A Call for Shia Sunni Dialog: Why and How



Women mourn the loss of Muslims due to sectarian violence

Shia-Sunni violence has been on the rise in the last few years, particularly in Iraq and Pakistan. Every month, it seems, scores of Shias and Sunnis are killed in a vicious tit-for-tat between extremists on both sides. Many of the victims are killed as they pray within mosques.

These incidents belie the reality of Shia-Sunni coexistence and cooperation. In Iraq, it is estimated that up to 30 percent of marriages are between Shias and Sunnis; victims of violence between the two groups frequently attend each other's funeral prayers; one group often helps the other's victims after an incident.

This silent majority must come together through dialog to defeat the terrorists who have been responsible for these killings.

Seven reasons why a dialog between Shia and Sunni is needed:

  • Theological differences between Shia and Sunni are old and are better left for God to judge, as He knows best and has said in the Quran that He is the final judge of religious disagreements. The killing of Shias or Sunnis will not resolve these disputes.

  • The principle of "no compulsion in matters of faith" [Quran 2:256] is not just limited to Muslim-non-Muslim relations, but also applies to Muslim interpretations of Islam as well. This instruction of God serves as a guideline for the Muslim community to not impose one's interpretation on others. That is why throughout history, not only have Hanafis and Shafis worked with each other despite differences, but Shias and Sunnis have lived and worked side by side with each other as well.

  • When human beings sit down and talk to each other, they learn to respect each other.

  • Dialog allows parties to understand each other better by allowing participants to acquire direct knowledge about beliefs instead of relying on propaganda and stereotypical images. [Quran 49:6-12]

  • Dialog will isolate the extremist fringe. It is a major sin to kill a human being. Killing a human being is like killing the whole of humanity. By talking to each other, Shias and Sunnis will be able to save lives, which is like saving the whole of humanity. [Quran 5:32]

  • Revenge is not justice. Killing in revenge is unjust, inhuman, and un-Islamic. Retribution through the state, which the Quran sanctions via capital punishment does not amount to individuals taking the law in their hands or killing an innocent person in revenge. The call for, "an eye for an eye," does not mean an innocent eye for an innocent eye.

  • Even if some Shias and Sunnis consider each other enemies, the Quran asks us to be just even toward one's enemy "O you who believe! Stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to Piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do." [Quran 5:8]

Some considerations for dialog:

The Shia community like Sunnis is diverse. There are many differences between one Shia group and another. This is why it is important that dialog between Sunnis and Shias becomes a movement and a process throughout society instead of everyone waiting for one high powered dialog to yield some results at the leadership level. Here are some preliminary thoughts on how a dialog between Shias and Sunnis can be beneficial for each side.

Goals of dialog:

Although I consider dialog a process that is beneficial to all, it is necessary that everyone involved recognize some of its tangible benefits. The following are a set of achievable goals for Shia-Sunni dialog.

  • Developing an agenda of common concerns
  • Identifying issues of conflict
  • Issuing joint Fatwas against the killings
  • Isolating extremists on each side
  • Preventing a potential conflict or mediating an existing conflict
  • Education to clarify stereotypes about each other
  • Setting up joint task forces to deal with outstanding issues

Who should participate in the dialog?:

  • Imams and caretakers of Masjids
  • Students of Madrassas
  • University students
  • National level religious leadership
  • Shia and Sunni media persons
  • Shia and Sunni businesspersons

Mechanism of dialog:

Dialog is a process that should occur at all levels of society. In the 1960s in Pakistan, when Shia-Sunni clashes were far less significant, city officers used to convene joint meetings of Shia and Sunni leaders to chalk out Muharram plans so no confusion would result in rioting. These government-arranged dialogs helped keep conflicts at a minimum. Considering the current level of mistrust, it will be beneficial if civil society takes initiatives for dialog at all levels of society.

Private Dialog: Host roundtable discussions initially at the top leadership level that should later expand to include:

  • working on different committees.

Public Dialog: Shia and Sunni both use public forums and media to speak to each other's audiences.

  • Visiting each other's Masjids to enhance confidence and to demonstrate that they are not supportive of the extremists who isolate each other.

Shia-Sunni Dinners: Masjids and social associations should invite Shia and Sunni friends to eat with each other publicly.

Publicity of dialog:

Publicity of the dialog will generate hope and confidence in it and will empower those in dialog vis-a-vis the extremists. Media should facilitate self-criticism and introspection by the religious leadership. Those leaders who participate in dialog should be recognized through interviews, reports, and documentaries. Investigative reports should be aired and published about the truth behind sectarian propaganda. It is important for society to honor those Shia and Sunni leaders who take initiative and demonstrate leadership in participating in dialog. Sunnis, being members of the majority community, have the higher level of responsibility towards initiating and participating in dialog.

Sponsors of Dialog:

Funding always facilitates the beginning of a process in civil society. Every task requires time and money. While participating organizations and individuals can take care of their own costs, it would be very rewarding if some individuals and businesses came forward with funds to sponsor and host these dialogs. American Muslims can start a dialog in North America where there is no conflict in the Shia-Sunni community and then inspire and sponsor dialogs where it is needed the most.

Beyond Dialog:

Considering that Shias and Sunnis live side by side in the Muslim world, they are not unknown to each other, and considering that most of them have nothing to do with the current extremism which is responsible for the killings and violence, it is important for the moderate majority to come up with a few initiatives which are beneficial for Shia-Sunni harmony. These could be communicated in the print form or in any other media. They should discuss the following themes and/or use the methods outlined here:

  • Khutba points which can help harmony
  • What type of political/religious rhetoric can hurt at personal level
  • What is common between Shias and Sunnis
  • Common Hadith between Shias and Sunnis
  • What is hate speech
  • Islamic teachings of tolerance
  • A Shia-Sunni security force, jointly safeguarding each others houses of worship will be a significant blow to the extremist agenda

Conclusion

Shia-Sunni conflict and sectarian terrorism is tearing our community apart.

The Quran, Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, the Kaba and the five pillars of Islam are common to Shias and Sunnis. That is why no one in Islamic history has stopped Shias from performing Hajj, although the Kaba has always been in the control of Sunnis. Even today, when those currently in charge of the Kaba are part of a predominantly Salafi establishment, some of whom maintain extremely negative views of Shias, Shias like other Muslims are free to perform Hajj. Shias, by the same token, since the 1979 Iranian revolution, are ordered by Imam Khomeini to pray behind Sunni imams instead of praying separately.

This mutual recognition gives us hope that a dialog can bear fruit of peace and harmony between both the communities.



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  30 Comments   Comment

  1. SalamaAbdelhady

    Why to divide Muslims in Sunnis and Shias while both are drawing their faith and practice from the Qur’an and the life of the Prophet Muhammad. Both agree on most of the fundamentals of Islam. The differences are related more to historical events which do not affect the core of the FAITH. Scientifically and logically we are very stupid if we have these wars for historical events that ended by the death of all those who were chosen by unknown people. Those people will be counted for their deeds in the Day of Resurrection. But; we should now live in peace because we will be counted for our own deeds not for our belief in ended historical events. Should we stop our stupidity and stop paying trillions of dollars from our sole enemy to buy weapons for fighting each other. Otherwise, we deserve, for our stupidity, the Hell in our present life and the future life.

  2. fariha from canada

    I think this is the best thing that can happen to us.We should minimize our differences and bring about a radical change for the better in the Muslim world.I was delighted when the Shias and Sunnis in Iraq had joined hands though briefly against their common enemy.

  3. Imtiaz from India

    I agree with it. As this dialog will be a major step in strengthening all the Muslims as a whole in this world against the enemies of Islam.

  4. Senora Abdulla from UK

    There's no point in trying to beat round the bush at the end of the day the more one studies islam ie the quran and the sunnah we cannot ignore the differences. Yes; to unite would be an ideal thing but when the ideologies clash even if its between muslims the point of the matter is there is a clash and its not an issue that can be taken lightly and just brushed of and say ''lets all be one ummah''. When one claims to love Allah then any innovations to the perfect religion he sent and curses to those He loves is outright disobidient and unexceptable and its not made any better by saying ''well in my part of the religion its right'' at the end of the day whats harraam is harraam and inovation is inovation and curse is curse there's no easy way of putting it. as muslims do we not get angered by the disrespect towards our religion by Kaffirs? well theres disrespect by our own 'muslims' when they do an act that is of a outright disobiediance. Sunni's and Shia's can never unite because the deeper you go into it it will soon seem like two different religions... start with they way the two perform salat! The prophet s.a.w. said that his ummah will divide into 73 branches and all but one will go to hell!! now try saying that there's no difference!

  5. muhammed umar from united state

    i strogly agree for the call between this two parties.

  6. Anser Rizvi from UK

    About time too. The sooner we understand each other the sooner we can become a stronger Ummah.

  7. Najma Rahman from Bangladesh

    I strongly agree.

    In this age of turmoil, it is so important for the Muslim Ummah to be united. That is the only way we can be strong against all odds that the muslim ummah is facing today. If only we were united under strong leaders, the story of the muslims would be different today. But alas ! it is our Jehad to bring everyone together for a united front. Jizakallahu Khairan -- brother for writing this excellent article and encouraging others.

  8. ahmed asgher from bahrain

    A muslim is one who submits wholeheartedly to Allah and at ALL times is in that peaceful union. Anything else creates division in us and between us. Hence the Jihad al-akbar, an internal turmoil to reach Allah, yet it can be done with a decision. A choice made to leave all our historical bickering behind us and find ourselves in peace with The Great Creator. Humanity is made of One Spirit by One Creator. Thus we are all brothers/sisters and to insult another is to insult The Creator.

  9. DR. Ali Naqi Syed from USA

    I think I met this brother(the writer of this article) at ISNA convention dinner. The idea of the dialogue and then the unity is great. I have advocated this idea from last few years that the unity among both sects is paramont to the progress of Muslim world. Our lowest position in the world today can be partly attributed to our ignorance about each other and consequently in-fighting among muslims.

    I had raised my voice after 2005 ISNA convention that a dialogue should begin between us. Unfortunately, it was not heard then but it is never too late

    As a Shia businessman I would love to support Brother Abdul Malik Mujahid and others to start the process. You can reach me at the above e-mail address. I am in Chicago, USA.

  10. mahnoor ameen from India

    alhamdulillah. a positive approach. but r the shias ready?from what i know our beliefs cotradict theirs(atleast in India)so is it really possible???

  11. david from spain

    muslims are like ants in the movie "A bug's life" the day they unite under the banner of islam there gonna be a new powerfull force.

  12. Ahmed from USA

    "The principle of "no compulsion in matters of faith" [Quran 2:256] is not just limited to Muslim-non-Muslim relations, but also applies to Muslim interpretations of Islam as well. This instruction of God serves as a guideline for the Muslim community to not impose one's interpretation on others. "

    I agree. There will always be different views among people. This is inevitable. This best path to follow to avoid conflict and bloodshed is to "agree to disagree."

  13. Dr.Ali from Canada

    Excellent work....unfortunately, mosques are indiffernt to such views...Our scholars, speakers, writers, students, teachers are blind to this catastrophic cancer. This hatred will gnaw at muslims and destroy us. Get this, we are fair to non muslims but unjust to fellow muslims, shia, ismaili, ibadhi, bohra, sunnis, ...etc..Canada is diverse and very prosperous, muslims are diverse and least prosperous...think about it...and then approach a muslim who is different from you and offer to eat with him/her and listen and respect his/her views (non-violent) and practices with out necessarily agreeing..unity without conformity or uniformity is the answer. By the way, forget about converting each other, judging each other, & self-righteous attitudes. And yes, question every thing...& don't worry Allah is there to protect His religion..we need to do our job and simply turn our attention to becoming decent, compassionate,neighbourly and less scary humans( yes appearances count).

  14. mohammad illyas from india

    yes i think slowly but surely the muslims are waking up lets take this step to bring in unity next is to bring unity among muslims of different nations ...lets rediscover islams glory once again

  15. Kaveh from Iran

    The worst disaster happened to muslims and Islam is the division. Both shia and sunni are muslims. They have different interpretation. Both could be correct OR only one is correct. I'm not here to say which one I think is correct and which one is incorrect but my point is they both are muslims and we must think of the other group as our brothers. One group think the other one is brainwashed having wrong interpretation and then bash the other. But by the sunnah of rasul, if a muslim has wrong idea or he is brainwashed, we must treat him as our brother and explain to him, we must not bash him. Just like in our family if a brother or sister has wrong ideas, we dont kick em out of the house, we explain em. Shias and sunnis must love eachother as brothers in Islam, they should never bash eachother. After all, the difference between them is very minor, mostly political. Those who had worked hard to create this division, are arch-enemies of Islam and in Koran Allah says He will deal with those exclusively. Therefore, any muslim who identify him/her as sunni or shia is following those enemies and making them more successful even after their death. We must not think of ourselves with labels, but only as muslims. We should not say I'm a shia or I'm a sunni but we should only say 'I am a muslim'. When a muslim dies, Allah and His angels do not ask "Were you a sunni or shia?". During "The Hour", no muslim will give a daaaamn whether he/she was shia or sunni but they will only worry whether they died in the state of Islam or not and are they off to hell or heaven. To all muslims I pleade, we can have different interpretations but we must not have labels and divisions. To all muslims I call for the biggest and the true Jihad of the last dayz -the Jihad to eradicate labels, divisions and let all muslims greet eachother as one brotherhood. This Jihad of last dayz is not hard or impossible to do. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one, hope someday you all will join me.

  16. M. Al-Haneed from UK

    All of us must understand that even if we are on a course (ROAD) which is straight and our means, the ideals (the vehicle we are riding ) are flawless, even then, we can not afford to take our hands off the steering wheel. We need a constant-course-correction, though it may be most imperceptible.

    We, each and every indvidual, are that hand on the steering wheel of each other's vehicle.

    Quran tells us in one of its smallest sura that unless we do four things we are certainly lost, and one of it is that we constantly remind each other (constantly correct) the minorest deflection in our course.

    Tthe minorest deflection in the course, unless corrected, results in landing far off from the destination.

    So talk, listen and follow the best, which is in conformation with the Critereon, the road map.

  17. syed ali abbas naqvi from canada

    congratulation to writer for such a nice article touching very sensitive issue.he is right that all the fundamentals of religion are common,book and prophet are same then why such fighting.we should isolate extremists on both sides,should arrange positive dialog,should desert speakers who spread hatred.we should try to get truth about each others instead of wrong information. on the top of all of this should counter the enemy media who wants to divide shia-sunnis for their benefit.so people from both sides should come forward to resolve this issue.

    wassalam

  18. Dr Edriss from US

    I agree with the author about Dialogue include any kind of dialogue between moslems and others. I just want to make things clear about what he called "shia" or "sunna".

    THE REAL DIALOGUE should be between MOSLEMS and ARRAFEDAH.

    the cross worshippers and Arrafedah have something in common which is a both use names that they don't abid with.

    following their own words!!! the "christians" glorify the cross, hang the cross on them, kiss the cross, claim to chase the devils with the cross WHILE jesus Christ had just suffered on the cross. as any scientific mind can see, they are supposed to hold the name CROSS WORSHIPPERS.

    also following their own words!!! the "shia" glorify cursing the Sahaba(Prophet's companions), attack the Prophet in his Honor, call Ali to help them like the cross worshippers do for jesus WHILE The Prophet who lived with his companions and wives never did or called for such thing.also as any scientific mind can see, they are supposed to hold the name of rejecters which is Arrafedah(they know the truth from what they say but they reject it).

    I wonder how someone believe The Prophet never cursed his companions, never cursed his wives, never called Ali to help him instead of God BUT allow themselves to do so !!!!?? those who do such thing, are unable to see Oxymoron they put themselves in: they are like believing themselves better than the Prophet and condemning him with hypocrisy WHILE they claim they love him more than anybody else !!!

    anybody who follow Allah and His messenger and stand against what the rejecters do, is a moslem. and any moslem should be open for Dialogue with others: Allah had dialogue with ibliss before He cursed him and no humanbeing can be worst than ibliss(satan). Allah also asked us to have dialogue with the cross worshippers while they are worst than Arrafedah(so called shia) in cursing Islam.

    Brother Hudd, India got 700 million untouchables and kamath is the most fortunate one :).

  19. Khalifa from iEarth

    AA Brothers and Sisters,

    Allah SWT choose his wisemen to clear the Batel.

    I have been with u(slaves to junggle) for five years and u did not listen. Allah SWT showed me the after where no one of u dare to challenge.

    I still say follow Sheikh Usama for correct path but yet u choose to go the nowhere CLOSE cycle-process (shia-sunnah-sufi-biggers corps) to fit in Bush Jezia system.

    THE BIG PIX:THERE IS NO DIALOG NESSARY = QURAN SPEAKS LOUDER THAN YR CIA-IMAMAS CHAIRS = EITHER WITH BUSH FASAD CORP OR USAMA KHELAFAH = HELL IS WAITING.

  20. TYPICAL from USA

    TYPICAL: Islam has various interpretations and should be respected as describe by the writer and a lot of others as well.

    Question, If Allah says in Quran I made this religion easy and open up the verses of Quran so there is no confusion. Then how the hell we came up with these interpretations. Islam supposedly a one religion without any interpretations.

    If Quran is so difficult to understand and Sunnah is so hard to interpret in context of Quran then how a common man will ever understand this. No wonder Osama can interpret Quran to kill all the non believers and other interpret and say it is religion of peace.

    Whenever religion becomes institutionalize and people make living out of it as well as when people spend the whole life finding ways to interpret same simple text into more confusing and conflicting interpretations, the problems will start to creep in.

    There are two things that most Muslims don't have patience and tolerance where both of them should be part of everyone out their as Allah expects this from them supposedly.

    Muslims who made a marriage to a particular interpretation and want to go with that it should be fine with rest of world if that person stay a good citizen and respect and tolerate others rather than become militant of that interpretation and expect the whole human race to follow its narrow sight.

    Read your own Sura "Al-Kafiroon" that should also applied to all the interpretations of Islam as well and if someone has problems with other's interpretations please behave as human or see some doctor if symptoms to kill other because of this persists. I end this with the last verse of Sura Al-Kafiroon . "To you be your religion, and to me mine".

    End of story

  21. Syed Salman Abbas from Singapore

    Excellent Article. May Allah unite all muslims (Shias and Sunnis) so that we can defeat the extremists who have already caused a lot of damage to our great and peaceful religion "ISLAM"

  22. Ahmed from Canada

    The better option would be to put the differences on table and discuss them in light of Quran and Sunnah, or at the Quran as most Shia don't accept Sunnah.

    The differences can be grouped into following categories:

    - Aqueeda/Asl-ud-deen. The core believes

    - Furu. The Fiqh or legislations

    The example of Abu Hanifa and Shafaee can not be compared to Shia and Sunni, because both of them were follower of Sunnah, and they didn't have differences in Aqueeda, and their differences were in mainly fiqh.

    And Allah swt has said (approx meaning) 'that if you have tanazia (dispute) in some matter, then return to the Book of Allah and Messenger'.

    We should discuss these difference in light with Quran and Sunnan of Prophet pbuh.

    These are not "Theological" differences. These are core believes.

    Your lecture is good, but ignore completely that the two can not reconcile until you speak about what is the different.

    Sure, one will say there are sunni's ok with Shai, and visa versa.. but these are mainly secular muslims who have not read much about Quran and Shariah.. So, for them not much to dispute.. Ignorance is a blessing for them.

    Why don't you spend some time to identify what is different between the two!?

  23. Bruce from US

    Saleem,

    I would think that if the Shia and the Sunni had no need for dialogue then there would be no need for fighting. The problem is not the US, it not that either or neither the Shia and the Sunni are right, and it not whether Islam is a just and holy religion. The problem is that differences between the factions are exploited by their own leaders. This is compounded by the religious leaders acting also as political leaders. This is a recipe for conflict.

    I read your link to ICSSA. It was well written and provided a lot of historical information. Where the author is wrong and this is echoed time and again on this website is when he starts to assign the motivation to fight Islam as a religion to the actions the West takes. That website purports to be for mutual understanding but repeatedly inflames the issues by attributing actions to religious warfare. The West doesn't give a hoot what religion is in Pakistan or Iraq for that matter. What we do care about is that Bin Laden has vowed the destruction of the US and has proven that this in not an idle threat. If Pakistani people want the US out all they have to do is hand him over. The fact that devout Muslims would shelter a Bin Laden speaks of the hate for the West that your article does nothing to extinguish.

    The US has supported many a regime all over the world that have been less than democratic. In retrospect, some have been mistakes. Whatever our reasons were at the time, it was not part of a grand scheme to wipe out Islam. The Muslim world's insistence in blaming the West for all of their ills is keeping them from focusing on fixing their own problems. I think Mujahid has it right.

  24. Hudd from Canada

    Kamath will teach the Muslims their history and show them the way to progress and through atheism and propagation of Hindu values. Now I am a Canadian Muslim and personally I do not care as much as a flying cow dung for what any Hindu had to say in the past or in the present. I am overeducated along with a great deal of my fellow Muslim Canadians, there is no point in educating myself furthermore it would only land me in unemployment for reasons of "overqualification". Therefore I really don't know what the heck are you talking about. Maybe the people of India are starving and thus their God would be bread alongside with the cow, but that's not the case in Canada or USA and this is a North American website, speak a language that we all understand, bro! Shia and Sunni are living side by side in North America, did you ever hear about one blowing the crap out of the other one? Are you on pills? Or you have difficulties understanding the topics of the posted articles? Shia and Sunni hostilities happen only in countries like Pakistan India and now of course Iraq. Since Shia and Sunni live peacefully in any other place on earth the problem is obviously in the places of turmoil and not everywhere as you and others try to suggest. I work for a great company, my collegues are, Christians, Atheists, Jews, Shia, Sunni, Hindus, Buddhists, homosexualas and transexuals. We all are a happy family in the pursuit of making a profit and advance the company. But of course, since this is a scientific research centre nobody's as limited in intellectual capabilities as yourself. However it shouldn't be hard even for you, with all your disability to understand,Muslims are people professing in a faith called Islam and not members of a nation called Islamistan.As many nations there are,so many different Muslims. Therefore,what is typical for an Indian/Pakistani Muslim could be very uncharacteristic of an Indonesian,African,North American or Turkish Muslim. Paraded stupidity is a sin.

  25. Kamath from Canada

    Shi-Sunnis' murderous quarrel did start, long time ago, when the very body of Prophet Moahammad was lowered to the ground. Do you think it is going to change with all these pious hopes and stupid dremas?

    I say get over these delusions and fixation with religion and concentrate on education, elimination of poverty, etc.

    Once a greatIndian leader said that to a poor man, bread is god. Think, Think and Think!

    Be realistic

  26. Hudd from Canada

    This is not more relevant than a Catholic Protestnt Dialogue in Northern Ireland. All the same a Shia Sunni dialogue in Iraq would be just a regional politically created feud in which religious diversity ois used to divide and rule. In my opinion, the root of discord has to be removed and the forced occupation with its alien as well. If you have a boil you need to let it either heal by itself or wait for it to burst and do then the cleaning. It's not a good idea to break it while throbbing. You might get an infection and that's exactly what happened in Iraq. Bringing the differences between Shia and Sunni as the obsticle to "democracy" is supplanting any peaceful relationship for the long run. Truth is that the West resents both Shia and Sunni Islam.

    Peace!

  27. saleem from usa

    there is no need for any dialogue among shi and sunni. Shia and Sunni are both islam. with same one god same quran and same prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

    In Pakistan how shia sunni violence are created everyone intersted should read this 40 page detail in depth analysis report. Which includes India/ Pakistan and Shia/ sunni Pakistan / Iran issue in greater detail.

    http://icssa.org/occupiedPakistan.htm

  28. sr hasnain from UK

    mashaallah wise words with some possible solutions to improving the dialogue not only b/w sunnis and shias but also groups like salafis and sufis. Unfortunately it will not be easy and may get worse before things start to improve.