Islamic Perspectives

Shia-Sunni Unity: A Must For the Welfare of Ummah

By Muhammad Abdus Samad Mazumdar

Shia-Sunni conflict, according to my knowledge, is not religious but political. Enemies of Islam always try to make it a religious conflict to sabotage the unity of the Muslim Ummah.

Islam is primarily based on three fundamental beliefs: 1) Tawhid, 2) Risalat, and 3) Akhirah. Firstly, Tawhid means Unity of Godhead, that Allah alone is the Creator, Nourisher and Destroyer of the worlds. He is Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient. He is not the father of any son nor the son of any father. Instead, He is the Creator of all. He has no partner and nor can anybody share His Lordship. He is one and unique.

Secondly, Risalat means prophethood, that is, Allah sent many prophets right from the first man Adam (AS) to the last and final prophet,  Muhammad (pbuh), to the world to teach and guide their respective people and thereby make them qualified for redemption in the next world. If any one denies the prophet of his/her age, he/she is Kafir (rejector or unbeliever) according to Islam, which teaches that all prophets came to their respective people and regions to teach, guide and disseminate the message of God, that “There is no God but Allah’’, which is called Tawhid [belief in One God] in Islam.

A long prophetic list starts with Adam (AS) and ends with Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Hence, anyone who believes in a “prophet” after Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), or rejects a prophet from the prophetic list, would not remain within Islam.

Thirdly, Akhirah means the Hereafter or life after death, which entails the belief that a person would have to account for his/her actions in the next world. If he/she leads a life in accordance with the divine law brought by the prophet of his/her age, he/she would enter Paradise; else he/she would be chastised and punished in the next world. It signifies that by acting upon this divine law one prepares in this world for redemption in the next world.

These three fundamental beliefs are invariably held by both Shia and Sunnis who act accordingly in this life. Hence, it is prohibited (haram) to make a distinction between Shia and Sunnis in terms of faith. There may, however, be a political difference between the two. Hating or fighting each other would only lead to mutual destruction. Islam always stresses maintaining unity among the Ummah. The holy Qur’an announces: “O believers! Hold fast altogether by the Rope of Allah [divine law] and be not divided among yourselves (3:103); “As for those who divide their religion and break into sects, you must not be a part of them in the least” (6:159).

The difference between Shia and Sunnis has nothing to do with the fundamental belief in Tawhid, Risalat and Akhirah. Islam teaches that the Muslim Ummah should be led by an Imam or khalifah (leader) in accordance with  the divine law for its peace, unity and prosperity. The Ummah would select or elect a competent leader from among itself and abide by the order and advice of the leader as long as he followed Islam.

The Shia hold the view in the context of the leader that the person who would be selected or elected for leading the Ummah must be from among the descendants of Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh). In support of their view, Shia state the Qur’anic verse: “Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain commands which he fulfilled.  Allah said: ‘I will make thee Imam (leader) to the people.’ He (Abraham) pleaded: ‘And also (Imam) from my offspring!’ He answered: ‘But My promise is not within the reach of evil-doers’”(2:124).

 Thus it appears that except the evil-doers, a man who is competent and belongs to the offspring of Prophet Abraham should be the leader for the guidance of the Ummah for their peace, unity and welfare.

Prophet Abraham had two sons, Ismail and Ishaq [Isaac]. The children of Ishaq included Prophet Jesus and the lineage ended at him as Jesus did not marry. Conversely, the children of Ismail included Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). His daughter Fatima married Ali and they had two sons, Hasan and Husain. Shias say that the Prophet’s family consists of Prophet Muhammad, Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husain; and they are called Ahlul-bayt (People of the Household). The children of Ahlul0bayt are the offspring of Prophet Abraham. The leader should be from among the descendants of Ahlul-bayt for the guidance of the Ummah. Needless to say, Shia believe that Imam Abu Hanifa was also one of the greatest Imams (Imam-e-Azam) and was a disciple of the Shia Imam, Ja’far Sadiq of the fifth generation of Aal-e Muhammad.

Sunnis differ on the issue of leadership. They say that there is no emphasis in Islam on a leader’s race, lineage and colour. Any  Muslim who is most pious and competent should be the leader. They also believe that all men are equal before God. No one can claim status on the basis of caste, lineage and colour, but only on the basis of piety. The Holy Qur’an announces, “O Mankind! We have created you from a single male and a female [Adam and Eve] and made you into nations and tribes. Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is he who is most pious of you” (49:13);  “Allah has promised to those among you who believe and work righteous deeds that He will surely grant them Khilafa in the land” (24:55).

Moreover, Prophet Muhammad said on the occasion of his last Hajj, “O people! Your God is One and your ancestor is one. No Arab has any superiority over a non-Arab (‘ajami), nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab. Nor a white man has any superiority over a black man or the black man any superiority over a white man. You are all children of Adam and Adam was created out of clay. A man’s superiority will be judged on the basis of his piety. (Baihaqi)

All said, there is a trivial difference between Shia and Sunnis, which is indeed a political difference. It has nothing to do with their faith. Each group is Islamically obligated to act for the protection and welfare of the other. The Holy Qur’an announces, “The believers are but a single brotherhood, so make peace and reconciliation between the two (contending) brothers” (49:10). All also said, “The believers, men and women, are protector of one another” (9:71).

(The writer teaches commerce in the P.B College, Gauripur, Dhubri, Assam).

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-28 February 2015 on page no. 20

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