A call for Shia Sunni dialog

Royal Mosque (Imam Mosque) — Isfahan, Iran

Shia-Sunni violence has been on the rise in the last few years, particularly in Iraq and Pakistan. Every month, it seems, scores of Shias and Sunnis are killed in a vicious tit-for-tat between extremists on both sides. Many of the victims are killed as they pray or are in mosques.

These incidents belie the reality of Shia-Sunni coexistence and cooperation. In Iraq, it is estimated that up to 30 percent of marriages are between Shias and Sunnis; victims of violence between the two groups frequently attend each other's funeral prayers; one group often helps the other's victims after an incident.

This silent majority must come together through dialog to defeat the terrorists who have been responsible for these killings.

Seven reasons why a dialog between Shia and Sunni is needed:

  • Theological differences between Shia and Sunni are old and are better left for God to judge, as He knows best and has said in the Quran that He is the final judge of religious disagreements. The killing of Shias or Sunnis will not resolve these disputes.
  • The principle of "no compulsion in matters of faith" (Quran 2:256) is not just limited to Muslim-non-Muslim relations. It applies to Muslim interpretations of Islam as well. This instruction of God serves as a guideline for the Muslim community to not impose one's interpretation on others. That is why throughout history, not only have Hanafis and Shafis worked with each other despite differences, but Shias and Sunnis have lived and worked side by side with each other as well.
  • When human beings sit down and talk to each other, they learn to respect each other.
  • Dialog allows parties to understand each other better by allowing participants to acquire direct knowledge about beliefs instead of relying on propaganda and stereotypical images. (Quran 49:6-12)
  • Dialog will isolate the extremist fringe. It is a major sin to kill a human being. Killing a human being is like killing the whole of humanity. By talking to each other, Shias and Sunnis will be able to save lives, which is like saving the whole of humanity. (Quran 5:32)
  • Revenge is not justice. Killing in revenge is unjust, inhuman, and un-Islamic. Retribution through the state, which the Quran sanctions via capital punishment does not amount to individuals taking the law in their hands or killing an innocent person in revenge. The call for, "an eye for an eye," does not mean an innocent eye for an innocent eye.
  • Even if some Shias and Sunnis consider each other enemies, the Quran asks us to be just even toward one's enemy "O you who believe! Stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to Piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do." [Quran 5:8]

Some considerations for dialog:

The Shia community like Sunnis is diverse. There are many differences between one Shia group and another. This is why it is important that dialog between Sunnis and Shias becomes a movement and a process throughout society instead of everyone waiting for one high powered dialog to yield some results at the leadership level. Here are some preliminary thoughts on how a dialog between Shias and Sunnis can be beneficial for each side.

Goals of dialog

Although I consider dialog a process that is beneficial to all, it is necessary that everyone involved recognize some of its tangible benefits. The following are a set of achievable goals for Shia-Sunni dialog.

  • Developing an agenda of common concerns
  • Identifying issues of conflict
  • Issuing joint Fatwas against the killings
  • Isolating extremists on each side
  • Preventing a potential conflict or mediating an existing conflict
  • Education to clarify stereotypes about each other
  • Setting up joint task forces to deal with outstanding issues

Who should participate in the dialog

  • Imams and caretakers of Masjids
  • Students of Madrassas
  • University students
  • National level religious leadership
  • Shia and Sunni media persons
  • Shia and Sunni businesspersons

Mechanism of dialog

Dialog is a process that should occur at all levels of society. In the 1960s in Pakistan, when Shia- Sunni fights were far less significant, city officers used to convene joint meetings of Shia and Sunni leaders to chalk out Muharram plans so no confusion would result in rioting. These government-arranged dialogs helped keep conflicts at a minimum. Considering the current level of mistrust, it will be beneficial if civil society takes initiatives for dialog at all levels of society.

  • Private Dialog: Host roundtable discussions initially at the top leadership level that should later expand to include
  • thers working on different committees.
  • Public Dialog: Shia and Sunni both use public forums and media to speak to each other's audiences
  • Visiting each other's Masjids to enhance confidence and to demonstrate that they are not supportive of the extremists who isolate each other.
  • Shia-Sunni Dinners: Masjids and social associations should invite Shia and Sunni friends to eat with each other publicly.

Publicity of dialog

Publicity of the dialog will generate hope and confidence in it and will empower those in dialog vis-a-vis the extremists.

  • Media should facilitate self-criticism and introspection by the religious leadership
  • Those leaders who participate in dialog should be recognized through interviews, reports, and documentaries
  • Investigative reports should be aired and published about the truth behind sectarian propaganda
  • It is important for society to honor those Shia and Sunni leaders who take initiative and demonstrate leadership in participating in dialog. Sunnis, being members of the majority community, have the higher level of responsibility towards initiating and participating in dialog

Sponsors of Dialog

Funding always facilitates the beginning of a process in civil society. Every task requires time and money. While participating organizations and individuals can take care of their own costs, it would be very rewarding if some individuals and businesses came forward with funds to sponsor and host these dialogs. American Muslims can start a dialog in North America where there is no conflict in the Shia-Sunni community and then inspire and sponsor dialogs where it is needed the most.

Beyond Dialog

Considering that Shias and Sunnis live side by side in the Muslim world, they are not unknown to each other, and considering that most of them have nothing to do with the current extremism which is responsible for the killings and violence, it is important for the moderate majority to come up with a few initiatives which are beneficial for Shia- Sunni harmony. These could be communicated in the print form or in any other media. They should discuss the following themes and/or use the methods outlined here:

  • Khutba points which can help harmony
  • What type of talk can hurt at personal level
  • What is common between Shias and Sunnis
  • Common Hadith between Shias and Sunnis
  • What is hate speech
  • Islamic teachings of tolerance
  • A Shia-Sunni security force, jointly safeguarding each other?s houses of worship will be a significant blow to the extremist agenda.

Conclusion

Shia-Sunni conflict and sectarian terrorism is tearing our community apart.

The Quran, the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, the Kaba and the five pillars of Islam are common to Shias and Sunnis. That is why no one in Islamic history has stopped Shias from performing Hajj, although the Kaba has always been in the control of Sunnis. Even today, when those currently in charge of the Kaba are part of a predominantly Salafi establishment, which maintains extremely negative views of Shias, Shias like other Muslims are free to perform Hajj. Shias, by the same token, since the 1979 Iranian revolution, are ordered by Imam Khomeini to pray behind these same Salafi imams instead of praying separately.

This mutual recognition gives us hope that a dialog can bear fruit of peace and harmony between both the communities.

If you are an imam/khateeb, please sign and fax or email the attached resolution which was adopted by the Dialogue held on Dec. 25, 2006 in Chicago.

If you are not an imam, get your masjid and imam to sign and then fax or email the attached resolution.

Photo Attribution:  Patrickringgenberg  -  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Isfahan_Royal_Mosque_cupola.JPG

Comments

Assalamu Alaikum. This is a great article. Shia and Sunni conflict is not religious. There is no fundamental violation of faith. Rather it is a political issue. To Allah only thing will matter is rightousness.

Location

Let religions prevail. Nothing comes out of dialogue. Justice is the driving wheel of a perfect society. Even the Non-Muslims who fundamentally believe in justice and practice it they are better people. We see Shias have justice in their faith fundamental, but not Sunnis.Let them include it in their fundamental belief and unity, respect for each other will develop. This is unitary action and no dialogue or persuasion to them is needed. Let them be considerate to the well being of the society. And do reform on their own. accord.

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Assalaamualaikum, Br. Mujahid. I couldn't agree more with you. This is an issue that is tearing the Muslim Ummah apart over ego and arrogance. At the time of Rasulullah (SAW) there was no bifurcation in the deen and the innovation of "sects" of Islam is neither from the Qur'an nor the sunnah. There is only one Islam--the one into which Allah entered Adam alayhis-salaam and all of his offspring, and the one that Ibrahim alayhis-salaam and all of the ambiya' through Rasulullah (SAW) followed and taught us to follow. I have been taught by great sheyookh, both "sunni" and "shi'a" and neither has ever presented a fundamental difference in deen. In fact, almost all of what these two scholars teach is nearly identical. The perpetuation of the conflict between different understandings of Islam--of which only Allah can judge--is only an invitation for fitna among Muslims and fuel for the enemies of Islam to stage more wars against Muslims. I know some shi'a who practice Islam more properly than sunnis and vice versa. The only concern I really have is when some who have gone far astray (some divergent sects of shi'aism don't even resemble Islam) confuse people into believing that such unorthodox practices and beliefs are consistent with Allah's command and Rasulullah's (SAW) examples.

I greatly enjoy your DIC khutbas. May you have a blessed Ramadan.

Was-Salaam.

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Assalamu Aliekum, Indeed it is the need of the hour to come together both Shias and Sunnis being brothers in faith and use their collective iintelligence and experiece for the upliftment of both the lots.The divide is not real but is superficial,created with ulirior motives by politicians. The Theological differences should be left to Allah. When Allah ordains us to enter into dialogue with the' People of the Book'then why not amongst ourselves.Allah says 21/92 ' Verily this broterhood of yours (believers) is a single brotherhood and I am your Lord. Therefore worship me alone'.when Shias and Sunnis worship same God read same Book (Quran) believe inthe same Prophet have same depth of faith both believe in the principles of Faith then why not come together ?'I m redy to extend my whole hearted support.

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Salaam Alaikum, We are only self destroying ourselves by continuing to foster mutual grudges and enmity - which at best are based on frivolous assumptions.
Once we recite SHAHADA, the rest should be left to Allah.

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Salaam Alaikum, We are only self destroying ourselves by continuing to foster mutual grudges and enmity - which at best can be described as frivolous.
Once we recite SHAHADA, the rest should be left to Allah.

Location

assalamualaikum this article can indeed be used as a blueprint to foster a much needed dialogue between the two groups. dialogue is the arena where sanity are lauded and the insanity shackled. where intellect is stretched and ignorance humbled. it is where the multiple layers of hatred and the proverbial stereotype are slowly peeled off until we find that we are mirroring each other in pure essence of ourselves only to realise that we are neither sunni nor shiah, just muslims reciting the same shahadah, praying behind the same Imams, fasting during the same month of ramadaan, paying the same zakaat and embracing each other on the plains or arafaat. i pray that Allah Almighty fortify us against the violent onslaught of Islam's enemies. be it physical, intellectual or spiritual.Allahu Aalam.

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johannesburg- south africa

Assalamuaalikum,This is a reminder to me first and to others Muslim brothers and sisters.By Syhadah one become a Muslim and have opportunity for Jannah by Allah Mercy followed by his/hers nawaitu and deeds which only Allah All Knowing.Our beloved Prophet Muhammad was send to teach AlQuran Nur Karim as a truth guidance and Mercy from Allah for all human kind. As a Muslim it is our responsible to learn about our Prophet Sirah and strive our best to follow 100% of his footsteps. Then Muslim should reflect by Prophet way of life how to live in this world because he is the only best example.The biggest jihad for Muslim is jihad with ourself and self-control not to fall with any trick of Syaitan which disguise in many ways. Every Muslim must constantly and sincerely ask help from Allah for Taufik and Hidayah and commited to seek the true Knowledge according to AlQuran and Sunnah and be humble shying away from judging others. Allah only hold us responsible of our own deed. Fear of Allah and may Allah forgive our weakness as long we as a Muslim always repent and make taubah and show our mercy to others. Wal Allah Hu a'alam.

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Dar al Kufr

asalaam aleykumi believe and every one of Islamic faith do the same; That WE HAVE BEEN CREATED TO... A abudu Llah...then if i may ask what is this...aabud Lllah ?

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oman

As Salam o AlaekumThe differences between Shia and Sunni beliefs are scathing and harsh but the common beliefs are far more numerous.Even if there was nothing common between us, it is no reason to hold a grudge or foster bitterness.The Quran requires Muslims to exercise courtesy with all human beings - Muslim and non-Muslim [2:83] and it has high praise for peace-makers.Let us shed our prejudices and extend our hand in friendship to all men and women - especially Muslims.Shias and Sunnis are brothers in faith. Let us not abandon our brothers and sisters just because our beliefs are different in some details. Let us concentrate on what is common between us and there is indeed a lot - belief inn one God, belief in the Holy Prophet, belief in the Quran, belief in the Day of Judgment.We will all face our Maker on the Day of Judgment and we will be taken to task for harboring bitterness for all human beings, especially Muslims.

Location

Sydney, Australia

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