny for me. Not much else was.

“One day I just felt so frantic I couldn’t see my screen so I locked myself in the bathroom for a bit then went home, telling everyone I had a stomach bug so had to miss half the day,” she tells me. “I didn’t go in the next day either and concocted some elaborate story when I came back.”

Although she has had treatment and moved jobs successfully since, she has never told her work the real reason for her time off.

“In a small company you don’t have a confidential person to turn to; everyone knows everyone.”

“We want employers to treat physical and mental health problems as equally valid reasons for time off sick,” says Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at the mental health charity Mind. “Staff who need to take time off work because of stress and depression should be treated the same as those who take days off for physical health problems, such as back or neck pain.”

She says that categorising a day off as a “mental health sick day” is unhelpful, because it could “undermine the severity and impact a mental health problem can have on someone’s day-to-day activities, and creates an artificial separation between mental and physical health.”

Instead, employers should take advice from charities like Mind on how to make the mental health of their employees an organisational priority. They can offer workplace initiatives like Employee Assistance Programmes (which help staff with personal and work-related problems affecting their wellbeing), flexible working hours, and clear and supportive line management.

“I returned to work gradually, under the guidance of my head of department, doctors and HR,” one journalist from Hertfordshire, who had to take three months off for her second anorexia inpatient admission, tells me. “I was immensely lucky in that my line manager, head of department and HR department were extremely understanding and told me to take as much time as I needed.”

“They didnt make me feel embarrassed or ashamed – such feelings came from myself”

“They knew that mental health – along with my anorexia I had severe depression – was the real reason I was off work ... I felt that my workplace handled my case in an exemplary manner. It was organised and professional and I wasn’t made to feel embarrassed or ashamed from them – such feelings came from myself.”

But she still at times felt “flaky”, “pathetic” and “inefficient”, despite her organisation’s good attitude. Indeed, many I speak to say general attitudes have to change in order for people to feel comfortable about disclosing conditions to even the closest friends and family, let alone a boss.

“There are levels of pride,” says one man in his thirties who hid his addiction while at work. “You know you’re a mess, but society dictates you should be functioning.” He says this makes it hard to have “the mental courage” to broach this with your employer. “Especially in a small company – you don’t have a confidential person to turn to. Everyone knows everyone.”

“But you can’t expect companies to deal with it properly when it’s dealt with so poorly in society as it is,” he adds. “It’s massively stigmatised, so of course it’s going to be within companies as well. I think there has to be a lot more done generally to make it not seem like it’s such a big personal failing to become mentally ill. Companies need direction; it’s not an easy thing to deal with.”

Until we live in a society where it feels as natural taking a day off for feeling mentally unwell as it does for the flu, companies will have to step up. It is, after all, in their interest to have their staff performing well. When around one in four people in Britain experience mental ill health each year, it’s not a problem they can afford to ignore.

If your manager doesn’t create the space for you to be able to talk about wellbeing, it can be more difficult to start this dialogue. It depends on the relationship you have with your manager, but if you have a good relationship and trust them, then you could meet them one-to-one to discuss what’s going on.

Having someone from HR present will make the meeting more formal, and normally wouldn’t be necessary in the first instance. But if you didn’t get anywhere with the first meeting then it might be a sensible next step.

If you still feel as though you’re not getting the support you need, contact Acas or Mind's legal line on 0300 466 6463.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.