Sunni-Shi’a–A Growing Respect

By Imam Abdullah El-Amin, MMNS

This week’s column will revisit a previous subject on Shi’a-Sunni respect, and cooperation, for the good of the entire Muslim umma.  This week, in Michigan, we had to call a meeting to address some rising tensions in the community about an incident that happened in 1997 and was re-hashed by the media in June 2008.

The controversy arose because of a statement made by a Muslim educator, writer and thinker by the name of Dr. Israr Ahmed.  In the article he made mention of a hadith that said Ali (ra) was at a meeting where alcohol was served.  It was even alleged that Ali drank the alcohol as well.  But it was also pointed out that this incident took place before alcohol was forbidden by ALLAH in Qur`an.

Nevertheless the Shi’a were very offended because they place Ali (ra) on a very high pedestal and there is no room for even the slightest hint of disrespect to him–and the Sunni have to respect that.

At the end of the meeting it was acknowledged that there were wrongs on both sides.  First, the offending statement was made in 1997,  not at its latest airing in 2008.  Next, the Shi’a Council jumped the gun without first ascertaining the truth of the matter.  And in hindsight, Dr. Ahmed stated he regretted making the statement and said if it was today, he would not make the statement.  Everyone felt better and left in a good spirit of brotherhood.

In light of the friction between Sunni and Shi’a groups in the Islamic family, it becomes apparent that we have the choice of focusing on a situation with negative eyes or with positive eyes.  I believe everyone is aware of the fact that enemies of Islam have taken a centuries-old situation between Sunni and Shi’a and exploited it for their own purposes. 

With the chaos going on in Iraq, it behooves their common enemy to create more conflict between them.  We, especially in America, cannot fall for that.

As a matter of fact, many years ago, under the banner of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, former chairman Syed Salman (may ALLAH bless his soul and grant him paradise) and yours truly, organized the first Sunni-Shi’a Symposium to be held in this area.  Syed Salman was my mentor in learning how to be a human being.  To be truthful with you, I have not seen many better than Salman in exercising and enhancing the humanity of all people.  He was a giant of a man and loved by all.

Now we must keep that same spirit and carry it on into the future for our children’s sake.  We certainly don’t want to leave them a world filled with hate and mistrust.  At our first Sunni-Shi’a symposium,  20 or so scholars from both communities got on the same stage and made some beautiful speeches and have been on the same stage ever since, extolling the virtues of respect of your fellow Muslim brother.  As a result, great and lasting friendships have been formed that day that have lasted to this day.

With faith and perseverance, and the help of ALLAH, Salman and I persevered among many challenges.

So now that we can utilize the blessings of ALLAH, let’s exercise that knowledge for the good of the ummah.  Islamic knowledge and leadership is supposed to be the tool for unification, love, respect, and tolerance.  If you really understand the beauty of Islamic brotherhood, you will use your intellect to kill separatist mentalities that keep us weak.

This is instructing that morsel of flesh (the heart) to be whole and good so it can make the whole body (including the mind) whole, moral and good. 

As Salaam alaikum
(Al Hajj) Imam Abdullah El-Amin


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