Before you read any further, I would like to firstly apologize if anyone is to be offended by this post. But I feel very passionately about this topic and so I need to write what is in my heart. More importantly, this is an issue that has caused so much sorrow in me.
As some may know, I recently went back to Malaysia for Ramadhan, and among the many issues that are being ‘discussed’ (a nice term to describe what is actually going on), is that of Shiism. I would again like to acknowledge that I am not the right person to come to regarding the different beliefs and practices between Sunnis and Shiites, but I can say that compared to most Malaysians I have met, I can confidently say that I know more (because of my general interest in Islam that is not limited to any sect), and especially on the (unbiased) history of Islamic sectarianism as learned at college. Words could not describe the heavy feeling in my chest every time I hear someone spread ignorance about Shiism because I feel as if I am witnessing the real-time unravelling of the Muslim ummah right in front of my eyes. From family members, to friends, to the salesperson at a department store, I have heard the same conversation, but I know better than to interject. I held my tongue because I believe it is not worth it to argue with people who are unwilling to admit that there is a small probability that they might be wrong.
I am not going to write a whole entry on the many similarities between Sunnis and Shiites; instead I would like to stress my frustration over how people are handling this issue. They say that it is in the name of Islam that they are trying to stop Shiites from spreading their beliefs in Malaysia, but as a Muslim, I just could not find justification in the Quran or Hadith for people to pass judgment on whose Islam is right or wrong. Don’t we all agree that only God knows eternal truth? Don’t we all agree that only God can judge whether one is righteous? Isn’t God the only person who can decide if a person is a believer or not? We are all humans similar in every way to the person we are judging. We are on the same hierarchical level. Does that not seem funny that we still somehow feel the right to call others kuffars?
The history of Islamic sectarianism started after the death of our beloved Prophet over the issue of his successor. Sunnis agree that Abu Bakr was the rightful successor whereas Shiites believe that Ali and his descendants were the rightful successor. Why is it important to point this out? It is to show that the Sunni-Shia split started as a political conflict. I would rather not go into detail, but surely it evolved into differences in religious jurisprudence. But may I friendly remind that even among Sunnis we have different madhabs, and our differences lie in religious practices, not in theology. Some may point to the concept of the imamate as curious. But not all Shiites believe in the infallibility of the imams. The bottom line is, all of us believe in the oneness of God (which is the cornerstone of our religion), the prophethood of Muhammad, the Quran, and Qiyamah. A relative of mine pointed out that Shiites have a different Quran than ours. I admitted that I had no knowledge of such thing, so I went to do my research and found out that the difference lies in the tafseer. Do you know that there are many tafseers of the Quran out there? But the Quran, in its Arabic form, has never changed since it was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad.
As a political science student, when I approach this subject people like to ask me to elaborate on the sectarian violence going on in the Middle East. I don’t care for the tone of their voice, which while seemingly condemns sectarianism also has a layer of prejudice that is feeding the violence. Nobody in my family knows that on Eid, my heart broke into hundreds of tiny pieces when I saw the number of people that had died in bomb attacks targeting mosques in Iraq. This is what we, Muslims, have come to. It is not the Christians, the Jews, or the Hindus who are killing Muslims, but Muslims are killing their own brothers over sectarian differences. Is it worth it? That’s a stupid question; of course it is not. We are killing people who profess in the oneness of God and the prophethood of Muhammad.
Sure, Malaysians have not fall to sectarian violence…yet. But it would not surprise me if we do in the near future based on what I saw and heard during my month-long stay in Malaysia. It always starts as harmless finger-pointing, but soon the fingers would turn into guns. People might argue that we are preventing the outbreak of destructive sectarianism by banning Shiism in Malaysia. These are the same people who cry foul over the military coup in Egypt. Believe me, it is all the same. When you suppress people based on ideology, you are only pushing them toward the brink of violent rebellion. Yes, I said ideology, because this is not an issue of religion. We are all Muslims.
“All believers are but brethren. Hence, [whenever they are at odds,] make peace between your two brethren, and remain conscious of God, so that you might be graced with His mercy.” (Quran 49: 10)
“The differences of opinion among the learned within my community are [a sign of] God’s grace” (The Prophet’s Hadith as quoted by Imam Suyuti in Al-Jami as-Saghir)
May God have mercy on my arrogance in this post.