Shia-Sunni Strife: Sectarian Violence or More?

Shia-Sunni Strife: Sectarian Violence or More?

In the name of Allah, the Merciful to all, the Compassionate

Sunni-Shia hostility has existed for the last 14 centuries – an unsettled problem that nobody can deny. The majority of the disagreements and the sectarian division started immediately after the demise of the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (PBUH). For the most part of history, the sects coexisted in harmony and peace despite the occasional disagreement and violence. Never before has the violence been this widespread and brutal.

As portrayed by verse 2:134 of the Quran: “That was a nation who has passed away; they shall receive the reward of what they earned and you for what you earn”, we must leave our history of hostilities behind, and look to the future with more tolerance of our differences.

History is full of unprecedented cruelty and atrocity, but a different level of ferocity appears to have recently surfaced. Suicide bombing mosques of another sect, full of innocent children, women, and the elderly, is a totally new form of brutality. Such acts have never been sanctioned in any religious context. Only something more sinister than simple sectarian differences could trigger this sudden change.

The idea that Shia is not Islam is a pivot point of sectarian friction. This is alarming not only because of the gravity of the claim, but also because it ignores the fact that “Shiism” itself is comprised of a spectrum of sub-sects. This claim is not only an idea; it is a trigger of “jihad” missions and the spilling of blood. If those who believe this claim follow conservative Islamic jurisprudence, the Shiites will be considered apostates and their blood is permitted to be shed. As such, this “idea” could be thought of as a declaration of war. In countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, where even inter-religious relations are peaceful and harmonious, Shiite persecution is on the rise. Ironically, it appears that Muslims are more tolerant of other religions than of a sect of their own religion.

There have been many claims meant to discredit and vilify Shiites, yet none of these claims have been confirmed by reliable scholars from either side.

In the 1950s a project of convergence between the Islamic schools of thought – the Taqrib Project – was born. The initiators of this project were scholars of Al-Azhar University, led by Sheikh Mahmud Shaltout (see the taghrib.org website). The aim of this project was to minimize inter-sect tension and begin Sunni-Shia reconciliation. Eight schools of thought were recognized: the four Sunni schools (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali), the two Shia schools (Zaidiyah and Jafariyah-Imamiyah), the school of Zhahiriyah, and the school of Ibadhiyah (Khawarij).

In his encyclopedic work of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), Sheikh Wahbah az-Zuhaily, an authorative Sunni scholar, recognized these eight schools. Of the Shia-Imamiyah fiqh he wrote that its differences with the Sunni fiqh were only in about 17 issues, the most important being contract-based (mut’ah) marriage (short-term marriages under particular circumstances), which is not generally recognized by the mainstream Sunni.

“Substantively, differences between the Shia-Imamiyah and Ahlus-Sunnah do not refer to the matter of beliefs, but only in matters of the political leadership of the Ummah,” he wrote.

In the 1950s, Sheikh Mahmud issued a decree (fatwa) on the permissibility of worship based on the Shia-Imamiyah sect. It was once reported that the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Ahmad Tayeb conducted prayers with a Shiite cleric.

In 2005, the Taqrib Project was confirmed in the Amman Declaration. This declaration included country representatives throughout the Islamic world and explicitly recognized Shiism as a legitimate Islamic school of thought.This was reconfirmed in the Mecca Declaration in 2006 and the Bogor Declaration in 2007.

Allegedly, earlier this month, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar university of Egypt, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, expressed at the Dialogue among Civilizations and Cultures Conference that the Bahraini regime should not consider Shias as apostates and discriminate against them, and they must be considered as brothers in faith. Despite the fact that he is considered the highest religious authority in at least 85% of Muslim world, his words did not make it to the mainstream media in the Muslim world, and presumably nowhere else.

Similarly the leader of Iran, the highest religious authority in Shia Islam, issued a fatwa forbidding Shias to insult other Muslim sects or cause any harm to the unity of Muslims.

It appears odd that none of these reconciliatory attempts by prominent leaders of Shia and Sunni sects were reflected in mainstream media, whereas outlandish claims and fatwas of Takfiri muftis spread like the plague.

Why should these decrees be ignored while the spotlight shines on the violence? Sinister hands must be involved to ignite a war within Islam.

More evidence that this is the case can be seen in Syria. The internet shows an abundance of videos and pictures of members of the Nusrah front, Islamic front, and the Islamic State of Iraq & Levant (ISIL), beheaded at the hands of one another. These groups share the same ideas and beliefs – and all are anti-Shia. Clearly the issue is something beyond difference in belief when these groups murder each other more than even the Shias.

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