Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunni/Shia Unity: Antidote to Imperialistic Designs

A few months ago my husband came home from Friday congregational prayers with a bizarre fatwa (religious edict) from the imam of a local mosque.

"Sheikh said we can't bring stoves to the mosque anymore," he announced.

"Stoves?" I asked perplexed. "Who brings stoves to the mosque?

After further interrogation, I figured out the imam (who has a thick accent) had banned "stones" from being used during prostration in the prayer hall. Apparently, a Shia Muslim had joined the congregation.

"This is a Sunni masjid," the imam had declared. Shias are welcomed but cannot "force their ideology" on us by praying on a "stone." Plus, it is "confusing the kids."

It's no wonder sectarianism is tearing the Muslim world apart. While the enemies of Islam are undoubtedly exploiting historic differences amongst Muslims to keep us divided and conquered (For example, Tel Aviv University hosted a conference last year titled "Shia-Sunni Division."), it is our scholars and leaders who provide the fodder by spreading ignorance of and prejudice against the other.

"Why are we fighting? Why is there hatred? Why is there prejudice? I believe the reason why is ignorance," says Abdullah Al-Andaluci, co-founder of the Muslim Debate Initiative.  

Our imam, who has a doctorate in comparative religions, obviously has very little understanding of sects within his own religion. If he did, he would have realized that the Shia worshipper was using a turbah, or clay tablet, not to "force his ideology" on others but because it is a sunnah (tradition) of Prophet Muhammad (S). Furthermore, Shia jurisprudence requires prostration on earth or something that grows on it (with some exceptions).

"I saw Allah’s Apostle (S) prostrating in mud and water and saw the mark of mud on his forehead," according to a tradition narrated by the Prophet's (S) companion Abu Said al-Khudri.

Ironically, that same month our imam helped host an elaborate interfaith event, titled "God's Books: Reading Scripture in Judaism, Christianity and Islam" at our new mosque, which opened last year after fierce local opposition. While engaging in interfaith dialogue is commendable, what about INTRAfaith dialogue and understanding? How come our mosques, imams, Islamic schools and halaqas (Islam study circles) don't try to learn about the other schools of thought in Islam, especially as mutual understanding is the foundation for our unity and salvation.

God: “And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of God, and be not divided among yourselves.” (Quran 3:103)

And: "O Mankind, We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you." (49:13).

We can learn how from an exchange between Imam Jafar Sadiq, great grandson of Fatima (one of the four perfect women), and his student Imam Abu Hanifa. The caliph of the time asked Imam Abu Hanifa to come up with forty religious questions to be asked of Imam Jafar Sadiq. When Imam Jafar Sadiq was queried, he replied by first sharing the judgments of the scholars in Iraq and in Medina before offering his own opinions.

To this Imam Abu Hanifa commented: "The most knowledgable of scholars is he who is the most knowledgable about differences of opinion."

To counter the growing Sunni/Shia divide globally, local Muslim leaders and institutions should encourage INTRAfaith dialogue, understanding and cooperation, especially among religious scholars and students of Islam.

As leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran Imam Syed Ali Khamanei recently said, “Unity and companionship among Muslims is an urgent obligation.”

Otherwise, the "Not Welcome" grafitti sprayed on our mosque sign two years ago will turn out to be true. Well, at least for certain Muslims.


Anonymous said...

Salam alaykum, very nice piece! I find it very hypocritical of some people who work very hard to create peace between different religions, but throw their views out the window when it comes to peace between sects. I'll be honest when I say that I'm always nervous to pray in non-Shia environments because there have been many incidents where turbahs have purposely been kicked across the room, and the room is filled with hatred. Inshallah understanding and respect will overcome the ignorance and animosity.

Anonymous said...


I agree that there is a big understanding regarding turbahs. But here's the thing, we don't need to use turbahs in a sunni majority mosque. I usually carry with me a clean piece of blank paper or index card. In order to build any sort of a bridge, we must first try to maximize our similarities within the acceptable framework of our fiqh. This includes not reciting qunoot, using paper for sujood, even turning my heads sideways as technically our salat is over prior to turning of our heads. Finally, the only way to establish some real form of solidarity is to do stuff together like running a food bank, etc where they judge us on a pure humanistic basis.

Anonymous said...

In reference to what is stated directly above, I would just say that there is a difference between cooperating with someone based on mutual respect and trying to appease a "majority" group, and what this person is suggesting appears to fall within the latter category. I see individuals from the Ahlul Bayt school of thought expressing similar views, and it is somewhat disappointing. Truth was never established by a majority vote, and certainly you don't need the acceptance or the positive "judgment" of another group solely for the purpose of solidarity. All of the differences in "technique" you mentioned are correct, and if you want to really do something to represent the household of the Prophet (SAWAWS), you should be prepared to explain the jurisprudential underpinnings of these practices when you set foot into a Sunni mosque. If the person cannot comprehend, then there is no potential for solidarity there. Solidarity requires investment by all parties involved, and each should make an effort to understand the other, rather than one group feeling obliged to appease another. This is not a basis for any sort of meaningful unity.

Anonymous said...

Wonderfully wrotten. Understanding yhrough research is the need of the day..tolerance please!!

Salina Khan said...

Thank you all for your comments! iA I hope we all take the initiative to move towards unity. I know of a task force created in Chicago several months ago to do just this and am looking forward to seeing what ideas they come up with. Will keep you posted iA.

Noor al Haqiqa said...

When I exploring and considering committing to Islam quite a few years ago this divide was a major factor which soured my pure intentions towards Islam. I could not answer "Sunni or Shia?" because I figured I was MUSLIM not part of a man-made division. This was definitely part of why I decided to remove the hajib.

I am glad to see that this division is finally being noted as a prime element of the Zionist attempts to demonize and destroy Islam ~ divide and conquer ~ and consequently Christianity as a bonus in this War between East and West (Manufactured bs).

Just out of curiosity, our local Muslim community just opened their new mosque last year. You aren't in Victoria, BC are you?

I am going to share this with my readers btw. Snippits and Snappits blog. It is worth sharing for sure!

asad jaffri said...

Nice Blog!! I like it so much.

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