Sunnis and Shias must unite against sectarianism


Photo credit: photodune.

Photo credit: photodune.

By Hesham Hassaballa

Last weekend, we were making S’mores (don’t worry … halal marshmallows) in our backyard, and we called our neighbors over to join us. Their kids played with our kids, and we enjoyed a nice evening together. Our conversation varied from school, to cars, to food – you know, normal stuff – but it also touched upon religion. This could have been touchy, because they were Shi’a Muslims, and we are Sunnis.

But, there was no tension whatsoever. They left our house as beloved a neighbor as they were when they first arrived. We discussed religion because one of their children had a hoodie that read, “Who is Hussain?” And about this, I commented to his father, my friend: “I am still baffled that anyone could have the audacity to kill the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).” A sentiment with which he agreed completely.

After a conversation about the murder of Imam Hussein (r), we prayed Maghrib together and continued to discuss Islamic history and politics. And we both decried the terrible division between Sunnis and Shias that is rocking the Islamic world today, especially in the Arab Middle East. We also decried the fact that, unfortunately, many Muslims bring the divisions over there to their communities over here.

This should not be so.

Yes, there are theological differences between Sunnis and Shias. I neither dismiss nor belittle them. There are some things in that theology with which I do not agree. And I am against the extremists among the Shia who attack the veracity of the Companions of the Prophet (pbuh), whom I revere and greatly respect.

But I am equally against the savages among the Sunnis who call the Shias “infidels” and kill them at will. I hate them with every fiber of my being, and they must be opposed at every turn. No matter what the differences between our two communities, nothing should rise to the level of murder. Nothing. And we Muslims in the West should not seek to bring that conflict here.

In fact, the bond that can bind us together is the love we both have for the Family of the Prophet (pbuh). Even though I am Sunni, I have a deep-seated love for the Family of the Prophet (pbuh), all of the Family of the Prophet (pbuh). If I love the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) with all my heart, then how can I not love his family, which he loved with all of his heart?

I have written, literally dozens of times, that the mutual love for Jesus Christ (pbuh) should bring the Muslim and Christian communities together. The same sentiment is even more true for Sunnis and Shias: our mutual love for the Family of the Prophet (pbuh) should bring our communities closer together.

We both worship the same God; we both follow the same Prophet (pbuh); we revere the same Book. There should be no reason why our two communities should be against one another. We should pray at each others’ mosques. We should break bread with each other, and with Ramadan coming up, we should break our fasts together. We are all Muslims, and we need to come together as one, our differences notwithstanding.

Our faith and our community is under attack, and there are so many people who profit handsomely from demonizing us and our faith. In the Middle East, this “centuries-old conflict” between Sunnis and Shias is threatening to tear apart the very fabric of the Muslim communities who live there. If we can’t change what is happening over there, then the very least we can do is not emulate the madness.

We must heed the call of our Lord who says, “Verily, [O you who believe in Me,] this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Lord of you all: worship, then, Me [alone]! (21:92) We are all Muslims, and we need to come together as one. There are forces that want us to fight one another, for their own interest and benefit. We should never let them win.

Editor’s Note: Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago doctor and writer. He has written extensively on a freelance basis, being published in newspapers across the country and around the world. His articles have been distributed worldwide by Agence Global, and Dr. Hassaballa has appeared as a guest on WTTW (Channel 11) in Chicago, CNN, Fox News, BBC, and National Public Radio. The views expressed here are his own.

U.S. Military Chapter in Iraq Draws to a Close

By Patrick Markey

The “Hands of Victory” memorial rises over an empty parade ground in the Green Zone of Baghdad December 14, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Nearly nine years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq ousted Saddam Hussein, American troops are pulling out and leaving behind a country still battling insurgents, political uncertainty and sectarian divisions.

Nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives in a war that began with a “Shock and Awe” campaign of missiles and bombs pounding Baghdad, but later descended into a bloody sectarian struggle between long-oppressed majority Shi’ites and their former Sunni masters.

Saddam is dead and the violence has ebbed, but the U.S. troop withdrawal leaves Iraq with a score of challenges from a stubborn insurgency and fragile politics to an oil-reliant economy plagued by power cuts and corruption.

Iraq’s neighbors will keep a close watch on how Baghdad will confront its problems without the buffer of a U.S. military presence, while a crisis in neighboring Syria threatens to upset the region’s sectarian and ethnic balance.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who made an election promise to bring troops home, told Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that Washington will remain a loyal partner after the last troops roll across the Kuwaiti border.

“The mission there was to establish an Iraq that could govern and secure itself and we’ve been able to do that,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told troops at a U.S. base in Djibouti this week.
“That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.”

Iraq’s Shi’ite leadership presents the withdrawal as a new start for the country’s sovereignty, but many Iraqis question which direction the nation will take once U.S. troops leave – sectarian strife or domination by one sect over another?

Will al Qaeda return to sow terror in the cities? Will ongoing disputes between Kurds in their northern semi-autonomous enclave spill into conflict with the Iraqi Arab central government over disputed territories.

Violence has ebbed since the bloodier days of sectarian slaughter when suicide bombers and hit squads claimed hundreds of victims a day at times as the country descended into tit-for-tat killings between the Sunni and Shi’ite communities.

In 2006 alone, 17,800 Iraqi military and civilians were killed in violence.

Iraqi security forces are generally seen as capable of containing the remaining Sunni Islamist insurgency and the rival Shi’ite militias U.S. officials say are backed by Iran.
But for those enjoying a sense of sovereignty, security is still a major worry. Attacks now target local Iraqi government offices and security forces in an attempt show that the authorities are not in control.

“I am happy they are leaving. This is my country and they should leave,” said Samer Saad, a soccer coach. “But I am worried because we need to be safe. We are worried because all the militias will start to come back.”


The fall of Saddam opened the way for Iraq’s Shi’ite majority community to ascend to positions of power after decades of oppression under his Sunni-run Baath party. But nine years after the invasion Iraq remains a splintered country, worrying many that the days of sectarian slaughter are not over.

Even the political power-sharing in Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government is hamstrung by sectarian divides. The government at times seems paralyzed as parties split along sect lines, squabbling over every decision.

That has hampered economic development as infrastructure projects and key laws wait for approval. Iraq needs investment in almost all areas – the power grid still provides only a few hours of electricity a day.

Sunni Iraqis fear marginalization or even a creeping Shi’ite-led authoritarian rule under Maliki. A recent crackdown on former members of the Baath party has fueled those fears.

Sectarian divisions leave Iraq still vulnerable to meddling by neighbors trying to secure more influence, especially as Sunni-controlled Arab nations view any Iranian involvement as an attempt to control Iraq’s Shi’ite parties at the cost of Sunni communities.

Iraq’s Shi’ite leadership frets the crisis in neighboring Syria could eventually bring a hardline Sunni leadership to power in Damascus, worsening Iraq’s own sectarian tensions.

U.S. troops had acted as a buffer in another dispute between Kurds in Iraq’s semi-autonomous region and the Iraqi Arabs in the central government. Some fear the two regions could clash over oil and territory rights in disputed areas.


U.S. troops were supposed to stay on as part of a deal to train the Iraqi armed forces. Washington had asked Iraq for at least 3,000 troops to remain in the country. But talks over immunity from prosecution for American soldiers fell apart.

Memories of U.S. abuses, arrests and killings still haunt many Iraqis and the question of legal protection from prosecution looked too sensitive for Iraq’s political leadership to push through a splintered parliament.

At the height of the war, 170,000 American soldiers occupied more than 500 bases across the country. Now only two bases and 5,500 troops remain in the country. All will be home before the end of the year when a security pact expires.

Only around 150 U.S. soldiers will remain in Iraq after December 31 attached to the huge U.S. Embassy that sits near the Tigris River. Civilian contractors will take on the task of training Iraqi forces on U.S. military hardware.

Every day hundreds of trunks and troops trundle in convoys across the Kuwaiti border as U.S. troops end their mission.

“Was it worth it? I am sure it was. When we first came in here, the Iraqi people seemed like they were happy to see us,” said Sgt 1st Class Lon Bennish, packing up at a U.S. base and finishing the last of three deployments in Iraq.

“I hope we are leaving behind a country that says ‘Hey, we are better off now than we were before.’”

(Editing by Paul Casciato)