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The 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.
....an Excellent Essay By A Sunni Intellectual
By Dr. Shahid Athar M.D.
courtesy: Ali Hasan, CA
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)
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
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
Misconception #5: Some Shia
believes the Angel Gabriel made a mistake and prophet hood was
meant for Ali and not Muhammad (PBUH). Response: Not true. No
Shia thinks of such false claims. "Only demented minds think of
Misconception #6: Shias
slander and ridicule the first three caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar and
Uthman) and Prophet Muhammad's wife, Aisha. Response: Shia
considers the first three caliphs as companions and
administrators, but not spiritual leaders (Imams). Imam Jafar
Sadiq, whose mother and grandmother came from the line of Abu
Bakr, said of Abu Bakr, "He gave me birth twice." Aisha is
respected by Shias as the"Mother of Believers," as Ali respected
her when he sent her back from Basra to Medina after the Battle
of the Camel. If some Shia do slander the three caliphs and
Aisha, they do it out of ignorance and should ask
God's forgiveness. (As we have witnessed how Imam Khomeini The
Shia bravely declared death of Salman Rushdie -The author of
Satanic Verses who abused the wife of Prophet Aisha and Only The
Shia Leader declared it as blasphemy, just for his Fatwa the
whole western countries became against Iran. See how much price
did Shia pay to defend Aisha - while Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE
etc. etc. as the Sunni government were silent they did not
defend Aisha. Now who loves Aisha?)
Misconception # 7: Shias
combine all five prayers into one prayer in the evening.
Response: Not true. In Shia mosques, whether in Iran or the USA,
all five daily prayers are performed. Shia do combine noon and
afternoon and evening and night, but Shia scholars recommend
performing them separately. Such combinations may not be ideal,
but better than not praying at all. How can a Sunni who does not
pray at all be better than a Shia who combines prayers?
Misconception # 8: Shias do
not pay zakat (poor-due). Response: Not true. They not only pay
2.5% left over from savings as zakat, but also an additional 20%
as Khums or general charity. However, they prefer to pay
directly to the needy, or their grass roots recognized scholars
rather than corrupt Sunni, or Shia (The Shah?) governments.
Misconception #9: Shias
practice temporary marriages (Mutah). Response: Mutah (temporary
marriages) was allowed during the time of Prophet Muhammad
(PBUH) and he himself practiced it. Ibn Zubayr was born out of
the temporary marriage. Later on Caliph Umar prohibited it due
to social reasons as the Islamic world was rapidly expanding.
Shias discourage Mutah but do not consider it prohibited. Some
do abuse this. As a temporary privilege during travel, it is
better than adultery.
Misconception #10: They
consider Imams infallible and above the Prophets. Response: Not
true. All prophets are born Prophet but as mentioned in Quran
about Abraham that after passing the test, a prophet becomes a
leader (Imam). Muhammad (PBUH) is the Prophet (Nabi), Messenger
(Rasul) and leader (Imam). Shias consider The Imams as error
free carriers of the message of Islam. Shias consider Ali only
as an Imam and not prophet. But his relevance in relation to The
Muslim Ummah in particular and the times in which we all live,
contribution as “carrier” is more relevant than the Prophets
before Muhammad whose books are lost, and contributions are
“legendary” at best. With the little knowledge I have, I have
tried to do my best as a Sunni in defending my Shia brothers in
Islam with the hope and prayer to God Almighty that He will
"instill love in the heart of the believers" and bring us closer
to each other so that we jointly can fight our common enemy,
Satan and his followers.
May God forgive my mistakes in this
article and this book (Amin).
"Knowledge is better than wealth because it protects you while
you have to guard wealth. It decreases if you keep on spending
it but the more you make use of knowledge, the more it
increases. What you get through wealth disappears as soon as
wealth disappears but what you achieve through knowledge will
remain even after you."
The author Dr. Shahid Athar M.D. is a
Clinical Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and
Endocrinology, Indiana University School of Medicine
Indianapolis, Indiana, and a writer on Islam.
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