Islamic Unity Week: The meaning of Shi’a-Sunni solidarity

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Islamic Unity Week: The meaning of Shi’a-Sunni solidarity

Salaam and welcome to a special 6-part programme to be broadcast daily on the occasion of the annual Islamic Unity Week that spans the two dates of Rabi al-Awwal marked by Sunni and Shi’a Muslims respectively as the birthday of the Almighty’s Last and Greatest Messenger, Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny).

Sunni Muslims, as per the reports of the Prophet’s companions who became acquainted with him in the last years of his life, claim that he was born on the 12th of Rabi al-Awwal. Shi’a Muslims, on the basis of the accounts of the Prophet’s blessed household, the Ahl al-Bayt, consider family reports to be more authentic and mark the Prophet’s birthday on Rabi al-Awwal 17. The Father of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khomeini (RA), in order to gather Muslims on a single platform, above trivial differences, initiated the Islamic Unity Week in 1979, which has since gathered momentum and is spreading the message of solidarity around the world, despite the intricate sectarian plots of the enemies to splinter Muslim ranks by creating cannibalistic Takfiri terrorist outfits, such as Daesh, al-Qa’eda and their offshoots. Stay with us for today’s feature titled “The Meaning of Shi’a-Sunni Solidarity”.

Muslims have a common cultural heritage, and they have the same or very similar outlook with regards to the fundamentals of faith. All Muslims, whatever their school of jurisprudence, worship the One and Only God, the Creator of the universe, and all Muslims regard Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny), as the Last and Greatest Messenger with the universal mission of Islam. Moreover, all denominations of Muslims consider the holy Qur’an as the final heavenly revelation for the guidance of all mankind, and unlike the Christians and the Jews, Muslims do not have differing versions of the holy scripture. For all Muslims, the Qibla or the focal point of the 5-times a day ritual prayers is the holy Ka’ba in Mecca – the symbolic House of Unseen but Omnipresent God. Furthermore, all Muslims perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage on the same dates of the month of Zi’l-Hijja, and observe the obligatory fasts every year in the same month of Ramadhan. In view of these facts, unlike the various sects of Christianity and Judaism, there are no major differences among Muslims, whether Sunni or Shi’a, who differ only in secondary issues, which if rationally dealt with, are no major impediments for Islamic unity and solidarity.

Let us look back at early Islamic history. Islam, like a brilliant star, dawned at the height of ignorance, backwardness, superstition, and deviation of mankind that was not confined to the pagans of Arabia, but was also widespread in the supposedly advanced civilizations of the Romans, the Persians, the Chinese, and Hindus. Initially, the light of Islam overcame the darkness of ignorance and superstition of the Arabs, and then went on to guide to the straight and unwavering path of monotheism, the other ethnicities, such as the Romans, the Greeks, the Persians, the Chinese, the Indians, the Turks, the Africans, the Europeans, and the people of southeast Asia. In other words, the light of Islam gave hope to the masses of people who were caught up in ignorance and tyranny. Their eyes were opened up. Towhid or "Monotheism" – the worship of the One and Only God – brought together and united peoples and tribes who used to be each other's enemies. The Holy Qur’an tells Muslims in Surah Aal-e Imram "to hold tightly the Rope of Allah, altogether, and do not be divided. One of the most important teachings of the Holy Qur’an is thus the unity of Muslims. For example, in ayah 103 of Surah Aal-e Imran, the Almighty says: “And remember Allah’s blessing upon you when you were enemies, then He brought your hearts together, so you became brothers with His blessing. And you were on the brink of a pit of Fire, whereat He saved you from it. Thus does Allah clarify His signs for you so that you may be guided.”

Thus, we can say, that the way of the Lord Most High is to invite people towards prosperity, knowledge and science, unity, kindness, and togetherness, and at the same time the Lord warns us about the harmful effects of ignorance, division, disunity, and hostility. Among the pagan Arabs, there was a long history of enmity and bloodshed, because of tribal pride, prejudice, and bigotry. But Islam made clear to everyone, including pagan Arabs, and the ever-rebellious Israelites, the purpose of creation. Why has mankind been created? How do human beings achieve salvation? What is the purpose of our life in this mortal world? Answers to these questions, warrant all Muslims to foster unity amongst themselves and the spirit of brotherhood.

The Holy Qur’an, in addition to urging all Muslims to unite, also invites followers of monotheist creeds to come to a common understanding with Muslims. For example in Ayah 64 of Surah Aal-e Imran, Allah the Exalted says:

“Say, ‘O People of the Book! Come to a word common between us and you: that we will worship no one but Allah, and that we will not ascribe any partner to Him, and that we will not take each other as lords besides Allah.’ But if they turn away, say, ‘Be witnesses that we are Muslims.’”

In view of these facts, relatively minor differences should not prevent Muslims from being united. Muslims have a common cultural heritage, and they have an identical outlook with regards to the material world.

Another important point is that Muslim unity is not temporary or short-lived. Muslim unity is never tactical in nature, or for the sake of expediency, or for the sake of ‘political correctness’. What distinguishes Muslim unity is that it is deep-rooted, permanent and stable. Muslim unity is not like forming a coalition government; or like the unity of two political parties which unite at a particular juncture in order to achieve a common political goal. It should be noted that Muslim political groups do not form coalitions or alliances with non-religious or secular political groups.

A good example is the Father of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khomeini (may his soul rest in peace). He never shook hands with Iranian communists even though they fought against the corrupt Pahlavi regime for many decades. Imam Khomeini refused to consider them (i.e. the communists), as “brothers in arms” or “fellow strugglers against the Pahlavi regime”. Just a few months before the victory of the Islamic Revolution in February 1979, a journalist asked Imam Khomeini if he cooperated in any way with the Marxists or Communists. The late Imam replied:  “Our goals (objectives) are different from their goals (objectives). We believe in Islam and monotheism, whereas they don’t believe in either. Our politics are based on Islam, and Islamic principles, whereas they don’t believe in Islam, they don’t accept Islam, and that is why we do not cooperate and collaborate with Marxists/Communists. There is no cooperation to speak of now, and there will be no cooperation in the future either.”

We should also point out that Islamic unity between different Muslim denominations does not mean that a particular sect or denomination should modify its religious beliefs, or give up its beliefs altogether and convert to the other side. No one expects Islamic unity to lead to one particular denomination being chosen, and all other Islamic denominations being discarded or abandoned. In fact, what is meant by Islamic unity is that Muslims should emphasize what is common between them, and should interact with one another on the basis of their common religious beliefs and common cultural heritage. Muslim unity means that Muslims should cooperate with each other to solve the problems of the Islamic world, and should support one another, and cooperate on issues relating to the World of Islam, and in the international arena. 

In the past, Sheikh Ashur, the Vice Chancellor of Egypt’s al-Azhar University and head of the Committee on Dialogue among different Islamic denominations had this to say: “Islamic unity does not mean that we want to amalgamate different Islamic sects, or discard any Islamic denomination. That would be a diversion and a source of division in itself. Rather, Islamic scholars of different denominations (Sunni and Shi’a) should sit together, and debate, discuss and exchange ideas. Convergence must be based upon logic and scientific arguments and scientific reasoning, conducted in a calm and friendly environment.

Thus, Islamic unity is a wonderful opportunity for scholars of both sides to reason and exchange ideas. The Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, has commented on Islamic unity by saying: “We are serious about Islamic unity. Islamic unity does not mean that a particular Islamic sect should give up its religious beliefs or points of views. Islamic unity means two things, which are both important, and both of them should be realized. Firstly, Islamic sects, Shi’a and Sunni, should both genuinely cooperate with one another, collaborate and assist each other, in a joint effort to counter the enemies of Islam.  And secondly, all Muslims should work to become closer to one another, all Muslims should work towards a consensus. In many instances, if scholars of both sides exchange ideas, with only minor changes, fatwas (or religious edicts) issued by scholars of both sides can become almost identical or very similar”.

Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has also said: “The basis of Islamic unity between Shias and Sunnis should be the Holy Qur’an, the Sunnah or behaviour and practice of the Prophet of Islam, and Islamic Shari’ah Law”.

One final point is that the enemies of Islam have long used “a divide and conquer strategy” against Muslims. Islamic unity is the perfect anti-dote to this strategy of the enemies. 

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