Photo credit: photodune.

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.

Community News (V12-I9)

Duke’s Muslim chaplain to give opening prayers at US house

4E90 DURHAM –- Duke University’s Muslim chaplain, Abdullah T. Antepli, will deliver the opening prayer for the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., at 10 a.m. March 3.

Antepli is serving as guest chaplain at the invitation of U.S. Rep. David Price.

“I am deeply humbled and honored to be asked to give this opening prayer. It is a great honor for me and for Duke University,” Antepli said in a news release. “It’s wonderful that Congress, through their invitation, is acknowledging Duke’s commitment to diversity and a pluralistic society.”

Antepli, who joined Duke in July 2008, is one of only a handful of full-time Muslim chaplains at U.S. colleges and universities. He is the founder and executive board member of the Muslim Chaplains Association and a member of the National Association of College and University Chaplains. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member in the Duke Divinity School and Duke Islamic Studies Center, where he teaches courses on Islam.

The guest chaplain program is sponsored by the Office of the Chaplain of the House of Representatives. Guest chaplains must be recommended by current members of Congress, and each member is allowed to recommend only one religious leader per session. Opening the House of Representatives in prayer is a tradition that began in 1789 with the first Continental Congress.

Columbia MSA discusses Sunni-Shia unity

NEW YORK, NY–The Muslim Student Association of Columbia University held a lecture by Imam Ammar Nakshawani on the importance of uniting Sunni and Shia Muslims.

“There needs to be dialogue in order to bridge the gap,” Nakshawani said in his lecture on Thursday. The word “dialogue,” he added, stems from the Greek word “dia,” which means “to see through the lens of another person.” “For so many years, when Shiites and Sunnis tried to bridge the gap, the Shiite would look through his lens. The Sunni would look through his.”

In his address, Nakshawani asked the audience to put aside political and theological differences between Sunnis and Shiites and focus on the group’s shared fundamental beliefs, such as the oneness of Allah, Muhammad’s (s) role as the prophet of Allah, and the five pillars of Islam.

“Take off your lenses and see through the eyes of someone else,” Nakshawani said.

He criticized he speeches of Sunni and Shiite clerics who use negative phrases, such as “atheist sinners” and “infidels,” to incite hatred of the other sects.

Muslim cemetery proposed in Connecticut

CANTERBURY,CT–The Connecticut Council of Masajid is planning to establish a Muslim cemetery in Canterbury. They have identified a 11 acre site which was recently toured by the area residents and the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission.

Abdul Hamid, president of Council of Masajid, has been in Connecticut since 1966 and lives in Hampton. He said he has always found a friendly mix of people in the state.

“This is an opportunity to get to know people,’’ he said of the walk through the woods.

The group has an option to purchase the Canterbury property for $300,000 from Daniel M. Cymkow. According to the wetlands application, a 12- to 15-foot wide driveway would wind through the land. The first and second phases of the cemetery would be four acres each, and the third phase would be 17 acres. The land would not be clear cut, Hamid said.

If a wetlands permit is approved, the group would still need a special exception permit from the Planning & Zoning Commission.

First Halal Meals on Wheels Program Introduced in US

DETROIT, MI–The Arabic Community Center for Economic and Social Services has launched what is the first Halal  Meals on Wheels program in the US. The program delivers hot Halal meals to seniors who require care and was launched last month in Dearborn.

Amne Darwish Talab of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services told the Detroit News that  there has been a need for this type of service for a long time.

“There are a lot of people who don’t have the same living conditions as they did before this economic crisis,” said Talab, ACCESS’s social services. “A lot of seniors have no family or no kids or their kids are in another state.”

The program currently has about 20 recipients and is expected to grow.

Muslim students help the homeless in Orlando

ORLANDO, FL–The Muslim Student Association at the University of Central Florida has launched a program which not only provides food for the homeless but also gives then clean , new socks.

Project Downtown is a part of MSA National that was started by students in Miami who wanted to give the homeless more than food, the Central Florida Future reported.

The project is founded on the idea that people should not only give food but also whatever modest, unconditional gifts they can offer, according to Project Downtown’s Web site.

Huma Khan, a mechanical engineering major and the Director of Project Downtown, Orlando, said that the sock donation was one way to give more to the community.

“It’s just a random thing we picked out that homeless people do need,” she said. “Socks, underwear, stuff like that. Just little things that we look over that people in the streets actually do need and that they appreciate a lot more than we do.”

Khan added that the members of Project Downtown, Orlando give the homeless someone to talk to.

“Us being here kind of just gives them something to look forward to,” she said. “I build relationships with people. I know who they are, I know them by face…if you have a good conversation with someone one week, it’ll kind of make your day a little bit better and you’ll look forward to speaking to that person again.”