First Published: 2011-03-21

 

Shiite, Sunni and ‘Sushi’ Muslims

 

The vast majority of Sunnis and Shiites live together in peace. Sunni-Shiite tension is politics in religious garb, and it only leads to division and discord at a time when Muslims need love and unity, notes Hesham Hassaballa.

 

Middle East Online

The entrance of Saudi troops into Bahrain in support of the government there was a disturbing escalation for me. The protests in Bahrain are an internal, local issue, and what Saudi Arabia has to do with another country's internal dispute is beyond me. If it were to intervene anywhere, why not do something about the ongoing massacre in Libya? Yes, Bahrain is right next door while Libya is hundreds of miles away, but -- from this Muslim's perspective -- it doesn't add up.

That is until you realize that, in Bahrain, it is Shiites protesting against a Sunni ruling elite. About Saudi Arabia's move, (Beirut) Daily Star editor-at-large Rami Khouri says, "It accelerates the long-simmering ideological war between some Arab leaders and the Iranian government, with an unspoken but strong undertone of Shiite-Sunni tensions." There is a considerable Shiite minority in Eastern Saudi Arabia -- right next to Bahrain -- and perhaps the Saudi troops are a signal that they will not tolerate the same uprising on its own soil by Shiites. Perhaps, as some see it, the Saudi move is a signal to Iran that it is ready to resist further encroachment of Persian influence in the region. Only time will tell.

Yet, a persistent undercurrent to the conflict in Bahrain and between most Arab governments and Iran is the Sunni-Shiite "divide." I place this word in quotations on purpose, because, at its essence, the difference between Sunni and Shiite Islam is quite minor.

At its core, the "divide" between Sunnis and Shiites is a dispute over religious leadership. At the time of the death of the Prophet Muhammad (632 AD), there was a disagreement over who should rightly succeed the Prophet's leadership. Some felt it should have stayed in the House of the Prophet, and specifically, pass to his cousin and son-in-law, Ali. The majority of the people, however, elected the Prophet's close friend and companion Abu Bakr. Indeed, even Ali briefly did not accept the leadership of Abu Bakr, but he eventually gave Abu Bakr his full allegiance. In the reign of the first three Caliphs, in fact, there was no such thing as the Sunni and Shiite “divide.”

It was only during the civil war in the reign of Ali that the term "Shiite" even came into being, coming from the Arabic "Shi'at Ali," or "partisan of Ali." Essentially, Shiite Muslims assert that religious (and political) authority stems from and resides in the House of the Prophet. Over the years, Shiite Islam evolved and developed a number of offshoots, but this is its core belief. Sunni Islam, on the other hand, is more "democratic," in that religious (and political) leadership can reside with anyone in the larger community, as long as the community accepts that person’s qualifications.

Another important distinction between Sunnis and Shiites is the issue of the probity, or upright character, of all of the Prophet Muhammad's Companions. It is a fundamental part of Sunni doctrine, whereas some Shiites do not necessarily ascribe to it.

Yet, the core beliefs of Sunnis and Shiites are the same: They both worship the One God of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus; they both believe in the Prophethood of Muhammad; they both accept the Qur'an as holy scripture. Over time, differences in political philosophy developed into distinct schools of thought, especially with respect to matters of Islamic law, but this took centuries to develop. Many people associate with Shiites an intense love for the House of the Prophet, but this is also an essential aspect of Sunni belief: One cannot be truly Muslim and not love the family of the Prophet. In fact, two stalwarts of the Sunni community -- Imam Malik and Imam Abu Hanifah -- were ardent supporters of the House of the Prophet. They could be called “Political Shiites” because of this support.

Throughout Islamic history, Shiites have been oppressed and mistreated by the Sunni majority. And there have been members of both communities that maligned the other, and fanned the flames of sectarianism. Some Sunnis deem all Shiites as “heretics” and “infidels.” Some Shiite extremists have maligned some of the Prophet’s closest companions. But these are deviations of each tradition. The vast majority of Sunnis and Shiites have been living together in peace and harmony for centuries. The disputes that are raging today between Iran and the Sunni Arab states are all about politics; religion is merely a garb to hide the true nature of the conflict.

While technically I am a Sunni Muslim, there are many aspects of Shiite philosophy with which I have no problem. In fact, I have frequently called my self a "Sushi," a Sunni-Shiite hybrid, using a term coined by American Muslim leader Salam Al Marayati. I am completely against any stoking of Sunni-Shiite tension; it is completely sinister, and it only leads to division and discord at a time when Muslims need love and unity.

I may not participate in a Shiite religious ceremony, such as that on Ashura, but I will stand next to a Shiite Muslim in prayer any day. I am proud to call myself "Sushi." And I don't even like fish.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago-based doctor and writer. His latest book is Noble Brother: The Story of the Last Prophet in Poetry (Faithful Word Press).

Copyright © 2011 Hesham A. Hassaballa -- distributed by Agence Global

 

Vote or boycott: Grim record of self-serving politicians puts off voters in Tunisia

Egypt universities tighten security to avoid new Islamist violence

Syria Kurds show impressive resistance to ‘Islamic State’ in Kobane

Rise of Shiite militias challenges government authority in Iraq

Cultural heartland of Al Ain hosts night of Emirati musical heritage

Iran forces inside Iraq as Abadi rules out foreign ground intervention!

South Sudan rivals meet in new bid to end civil war

From Morocco into Spain: Crowd of African migrants charges to border fence

Deadly suicide attack targets Shiite mosque in central Baghdad

Turkey gives Iraq Peshmerga forces passage to Kobane

Israel to supply Egypt with natural gas despite sabotage

Kerry seeks help of Southeast Asia in anti-Islamic State push

Qaeda inflicts heavy losses on Huthi rebels in central Yemen

US carries out first weapon airdrops to Kurd fighters near Kobane

Benghazi violence kills 75 people in five days

Morocco accuses Algeria of firing on civilians across border

Australia finalises deal for deployment of Special Forces to Iraq

Tunisia calls on Libya authorities to locate missing journalists

Turkey rejects calls to arm ‘terrorist’ Kurdish party in Syria

Western powers threaten sanctions against hostile actors in Libya

New deadly terrorist attack targets Egypt army in Sinai

‘Islamic State’ suffers heavy losses in Syria battleground of Kobane

After full formation of Iraq government, time comes to visit Iran

UN appeals for four-day truce in Western Libya

Gaza tunnel collapses before demolition: At least 3 Egypt soldiers dead

Erdogan begins one-day visit to Afghanistan

After weeks of delay, Iraq gets new security ministers

Diplomats scold Turkey over ambiguous relation with Islamic State

Lebanon pleads for Iran military aid to fight Islamic State

Kurds repulse new jihadist attempt to cut off Syria town

Huthi rebels meet fierce resistance in Yemen Sunni areas

Former Iraqi pilots train IS to fly Syria fighter jets

Two Millstones Drowning America into Premature Oblivion

Iraqi forces launch anti-IS operation north of Tikrit

Ben Ali cohorts planning comeback in Tunisia polls

Battle for Libya's Benghazi heats up

Kurdish fighters still holding out in Syria's Kobane

Russia denies agreed with US on IS intelligence-sharing

Saudi’s National Commercial Bank to offer $3.6 billion IPO

Qaeda counters advancing rebels with Yemen town seizure

Iran warns Saudi cleric death sentence could escalate tensions

No breakthrough in US-Iran intense nuclear talks

Kuwait ends decades of diesel, kerosene subsidies

US airstrikes ‘push back’ IS in Kobane

New desperate attempt to reach Europe: Hundreds storm Morocco-Spain border