The Sunni-Shia debate – Labelling Islam only serves to weaken its call for Justice

SHAFAQNA – Our times are times of great upheaval and injustice! Regardless of what faith, if any, anyone holds I don’t think that anyone will disagree with my statement.

And while humanity has faced many periods of great hardship, I don’t think any period of our History has been more absolutely violent, and bent on crushing the human spirit.

Our times are times of labelling, shaming, and annihilating … Society today has a desperate need to categorize and arrange people, communities and faiths according to a very strict set of rules – one which screams of bigotry, ignorance and arrogant ego-centrism. Muslims in this sick equation have suffered most of all I would say – often by their own hands, as they have allowed others to both appropriate and define their identity.

Muslims, and Islam are today looked at, perceived and talked about through the Western-Saudi narrative. Islam has been cut down to size, and fractured by Riyadh so that its Wahhabi clergy could better claim legitimacy for themselves, and deny that of others’.

Islam however can never be divided as it remains the expression of God’s will, and God’s command. Islam we would do well to remember is the very expression of pluralism. And if it is a label you so badly desire than use that of Justice, for Islam embodies Justice – not that of Men, but the Divine.

We have learned today to label Muslims according to sects, but there are no sects in Islam. There are only school of thoughts.

There is no real theological debate in Islam, only legal and political variants. If disagreements sometimes have arisen in between communities it is over issues of political and religious legitimacy – no one ever dared argue the Quran, or the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. This Sunni-Shia divide Wahhabis are so keen on projecting onto the Islamic world is a figment of their imagination – proof in fact that they themselves do not understand Islam’s most important principles: tolerance, justice, freedom.

The Quran actually quite clearly speaks against disunity: “Hold on to the rope of Allah and do not disunite.”

Indeed, too few have held on for arrogance has led them to look upon Islam as a property to be claimed, rather than understand that its nature is universal and divine.

To the risk of offending my readers I would like to touch upon the subject of Shiism and Sunnism. For centuries now Shia Islam has been portrayed as an abomination, a betrayal, and a heresy for its teachings Wahhabis have said, are not in alignment with the Sunna of the prophet Muhammad.

This is a deception too many have bought into, including many self-identified Shia Muslims.

Being a Shia means being a follower of – etymologically this is what the word Shia means. Now, at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims often identified themselves as the Shia of Muhammad, just as the followers of Abraham called themselves the Shia of Abraham. Then, Shia was a coat of arms to bear with pride. Today it has become a derogatory term used to humiliate communities.

Who are Muslims if not the Shia of Muhammad? Who are Muslims if not the Shia of Abraham and all the prophets who came before and after? Who are Muslims if not the Shia of Islam?

I would personally argue that those communities the Wahhabis have labelled Shiites are actually the keepers of Ahl al-Sunna, the true tradition of the prophet, while they, and their bigot clergy are the Shia of ibn Abdel Wahhab.

What you have learnt to call Shia Islam is in fact the true expression of the prophet’s purest tradition – unadulterated, and complete since it includes his last will and command – that we entrust Islam into the hands of his House, Ahlulbayt.

Those Wahhabis call today apostates are in fact the real Shia of the prophet Muhammad as they did not abandon the pledge given and continue today despite the many persecutions to hold on to Islam’s tradition, as it was given.

This is not to say that those communities which identify as Sunnis are not Muslims, only that they have chosen a different path.

The point I’m trying to make is that labelling is a very dangerous exercise – a confusing one as well. Adjectives can too easily be misappropriated for us not to exercise caution, and a little bit of modesty. I don’t believe that anyone, me including, can claim absolute knowledge.

People will believe what they believe and their truth do not have to be my truth to be real and valid.

Faith is true and absolute in itself. Trying to categorize religions and beliefs according to a scale is idiotic at best. Do not get me started on those self-proclaimed righteous criminals who claim ownership over God Himself by proclaiming their truth holier than all others.

Each to their own I say.

Enough with the labelling already! Enough with the name-calling, and our collective self-centred need to denigrate others to assert our own identity. You can’t quantify or measure people’s beliefs and sense of self – you should not want to either …

But who are those infamous Shia Muslims the likes of Saudi Arabia is petrified about – yes, yes, yes, petrified about? Unless you missed that train you should know by now that Shia Islam (as it has been identified by Wahhabism) represents everything Wahhabis are terrified about since woven around the principle of resistance against tyranny, and the proclamation of people’s right to choose for themselves.

From where I’m standing it does not sound so heretic.

From where I’m standing Islam remains in those voices which have professed tolerance and loyalty to the House, and spoken against the House of Saud for they serve another master altogether.

 By Catherine Shakdam for the Shafaqna Insitute of Middle Eastern Studies




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