Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sunni Islam versus Shia Islam

December 27, 2012
By Saeed Qureshi
Muslims as religious entity have never been united, nor can there possibly be one brand of Islam ever. The irreconcilable conflict between Sunnis and Shias is a pernicious spillover from the past precisely from the moment Prophet of Islam Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) breathed his last. The ongoing orgy of blood and mutual killings in Pakistan is not a new phenomenon. It has been there for centuries wherever Muslims societies existed. It is a colossal tragedy within Islam that this great faith is torn apart into two domains that cannot reconcile or converge on a common creed.
The issue of succession after the demise of the prophet has been the bane of the unity among the Muslims for all these 14 centuries. Never was there an Islamic issue than the caliphate which brought so much of destruction and bloodshed between two leading sects of Sunnis and Shias. It is still a living issue prompting both sides to spill each others’ blood with religious fervor. In the present times in Syria, the civil war that has consumed 40000 people is primarily between Shia Alawi minority rulers and the majority Sunni population.
The prophet did not nominate a successor during his lifetime. The prophet’s death provoked a crisis. He died without any male progeny and without a clearly designated successor. Although, the prophet remained indisposed for several days before his death and he had plenty of time to decide as to who would be his successor, he did not take that vital decision. It was during his last moments that he wanted to dictate his will and nominate his successor. But those who were around his bed did not write the will because the prophet was in a state of faintness.
Following the demise of the prophet, the impromptu decision by a few of his close companions chose Abu Bakr as his successor as the first caliph. That led to a conflict between the prophet’s own family of Banu Hashim and the traditionally rival clan of Banu Ummayd. That nomination was not accepted by prophets’ family headed by his son in law, cousin brother and later the fourth caliph Hazrat Ali. The first three caliphs were from not from the Banu Hashim tribe.
Shiite Muslims believe that the true leadership comes through the Prophet’s bloodline and that his cousin and son in law Ali-ibne-Abi-Talib was the divinely ordained successor. They claim that Allah and his prophet had clearly designated Ali as the only legitimate successor. The Sunni sects believe that the four successors of Prophet Muhammad or caliphs were legitimate as they were chosen by the community in accordance with the custom of those times. The supporters of Ali always looked up for an opportunity to see Ali as the caliph. But their wishes and endeavors were blunted by the more crafty and powerful Ummyad notables.
However, the murder of the third caliph Hazrat Usman by the pro Ali supporters known as Kharjis intensified the rivalry between the prophet’s family and the Ummyad tribe. After Hazrat Osman, Hazrat Ali took the mantle of caliphate (656-661 C. E.). The deprivation of Ali of the office of the caliph through arbitration and later his death divided the Muslims into two irreconcilable groups forever. When Hazrat Usman was murdered, one of the mourners predicted that the cleavage caused by his assassination would never be bridged till the doomsday. That prophecy holds true to this day.
This cleavage further sharpened when Imam Hussain, his entire family (excepting women and one male) and accompanying followers were massacred in the desert of Karbala near Baghdad by the troops of then Ummayd caliph Yazid, the son of the founder of Ommyad dynasty; Amir Muawiyah.  Yazid to Shias is like a devil while Sunnis treat him like other caliphs. The Islamic unity has therefore, remained a mere myth and elusive goal for all these fourteen centuries.
Although there are several scores of sects and denominations within the fold of Islam, the level of animosity and bitterness that exists between the two leading sects of Sunnis and Shias is horrendous. There is no way that their doctrinal rift can be healed and reconciled in any way.
The Shia and Sunni division in Islam is so drastic and hard that they do not pray together in one place. Shias do not pay Islamic tax Zakat while in Islam it is considered to be one of the five principle obligations. With the exception of a few common beliefs and traditions Shias and Sunnis differ on a whole range of beliefs with regard to Sharia laws encompassing both juridical( criminal and civil) and ecclesiastical. The Shias believe in a lineage of twelve divine imams or spiritual leaders. On the other side, besides four caliphs, Sunnis have four Imams but they are primarily interpreters of the Islamic Sharia law. Barring Ali, Shias discard the three caliphs as usurpers. 
The Islamic history is replete with their mutual annihilation and massacres. In the past, the Sunni and Shia dynasties have been taking turns for wreaking havoc upon each other. During the Shia dynasties in Egypt, North Africa, Sicily, Spain, Arabian Peninsula, Syria and Iraq, Iran & Azerbaijan Sunnis have been terribly persecuted.
Conversely, in Sunni Muslim dynasties, Shias had suffered with terrible discrimination and massacres. The sack and pillage of Baghdad in 1258 by the Mongol hordes was the result of the rivalry between a Sunni caliph Mustaasim and a Shia vizier Mohammad bin al-Kami. Kami invited the Tartars to come to Baghdad.
While in the past they killed each other with swords, in the present times they resort to mutual slaughter by suicide bombing, target killing and bomb blasts. The Shias are branded as infidels by the majority Sunni sects and therefore, their murder is justifiable to them as if they were killing a non-Muslim. In Islam a heretic or apostate person or sect is more condemnable and liable to be punished with death than a non-Muslim who has clear denomination of not being a Muslim faithful and has come under the protection of the state as a Zimmi or dhimmi.
In all the Middle Eastern Islamic regimes there is always a simmering tussle, between the Sunni and Shia populations. For instance in Bahrain, the Sunnis are in minority but ruling. Conversely in Syria the Sunnis are in majority and Shias are in minority but are at the political helm. Same division and cleavage prevails in Iraq where most of the Shias religious and spiritual leaders are buried
One dimension of the Arab spring is the upswing in the ideological conflict between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, Bahrain and Syria where it is now turning into a civil war. In Iraq from the early days of Islam to Saddam Hussain’s era to the present dispensation of prime minister Nouri-al-Maliki, the Sunni-Shia feud has always been mostly underneath the societal disorders and internal upheavals.
In Bahrain the minority Sunni regime is in place while in Syria, it is the Shia minority that is at the helm and wreaking all brutalities on the Sunnis. Presently in Baghdad the Sunni majority population is protesting against the Shia minority government for maltreatment and discrimination.
In Pakistan, the Shia community observes the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the prophet of Islam, in a nerve-racking environment. They enter their congregational places as if entering a nuclear arsenal. Each and every person is subjected to body pat down by the security staff posted at the entry and exit points. The entire country is placed under high alert with thousands of military and semi military personnel guarding the processions.  Still the suicide bombers, callous murderers and sharp shooters from their rival sects keep killing them. Practicing of one’s faith is becoming extremely arduous in Islamic polities.
In the present times Saudi Arabia and Iran are hostile competitors in upholding the Sunni and Shia creeds respectively. The Saudis are aligned to the Christian West and America to browbeat and even contain the growing leverage and influence of Iran in the region. This antagonism is entirely faith based besides the historical rivalry between the Arab and non-Arab Muslims (Ajam). Some of the Shia spiritual leaders migrated to Iran during the Ommyad and Abbasids dynasties while the others were killed by these powerful family fiefdoms. As such the discord between Shias and Sunnis is not only of faith but also regional, ethnic and political.
The unity of Muslims as one nation would always remain a myth and unattainable goal. The bridging of the doctrinal and theological chasms between these two main sects within Islam would always remain a tall order unless the Muslim clergy of both the sects reconcile on living in harmony despite their mutual differences of faith and Sharia laws. Would that be possible within an Islamic state cannot be fathomed.
However, if the Islamic polities turn secular wherein all faiths are allowed to practice freely without harming each other, this most coveted goal can become attainable.  The example of such religious harmony can be witnessed in western societies where they pray in the same mosques and never fight.



  1. Dear Mr. Saeed Qureshi,
    I guess Muslims have to revisit their faith right where it started from, that’s one way to find the true Islam. I believe the conflict you mentioned was never with Suuni and Shia; it was with Muslims and Munafiqs (hypocrites). Hypocrites were always after the demise of Islam; they were present even in the company of the Prophet (pbuh) (after all a whole verse of “Munafiqoon” in the Holy Quran came for the hypocrites, their sudden disappearance was a mystery after the Prophet (pbuh) closed his eyes, I guess they melted away into Muslims as their supporters). The people who started the succession issue were played in the hands of hypocrites while majority of Muslims were threatened and made silent. The few who were not afraid and spoke openly against hypocrites were branded as “Shia” by the same while silent majority was recognised as “Sunni” (Alhe Sunnat wal Jamat).
    It would be illogical and irresponsible to even think that any Prophet (pbuh) could make a mistake. Holy Prophet (pbuh) did not or could not make mistakes, Allah (swt) says in the Holy Quran (Surah Najam 53-4) “إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْيٌ يُوحَىٰ ﴿٤﴾ “ that he (the Prophet) does not speak until the “wahi” (Divine communication) comes to him ““. If we start assuming that, God forbid, Prophet (pbuh) made a mistake then the whole religion taught by him would fall into jeopardy. Your assertion “...he had plenty of time to decide as to who would be his successor, he did not take that vital decision” does not hold water.
    Here, I want to make a point that the succession issue is not even there, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) had made it clear in the “dawat-e-Zulasheera” (invitation to relatives and prominent people) on the very first day of the propagation of Islam when Allah (swt) ordered him to do so. He (pbuh) had said “I have been sent by the Allah (swt) the one and only as a Prophet for the guidance of human kind, whoever helps me today will be my “brother, wasi and Khalifa” (successor) after me”. No one except Hazrat Ali (as) who stood up for his help but Prophet (pbuh) asked him to sit down. This message was repeated 3 days in a row at the house of Abu Talib and everyday Hazrat Ali (as) stood up for is help but Prophet (pbuh) asked him to sit down. On the third day when none stood up except Ali (as), the Prophet (pbuh) declared him as his brother, wasi and Khalifa (successor) and asked people to listen to him and obey him. It was in the later decades when the history of Islam was changed and factories were established to produce fake “Hadith” during the time of Mawiah (Umayyad) that the people were deprived of the truth. One of the Sunni historians “Tabari” wrote the event of “dawat-e-Zulasheera” but conveniently changed the words “wasi and Kahlifa” to “kadha and kadha”, but still wrote right after “kadha and kadha” the Prophet’s (pbuh) words “listen to him and obey him“.

  2. The second occasion I would want to mention was at “Ghadeer-e-Khum”, it was announced in front of more than 100K people. I would like to analyse it in the light of Holy Quran for you understanding.
    The occasion at Ghadeer-e- Khumm; on the way to Madina right after the last Hajj of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), there was an important and landmark occasion in the history of Islam at Ghadeer-e- Khumm where an important message to mankind from Almighty Allah (swt) was announced by the Holy Prophet (pbuh).
    Let’s ponder a little on this important announcement and Holy Prophet’s urgency to announce it in the middle of the journey from Mecca to Madina after his last Hajj.
    During the journey when the Holy Prophet arrived at a place called Ghadeer-e-Khumm the Arch Angel Gabriel came down with a message from the Almighty Allah (swt) that;
    "O Apostle! Deliver what has been sent down to you from your Lord; and if you don't do it, you have not delivered His message (at all); and Allah will protect you from the people ..." (Qur'an 5:67)
    Hearing this message the Holy Prophet stopped at that place (Ghadeer-e-Khumm) and ordered all his companions, close to 120,000 in numbers, to gather at that point. People who had gone ahead were called to return and waited for the people who were still behind. The message was so important that Holy Prophet (pbuh) wanted everyone present to understand and remember it. It is human psychology that whatever they physically do they remember it more than what they listen or utter from their mouth. He (pbuh) used this human psychology and made sure that the companions would remember the message by given them tasks to clean the ground from stones, shrubs and other obstacles and asked them to make a Mimber (raised podium).
    Here it is important to understand what message Allah (swt) had ordered Rasool (Apostle) to announce. All the commands and orders of Allah (swt) had come down to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) in the form of the “Wahi” (revelation) brought by Arch Angel Gabriel. Had Holy Prophet (pbuh) not taught the Muslims what Allah (swt) had revealed in the Holy Quran by the “Wahi” through Arch Angel Gabriel? Yes indeed he had. Then what was left, what was the message Allah (swt) wanted Holy Prophet (pbuh) to deliver, where the message had come from, why was it not in the Holy Quran and Arch Angel Gabriel had no knowledge of it?
    To answer those questions, we have to go back and read the Holy Quran to find out where Allah (swt) had indicated and shown signs of where and when was the message given to the Holy Prophet (pbuh).
    In Chapter 17 and Chapter 53, Allah (swt) talks about it.
    “Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless,- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things).”(Qur’an 17:1).
    This verse proves the Mairaj (ascent to heaven) of the Holy Prophet (pbuh).
    In Chapter 53 Allah (swt) describes what had happened during Mairaj of the Holy Prophet (pbuh).
    “And was at a distance of but two bow-lengths or (even) nearer;” (Qur’an 53:9).
    “So Allah divinely revealed to His bondman, whatever He divinely revealed” (Qur’an 53:10)
    In the Verse 53-10, Allah (swt) had indicated whatever he wished to reveal to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) His servant; He (swt) did directly not even keeping the Arch Angel Gabriel in between. Now it would be safe to say that no one other than the Holy Prophet (pbuh) knew the message given to him by Allah (swt) to deliver to the people. So when the Verse 5:67 came down to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) he was given no choice but to deliver the message to the people that was revealed to him directly by Allah (swt) during Mairaj as it was mentioned in Verse 53:10.

  3. After a long sermon at the grounds of Ghadeer-e-Khumm, Holy Prophet (pbuh) passed that important message of Allah (swt) to all the Muslims present and asked them to spread it around as well.
    In that sermon before announcing the message of Allah (swt) he said;
    "It seems the time approached when I shall be called away (by Allah) and I shall answer that call. I am leaving for you two precious things and if you adhere to them both, you will never go astray after me. They are the Book of Allah and my Progeny that is my Ahlal Bayt. The two shall never separate from each other until they come to me by the Pool (of Paradise)."
    Then he revealed the long held message;
    “For whomever I am his Leader (mawla), 'Ali is his Leader (mawla)". He (pbuh) continued “O' God, love those who love him, and be hostile to those who are hostile to him”.
    Immediately after that announcement the Arch Angel Gabriel descended and brought Allah’s message "Today I have perfected your religion and completed my favour upon you, and I was satisfied that Islam be your religion." (Qur'an 5:3).
    It was a jubilant occasion for all humans since Allah (swt) had perfected the religion which all the Prophets including Adam (as), Noah (as), Abraham (as), Musa (as), Jesus (as) and the last Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had brought for the mankind by the order of Allah (swt).
    It was even more thrilling since Allah (swt) had appointed Hazrat Ali (as) as the leader of all the Muslims (the most deserving person after the Holy Prophet (pbuh)) and opened the chapter of Imamat (blessed leadership) so no one would be left without a leader and the guidance until the day of judgement.
    Today it is called Eid-e-Ghadeer (Celebration on the occasion of Ghadeer khumm); people celebrate it on 18th Dhul-Hijja, the day the message was delivered by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to the mankind.

  4. At the end few anomaly in your article and my clarification points;
    1. Islam is only one religion, there is no such thing as Sunni Islam, Shia Islam or Wahabi Islam for that matter. They are merely sects based on their source of interpretation of Islam.
    2. The killings in Pakistan is not done by Shias or Sunnis on religious basis but done by outlaw outfits (unfortunately they call themselves Muslaims) that have no relation with Islam. If they follow Islam then they should obey the verdicts of the Holy Quran Surah-e-Nisa “Whoso slayeth a believer of set purpose, his reward is Hell for ever. Allah is wroth against him and He hath cursed him and prepared for him an awful doom. (93) O ye who believe! When ye go forth (to fight) in the way of Allah, be careful to discriminate, and say not unto one who offereth you peace: "Thou art not a believer," seeking the chance profits of this life (so that ye may despoil him). With Allah are plenteous spoils. Even thus (as he now is) were ye before; but Allah hath since then been gracious unto you. Therefore take care to discriminate. Allah is ever Informed of what ye do. (94)”. I personally believe that Shias and Sunnis are peaceful Muslim communities who adhere to the norm of Islam.
    3. Alawites in Syria can’t be called Shias Muslims; most of them are “Nushari” who are out of bound of Islam.
    4. Prophet (pbuh) wanted to write and he asked for the pen and paper (refer Hadees-e-Qirtas in Sahih Bukhari), but apparently some people around him did not want him to write so they denied him pen and paper and said that “the book of Allah is enough for us”. This was in total violation of the order of the Prophet (pbuh) although Prophet (pbuh) had said “I will write you something after which you will never go astray”. There were few people who were in favor of giving the Prophet (pbuh) pen and paper, but the one who did not want to, started noisy argument in front of him so that the Prophet (pbuh) had to tell them to get out from the room. Would a person in the “state of faintness” was able to do that?

    5. The changing of history is in full swing as a norm now and disputed material is being removed from books, but smart people keep the old books to refer to in order to see the truth.
    6. It’s not true that the Shia do not pay Islamic tax Zakat, they do pay it according to proper laws of Islam to “hakim-e-sharayee” but not to General Zia-ul-Haq. Btw... When it was announced that the Zakat would be waived at the time for Shias, more than half of the Pakistan population declared themselves as Shias.
    I hope you’ll understand that how important it is to speak the truth. In any conflict only one party is truthful, so it’s important to find the truth by researching it meticulously. Allah (swt) has said in Holy Quran “Stay with the truthful”. A journalist has greater responsibility to bring the truth out in public for the betterment of the masses.

  5. Ummayd caliph Yazid, the son of the founder of Ommyad dynasty; Amir Muawiyah....the followers of Yazid are not believers- they are hypocrites/ mischief makers and those who spread corruption in the land.