One of my life-long dreams came true at the Sunni-Shia Unity Conference to launch efforts to promote Intra-Faith dialogue on December 15, when a group of dedicated local Muslims came together at a local Islamic center in San Jose, CA under the auspices of the Intra-Faith Committee of Northern California Islamic Council.
The conference was a result of months of background work by the committee I was fortunate to lead. We have one goal- to bring Muslims from all sects together despite our differences. We realize we will not solve 1400 years worth of differences, but we also appreciate the common bonds we share: One God, the love for Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an. We realize we have much more in common than differences.
We are also fully cognizant of our divisions and differences, and that we can not pretend that there are no issues between us. Having said that we felt we needed to first highlight our common bonds and why we need to act as one Umma.
There are theological and social reasons to act as one Umma.
Growing up, I was the only Shia student in my group of very closely-knit group of friends of 7-8 in my medical school years. We studied together, ate together, watched movies together and went out together. We did everything together- except when it came time for Juma prayers, or Ramadan and Muharram!
We felt a certain divide between us during those times. We went our own ways to pray Juma salat and broke our fast during Ramadan at separate times. Muharram was altogether a different story. For the whole month, I would be attending the religious programs to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his family. For the whole month, we would not talk much about our activities as if we lived in different worlds. I could never understand it then, and I still don’t understand it now. You see we did all the secular and “Shaitani stuff” together. But the very thing that unites us- our faith, is when we felt so divided!
As I grew closer to religion in the past 25 years or so, I still struggle with the thoughts of observing our religious rituals and practices separately. There are religious and social inspirations to be united. These two verses from the Qur’an send a strong message to us.
And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favor on you; for you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, you became brethren… 3:103
And be not like those who became divided and disagreed after clear arguments had come to them. For such there is an awful doom. 3:105
We further drive the inspirations for our work towards reconciliation as ordained by the following verse, and supported by the hadith:
The Believers are but a single Brotherhood: So make peace and reconciliation between your two (contending) brothers; and fear Allah, that you may receive Mercy. 49:10
Anyone who goes to make peace between two persons, the angels of Allah send blessings upon him until he returns and he will be given the reward of the Night of Destiny. Hadith of prophet Muhammad
Our group has very simple objectives:
- To promote peace, harmony and brotherhood between various Muslims sects, in particular the Sunni and Shia Muslims, by highlighting our common heritage and our common bonds.
- To work towards institutionalizing dialogue that is sustainable and relevant to Muslims in the Bay Area in particular and North America in general.
- To counter Islamophobia as one Umma.
We pledged to:
- Commit to promote a culture of brotherhood and sisterhood as One Umma. Resist the forces that may work to divide us.
- Commit to a culture of open-mindedness and honesty.
- Commit to a culture of respect for each other, while avoiding insulting each other. When we do disagree, we will do so respectfully and in a civil manner.
- Commit to a culture of avoiding insulting the revered figures of all Muslims.
- Commit to follow the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad PBUH: “None of you has faith until he loves for his brother or his neighbor what he loves for himself.”
- Commit to a culture of non-violence and respect for life.
We agree that the Intra-faith dialogue is NOT about:
- Telling who is right and who is wrong.
- Agreeing or accepting everything about the other faith traditions.
- “Converting” the others to one’s faith.
In addition to the religious reasons, there are other social and practical reasons. We have to ask ourselves:
Is the Muslim ban a Sunni Muslim ban, or a Shia Muslim ban?
When the Islamophobes snatch the Hijabs, do they do it because these women are Sunni Muslim women, or Shia Muslim women?
When the Muslim children are bullied in school(and there have been widespread reports to indicate rising incidence), are they bullied because they are Sunni Muslim kids or Shia Muslim kids?
I can go on and on, but you got the picture.
The first thing that becomes obligatory to scholars, Shia or Sunni, is removing dissension from the minds of Muslims. Sheikh Abd al-Majid Salim Chief Mufti of Egypt d1954- in a letter that was sent to Ayatollah Borujerdi)
After a series of short speeches by religious scholars, we had a panel discussion with Q&A from the audience, followed by Zuhr salat (early afternoon prayer). And yes, we prayed TOGETHER, and ended the day with an audience breakout session. The 450 or so attendees were given three simple questions to discuss and brainstorm among themselves.
- What are 1-2 barriers to our unity and what are YOUR 1-2 solutions/ideas to overcome these barriers.
- What’s one thing you will do differently as a result of this conference to bring peace and harmony TO YOUR organization/center as it relates to Shias and Sunnis. Be specific.
- What is your advice for our committee regarding next activity-Mawlid/Common Eid/Picnic/Common Juma/Weekend seminar/other activity?
These are also the questions, you may ask yourself and your local community.
At the end we had the following requests to the various groups.
Our request to attendees– Invite at least one family from the other madhab to your house. Invite one family from the other madhab to your masjid.
Our request to board members of islamic centers: Arrange 1 program to invite a center from the other madhab
Our requests to the speakers/scholars:
- Make one khutba in the next month on this subject to raise awareness.
- Sunni center- invite one Shia scholar for Juma khutba. The same goes for the Shia center- invite one Sunni scholar to do the same.
We realize the Muslim unity is not an event- it is a process. We hope that we have taken that first important step. We also hope to duplicate this in other areas, hence this post to raise awareness.
Will you follow suit?