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Shia-Sunni Conflict: A Nation at War with Itself

April 9, 2009 by  


By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, TMO Editor-in-chief

Once again, Muslims identified as Shi’a were killed in Pakistan. Once again, in retaliation, Muslims identified as Sunnis were killed. Once again, Shi’a and Sunni leaders vowed in public to fight the scourge of sectarianism, and once again many of them in private spoke against each other.

The way Muslims have been killing each other in some parts of the world in the name of Allah for preserving the identity of their sect is unfortunate and unacceptable. Even though it is carried out in the name of Allah, it has nothing to do with either Allah or the teachings of Allah. Those who indulge in these kinds of acts are criminal scoundrels and murderers, regardless of the title they carry with them or the status they enjoy. Those who provoke the killing and those who carry out the killing argue that they are serving Allah and earning a place in paradise without looking at the hell they create in the life of their community and the country.. How un-Islamic and cruel is the thought that Allah can be pleased only when part of His creation is killed and when they destroy the places where people seek His Countenance. How barbaric is the idea that Allah will even be more pleased if the blood is shed in a masjid or a place of worship. Those who use any justification to provoke violence in the name of Allah must be confronted boldly without any inhibitions.

People are not born violent. Someone teaches them to be violent. That someone is none other than those religious leaders who provoke average, often illiterate and economically marginalized followers to commit acts of violence–even though in public these leaders appear to be very peaceful and tolerant. Yet, in private among their zealot supporters they appear to be full with hatred against others or call them unbelievers.

Not many are interested in removing the hateful contents from their vocabulary or books in the light of what is said by the Quran. This Divine Scripture, as believed by Muslims, is the only criterion to determine the validity of ideas and even events. On the contrary, some of these Shia and Sunni scholars and leaders teach things logically inconsistent with Qur`anic teachings and give much more credence to incidents that are referred to in history books written some 200 to 300 years after their occurrence. For instance, many books about the history of history of early Muslims often talk about the conflict between the companions of Prophet (s) many of whom are Shias and Sunnis.. All these books were compiled some 200 to 400 years after the death of these companions of the Prophet on the basis of oral narrations. There is no documentary records of such events. All the historians had were the narrations that they heard in their towns or places of work. None even applied any critical analysis to determine the accuracy of these events.  Many of these stories contradict the Quranic verses about the character of Prophet’s companions. The Quran describes the Prophet’s companions as those who were kind and compassionate to each other, It projects them as those whom Allah accepted as genuine believers without any exception and who accepted Allah as their Lord. Yet many books of history  project them  as power hungry and blood thirsty on the basis of oral references. They ignore the most concrete, i.e. the Quran and accept the most ambiguous and incomplete, i.e. the history of early Muslims.

The Shia and Sunni and other sectarian differences among Muslims are all man-made and they go against the creed of faith and the spirit of the divine message. The Quran does not promote them. In fact, pushes against people deviating from true Islam.  Yet Muslim religious leaders are making little progress in overcoming them. In public they appear to be tolerant, but when it comes to purge their writing of the hatred and  to abandon accusatory language in their talks, they seem to be ineffective. They have become virtual prisoners of their own history fearful of going against their predecessors, even though many may realize that they were wrong.

Obviously, the ongoing sectarian differences have not only weakened the community and deprived them of playing any effective role in the world they inhabit. This situation can create two possible scenarios. Either many young Muslims will become totally disillusioned with Islam and turn away from itt, or they would refuse to identify themselves as Sunnis or Shias, or that they belong to any other sect.

Serious meetings are needed between the religious leaders of the two communities to develop a better understanding of each other so that the existing literature can be purged of all hateful and negative writings and offensive and derogatory speech may be stopped.

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