I am "SUSHI" - Sunni and Shia

Category: Americas, Featured Topics: Islam, North America, Umma (Community) Views: 6873

One of the most beautiful things about being an American Muslim is the fact that I can live true Islam here in the United States - true Islam, without the cultural, historical, and other baggage of "old country" Islam. Here, we can live the Islam that God and His Prophet had intended for us. And for the most part, this has proven true. Sunni and Shii live and work together. Finally, we have elected a woman as our president (i.e. Dr. Ingrid Mattson the current president of the Islamic Society of North America - ISNA). We can worship God here relatively unmolested, unlike many parts of the Muslim world. 

Here in America, for example, I can swim in a public pool or water-park with my shirt on citing my religious belief, and my request is not only honored by pool staff, but even respected. In Egypt, from where my ancestors hail, I was expressly forbidden from doing so in one of its Northern Shore resorts when I visited last summer. In fact, I was looked upon by fellow Muslims as strange for wanting to swim with my shirt on (out of feelings of modesty). Go figure. 

Of course, we are still far from an ideal Muslim community, and we must work on improving ourselves, especially the rift between the indigenous and immigrant Muslim communities. In addition, ever since 9/11, the Muslim community has been placed on intense (and sometimes unfair) scrutiny, and some of the most essential aspects of Islamic belief, such as giving to charity, have almost been criminalized. Still, I am blessed to be a Muslim in America living as an American Muslim. 

That being said, there are some signs of a potential Sunni-Shi'i rift in America. According to an article in USA Today, "there are small signs of tension emerging in America's Muslim community that are raising concerns among many of its leaders. They worry that the bitter divisions that have caused so much bloodshed abroad are beginning to have an impact here." Some examples cited in the article include: 

Shiite mosques and businesses in the Detroit area being vandalized in January of this year. Shiites told local news media that they believed Sunnis were behind the vandalism. Several Muslim websites have reported both Sunnis and Shiites being rebuffed from worshipping at each other's mosques. Altmuslim reported of an incident in the Haram at Mecca . MSAs in Rutgers University and the University of Michigan at Dearborn have disagreed vehemently over which sect could lead prayers. 

Now, to be sure, if these are the only incidents among an American Muslim community 7-10 million strong, then it seems the article has made a huge mountain out of a tiny molehill. Yet, even small incidents should serve as a wake-up call for Muslims in America to be vigilant and stamp out any budding sectarianism that may try to rear its ugly head here in America. Why such sectarianism should even emerge here is perplexing, and many possible reasons have been cited by Muslim scholars and activists. 

Imam Hamza Yusuf of the Zaytuna Institute, told the paper, "You have people who recently arrived from other places where things may have gotten out of hand. It takes just one deranged person with a cousin back home who died in a suicide bombing to create trouble here." Other Muslim scholars and activists, such as sociologist Eboo Patel, suggested that it may be a result of the growing numbers and diversity of Muslims in America. "If you have nine Muslims in one MSA," said Patel, "they have to get along. If you have 90, there's enough to break into splinter groups." 

And, of course, it may be simply because there are extremists who wish to fan the flames of sectarianism: "The sad reality is that there are extremists who selectively misuse Islamic teachings to justify their violence," the paper quoted Dr. Ingrid Mattson as saying. That said, there have not been any incidents of violence between Sunni and Shi'i here in America, thanks be to the Precious Lord. And there never should be. 

Most Muslims do not even understand the origins of the "split" between Sunni and Shi'i in Islamic history? Is the difference between Sunni and Shi'i even worth shouting over, let alone becoming violent? Do not both Sunnis and Shi'is testify to the oneness of God and the Messengership of Muhammad ? Does not that make them brothers and sisters in faith, as the Qur'an states? What is the essence of the difference between Sunni and Shi'i? 

As many of you know (or, perhaps do not know), at the time of the death of our beloved Messenger , there was a dispute among the Companions as to who should lead the Muslim community. The Ansar felt it should be one of them; the Muhajirun felt it should be one of them. The discussion went back and forth, and it was finally decided that Abu Bakr be the successor of the Prophet . At first, Imam Ali did not accept this, but he eventually accepted the decision and pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr . Did Shi'ism as we know it today begin there? Absolutely not. 

In fact, there was no such thing as "Shia" or "Sunni" throughout the period of the four Caliphs. The first time the term "Shia," was even used was during the civil war between Ali and Mu'awiyah . Those who supported the claim of Ali to the Caliphate were termed Shiat Ali, or the "Party of Ali." Yet, it was not a "sect," as we understand it today. In fact, it took decades, if not centuries, for the "doctrines" (for lack of a better term) of Shi'ism and Sunnism to fully develop. 

Nevertheless, at its essence, the difference between Sunni and Shi'i is jurisprudential: Sunnis believe that political (and by extension religious) leadership can reside with anyone in the larger community, as long as the community accepts said person's qualifications. For Shi'is, however, political (and religious) leadership must be within the House of the Prophet . Another important distinction between Sunnis and Shi'is is the issue of the probity, or upright character, of all of the Companions. It is a fundamental part of Sunni doctrine, whereas some Shi'is do not necessarily ascribe to this. That is it. 

Now, over time, these two "philosophical" differences developed into distinct schools of thought, especially with respect to matters of Islamic law. But, again, that took centuries to develop. Furthermore, many people associate with Shi'is an intense love for the House of the Prophet . Yet, is this not an essential aspect of Sunni belief as well? Could one be Muslim and not love the family of the Prophet Muhammad ? Both Imam Malik and Imam Abu Hanifah , two stalwarts of the Sunni community, were ardent supporters of the House of the Prophet . In fact, they could be called "Political Shi'is" because of this support. 

Throughout Islamic history, it is true that many Shi'is were oppressed and mistreated by the Sunni majority. Indeed, there were members of both communities that maligned the other, that fanned the flames of sectarianism. Yes, some Sunnis deem all Shi'is as "heretics" and "infidels"; some Shi'is are so extreme that they even malign some of the Prophet's (pubh) closest companions. These are deviants of both traditions. The majority of Sunnis and Shi'is have been living together in peace and harmony for centuries. In fact, in Saudi Arabia, one of the major fiqh councils include and give serious consideration to Shi'i fiqh positions. To awaken sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shi'i today - with all the problems facing the Muslim world - is nothing but succumbing to the forces of Satan. 

The Qur'an tells us straight away to avoid such sectarianism: 

And so, set thy fact steadfastly towards the [one ever-true] faith, turning away from all that is false, in accordance with the natural disposition which God has instilled in man...and be not among those who ascribe divinity to aught beside Him, [or] among those who have broken the unity of their faith and have become sects, each group delighting in but what they themselves hold [by way of tenets]. (Quran 30:30-32)

In fact, the text seems to equate such sectarianism with idolatry. Let us always remember to remain one community of Muslims; one family of brothers and sisters, especially in this month of fasting and reflection, wherein we hunger together, thirst together, and pray together. I echo the sentiments of Salam Al Marayati, who told USA Today: "We don't want to be defined by the classifications of history and the Middle East. The Qur'an is our authority." He calls himself a "Sushi," combination Sunni and Shi'i, and I found this term to be wonderful. 

Now, technically, I am a Sunni, of Maliki/Hanafi (or "Malifi") leanings. But, I have a deep and profound love of the House of the Prophet . Even though I do not observe the Matam (act of self-flagellation during the Islamic month of Muharram. Similar to passion play), like many Shi'is do, the murder of Imam Hussein was extremely painful for me. He is my Imam, too. All of the Imams of the House of the Prophet , in fact, are my Imams. So, I am proud to call myself a "Sushi," as well. And I don't even like fish.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a physician and writer based in Chicago. You can visit his blog at www.drhassaballa.com.


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  12 Comments   Comment

  1. Tariq Khan from USA

    The basis of faith for shias is the deviation from original faith.

    The way the Ali is projected and worshiped is same as Qadiani's beliefs ( Man Made).

    Originality of the faith to believe and follow :

    - Commands of Allah (SWT)

    - Follow Sunnah

    As simple that is.

    Anything different or deviation is not Holy any more,

    it makes it, man made.

    Not pure form of faith which Allah (SWT) Ascended upon us

    through Prophet Mohammed (SAW).

  2. Muslim from Euro

    Shiaism is not islam. The diffirence between islam and shiaism is

    not only their hate for many of the sahaba (ra) and yes that is part

    of shiaism, how many shiites have you met named omar or uthman or

    aisha? They avoid these names for their perverted shia reasons. And

    neither is their ashoura practices our greatest diffirence.

    Rather its their belief in imamah that is. Imamah is a concept of

    faith in shiaism and basicly its the continuation of prophethood but

    with a diffirent name. They believe god created 12 holy imams whos

    job is like that of prophets. An imam in shiaism is not like our

    concept of imam meaning leader. Their concept of imam is something

    holy from God. Moreover they are mushrikeen who believe that if one

    uses Ali, Hussein, Fatima etc (ra) as mediators between them and

    God, then they will help one get closer to God. That is why they

    comit shirk by saying ya ali al madad, or ya zahra, ya hussein etc.

    So when ignorants among our ummah say we both believe in la ilaha

    illa allah mohammad rasoul allah then that is incorrect because if

    one believes in la ilaha illa allah then that means we dont make

    shirk with allah and know that only allah is capabable of hearing

    our dua and responding to it, not Ali (ra), Hussein (ra) or anyone

    else. And if one belives in muhammad rasoul allah then that means

    one should believe that he is the final prophet and rasoul PERIOD

    and not play around with words and claim that god created imamah

    after prophethood.

    Hussein (ra) was martyred just like many sahabah before him. This

    was a blessing from God so there is no reason to mourn him.

    Moreover, shiites deny that wifes of the prophet are part of

    ahlulbayt even though Allah swt called them ahlulbayt in the quran.

  3. Amin Kadi from U.S.A

    God bless your heart, finally someone writing using his brain and not his zealous emotions about the sushi schism. I am of Lebanese origin, born with a sunni label on my identity. I was taught the koran by my grandma when I was 6 years old, when I asked her the famous question ( what is the difference between a sunni and a shiaa ? ) she turned red and didn't know how to answer a 6 years old !! it was that moment that made me dwell into history and religious books and made me try to befreind someone from the shiia community ( or as they are unfortunately called in my lebanese hometown : the disbelievers ) I realized that growing up that I might not agree to certain ideologies like the iranian sytle of wali fakih, but I am full of love of our great Imam AL hussein ( pbupon him ) who cannot love our great Imam?. the same way I am full of love of our fifth caliph ( omar ibn abdul aziz ) (pbupon him ) and NOT full of love at all to someone like yazid , let God judge him ! I don't judge people and I don't hate people just because I disagree with them

    And when I immigrated to the USA AND CANADA , I even saw the picture better, I just pitty people back home ( both the extreme shiaas and the extreme sunnis ) who are teaching their kids hatred.

    God the almighty sent us the greatest GIFT OF Islam to tantalize our minds before tentalizing our zeal, pulse or raw emotions !!

    Please write more about this subject, maybe you will enlighten 1 or 2 more people

  4. Zeeshan from Canada

    As Salam Aly Kum W.R.W.B,

    Is it important to link ourselves to some sect??? What is wrong identifying ourself as MUSLIM JUST MUSLIM (follower of Quran and Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad), why Sunni or Shia or SUSHI....!!!!????

    Praying to ALMIGHTY ALLAH to guide us on right way under one banner & FLAG, AMEEN

  5. Ahmad Mena from USA

    It kind of sadden me that a man of the caliper of the writer could make such an absolute statement without consulting the Quran and Hadith. In both the name Shia is mentioned; The Quran mention the Shia of Noah and the Shia of Moses and Ibrahim, the Holy Prophet said "the Shia of Ali will be the successful" Ibn Asakir (F. 571 H) transmiti de Yabir ibn Abdullah Al Ansari, All these statement are verifiable. Sura 37:38 mention Ibrahim as a Shia of Noah

  6. Sayed Ahmed from Saudi Arabia

    Very well written article.

    We all are muslims first and then shia, sunni, etc later on.

    Best regards

    Allah hafiz

    Sayed

  7. Abdulwaheed Yusuf from Nigeria

    I will say this is a good article but as muslims seeking to meet our Lord one day we should always get to the root of all matters and hold unto the truth. The historical difference between the two group is more political than religious which later formed an organised set of creeds. A believer is expected to know and follow the stand of the prophet and his companions on issues, therefore there is nothing like sushi since the two groups can never be right in their fundamental differences altogether but this should not lead to any trouble in our various communities since both groups are

    brothers in religion unless clear apostacy such as shirk or the like is observed with any party

  8. Miyanji from USA

    Salam, Very good article, Be Muslim and Order to do good and prohibit the evil. That is basic Islam. Maa Salam.

  9. Rich from USA

    Being of the Shia school of thought, I'm pleased to see an article promoting tolerance between the Shia and Sunni. The Muslim associations in my area have been dominated for years by the Sunnis and this lead to Shia not being accepted as Muslims. In fact some stated that Shia blood was halal. Alhumdillah things have really started to change! Shia are now accepted into the associations and we do community activities together. God willing, the walls separating us will continue to fall.

  10. Ahmed from India

    Extremely good and positive article. Once a friend of mine (a new Muslim) in Brekely asked me what is shia and Sunni. The question came because someone asked him in Masjid whether he was shia or Sunni. My suggestion to him was that tell people that he is what Prophet asked him to be. Was Prophet a Shia or Sunni. He was just a Muslim and that is what we are supposed to be.

    It is sad that Europeans and Werst is demolishing boundaries while we Msulims are erecting differences on political, nationalist and racial lines. Our such differences are fully exploited by racist bigots and Islamophobes to attack Islam and Muslims. We must follow Quran and Sunnah to get together and improve the image of Islam. Our unity and our alliance with peaceful nations is the only option for the universe to return to a global peace. Current genocidal and war influenced global regime must be replaced with Just and peaceful world. That is only possible when Muslims unite and ally with friends like China

  11. Sayed Yusuf from USA

    A very nice article. I have a broher in law who is a shia and we are sunni. There is this specific group who are being educated in Iran though not officially supported by the government of Iran who are very active in promoting haterate in name of love for the ahl bait. Also as a matter of belief, they say all imams are infalable, which is against the belief of Ahl Sunna wa jamaha.

    No matter what we should stick to our basic beliefs as Allah has commanded and preached by our believed prophet.

    Thank you