Muslim Wire

How to Close the Gap Between Sunni and Shia Muslims?

Posted in Politics, Society by muslimwire on October 20, 2009

An Interview with Dr. Hussein Abu Sa`ud

Dr. Hussein Abu Sa`ud is an active proponent of rapprochement between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and one of the founders of the Islamic Unity Forum in London. He is an Iraqi currently living in the UK , and has recently responded to the following IOL questions on Sunni-Shia relations:

Islam Online (IOL): Dr. Hussein, we are glad to communicate with you and to get to know your opinions on the main issues and topics raised concerning rapprochement between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

In your personal opinion, what is required in order to achieve unity, or at least rapprochement, between Sunnis and Shiites? And what are the obstacles that stand in the way of this desired rapprochement?

Dr. Hussein Abu Sa`ud: First, we must admit that a conflict does exist between Shiites and Sunnis. Yet, is this conflict real or unreal? We intentionally put forth this question without presenting an answer.

Complete Muslim unity is impossible, though it is a dear goal for Muslims as it embodies a fulfilment of the Divine Call Lo! this, your religion, is one religion, and I am your Lord, so worship Me.Rapprochement on the other hand is possible; rather a sacred obligation for all Muslims, young and old, men and women. And in order to fulfill such an obligation, sincere belief in the True Religion (Islam) is first required; belief in Islam that combines us all under its banner. After that, the duties to be carried out by each of us vary.

Scholars are required to pave the proper (common) grounds for rapprochement, while normal people are required to accept such grounds with good intentions. On the other hand, governments are asked to protect and support the efforts of rapprochement. These points need further elaboration which we may touch on in a separate detailed thesis that will be published in the future in sha’Allah. In this regard, we should not forget the role of governments since power and authority lie in their hands. It was reported from the Third Caliph, `Uthman ibn `Affan (may Allah be pleased with him) that he said, “Indeed, Allah deters with the Sultan (ruler) that which he does not deter with the Qur’an”.

As for the obstacles that stand in the way of the pursued rapprochement between Muslim sects, especially the two main Madhhabs: Sunni and Shiite, they

are numerous, the most important of which being the existence of a hidden third power that plans and directs such ordeals with their funding. This power has managed to keep the fire of this rift glowing for more than a thousand years now. They continue to brew plots in order to keep the fire of this conflict ablaze for another thousand years. This Ummah is obliged to diagnose and identify this power in order to get rid of its harm and influence.

Another serious obstacle is the existence of a group of people on both sides who assume an extremist position, either ignorantly or knowingly. They stand as a stumbling block in the way of all efforts for rapprochement. While rapprochement is a big task, the resources available are scarce. And no matter how much the gap of difference widens, the Divine Words ring clearly and resonantly in the ears,And hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah (i.e. this Qur’an), and be not divided among yourselves

IOL: What is your opinion on the issue of Shiite expansion in countries with Sunni majorities? Is the call for the Shiite sect in Sunni majority countries one of the Shiite priorities?

Abu Sa`ud: Though the word madd (expansion) consists of few letters, it has considerable impacts and consequences, and its danger is manifest. Here, it is used in inflating the difference, as all people know that there is no Shia expansion or spread. Rather, there are cases of understanding of the other Madhhab, knowing that the cases of Sunnis becoming Shiites are balanced by cases of Shiites becoming Sunnis. This is similar to Christians turning to Islam or the leaving of Islam of one or two persons, as these are individual cases that do not rise to the level of an expansion phenomena and therefore do not justify such exaggeration.

In addition, those who talk about this “expansion” in public and who warn against its dangers are from the extremist group, which I referred to above, which exists among all sects,and such exaggeration is a main element in the programs and goals of this group.

Moreover, if there is a call for the Shiite Madhhab, it is paralleled by a call for the Sunni Madhhab through websites; Paltalk and YouTube, publications and public talks. Da’wah (Islamic call) should be for Islam and not for Madhhabs. I can therefore almost certainly confirm that there are no priorities for the Shiites religious authorities as regards calling for the Shiite Madhhab. Yet, this leaves the door open for whoever wants to get acquainted with the Madhhab and learn about the creed. So, whoever gets a fingerbreadth closer to us for the sake of acquaintance and proximity, we will get a handbreadth closer to him, since Almighty Allah (Exalted be He) says,(O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another).

In this context, I personally hope that we use the term “bridges” instead of “expansion”. I would also claim that the problem lies in a historical misunderstanding, namely due to the two opposites of extremism and negligence.We should also admit that we have not yet understood the household of the Prophet and the Companions in the right way that leads to familiarity, affection, understanding and proximity.

IOL: How do you view the reality and future of the Islamic Da`wah outside Muslim countries, especially in the West?

Abu Sa`ud: We should first admit that the ground is ready in the West for the call of Islam, especially that westerners have realized how much a materialist civilization is empty from values and truths. Yet, unfortunately, the Muslims moved to the West without bringing their religion (Islam) along. Rather, they carried along their different ideologies, sects, creeds and beliefs. And instead of benefiting from the atmosphere of tolerance that is available there, some of them floundered again into the mud of sectarianism. Though we know that the call to Islam is necessary, required and obligatory, still the call for Madhhabs is not.

I also believe that the call for Islam in western countries is not at the required level, and that Muslim scholars living in the West should adopt a unified Islamic discourse and utilize it in Islamic Da`wah. Hence, I call for the establishment of the first Muslim mosque in Europe that is based on the true religion of Islam and not on the Madhhabs, and that such a mosque be entirely dedicated to the worship of Allah Almighty, and not to the promulgation of Madhhabs. Then, any Muslim – regardless of his own ideological affiliation – can freely enter that mosque and perform his religious rituals. It is worth noting that when I say “the first Muslim mosque”, I really mean it, since the mosques built in Europe are either Sunni or Shiite mosques. So, this is a call for embracing Islam and rejecting disunity, sectarianism and division.

IOL: Does the application of the principle of citizenship offer a solution in the Sunni countries with Shiite minorities and in Shiite countries with Sunni minorities?

Abu Sa`ud: Citizenship, as we know, is a newly introduced colonialist notion that was not known in its present meaning in the past. A homeland used to conventionally mean a person’s birthplace and the place where he is raised, which could be a village or a town. As time went past, the notion has turned into a de facto that must be acknowledged, and people have acquired a strong feeling of citizenship and a deep love for the land with its already existing, though illusory, borders.

On the other hand, the principle of citizenship is already being widely exercised (by Shiites), and if an individual or a group of individuals have allegiance to other than their own countries it would be an exception not a general rule. In this context, we have seen how the Shiites of Kuwait for example fought in defense of their country against invasion by the former Iraqi regime. Also, if we ask a Shiite from Qatif – for instance – about his allegiance, we would find him no less devoted in his allegiance for his homeland than his fellow Sunni brother. This issue was raised by the late Muhammad Mahdi Shamsuddin, President of the Lebanese Supreme Islamic Shiite Council, who stated in clear and intelligible words,

My urgent recommendation is that the Shiites in every one of their countries avoid the banner of “rights of the sect” and the demand for a quota in the (political) system. I also advise them in an emphatic way that none of them should attempt to establish a special system for the Shiites in their country within the general public system, neither in the political, economic or developmental fields. I recommend them to integrate into the public interest system and into the national public system, and to be equal as regards their allegiance to the respected public system, law and authorities. I also repeat my recommendation that they should not initiate any political or security confrontation with any regime.

IOL: What can wise Muslims among Sunnis and Shiites do to contribute to the toning down of common people’s excessive bigotry against the Other? What are the types of activities that you carry out in the London-based Islamic Unity Forum in order to achieve that goal?

Abu Sa`ud: The voice of reason sounds low-pitched and feeble in face of the flood of vain talk which currently dominates the public arena, knowing that Almighty Allah says,(but most of them have a hatred for the truth)Besides, wise people on both sides worked and are still working to communicate their voice to the common people to inform them that what has been going on for a thousand years has nothing to do with either religion or reason, and that fanaticism is an abominable and accursed trait. They also work to convey to them that work is not easy facing a hostile front that demolishes in a single minute what reformers build over a long period of time. As an example of this hostile front is a suspicious satellite TV channel that becomes active during the month of Ramadan in order to disseminate its venom to cause a split between followers of the two Madhhabs.

As regards the Islamic Unity Forum in Britain, it has organized several conferences attended by representatives from many Muslim countries. The objectives of these conferences were largely achieved and participants were invited to large Islamic Sunni and Shiite centers in London, where they were cordially and graciously received. This indicates that people have realized the danger of division and the benefits of unity. This is in addition to seminars and televised dialogues in which forum members participate. Moreover, the forum has major future projects, including issuing a monthly magazine and launching a distinguished website, and holding conferences on unity in other Muslim countries, according to available resources.

I therefore think that if we gather ten persons from the two Madhhabs and let them perform prayer in congregation in public, this would be a victory. It would constitute a resounding voice in face of the voice of despair, dejection and despondence. We would like to say to people, O people, truly this, your Ummah, is one;and hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah (i.e. this Qur’an), and be not divided among yourselves lest you lose courage and your strength depart, and other nations jointly bear down on you.

IOL: The Mufti of Sur – in Lebanon – Sheikh `Ali Al-Amin, suggested in a recent interview with our colleagues from the Madarek website of the Islam Online portal, working towards the establishment of joint religious institutions where both Sunnis and Shiites study together, as one of the suggested mechanisms for rapprochement between the Sunni and the Shiite Madhhabs, and recommended Beirut to be the location for the first of these institutions. Do you think that such institutions could help in the required rapprochement process?

Abu Sa`ud: What is suggested by his eminence Sheikh `Ali Al-Amin, the Mufti of Sur, of establishing joint religious institutions is a good and worthwhile suggestion that has been voiced by many others after him. Yet, this suggestion requires a detailed and carefully thought-out study, bearing in mind that Beirut could be a suitable location for that institution, since it is well qualified due to its location and population. Such an idea could help but it could also intensify alienation (between the two sects), for not every idea ends well. Yet, every work that brings about interest and welfare for the Ummah is blessed and vital, as Almighty Allah says, (And say (O Muhammad) ‘Do deeds! Allah will see your deeds, and (so will) His Messenger and the believers).

IOL: What do you think of the principle of Wilayat Al-Faqih (Supreme Jurist Leadership) that was established by Imam Al-Khomeini (may Allah be merciful with him) in Iran? Does the application of this principle at the moment represent an obstacles in the way of rapprochement between Sunnis and Shiites?

Abu Sa`ud: I personally do not see any logical connection between Wilayat Al-Faqih and Sunni-Shiite rapprochement. Besides, Wilayat Al-Faqih is a controversial issue among the Shiites themselves. And though the scholars of An-Najaf may believe in Wilayat Al-Faqih, they do not witness any success for it in Iraq, for instance, due to the different circumstances and realities, and therefore they do not demand its application.

However, the system of Wilayat Al-Faqih has succeeded in Iran and is still at work there since the institution of the Islamic Republic through the consent of all parties. Moreover, the jurists’ leadership over the public is better than the leadership of the fools, I mean the self-seekers and the domineering persons. Besides, if someone dissents from the leadership of the jurist, who is supposed to be a pious, committed and conscientious person, what would he say for instance of the current presidents of Arab and Muslim countries?

In addition, the jurist always preaches virtue and righteousness, and his leadership is not something to be feared! We have not yet heard that any Sunni Iranian person is virtually harmed because of Wilayat Al-Faqih in any way. To sum up, Wilayat Al-Faqih as a system has nothing to do with rapprochement, and if it is to have any impact, it is inevitably a positive impact.

IOL: Some geo-politicians claim that Shiites possess an apocalyptic vision about the world which is represented in the emergence of Al-Mahdi Al-Muntazhar (the Awaited Mahdi), with what this entails of the necessity of preparing the international scene for his return according to some Shiite narrations, and its potential influences on international politics. This, according to them, could lead some Iranian military leaders to indulge in major military confrontations. What is your opinion about such analysis?

We now live in a very critical moment, as conspiracies are being brewed against the Muslim Ummah

Abu Sa`ud: Al-Mahdawiyyah is a joint Islamic concept which involves extensive narrations on both sides, and it is not limited only to the Shiites. So, the one pondering on these recounts finds that they will be of benefit at the end of the time, i.e. the end of the world. This notion is met by the Christian doctrine of the Savior. However, believing in this concept, which is purely a matter of the unseen, does not necessarily entail Iran’s indulgence in large scale confrontations against any other power. Besides, what Iran assumes of military preparations, along with the development of its nuclear program, has nothing to do with the notion of the return of Imam Al-Mahdi. Such preparations spring from the fact that Iran is an important country, though it is not classified as one of the great powers. Here, it is worth noting that Iran advocates the causes of Ahl-us-Sunnah Wal-Jama`ah (those adhering to the Sunnah and the Muslim main body), more than it does the cause of any other group. Moreover, Iran is no longer a Shiite country from the narrow regional sectarian perspective. Rather, it is, as was declared by the late Imam Al-Khomeini, an Islamic country.

IOL: What are the other priorities which you consider should receive more attention as a means of enhancing understanding and rapprochement between Sunnis and Shiites at the level of the Arab and Islamic world?

Abu Sa`ud: We now live in a very critical moment, as conspiracies are being brewed against the Muslim Ummah from powers around the world, and we should accelerate the pace of understanding and rapprochement between Muslims of both sects. This could be achieved through a group of mechanisms and priorities, including exchange of visits between scholars from the two sides, joint performance of prayers in the presence of mass media, addressing governments and universities and calling them to participate in rapprochement campaigns, avoiding writing on controversial issues, destroying publications that call for division, avoiding the vilification of symbolic figures of both sides. Moreover, official satellite channels in Muslim countries should assign some time for the discussion of joint symposia held by scholars advocating rapprochement from the two parties in order to make the notion intelligible for the mentality of the common people, spread the culture of rapprochement among Muslims and concentrate on the idea of coexistence. Regarding this idea of coexistence, Imam Muhammad Al-Baqir (peace be upon him) said, “People’s welfare lies in coexistence”. Above all, Almighty Allah says,(and be not divided among yourselves lest you lose courage and your strength depart, and other nations jointly bear down on you).

To conclude, I would like to express to you my sincere gratitude, invoking Almighty Allah, the Omnipotent Lord, to reunite the Ummah so that it be truly the best Ummah ever raised up for mankind, that enjoins good and forbids evil. I would like to thank Islam On-Line for this interview and I appreciate the efforts exerted in your website for rapprochement among the Madhhabs in order to guarantee a better future for Muslims everywhere, away from unfruitful arguments that consume time, money and effort.


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