Sectarian Violence in Iraq: Return of the Arabs

Unholy conflict

There is not a day that goes by in Iraq in which a horrific act of violence eclipses a previous horrific act of violence. I was particularly appalled by the Baghdad University bombing, where at least 65 students and faculty were killed as they headed home from classes. It seems these bloodthirsty criminals are competing with one another in their brutality and viciousness.

It is truly tragic. The Qur’an tells us to “let your goals be everything good” (5:48) and to “help each other to kindness and conscience” and to “not help each other to crime and animosity.” (5:2) Yet, these criminals do the exact opposite. In a recent bombing, two powerful car bombs exploded in a busy market, killing dozens of innocent human beings as they shopped for food and other items. According to an NPR reporter, an Egyptian man was spotted filming the bombing from a nearby rooftop!

How could this man simply sit by and watch as innocent human beings die? And with each attack comes a ruthless counterattack, and more innocent victims are created. Why? Why are Sunnis attacking Shi’is? Why are Shi’is cleansing neighborhoods of its Sunni inhabitants? What is the difference between a Sunni and Shi’i anyway? Aren’t they all Muslims? Don’t they all declare that “There is nothing worthy of worship except God, and Muhammad is His Messenger”? Doesn’t that make them brothers in faith? Doesn’t that bond mean anything?

At its essence, the difference between Sunni and Shi’i is purely political: Shi’is believe that political leadership should reside in the House of the Prophet (pbuh), while Sunnis believe the people should elect their own leaders. That’s it. Must people die because of this difference in political philosophy?

Yet, the vicious violence in Iraq is no longer about Sunni vs. Shi’i. It is about revenge and counter-revenge. It is about attack and counter-attack. Each Sunni attack must be countered by a Shi’i attack. The violence has taken on a life of its own, and each group had fed into the monster of revenge. It is the fulfillment of the Prophet’s statement: “Near the establishment of the Hour [Day of Resurrection] there will be days during which religious ignorance will spread, knowledge will be taken away, and there will be much Al Harj, and Al Harj means killing.” (Bukhari)

It is the return of the Arabs – by which I mean a return to the ignorance of pre-Islamic Arabia. The Arabs were a fiercely sectarian and tribal people. Their motto was “Support your brother right or wrong.” Thus, if a criminal, a murderer, is in your tribe, you would defend him to the death, literally. Wars were fought between tribes because a tribe will defend a criminal amongst its ranks. The Arabs made a living out of fighting one another. They would even change the calendar – actually delay the Sacred Months during which fighting was prohibited – in order to continue the fight against other tribes. They lived in sheer chaos, with no sense of the rule of law. They lived in sheer anarchy, in a world in which might was right.

They were this way until the light of Muhammad (pbuh) shone on the sands of Arabia. The Noble Messenger of God (pbuh) changed the entire Arabian order and took barbarians and made them into scholars, philosophers, doctors, lawyers, and dignitaries. The Prophet (pbuh) changed the entire paradigm of Arab life. He taught the Arabs that the bond of faith was stronger than the bond of blood and ancestry. He taught them that the believers were brothers, even if they came from archenemy tribes. Under his illustrious tutelage, the Aws and Khazraj – the tribes of Medina who killed each other for generations – became one family. This was a concept completely alien and unheard of before Islam.

The Prophet (pbuh) affirmed the old Arabian motto: “Support your brother, right or wrong.” Yet, his affirmation turned the old adage on its head. The Companions told the Prophet that they understood how to support a brother who was wronged, but how can one support his brother when he does wrong himself? The Prophet (pbuh) answered, “He prevents his brother from doing that wrong.” Thus, the tribe will not defend to the death a criminal in its ranks. Rather, it will take that criminal to account, and more importantly, it will prevent its members from committing crimes in the first place. This was a concept completely alien and unheard of before Islam.

Yet, as time has passed, the light of the Chosen One (pbuh) has faded into oblivion. The Arabs have returned. Now, the Sunni and the Shi’i are the new tribal entities; they are the new Aws and Khazraj. Now, the Sunni tortures and kills the Shi’i for no other reason than being a Shi’i. The Shi’i tortures and kills the Sunni for no other reason than being a Sunni. Aren’t they both Muslims? Are not the believers one brotherhood? Not any more, for the Arabs have returned.

Now, the Sunni countries of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt are sounding alarms about the rising influence of Iran. In fact, some reports have stated that Saudi Arabia recently warned the United States that it will not sit idly by and watch the Sunnis in Iraq get slaughtered by the Shi’is (read: Iran). The mess in Iraq threatens to turn into a regional Sunni-Shi’i war. Yet, aren’t they all Muslims? Are not the believers one brotherhood? Not any more, for the Arabs have returned.

What’s more, not only have the Arabs returned to Arabia and Mesopotamia, but they have also been sighted in sub-Saharan Africa. In Darfur, Muslims are killing Muslims; Muslim men are raping Muslim women; Muslims are destroying mosques and tearing up copies of the Qur’an. A genocide of Muslims is being committed in Darfur, and the perpetrators are fellow Muslims, with the genocide being committed under the neglectful eyes of the Muslim world. In a world that has beheld the footsteps of the Prophet (pbuh), how could this ever be?

Did not God say:

“If two parties of believers contend with each other, make peace between them. Then if one of the two acts unjustly to the other, fight the side that transgresses until it goes back to the order of God. Then if it goes back, make peace between the two fairly, doing justice, for God loves those who do justice. The believers are one brotherhood, so make peace between two brothers of yours, being conscious of God so that you may receive mercy.” (49:9-10)

Are not the Fur and the Janjaweed Muslims? Are they not brothers of one another? Not any more, for the Arabs have returned.

Sadly, the Arabs have been found all across the Muslim world, and they have decimated the once glorious civilization that was created by the Prophet (pbuh) and his faith. And this situation will never change until the Muslims change their own selves: “God does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition.” (13:11) Fourteen centuries ago, the light of the Prophet (pbuh) led the Muslims to drive the Arabs out of Arabia, hopefully never to return. Sadly, the Arabs have returned, and it is high time for the Muslims to drive them out once again.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is at godfaithpen.com.


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