Islamic Perspectives

Why Shia-Sunni unity does not materialise?

Malik Ashtar Navganvi

Some four years ago a conference on Ittehaad bainal Muslimeen (Unity between Muslims) was held in the Engineering College auditorium of Jamia Millia Islamia. In this conference, sponsored by a famous international organisation, ulama and intellectuals from all over the country in addition to delegates from foreign countries were present in large numbers. On the last day of this conference, like other days, fiery and impassioned speeches by ulama and religious leaders were delivered. Slogans of Ittehad bainal Muslimeen were raised. Ulama in their speeches repeatedly asked people to “hold Allah’s rope firmly”, i.e., be united. They also repeatedly said that Europe and America are conspiring to make Shias and Sunnis fight each other, hence in order to foil these conspiracies Muslims must avoid fighting each other.

Such speeches continued from morning till Zuhr prayers after which the participants, both Shias and Sunnis, with great enthusiasm stood in rows outside the conference hall in open air  without any difference between them. It was a pleasant sight to see people offering Namaz according to their respective maslak, some placing both their hands on their stomachs, some on their chests while some with their hands hanging, yet all were following one Imam and all were standing shoulder to shoulder. It appeared as if ulama’s speeches had deeply influenced them. When there was a brief opportunity between prayers, I chanced to go into the conference hall. I found that some people were still sitting there, probably waiting for the people outside to finish their joint prayers and then to start their own prayers according to their “own” masklak. Later, I saw the same actually happening. When the joint Shi’a-Sunni prayer ended, these people started their own prayers in separate groups. Surprisingly, they were none others but some of the speakers who earlier were untiringly urging the audience to maintain Ittehad bainal Muslimeen and promote Shi’a-Sunni brotherhood.

In spite of a “cold war” like situation in the world, efforts are being made to settle differences through inter-religious, inter-civilizational and other peaceful means and discussions. Men of foresight have realised that the overall human welfare and security lies not in differences, confrontations and disputes but in unity, cooperation and understanding. As far as Muslims are concerned, Qur’an teaches them to have strong faith in Allah and avoid mutual differences.

I had stated earlier in one of my articles that if a list of persons who fan Shi’a-Sunni disunity in the Subcontinent is made, most of them will be the products of religious madrasas. The question is: why, after all, responsible authorities of some madrasas cannot understand that fiery speakers who describe Muslims of other sects as “kafirs” can be popular but they can never be helpful in bringing about inter-sectarian or broader Muslim unity. One may very well ask: why only ulama and preachers should be held responsible for creating confusion and differences among Muslims? This is because they are considered as the community’s religious eyes and minds and we generally accept their leadership meekly without questioning them. If they preach or advise people to avoid people of other sects, a simple minded person will accept their advice. If someone propagates inter-sectarian differences, why do our senior ulama and religious leaders and social reformers not start a movement against such people? I wish to make it clear here that by “ulama”, I certainly do not mean all ulama nor do all ulama and religious leaders preach differences and confusion but, undoubtedly, there are many such ulama who try to add fuel to the fire.

One will be surprised to know how false and misleading propaganda by people of one sect against another is generally made. It is unfortunate and deplorable that our respectable ulama and molvi sahibs are not lagging behind in making  baseless propaganda against other sects. If less educated people, who have superficial knowledge about religion, make statements which will harm Ittihad bainal Muslimeen it can be ignored but it is a great pity if learned muftis of reputed religious institutions pronounce fatwas which create rift or add to the already existing schism. For example, here are some fatwas which exist on the website of Darul Uloom Deoband’s Online Darul Ifta. Someone asked (question No. 1495): “I am a Sunni but have married a Shi’a girl. I want to know the accuracy or validity of the Nikahnama given to me by the molvi who solemnised the marriage”. In reply to this question, Darul Ifta’s fatwa says that “a Muslim cannot marry a Shi’a girl because, according to the faith or belief written in their (Shi’as) books, they are outside the fold of Islam; hence Shi’a-Sunni marriage is not possible. It is surprising how you married a Shi’a girl and how your parents agreed to it?” You can think how in the light of such a fatwa, the dream of Ittihad bainal Muslimeen can materialise? After this fatwa if some one holds America and Europe responsible for hatching conspiracies to make Shi’as and Sunnis fight against each other, what you or anyone else can say?

Here is another such fatwa: In reply to a question (No. 1566) on the website of the same Darul Ifta of Darul Uloom: “whether we can meet Shi’as and what are the instructions about sharing meals with Shi’as?” In reply to this question, Darul Ifta’s fatwa is: Beliefs of Shia’s and Sunnis are in conflict with each other. It is not proper to meet each other, but yes, on the basis of human relationship we can meet them and if one is sure that their meals are alright, one can eat it, but as it is generally said that they mix something (dirt etc) in the food (for Sunnis), one should avoid eating their food.”

These are matters not of one particular group but such things are found in all groups, hurting the feelings of other groups and sects. Recently, one of Iran’s leading scholar-politicians, Ayatullah Hashmi Rafsanjani, emphasised in an statement that Shi’as and Sunnis should avoid making statements which give rise to more differences.

According to, Rafsanjani had stated that by making audacious statements in respect of respected Sahabas, elements like ISIS and Taliban get opportunity to thrive and prosper. Earlier, Ayatullah Ali Khamnei had stated that making derogatory and audacious statements about Sahaba and wives of the Prophet (pbuh) is unlawful (haram). Such statements should be welcomed. Shia-Sunni differences are not so minor. Rather, they are serious problems which are widespread from Pakistan to Iraq and from Syria to Saudi Arabia and other countries and can clearly be seen, read and felt.

Another important thing is that we have made our mentality such that for all or most of our ills we blame America, Israel or others at home. We should coolly think that if our Imam or other so-called religious leaders say that some people offer dirty food to Muslims of other sects or after spitting in it or if some preachers say that Muslims of other sects are kafirs and they will go to hell, how America or Europe can be blamed for this? Our ulama and muftis are very respectable people for us and we value what they say or preach and we want to follow their advice but we also want that we all should follow Qur’an’s message of unity and understanding among all Muslims in our daily lives and for this we want correct advice and sincere help of our ulama, preachers, muftis. (Translated from Urdu by N. A. Ansari)