the Message Continues ... 9/26
....an Excellent Essay By A Sunni Intellectual
By Dr. Shahid Athar M.D.
courtesy: Ali Hasan, CA
centuries-old Shia-Sunni differences are the major obstacle to
Muslim unity. The enemies of Islam to their benefit have always
fanned these differences. Unfortunately, some so-called Muslim
scholars on their payroll have also played a key role in keeping
these differences alive.
Although I was born into a Sayyid Sunni family, I did not know of many differences while growing up as a child. Our families always respected Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) and his parents and participated in ceremonies marking the anniversary of his martyrdom (the 10th day of the month of Muharram which is
called Ashura) by reciting the first chapter of the Quran (al-Fatihah) and other chapters and verses of the Quran and fasted on the ninth and tenth days of that month.
Now when I give lectures on Islam to non-Muslims, one of the questions they always ask me is if I am Shia or Sunni. I ask them if they know the difference. They have no knowledge, other than what has been given to them by the media. So they say Shias are the ones who are the bad guys, the militant version of Islam, and cause all the trouble in the Middle East these days.
These non-Muslim American audiences of mine are surprised to learn that some of the known tyrants like Saddam Hussain and troublemakers like the PLO and Hamas are all Sunnis, just as they are surprised to learn that Tariq Aziz (Iraq's Foreign Minister) was Christian and not a Muslim.
This is what I say to them about Shi'ites."If Ali Ibn Talib (cousin of Prophet Muhammad) was a Shia, then I am a Shia. If he was a Sunni, then I am a Sunni [i.e., a follower of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)]. In Islam there are five recognized schools of Divine Law: 1) Hanafi; 2) Shafi; 3) Maliki; 4) Hambali and 5) Jafari.
The first four are called Sunni, and the fifth one, who in addition to following sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), also follows those of Ali and consider him as the rightful successor of the Prophet, are called Shia. The first four have many major theological differences among themselves and according to a Christian friend of mine, "The only time Sunnis are united is when they are fighting Shias." Shi'ism started as a political movement (Shia means follower or partisan) to help Ali become successor of Muhammad (PBUH).
Around every successful popular figure, there are some admirers whose own future interests rest with the rise of their leader. Thus in Indiana, we have "Friends of Lugar Club", who are hoping that some day Senator Richard Lugar will become a US President. Nationally, we now have a Hillary Rodham Clinton Fan Club with 4,000 members! Thus, there were the Followers of Ali Club, which later on became a political movement. During the initial battles with unbelievers, Ali, the Sword of Islam, was in the forefront and defeated and killed
many of their leaders whose children and grandchildren, even when they became Muslims, always remembered who killed their father (animosity).
Ali was raised by Prophet Muhammad as a child so he knew Islam very well. Thus, when he became a judge, his judgments were based on strict Islamic principles, much to the disappointment of many who expected him to be lenient to the rich and powerful. He was so well respected and trusted by both Caliph Abu Bakr and Umar, that in difficult cases they asked his opinion.
Nevertheless, I tell my non-Muslim audience that both Shia and Sunni have many things in common. They both believe in One God (Allah), follow the same Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as the last Prophet, offer five daily-prescribed prayers, perform the prescribed fast in the month of Ramadan, go to Mecca for the pilgrimage (hajj), read the same Quran, and pay the poor-due.
However, my answers can only satisfy my uninformed non-Muslim audience. The Sunni brothers, misguided by western propaganda, who are ready to embrace non-Muslims (especially the white ones), in the pretext of invitation to Islam, will not do so for Shia. They are ignorant Sunnis. Our job as a missionary should be to invite both groups to the true Islam and not chase them out. There is a movement in the Sunni world to have Shias labeled as disbelievers. I have been told that Shaykh Bin Baz of Saudi Arabia has declared an edict that the meat of the People of Book (Jews and Christians) is permissible for Sunni Muslims to eat but not the meat slaughtered by Shias.
There are scholars on both sides, like Imam Khomeini and Shaykh Shaltut of al-Azhar who have done their best to minimize these differences and bring unity, but it is not working due to the misinformation prevailing in the common masses of Sunnis about Shi'ism. Thus I am listing their misconceptions of Shia belief and practices. For answers, I have consulted two Shia scholars in America. Dr. A. S. Hashim of Washington and Imam Muhammad Ali Elahi of Detroit.
Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr wrote to me "to ignore and not waste time in responding to such wrong allegations." He also mentioned that "a great deal of money and effort is being spent in the last few years to fan the fire of hatred between Shia and Sunni in the Persian Gulf region with obvious political and economical fruits for powers to-be." However, in the interest of Islamic unity, I must deal with the questions rather than shun them. Please note that Imam Jafar (peace be upon him), founder of the Shia school of law, was the teacher of Imam Abu-Hanifa (peace be upon him).
Misconception #1: Shias have a different Quran. They add another 10 chapters to the original Quran. Response: Not true. I have checked many times Quran kept in Shia homes and mosques. I still find it the same as the original Quran. More recently, I took care of an Iranian lady patient hospitalized here. I saw a copy of the Quran by her side. I borrowed it from her and browsed through cover-to-cover. In Arabic it was the same as our Quran. Of course, since I did not know the Persian language, I can't say much about the translation. It is a sin to even say that the Quran can be changed or added to by Shia when God protects it.
Misconception #2: Some Shia considers Ali as God. Response: Not true. It is disbelief to even think of such a thing. During the time of Ali, some pagan groups called Gholat did consider Ali as Lord. When he found out, they were burned to death.
Misconception #3: Shias have different declarations of faith and they add to the call to prescribed prayer. Response: The declaration to become a Muslim, as administered to non Muslims, is the same. Some Shia add to themselves, "Ali is a friend of God (PBUH) or Ali is a spiritual leader of God," after the call to prescribed prayer, but not as part of the call to prescribed prayer.
Misconception #4: Shias do
not perform Sunnah prayers. Sunnah prayers are non-obligatory
prayers performed by Prophet Muhammad. Response: Shias do perform
non-obligatory prayers, 36 cycles per day in total, but call it
Nawafil (extra) and not Sunnah as all of the Prayers are Sunnah.
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