Friday, May 16, 2008

Sectarian garbage... Can we throw it out???

I went to do a presentation on the holidays we celebrate in Islam yesterday at my children's school for the 2nd and 3rd grades. Now, the topic was holidays... But the question and answer time went in a different direction. Of course I got the usual, "Why do you wear that thing on your head?". But a 3rd grader asked me a question that took me by surprise. And remember I was a teacher so it is pretty hard for a kid to say something that surprises me.

This little boy asked me... "Is it true that there was a fight when Muhammad died and the Muslims couldn't decide whether a more experienced guy or a guy who was related to Muhammad should lead them? Is it true that Muslims are still fighting about it?"

And whenever I hear something like this from a non-Muslim, I feel like the soft underbelly of the ummah has been exposed. Our weakness laid bare before people who may very well use it to harm us.


Of course the answer had to be yes. The kid even knew that the two groups were called Shia and Sunni... The only thing he didn't know was which was which. The only thing I could say after my yes is that we are all Muslims, regardless of what we think about this matter.

But I don't think that we all feel that way really. The divide between the sects runs deep. And if we truly want to end the fighting we have to admit that first. There is a reason that we are divided, there are differences between the two sects... But, insha'Allah, in the end what I said to that boy is true we are all Muslims.

We can all ignore it for as long as we want. We have avoided coming together for what 1400 years now??? But in this country and in this time when we have our face in the dirt and the rest of the world has its' foot on our back can we really afford to? Can we afford to let these differences keep us so busy fighting amongst ourselves that progress is impossible? How long will we let our own self hatred hold us back? You know how the worst fights are with the people closest to you?

So let it start with me. Hi, I'm Sunni. But I promise not to judge you or hate on you because you are Shia. Promise me that you will give me the same respect. I'm not going to front... I think you are a little off about some things, I've wondered if we are even following the same religion when I read books about it from the Sunni perspective and I know you think the same about me... I hope that we can talk about the differences in our interpretations of the religion and try to understand each other better. I hope you know that if you are next to me in the Masjid you can hold your hands to your side as you read Al-Fatiha and I will cross mine on my chest knowing that we are making these gestures with the same intention, the worship of Allah(swt).

We can't make peace with the non-Muslims until we make peace with ourselves. Just my two piasters.


Yusuf Smith said...

As-Salaamu 'alaikum,

What the young boy had heard was not strictly true. The election of Abu Bakr (radhi Allahu 'anhu) did not cause any dissension among the Sahaba at the time; the trouble came much later, after the trouble which ensued from the murder of 'Uthmaan (radhi Allahu 'anhu). The partisans of 'Ali (radhi Allahu 'anhu) appeared only after his death, mainly among the tribes who were settled in southern Iraq. When the people of Kufa wanted 'Ali (radhi Allahu 'anhu) as their leader, he in fact did not accept the position until the surviving veterans of Badr agreed to it, and the Ummah has thousands of people descended through him and the vast majority are Sunnis, many of them very distinguished Sunnis at that.

There has emerged a very strong Orientalist/academic narrative which portrays the Sunni/Shi'a divide as having emerged at the very beginning and of being "six of one and half a dozen of the other", when nothing could be further from the truth; the Sunnis have always been the mainstream and the Shi'ites a set of extremist fringe groups, one sect of whom gained more prominence by taking over Iran after the Mongols had massacred many of the scholars there. Until that happened, Iran produced many distinguished Sunni scholars, Imam Ghazali and Abdul-Qadir al-Jilani to name just two of them.

Anonymous said...

That kid must have a relative in Iraq. I don't think my 3rd grader knows the difference...lemmie go see

Anonymous said...

Asssalaamu alaikom,

Wow, that's a good load there Yusuf Smith. I'm sure you wouldn't listen to an extremist, fringe group member so I'll ignore your comment, inshallah. It just amazes me because I think it goes against the entire essence of UmmLayla's post.

UmmLayla, as a Shia Muslim I agree with you entirely on the need for unity. At the same time, I recognize the need for unity to be on our common ground with respect to differing ideas. Often as a Shia Muslim, I feel like I'm going to be judged/harassed/condemned when I attend a masjid that isn't set on Shia aqeedah or programs by other groups. It seems a good portion of folks want to say "You shia, you created this biddah and you're the cause of the problem." I don't think I'm unorthodox or on the wrong path (obviously, if I did I wouldn't be Shia). That's how I view everyone else. Aren't we are all trying to gain nearness to Allah swt? Aren't we all trying to follow what we know and what we study and feel is accurate? InshAallah I hope so and pray we all follow what we believe is the haqq (even if we draw different conclusions).

The Doha Debates show recently had a topic MOTION: THIS HOUSE BELIEVES THE SUNNI-SHIA CONFLICT IS DAMAGING ISLAM'S REPUTATION AS A RELIGION OF PEACE. I'd offer it up for people to watch and really reconsider the thought that this "divide" is a big problem to the face of Islam. The link is

For centuries Shias/Sunnis have gotten along just fine. I think a good majority of the fitnah that has been created is over-hyped by zealots who love to bash and make takfir on people. How many time's I've been sitting amongst people who didn't know I was Shia (and who would have never known I was Shia unless I told them) for them to say outlandish and flamboyant statements that were completely false - often outrageous. (And too I've heard some inaccurate things from Shias about Sunnis - usually grouping them all up as "extremists wahhabies").

The bottom line is that if there's going to be change and unity, it has be done with honesty, and not forgetting the differences, but keeping in mind the similarities (which completely outweigh any differences).

alajnabiya said...

Assalaamu 'alaikum,

I am just shocked that a 3rd grader would know enough to ask that! Most American adults don't know that much.

I agree that while we should recognize that there are serious issues of disagreement between shi'as and Sunnis, we have to realize that we still have more in common than not.

Anonymous said...

I admire your philosophy and wish you well. I agree with all you said. I am a Muslim, I read the Quran and pray toward Mecca daily. I love the Prophet Muhammad (saw) and strive to follow his example yet because of my particular branch of Islam i am labelled 'Kafir' and members of my community are persecuted and judged outside the pail of Islam the world over.
In the end only Allah can judge the faith of people and until such a time as His judgement becomes clear we should deal with each other with dignity and humanity. May Allah bless you for your noble intentions.

UmmLayla said...

Yusuf, I don't feel qualified to go there with the historical aspect of this debate.... And to be honest I don't even want to get into it right now (although we should eventually) because I just want to focus on having the intention of understanding and respecting each other as much as possible.

Brooke, I told you it shocked me!LOL I KNOW my kids don't know!

Socrunchy, I agree with you. We have to TALK about our differences if we truly want understanding (which is the first step towards mutual respect, IMHO). And of course that means actually talking to someone from the other side... Not just reading about it or talking to another person with the same sect as you. This is why I respect DH's opinion about the whole thing... He had Shia roommates and they really debated and had some great talks... So he isn't fronting when he discusses it because he has heard the other side's version. I hope we can all get to that point. I am totally going to check out the link you posted, thanks!

Alajnabiya, there are more things in common, I hope!!!

Anon, Thanks. What sect are you? I hope we can all get together and stop this calling each other the K word... As I see it you read Quran, acknowledge the Prophet and pray 5 times a day you are Muslim, Allahu Alim.

Mona Um Ibrahim said...

Assalamu Alaikum. I feel the same way. If you say 'La Ilaha Illa Allah Muhammad Rasulullah' - that is enough for me to know you are Muslim and i leave Allah to judge us all in our practice. It is not for us to judge each other's piety and faith, as only Allah can know that. We all know looks can be deceiving, even behavior. I pray for the unity of the Muslim Ummah. May Allah help the Muslims suffering injustice in all world.

umm fayrouz said...

Al-salamu alikom umm Layla ,

I like what you wrote , and your thoughts too.

Recently, the unity between muslims is very much required indeed.

no more divisions , should be our aim

the most important thing , in my opinion, is to every single one to search and know much more his own way , for himself, in his way of ALLAH by his (swt) help
and not to argue , or fight
that's not the way or the time


by the way

I'm egyptian sunni mum , & I'v admired your blog

Anonymous said...

Asalamu Walaikum,
Subhanallah--the new guy at Taco Bell asked me today if I was Muslim, followed by "What kind"--I have never been asked that before! I don't think you would like much of what I responded.
My kids didn't know the difference, we have somewhat explained it to them.
Love and Peace,

brnaeem said...

AA- UmmLayla,

I'm with alajnabiya on being super impressed by the 3rd grader. Where the heck did he learn that factoid?

My 4th grader still struggles with her times tables, much less anything to do with Islamic history!

Did you ever find out about the kid? Was s/he simply parroting a question given by an adult?

Very curious...

Dalulla said...

Alsalamo alikom .. it is my first visit here and this was the first post i read.. I was very touched and i totally totally agree with you.. It is sad how differences get to some people amongst our ummah.. And as you mentioned we and others must learn ethics of conversations and trying to understand differences and finally i would add that we need not get violent, instead either keep trying to explain things as they are in the Quran and Sunnah or leave in peace praying for others and us with them with Hedayah, guidance.. Respect is very important in Islam.. may Allah join all Moslems together to be one hand one day... glad i dropped by !

Anonymous said...

Hello everyone! Who knows where to upload the film Avatar?
I even bought the film Avatar for a SMS to , the link was, but download fails, the system will boot quite strange cocoa something.
Men, advise where to normal as quickly download film avatar?

Anonymous said...

I sell a boat-program which will help you to outwit auction and to win, initially the boat was created for the Scandinavian auction but now the program can work with similar auctions: gagen ru, vezetmne ru and with ten.
The program-boat stakes for you, i.e. for this purpose it is not necessary to sit constantly at the monitor. The boat can set time when it is necessary to stake, thus you as much as possible will lower expenses for rates, and as much as possible increase the chances of a victory.

The price of the program a boat for the Scandinavian auctions 20$

For the first 10 clients the price 15$

To all clients free updating and support.

Behind purchases I ask in icq: 588889590 Max.