The Men We Love to Hate

By Fatima Ali Jaffer

(Nairobi, Kenya)

There is no doubt that the main bone of contention between the Ahle Sunnah and the Shia is the issue of succession. The breach that was created after the Prophet (SAW) has grown wider and deeper over the passing centuries and because of the severity of the accusations involved, it is extremely important that we have a clear and, most importantly, united stand regarding this matter.

The acceptance of Imam Ali (AS) as the rightful Wasi of the Holy Prophet (SAW) is necessary part of belief. It is the yardstick by which the faithful have always been and will always be measured. Being so essential, it must be treated with the gravity it deserves.

In the past, our forefathers took one extreme by condemning those who did not accept Imam Ali (AS) without hesitation and our generation has, in rebellion, tended towards the other in trying to blend all differences to form an outward expression of Islam acceptable to all sects. In both cases, we forgot the basic rule of being a Muslim – maintain balance. In the present times especially, it is essential that we have one strong foot against the enemies of Islam, whilst also holding on firmly to the essence of our Shia faith.

The line between unity and distinction in Islam is extremely fine and it grows thinner by the generation. There is on one hand, a dire need to present a united front to the non-Muslimes who are using inter-sect hostility to attack Islam (and succeeding dangerously well) and on the other, an equally urgent need to define the differences between the Shia and other sects.

It is our failure in the latter that is my concern. For many of us, Idd-e-Zahra has been the symbol of the ‘Shia-vs-Sunni’ battle. Every year, we learn of the same incident about the same person, laugh at its ovel re-telling, rejoice in being on the side of Truth and then go home satisfied in the knowledge that we have done our duty. In doing this, we have actually weakened our defences. I do not criticize the celebration of this Idd. Far from it. In reality, the problem lies not in the fact that we observe Idd-e-Zahra, but that we do only this.

The plot to grab the seat of power was not hatched overnight. It was the result of a complex series of extremely intelligent and cunning moves and Saqifa was the fruit of many evil labours. By reducing the severity of these crimes and laughing at their perpetrators, we have only succeeded in creating clowns out of criminals. As a result it becomes difficult to see the men we mock for their ignorance of Islam as sly political geniuses capable of torture and murder. Even our disgust with them takes on a mildly amused form.

Restricting the debate between Shia and Sunni to Khilafat alone also raises problems because it refuces the case to a power struggle, which it has never been. Originally, the split may have revolved aroud the rejection of Imam Ali (AS) as Divine Imam but with time, these differences have spread to other areas so that today, the Shia and the Sunni are separated in matters of belief (Tawheed, Adalat nd predestination) as well as practice (Salaat, Saum and other rules of Fiqh).

Over the years we have judged the Ahle Sunnah for accepting the leadership of the Munafiqeen without hesitation. Yet, anyone who has read Peshawar Nights, Then I Was Guided and the many other Sunni-Shia dialogues now available, will immediately realize that a high percentage of our Sunni brothers and sisters are not aware of the true history of either Islam of the issue of Khilafat. How fair is it to hold that ignorance against them? Does it not make more sense to first invite them to learn more and then judge them on their affiliation after this?

It is true that Khilafat is the root of division in Islam and cursing those involved in its manipulation is compulsory upon every Shia, but without solid foundations this enmity serves no purpose except to lower the intellectual level of the debate.

Besides, in most cases, simply stating the historical truth about the doings of these people is much more effective in the insulting department. By the time you finish with the list of their offences, you may realize that name-calling is really too good for them!

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