The price of sectarianism in the Islamic movement

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Abu Dharr

Rabi' al-Awwal 03, 1427 2006-04-01

Guest Editorial

by Abu Dharr (Guest Editorial, Crescent International Vol. 35, No. 2, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1427)

The images are still fresh in our minds, the characters are still around, and the memories will not go away. In Islamic centers and masajid, Islamic annual conferences and halaqat, even at hajj and the ‘umrah, books, tracts, essays, and pamphlets, and sometimes cassettes and CDs, were liberally distributed, free of charge. You could take as many as you wanted; pass them on to friends or relatives who might be interested to learn the truth about Shi‘is and Shi‘ism. The lectures and speeches unmistakably pointed at the kufr of these rawafid. Some were delivered by characters in thawb and ‘abayah, others by smooth-faced men in three-piece suits. Whatever the medium and format, the message circulated intensively within Saudi-financed and Saudi-influenced mosques and Islamic institutes around the world was crystal clear; about Shi‘is at least, salafis, ikhwanis and wahhabisburied their differences.

This sectarian mischief-making poisoned the atmosphere of the Ummah at a time when the Islamic State in Iran, under the leadership of Imam Khomeini, was fighting a war for its survival, as well as withstanding a punishing economic regime imposed by the US, Israel and their Middle Eastern puppets, and keeping a sharp eye on the various anti-revolutionary tendencies inside Iran, ranging from nationalist Kurds to conservative Shi’is. The followers of of Imam Khomeini could see through this whole maze of affairs. So they expressed themselves frankly and openly: Saudi Arabia is a puppet of the shaytan-e buzurg. Imam Khomeini too never hesitated to express his detestation and condemnation of the official Saudi Arabian establishment.

We should recall this segment of our recent past, not because we enjoy doing so, but because the influence of the Saudi-inspired accusations against the Muslims in Iran after the triumph of the Islamic Revolution provides the explanation for what is happening in Iraq today. It is the seeds of sectarianism that were planted 20 years ago that are threatening to erupt into all out sectarian warfare in Iraq today. Nor is this sectarianism only on the Sunni side; the Shi‘is may, for historical and theological reasons, stop short of accusing Sunnis of kufr, but there is zeal and fanaticism among some of them, including some in senior and influential positions, who really should understand the implications of their statements, for some Shi‘is in Iraq respond to Sunni sectarian violence by killing Sunnis. Particularly worrying is the tendency among Muslims of all communities to make excuses for others of their school of thought who commit appalling crimes against other Muslims. However, a little-noticed element in this rise of fanaticism and sectarianism is the government of the US. While Saudi Arabia is “a friend of the United States” it has to foment sectarianism; and by the same token, when Iraq is “a friend of the United States”, we find a rise in sectarianism there too. We cannot be consistent with ourselves and condemn Sunni fanaticism when it finds refuge in Saudi Arabia and not condemn Shi‘i fanaticism when it finds a refuge in Iraq. Honesty requires that we condemn fanaticism and sectarianism, whether they are hiding in Makkah and Madinah, or in Najaf and Karbala.

Some of our Iranian brothers used to rage against the Saudis, who were effectively American agents in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Islamic world; and rightly so. But where are they now? Why don’t they rage similarly against the Iraqis who are quickly becoming, for all practical purposes, the agents of American policy in the exact areas in which the Saudis worked for many years?

The Shi‘is will commit a serious historical mistake if they equate Saddam Husein and the Ba‘ath party with Iraqi Sunnis. This is a massive error of judgement and understanding, and had horrific consequences that we are seeing today. But the Sunnis, in Iraqand elsewhere, will be similarly mistaken if they equate the Islamic State of Iran and the wider Islamic movement that is aligned with Iran, with the US and its agenda. Just because some Shi‘is in Iraq have joined the US-established institutions there does not mean that all Shi‘is are traitors and kafirs. Just because Iran deals with the US-installed government in Baghdad, and shares a Shi‘i school of thought, does not mean that Iran too is an ally of the US, over Iraq or any other issue. Generalizations at times like this are not helpful. There are both Sunnis and Shi‘is who are happy to be Washington’s boys; these are the ones who should be exposed and neutralised, whether they present themselves as mufti or hujjat al-Islam.

It is said that of six and a half million marriages in Iraq, about two million are between spouses of different schools of thought, Shi‘is and Sunnis. Although the figure cannot be confirms, it is certainly true that such marriages are common throughout Iraqi society. This high level of social integration between the communities is probably a major reason that Iraq has not disintegrated into all-out civil war since the American invasion, and a factor militating against such a war in future, despite the efforts of some people in both communities. Iraq’s communities are certainly more integrated and better equipped to co-exist peacefuly that many other countries in which populations of Shi‘is and Sunnis live alongside each other, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Gulf countries, Arabia, Syria and Lebanon. But if Iraq does snap, there are liable to be deadly reverberations in all these areas.

The Muslim world in its current shape is full of contradictions, disequilibrium, grievances, dislocations and polarizations. The remaking of the Ummah is going to require brothers and sisters in the Islamic movement who can think beyond their nationalist and sectarian identities. This is going to require an immediate programme of intensive contact and communication among all the parties and blocs within the global Islamic movement. It will also need a strategy that can neutralize the venomous propaganda of elements that are found within both the Sunni and the Shi‘i components of this Ummah.

Leaders, intellectuals and other opinion-makers should be able to rise above communal considerations, and look objectively at public figures such as Erdogan in Turkey and al-Ja’fari in Iraq (both of whom have emerged from wings of the global Islamic movement) and say: there is no significant difference between them. Both have gone from being parts of a movement committed to pursuing the broad goals of the Islamic movement to become instruments of US policy in the Muslim world, because of their decision to work through established and un-Islamic political institutions. Both have crossed the line and become, in effect, American functionaries. They have become decision-makers for the interests of the US and by extension Israel – even though we know in their hearts they may not feel that way. But the way they feel is not enough; it is what they do that counts. It is utterly irrelevant to this political analysis to say that one is a Sunni and the other is a Shi‘i!

The global Islamic movement is moving into the most dangerous phase of its contemporary history. There are ongoing attempts to destroy its essential unity by pushing the Ummah through a sectarian shredding-machine, and there are simultaneously attempts to nullify its influence by coopting it into the secular corridors of power. These are the two great dangers that Muslims must overcome by absorbing and realizing in our own actions the spirit and ethos of Allah’s message, as conveyed in His noble Book and the example of His Final Messenger (saw).

This is the key to ensuring that no sectarian trouble-making will ever affect them, no nationalist intrigue will at any time divide them, and no common enemy will ever deceive them. Nationalism and sectarianism within the Ummah are allies of the zionismand imperialism of our enemies in their historical and civilizational assault on us. We have only Him and ourselves to rely upon. Anyone who tries to find shortcuts to success, by hitching their fortunes to those of other forces, will find themselves working against the movement instead of for it; and that may well include many who have been parts of the movement in the past or are parts of it at the moment but exclude themselves from it by their actions.

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