By Agha (Shaukat) Jafri
The seeds of schism in Islam were sown almost 1400 years ago, immediately after the demise of the Prophet of Islam (pbuh), and the events that ensued witnessed nothing but bloodshed, and destruction within the ranks of Muslims. The Prophet (pbuh) had predicted as much, but he was not there to keep harmony and peace between the warring factions. The Caliphates of the quartet “Khulafa-e-Rashedeen” encountered plenty of turmoil during their respective reign as three of the four caliphs were unable to depart from this earth resulting from natural causes. Afterwards, Banu Ummayya, were the first to take the helm, and their perilous performance invited far more trauma and tragedy to this nascent faith. Hussain Ibn Ali (AS), the grandson of the prophet was cut down along with family members and friends because he exposed the evils of Yazid Ibn Moaviyya, and refused to swear allegiance to him. The gulf of schism between, now quite well established Shia & Sunni sects, became even wider. The eventual collapse of Ummayyad dynasty brought Banu Abbas, who were no less an evil in terms of inflicting pain and suffering to the people of other sects in Islam specifically the Shia Muslims, who absorbed the most severe punishment under the domain of Abbasiyoon. Eleven out of of the twelve Shia Imams belonging to the family of the Prophet were martyred by Banu Ummayya and Banu Abbas rulers combined.
The intra-sectarian environment became a bit peaceful for a while until Ibn Temmeyya, the father of modern day Wahhabi and Salafi doctrines appeared on the Islamic landscape. This man had a precise mission of redefining Islam within the context of the so-called Aslaf of the earlier Islamic era, whom he greatly admired and endeared. He proclaimed that Islam is in chains of ritualism and thus not relevant to the real teachings of the faith. He challenged every single theologian of his time and the ones who preceded him both in precepts as well in practice of the exalted faith. Muslim Ummah became quite influenced by his message, as he gained a tremendous amount of traction with the people who were already masquerading on the fringes of Islam that espoused extremely hardcore but warped interpretation and compliance with Quran and Sunna. Ibn Temmeyya was successful, within a short period of time, in mystifying his audiences by converting Muslim masses to the thesis of his brand of theocracy. His imprints are left to date all over the global Muslim communities, and neither Shia nor Sunni sects are spared from the wrath of Salafi teachings of Ibn Temmeyya and his fearsome followers.
During the contemporary times, the empire of Saudi Arabia has become the real deciple and practitioner of Ibn Temmeyya’s teachings. After the downfall of the Ottomans, the cunning clan of al-Saud, aided by British Colonial power, took control of a large chunk of land of the old Hejaz & Najd, and proclaimed it as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The oil wealth made them immensely rich and they saw fertile grounds wide open in a few Islamic states, so as to spread the so-called Wahhabi/Salafi brand of Islam. Their Arab neighbors always looked down upon the Saudis and considered them as mere Bedouins and nomads suitable only for shepherding the herds of sheep, while Cairo, Damascus and Najaf (Iraq) continued their dominance as the intellectual as well as religious centers of Islam as it was practiced at the time of the Prophet (pbuh). Iranian revolution of 1979 made the Saudis extremely nervous and they felt threatened. As a counter measure, they decided to venture into Afghanistan and Pakistan as their foremost laboratories. They poured a tremendous amount of treasure coupled with a formidable propaganda apparatus as Wahhabi/Salafi brand of Islam flourished and became well entrenched in those two States.The outcome of these schemes has resulted in more bloodshed and bigotry that continue to spiral to this day with no end in sight. Saudis have expanded their evil endeavors in Iraq, Lebanon and recently in Syria. They abhor Non- Wahhabi/Salafi Muslims and call them Kafir (Infidel) and Najis (Unclean). Also, during the past 30 years, organizations such as Al-Qaida, Taliban, Islamic State of Iraq & Syria, and many other such entities were created and promoted by the Saudis.15 out of 19 terrorist that participated in 9/11 Tragedy were Saudi citizens.
Sunni and Shia sects of Islam, therefore, must awake to the crude reality that their sectarian divide is not only tormenting and tearing them apart, it is seriously endangering the most precious economic, political, as well as the religious fiber of Islam. Christians with Protestant & Catholic schism, Jews with Orthodox and Reformed divisions, and numerous other faiths with similar challenges were able to work out their differences in an amicable and rational manner. The adherents of these religions recognized much earlier that although disagreements with respect to the interpretations of jurisprudence as well as the practice within their respective faith existed, they were still able to agree to disagree on these matters of dispute. Who is a true Muslim and who is not will be decided on the Day of Judgement by none other than Allah (swt). Shia & Sunni Muslims believe in Tauheed i.e. Oneness of Allah (swt), Mohammad (pbuh) as the last prophet (pbuh), Quran as the holy book, daily Salat of 5 times, a month of Fasting, and a few other mandatory duties such as Hajj Bayt Allah and Zakat. Thus what is left in terms of disagreements is quite minimal, but rather secondary in scope and magnitude. These Muslims, for the sake of upholding the dignity of their exalted faith must embrace the similarities and savor the differences for once and for all!