Islam's Pink Mosque
Nasir al-Mulk Mosque
Ron Goodwin's Windows of The East
First, consider the basic principles at odds in the Sunni-Shia divide. It all started the day after Prophet Mohammed died on June 8th, 632 A.D.
. Shia believe that Mohammed’s cousin Ali, who was the first-born Muslim, should have become leader after the Prophet’s death. Sunni claimed that Abu Bakr, the prophet’s father-in-law and closest and eldest confidante, should be leading Muslims. This led to a discussion of the rights of leadership and succession. In short: Shia believe that leadership should be passed through a blood-line from the prophet and Sunni believe leadership has nothing to do with blood lineage and should be based on the qualifications of a leader. [See Tribalism.]
. This tension continued and took many shapes and forms including fighting between what became known as Shias (followers of Ali) and Sunnis (followers of the other Caliphs who came after the Prophet, which many years later included Ali). The tension heightened in 680 AD, 48 years after the Prophet’s death, when a showdown took place in Karbala, a city in Southern Iraq, where the grandchildren and other male heirs of Mohammed were killed to stop them from leading a rebellion. The uprising was called for by the people, then living under an oppressive Caliph. By all accounts, that incident was a massacre, as an army surrounded 72 family members of the Prophet Mohammed and killed every man and boy without a fight. Shia commemorate the event on the Day of Ashura, when they beat themselves to atone for their inaction and betrayal of the Prophet’s family. Sunnis respond that, well, that was politics and politics is dirty.
. The Sunni’s stance led Shia to reject politics as impure and argue that religion and the secular affairs of the state should always be separated. This is reflected in the fact that most Shia did not join government ranks of employment, leading them to occupy the extremes of wealth or poverty as they took on the merchant roles -- risky ventures, with big potential payoffs but no job security -- while the Sunnis became the middle class with secure government paychecks.
This separation of state and religion changed with the Iranian revolution, when Khomeini upended centuries of belief and declared that the state is the religion. This led to the first merger of state and religion in Shia history, starting with the Iranian government and followed, now, by the Iraqi government. This Shia “newness” in the political sphere is a source of criticism by mainstream Sunnis, who say that “Shia don’t have experience in leading a country,” implying that only Sunnis have the right to lead governments. Which triggers another wave of resentment by Shia.
. This contrasting approach to political engagement has led to discord between Sunni and Shia in terms of their relationship with God. Shia believe that the religion should be interpreted in ways that reflect contemporary life and needs. Sunni argue that the religion should hew to the Quran and faithfully imitate the practices and behavior of the Prophet during his life. Sunnis believe that the individual has a direct relationship with God while Shia believe that the Imam is the mediator between the individual and God.
Such differences may be historical and are indeed playing a major role in today’s politics, but they are by no means predestined or pre-ordained. There were points in history when tensions were heightened and points in history when the tension was muted or dissolved. What drove these variations was leadership: the times when Muslim leaders encouraged the division versus the times when they suppressed it.
Today, as Sunni extremists call for Shia death, and as the Sunni religious leadership fails to condemn such extremist calls and counter them with words of peace and reconciliation, the political situation is exacerbated. The Shia leadership of Iraq, for example, should encourage a spirit of national unity in the country’s armed forces rather than a sectarian one, as it is the case today. Even with a just cause like fighting against ISIS, Shia leaders should be aware that when army members start chanting Shia slogans, Sunnis are alienated and the sectarianism within the country deepens.
We always create the very demon we are fighting against when we operate out of hatred and fear. When Shia hear calls for them to be killed, it leads even the most moderate among them (and there are plenty of moderate Shia, just as there are plenty of moderate Sunnis) to react by arming their militias and supporting any attempts to “defend” them from attacks. All of these actions fuel Iran in its support for Shia populations in various Muslim countries.
Now is the moment for Sunni and Shia leaders to call for unity and inclusion within each Muslim country. After all, Islam is one religion, with one Prophet and one God for all. Until such calls for unity are heard loud and clear, tension in the Middle East, especially between Sunni and Shia, will continue to tear the region apart. Indeed, even as I write this piece from inside Iraq, I am seeing this very scenario unfold. Source.
POINTS TO PONDER