The violence between Sunnis and Shias that springs up annually at the time of Muharram is an extreme example of the often tense relationship between Sunnis and Shias. This is why we are dedicating this Sound Vision update to Shia-Sunni relations.
Despite major differences between the two groups, there has always been co-existence based on what is common among us in terms of our basic beliefs and practices.
Here is one of the best examples of this ideal behavior:
To the credit of the Saudi government, which is guided by Salafi scholars, derogatorily referred to as Wahhabis, they have never stopped Shias from performing Hajj or praying separately around the Kaba. This is despite their strong anti-Shia beliefs and positions.
To the credit of the late Imam Ruhollah Khomeini, on whose directive Shias stopped praying separately around the Kaba and started praying with the rest of the Muslims, making Hajj became even more a symbol of Muslim unity. This is despite Shias’ strong criticism of Saudis and Salafis.
If Saudi Salafis don’t consider Shias Kafirs, and Shias pray behind Sunnis in the Haram, then that should serve as a model which should guide the rank and file of the rest of the Ummah.
No wonder top Sunni and Shia scholars have issued fatwas sitting next to the Kaba, in solidarity with each other. This was codified in 2005, when Shia-Sunni violence increased, and the Amman Message was released.
Imam Husain, may God be pleased with him, is regarded as Shaheed (a martyr) by Sunnis as well as Shias. The autocrat named Yazeed who killed him is equally despised by Sunnis and Shias.
Despite the fact that there are serious differences between Shias and Sunnis, in Iraq, 30 percent of them were married to each other before the 2003 invasion of the country.
In Chicago, they often pray in each other’s Masjids and send their children to each other’s schools. The most commonly used Islamic textbooks in many Sunni-led weekend schools in America about twenty years ago were written by Dr. Hashim. He is an Iraqi-American Shia.
I remember NPR once asking me if Shias and Sunnis are going to fight in Chicago after a discussion on this topic regarding developments overseas. My response was yes - if the Mayor or other politicians can benefit from it, they might. We need to watch out for both extremists and opportunists.
While Shia-Sunni differences have being subject to a divide and rule scheme by different Muslim and non-Muslim powers, it is important that Shias and Sunnis recognize the following when dealing with each other:
- Common humanity
- Mutuality of our faith
- Recognition of our differences in belief and practice
- Safeguarding each other’s places of worship
- Protecting each other’s life and property
- Honoring those who excel in enhancing this relationship
Sound Vision has in the past issued a call for Shia- Sunni dialogue and has organized one itself. It is important that this is done in all cities.
As Muharram has arrived, we pray for the safety of Shias, who are in a state of mourning. We request that you do the following:
- Adopt a code of honor signed by many Sunni and Shia scholars in your region. You can use the Amman message as your guide, as well as this one.
- We request that Sunnis arrange for guards to stand at Shia places of worship, and publicly declaring that they are there to protect our brothers and sisters, and to stand against extremists who kill.
- Commit to a dialogue between Shia and Sunni community leaders.
We are guided in our call by the following orders of Allah:
- Hold fast, all together, by the Rope of God, and be not divided among yourselves (Quran 3:103).
- The Believers are but a single Brotherhood: So make peace and reconciliation between your two (contending) brothers; and be pious to God, so that you might be granted mercy (Quran 49:10).
- Saving one life is like saving the whole humanity (Quran 5:32).
- We cannot force anyone in the matter of faith (Quran 2:256).
Shias don’t have to leave their understanding of the faith to respect Sunnis and their loved ones.
Sunnis don’t have to leave their understanding of their faith to respect Shias and their loved ones.
This is respect. This is Islam.
May Allah help us live the ideals of our faith and make us the best human beings and Muslims.