Sunni & Shiah Unity Resources - updated 5/3/2014
Posted May 3, 2014

Sunni & Shiah Unity Resources

by Sheila Musaji

The issue of Sunni Shia unity has been discussed for a long time.  For example, back in 1959 Shaikh Mahmood Shaltoot of Al Azhar wrote a Fatwa on the permissibility of following the Shia Madhabs.

Summary: 1) Islam does not require a Muslim to follow a particular Madh’hab (school of thought). Rather, we say: every Muslim has the right to follow one of the schools of thought which has been correctly narrated and its verdicts have been compiled in its books. And, everyone who is following such Madhahib [schools of thought] can transfer to another school, and there shall be no crime on him for doing so. 2) The Ja’fari school of thought, which is also known as “al-Shia al- Imamiyyah al-Ithna Ashariyyah” (i.e., The Twelver Imami Shi’ites) is a school of thought that is religiously correct to follow in worship as are other Sunni schools of thought.

He also noted in his introduction that: “Some people who follow pseudo-scholars in Hijaz may beg to differ; that notwithstanding, what you see below is the view held by the overwhelming majority of Sunni scholars, and not just those at al-Azhar. Let it be known to those who strive to divide us, that their efforts are but in vain.”   The sad thing is that those people who seek to divide us can still be found today, more than 50 years after he wrote this.  They are a small minority, but they do a great deal of damage.  Although the overwhelming majority of scholars - both Shia and Sunni - agree that both Sunni and Shia madhabs are valid, there are those few who insist on creating fitna.

It is possible to find individual scholars who hold divisive and exclusionary sectarian views, but you have to look hard to find them. An example of such minority opinions that go against the overwhelming majority opinion, but that still manage to be taken seriously by some individuals is a 2006 fatwa by Abdul Rahman al-Barak, a Wahhabi cleric in Saudi Arabia who urged Sunnis worldwide to oppose reconciliation with Shiites. He said in a fatwa: “By and large, rejectionists (Shiites) are the most evil sect of the nation and they have all the ingredients of the infidels. The general ruling is that they are infidels, apostates and hypocrites. They are more dangerous than Jews and Christians.”  

This issue has been discussed and clarified, and yet we still see incidents like these:

In March of 2012, in Belgium, an Imam was killed as a result of an arson attack at a Shia mosque in the Brussels suburb of Anderlecht. The individual arrested for this crime was described by mosque goers who detained him until the police arrived as “a Salafist”. 

In August of 2012 in Pakistan there were two incidents of violence against Shia Muslims.  Twenty-two were killed in a Taliban bus attack.  It is heartbreaking that there are still any individuals calling themselves Muslims who can believe that there is any possible justification for such acts at any time, but even more particularly during the month of Ramadan.  Our prayers are with the victims and their families.  Those who carried out these acts bring shame on the entire Ummah.  Somehow we have to find a way to stop this senseless violence.

I am greatful that MPAC immediately issued a condemnation of these despicable acts.  Such condemnations are not new, they have been made many times in the past, but somehow there are some Muslims who either are unaware of or ignoring actual Islamic teachings. 

In November 2012:  There was a terrible rash of violence against Shia in Pakistan over the last month.  Murtaza Hussein has written an important article in Al Jazeera - Pakistan’s Shia genocide.  He provides a great deal of background and many links to sources for information.  He says

“Many analysts have warned that Pakistani Shias increasingly face “sectarian cleansing” from the country if violence against them continues to accelerate, a fate which would be a tragic end to a community which for most of the Pakistan’s history has lived in communal harmony with majority Sunnis and others within Pakistan’s once-inclusive ethnic and religious tapestry. If the measure of a society is how it treats its minorities, the slow-motion genocide being perpetrated against the Shia community in Pakistan is indicative of a country which has acquiesced to being devoured from the inside-out and which has sacrificed for itself any vision of a tolerant and progressive future.”

A movement towards making a clear public declaration that division between Sunnis and Shias will not be accepted or tolerated by American Muslims has been ongoing in the American Muslim community for some time.  Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid called for a dialogue in April of 2005, and sponsored a gathering which issued a resolution in December of 2006.  In April of 2007 at a meeting in Los Angeles a number of scholars signed on to a Muslim Code of Honor initiated by MPAC, and in May many more signed on in Detroit, and in September many more at the ISNA convention. 

For those who might not be aware of the history of this movement against Sunni-Shia bigotry in the U.S. it might be helpful to provide background in some detail.

In February of 2006 I wrote an article on Sunni Shia Unity after the bombing of a Shia Mosque in Iraq.  In that article, I noted

There are a lot of questions we need to ask - who actually did this?  - who benefits?  - who is responsible for stirring up hatred? - who are the real enemies of the Muslim umma?

There have been both Muslims and non-Muslims who have been responsible for stirring up animosity and prejudice between Sunni’s and Shia’s - and it has spilled over into random violence for a number of years.

A recent MPAC statement against the current violence pointed to one Muslim source of the sectarianism: “MPAC believes that a climate of intolerance in the Muslim world against Shiia’s has been fermented in part by poisonous anti-Shia teachings that emanate primarily from a strict Wahabi ideology.”   An article by Yoginder Sikand also pointed to the influence of some within the Muslim community to paint those who do not follow their particular interpretation as “the enemy”  

One example of non-Muslim sources for this increased sectarianism may be found in a Rand Study released in 2004 which suggested exploiting Sunni Shia and Arab non-Arab divides to promote U.S. Policy. 

Imam Sa’dullah Khan has pointed out that: ”Political machinations often deepened the wounds of division, and the historical Sunni-Shi’a differences are still passionately employed by people with vested interests for political or “religious” hegemony.”

Imam Khomeini said in a speech at Qum 20 years ago.

“The filthy hands which aggravate the differences between the Shi’ites and Sunni Muslims, belong neither to the Shi’ites nor the Sunnis. They are the hands of the colonialists which plan to take the Islamic countries out of our hands. The colonial powers who want to plunder our wealth through various schemes and conspiracies are the ones who hatch plots for creating division under the pretext of Shi’ism or Sunnism.”

The Executive Director of CAIR Nihad Awad said: “The atrocious attack on the Askariya shrine is an obvious attempt to incite sectarian violence.  The Iraqi people, and Muslims worldwide, must not fall into the trap set by those who seek division and mutual hatred. Sectarian violence serves only the enemies of Iraq and the Iraqi people.” 

Anyone who is responsible for instigating sectarian division and violence is either an enemy of Islam, or doing the work of the enemies of Islam.

The Qur’an has given us clear guidelines to follow.

“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to Piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.” [Quran 5:8]

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 ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make His Signs clear to you: That ye may be guided.  Qur’an 3:103

Verily, this brotherhood of yours is a single brotherhood, and I am your Lord and Cherisher: therefore serve Me (and no other).  Qur’an 21:92 and 23:52

“As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, thou hast no part in them in the least: their affair is with Allah. He will in the end tell them the truth of all that they did.”   Qur’an 6:159

Many of our scholars have provided clear rulings

The Amman Statement (which was issued in July of 2005 at a historical meeting of 170 Sunni and Shia religious scholars from 40 countries) is so important it needs to be reproduced here in full.  In fact, it should be reproduced in huge quantities and passed out at every mosque, and each of us should keep a few copies ready to pass out to any who raise the issue of sectarianism.  Note particularly that eight schools of law are recognized.

“In accordance with the fatwas issued by the Honourable and Respectable Grand Imam Shaykh al-Azhar, the Grand Ayatollah Al-Sayyid Ali Al-Sistani, the Honourable and Respectable Grand Mufti of Egypt, the Honourable and Respectable Shi‘i clerics (both Ja‘fari and Zaydi), the Honourable and Respectable Grand Mufti of the Sultanate of Oman, the Islamic Fiqh Academy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Grand Council for Religious Affairs of Turkey, the Honourable and Respectable Grand Mufti of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Respectable Members of its National Fatwa Committee, and the Honourable and Respectable Shaykh Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi;

And in accordance with what was mentioned in the speech of His Hashemite Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan during the opening session of our conference;  And in accordance with our own knowledge in sincerity to Allah the Bounteous;  nd in accordance with what was presented in this our conference by way of research papers and studies, and by way of the discussions that transpired in it; We, the undersigned, hereby express our approval and affirmation of what appears below:

1) Whosoever is an adherent of one of the four Sunni Schools of Jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi‘i and Hanbali), the Ja‘fari (Shi‘i) School of Jurisprudence, the Zaydi School of Jurisprudence, the Ibadi School of Jurisprudence, or the Thahiri School of Jurisprudence is a Muslim. Declaring that person an apostate is impossible. Verily his (or her) blood, honour, and property are sacrosanct. Moreover, in accordance with what appeared in the fatwa of the Honourable and Respectable Shaykh al-Azhar, it is not possible to declare whosoever subscribes to the Ash‘ari creed or whoever practices true Sufism an apostate. Likewise, it is not possible to declare whosoever subscribes to true Salafi thought an apostate. Equally, it is not possible to declare as apostates any group of Muslims who believes in Allah the Mighty and Sublime and His Messenger (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) and the pillars of faith, and respects the pillars of Islam and does not deny any necessary article of religion.

2) There exists more in common between the various Schools of Jurisprudence than there is difference. The adherents to the eight Schools of Jurisprudence are in agreement as regards the basic Islamic principles. All believe in Allah the Mighty and Sublime, the One and the Unique; that the Noble Qur’an is the Revealed Word of Allah; and that our master Muhammad, may Blessings and Peace be upon him, is a Prophet and Messenger unto all mankind. All are in agreement about the five pillars of Islam: the two testaments of faith (shahadatayn), the ritual prayer (salat), almsgiving (zakat), fasting the month of Ramadan (sawm), and the Hajj to the Sacred House of Allah. All are also in agreement about the foundations of belief: belief in Allah, His Angels, His Scriptures, His Messengers, and in the Day of Judgement, in Divine providence — good and evil. Disagremment between the ‘ualma’ is only with respect to the ancillary branches of religion (furu) and not the principles and fundamentals (Usul).  Disagreement with respect to the ancillary branches of religion (furu) is a mercy.  Long ago it was said that variance in opinion among ‘ulama’ “is a good affair”.

3) Acknowledgement of the Schools of Jurisprudence within Islam means adhering to a fundamental methodology in the issuance of fatwas. No one may issue a fatwa without the requisite personal qualifications which each School of Jurisprudence defines. No one may issue a fatwa without adhering to the methodology of the Schools of Jurisprudence. No one may claim to do absolute Ijtihad and create a new School of Jurisprudence or to issue unacceptable fatwas that take Muslims out of the principles and certainties of the Shari‘ah and what has been established in respect of its Schools of Jurisprudence.

4) The essence of the Amman Message, which was issued on the Blessed Night of Power in the year 1425 H. and which was read aloud in Masjid al-Hashimiyyin, is adherence to the Schools of Jurisprudence and their fundamental methodology. Acknowledging the Schools of Jurisprudence and affirming discussion and engagement between them ensures fairness, moderation, mutual forgiveness, compassion, and engaging in dialogue with others.

5) We call for casting aside disagreement between Muslims and unifying their words and stances; reaffirming their mutual respect for each other; fortifying mutual affinity among their peoples and states; strengthening the ties of brotherhood which unite them in the mutual love of Allah. And we call upon Muslims to not permit discord and outside interference between them.

A hopeful sign that ordinary Muslims are getting fed up with those who are determined to spread sectarian prejudice is the recent protest march in London where up to 15,000 Sunnis and Shias marched and protested violence and demanded unity. 

There are other hopeful signs, and as Dahr Jamail has pointed out, even in Iraq both the Sunni and the Shia religious leadership (including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr) have urged restraint.- “As quickly as these horrible events began, they were called to an end and replaced by acts of solidarity between Sunni and Shia across Iraq.  This, however, was not shown by western corporate media.  ...  Demonstrations of solidarity between Sunni and Shia went off over all of Iraq: in Basra, Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, Kut, and Salah al-Din.  Thousands of Shia marched shouting anti-American slogans through Sadr City, the huge Shia slum area of Baghdad, which is home to nearly half the population of the capital city.  ... Baghdad had huge demonstrations of solidarity, following announcements by several Shia religious leaders not to attack Sunni mosques.”

Yasin Aljibouri made a statement that beautifully sums up what should be the Muslim position on this issue “If some Shi’ahs speak ill of their Sunni brethren and their beliefs, the rest of the Sh’iahs of the world should not on their account be condemned, and the same is true for Sunnis who speak ill of their Shi’ah brethren and their beliefs. There are fanatics in all religions and sects of the world, and their fanaticism must be condemned. There are extremists among the Sunni and Shi’ah, but their views cannot be held as the criterion whereby the entire doctrine is judged. ... We pray the all-Mighty Who did not Call us anything but Muslims, neither Sunnis nor Shi’ahs, to strengthen our faith and our Brotherhood and unite us together under the shade of His Deen so that we deserve to be Called Muslims, and so that His Messenger Muhammad will not be ashamed of us on the Day of Resurrection.”

Any other position can only lead us far from the teachings of the Qur’an and towards disaster.  We must develop long memories and be vigilant in identifying both internal and external enemies who would encourage us to let loose the rope of Allah.

In 2006, I also participated in the Shia-Sunni Dialogue to Save Lives which was organized by Imam Malik Mujahid and met in Chicago.  Here is the statement that we published and shared widely

Communiqué of the Shia-Sunni Dialogue to Save Lives

A national Planning Meeting of The Shia-Sunni Dialogue to Save Lives was held in Chicago on December 25, 2006 to develop strategies to systematically involve Muslims in the United States in reducing violence and saving lives of victims of Shia-Sunni conflicts. The deadly conflict between Shias and Sunnis in Iraq provided the backdrop for the urgent tone of the all-day session, hosted by Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, on behalf of Sound Vision Foundation and co-chaired by Dr. Esmail Koushanpour, Executive Director, Islamic Cultural Center, Northbrook, IL, and Imam Khalid Fattah Griggs, Community Mosque of Winston-Salem, NC.

The twenty-two participants from Chicago and across the country recognized that Muslims in the United States are ideally situated to take a leading role in the Shia-Sunni Dialogue to Save Lives process because of the relative lack of sectarian conflict between the groups in this country and the presence of Muslims whose relatives and friends are still living in the midst of sectarian conflict.

The Muslim community in the US feels the pain of the victims of Shia-Sunni violence in Iraq, Pakistan and Lebanon. A primary impetus for this feeling of empathy is the saying of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, “The Muslim Ummah is like a single body; when one part of the body is sick, the whole body catches a fever.”

As a result of its deliberations, the Planning Group concluded that it is imperative that the Muslim community in the United States actively and methodically engage in critical dialogue and education concerning Shia-Sunni Dialogue to Save Lives. To facilitate this process, the Planning Group for the Shia-Sunni Dialogue to Save Lives developed the following Resolution and Recommendations for Action:


Whereas, the Quran mandates Muslim unity in the verse: “And hold fast, all together, by the Rope of God, and be not divided among yourselves; And remember with gratitude God’s favor on you when you were enemies, and He united your hearts so by His favor you became brothers; and you were on the brink of a pit of fire, then He saved you from it; thus does God make clear to you His signs that you may follow the right way.” (Quran 3:103)

Whereas, the Quran makes an unequivocal stand for justice in the verse: “Oh you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, God is a Better Protector to both (than you)” (Quran 4:135)

Whereas, although sectarian divisions and some conflicts have existed among Muslims, the magnitude of the Shia-Sunni conflict in Iraq has little precedent in the Muslim history with the indiscriminate targeting of innocent men, women and children, and the destruction of ancient, venerated mosques

Whereas, the seeds for divisiveness for the entire Muslim world, including Muslims in the United States, are being sown through the Shia-Sunni conflict in Iraq

Whereas, the Muslim community in the United States is composed of thoughtful, caring Shias and Sunnis concerned about the future of Shia-Sunni relations in this country and around the world

Whereas, the differences between Shias and Sunnis have not precluded Shias from making the annual Hajj to GodÕs House in Makkah, Saudi Arabia or being accepted as Muslims by an overwhelming majority of past and present Sunni jurists


That the Planning Group for the Shia-Sunni Dialogue to Save Lives calls upon all Muslim Imams, Khateebs, Organization and Opinion Leaders in the United States to engage their local/national constituencies in critical intra-faith dialogue and education about Shia-Sunni relations and how to promote cooperation. Dialogue helps to isolate extremist fringes. Best practices should be shared

That interested Muslim Scholars, Imams, Khateebs, Masjids, Organization and Opinion Leaders, and Individuals assist efforts like the Shia-Sunni Dialogue to Save Lives in crafting a strategy that can be employed throughout the country to increase understanding and enhance cooperation between the groups

That a national Shia Sunni dialogue be held in Chicago on Saturday, April 21, 2007

That Muslims of Arab and South Asian origin residing in the United States organize intra-faith dialogue between Shias and Sunnis of their area of origin residing in this country, share best practices, and promote similar efforts with relatives, friends, and leading Muslims in their home countries.

Recommendations for Action (Individuals)

Ask the Imams, Khateebs, Masjids, Muslim Organizations and Opinion Leaders you know to sign the attached resolution and send us their name, title, organization name (only for identification purpose), mailing address, email, and phone numbers

Ask leaders to participate in April 21, 2007 National Shia-Sunni Dialogue to Save Lives Develop a personal relationship with a Sunni if you are a Shia, and with a Shia if you are a Sunni. Share meals together in each others’ home or in a public facility.

Organize and/or attend an Intra-Faith Dialogue or educational session on the core beliefs of Shias and Sunnis. You may be surprised to learn that almost all the core beliefs of both are the same.

Discourage others from making comments that are disparaging to either Shias or Sunnis.  Emphasize the message of the sanctity of human life in the Quran.  Make dua that Allah help this Ummah overcome Shia-Sunni conflict and violence.

Recommendations for Action (Organizational)

Get your organization to sign the attached RESOLUTION.

Publicly declare your Islamic Center, Masjid, or Muslim Organization open to ALL MUSLIMS, and work towards making this testimony a reality.

Request Muslim scholars from both the Shia and Sunni communities, including the various Fiqh councils in North America, to issue fatwas: Reaffirming that the adherents of both Sunni and Shia Schools of Jurisprudence are Muslims.

Condemning sectarian violence and killing.

Make dua that Allah help this Ummah overcome Shia-Sunni conflict and violence and that Allah join the hearts of the Believers in unity.

If you are an imam/khateeb, please sign and fax or email the attached resolution. If you are not an imam, get your masjid and imam to sign and then fax or email the resolution.

Demand Shia Sunni dialog to save lives!

In 2007 this sectarian violence reached the United States when attacks were carried out against at least a dozen Shia Muslim-owned businesses and mosques in Detroit.  MPAC immediately condemned this and again called on leaders of the Muslim community to speak out and not only condemn such violence, but also educate their communities.

And, American Muslim leaders signed on to an Intrafaith Code of Honor.   You can view the full statement here or here.  The leaders who initially signed this were:  Salam Al-Marayati (MPAC Executive Director), Imam Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini (founder and Imam at the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County), Hussam Ayloush (Executive Director of CAIR-LA), Dr. Ridha Hajjar (Religious Director of the Ahlul-Bayt Mosque-CA), Dr. Maher Hathout (MPAC Senior Advisor), and Shakeel Syed (Executive Director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California).  Then, at the ISNA Convention many more American Muslim leaders signed on to the statement. 

In 2010, MPAC published a statement after another series of massacres.  MUSLIM COMMUNITIES WORLDWIDE NEED TO CONDEMN SHIA MASSACRES.  That statement read:

Sectarian violence has once again reached unprecedented levels in various Muslim majority countries during this past week. Bloodletting continues without reproach in places like Karbala, Iraq and Karachi, Pakistan, where Shia pilgrims were commemorating the 40th day after the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. As the referenced Quranic verse is tossed aside, we are sinking into an abyss of sectarian venom, with brother killing brother.

Let’s face the realities of this gruesome set of massacres. Those who recruited these suicide bombers are too cowardly to show their faces to the Muslim world, as over 100 Muslims were killed by fellow Muslim suicide bombers. For the culprits of these atrocities to play the role of God in determining who is, and who is not a believer, their fate will rest with the Almighty. The enemies of Islam are reprieved from working any more, since Muslims are doing their dirty work.

We call on the Iraqi and Pakistani governments to secure their own peoples. As their national security budgets grow, they continue to spend much of the country’s wealth on weapons and defense. We call on Sunni scholars to speak in one voice condemning this cancerous practice of suicide attacks against Shia Muslims. Scholars and Muslim activists, especially in the Gulf, where anti-Shia rhetoric is endemic to the region, must stand up and make clear that the killing of other Muslims guarantees nothing but misery in this life and the hereafter.

Muslim leaders from around the world signed The Amman Initiative to oppose terrorism and sectarian violence. It is now time to move beyond the rhetoric and demand action.

Muslims in America are blessed by the fact that sectarian division and violence has not raised its ugly head in our communities and we must prevent that from ever happening in the future. That must take place by declaring our stand now—our prayers for the deceased and their families, our demand for justice, and our declaration to maintain the unity of Muslims.

And, today we are back where we started.  Although, there are still individuals who have not accepted that violence is not the solution to anything, we can’t stop trying to get out the message.  As American Muslims we may not have political influence in Pakistan or other countries where such acts are taking place, but it seems that if the leaders of the national American Muslim organizations, and our American Muslim scholars issued a strong joint statement, it might have some effect.

UPDATE 12/12/2012

I have just published The Lunatic Fringe Still Pushing Sunni-Shia Sectarianism with more information on this topic responding to an incident where a Masjid Tawheed wa Sunah in Durham, NC is selling a disgusting anti-Shia book to raise money for a new mosque. In that article I note that Tariq Ramadan is one of many scholars and leaders who have issued appeals and written and spoken out against sectarianism.  He wrote An Appeal to the Conscience of Muslims in which he said:

Islam’s extraordinary diversity must be accepted and celebrated. Islam is one, but its interpretations are many. The existence of literalist, traditionalist, reformist, mystic, rationalist and other currents is a fact, a reality that must be treated positively and qualitatively, for each of them has its own legitimacy and should (must!) contribute a multifaceted debate among Muslims. Unfortunately, some of today’s Muslim religious scholars, and the leaders of various trends, are caught up in an ideological confrontation, and often a clash of egos, that create divisions and transform them into dangerous populists who claim for themselves the title of sole and authentic representatives of Islam. Within Sunnis, as within Shiites; between Sunnis and Shiites; scholars and schools of thought lash out at one another, forgetting the fundamental teachings and the principles that unite them and instead splitting along doctrinal or political lines that remain secondary at best. The consequences of these divisions are serious. Populism pushes people to vent their emotions blindly in the guise of legitimacy. The attitude — or the absence of it — of such scholars perpetuates among Muslims nationalist, sectarian and often racist postures based on their particular school of thought, their nationality or their culture. Instead of calling upon individual egos to control themselves, and upon minds to understand and celebrate diversity, leaders and scholars play, in their rhetoric or in their silence, upon people’s emotions and sense of belonging with catastrophic consequences. The Great Powers, West and East, easily exploit these divisions and internal conflicts such as the danger-fraught fracture between Sunnis and Shiites.

Instead, it is imperative that voices from the two traditions collaborate on the fundamental principles that unite all Muslims. Whenever considerations of belonging threaten to replace principles, religious scholars, intellectuals and leaders must return to shared principles, must find common ground between these considerations, in full respect of legitimate diversity.

Third, scholars and intellectuals must have the courage to expose themselves further. Instead of encouraging popular feelings, or use those feelings to further their own religious identity (Sunnis, Shiites, reformists, Sufis, etc.) or their political ideology, they must face the issue squarely, dare to be self-critical, commit themselves to dialogue and — more often than not — tell Muslims what they may not like to hear about their own failings, their lack of coherence, their propensity to play the victim, failure to understand and to accept responsibility. Far from the feverish rhetoric of the populists, they must put their credibility on the line to awaken consciences in an attempt to counter emotionalism and mass blindness. The educated elites, students, intellectuals and professionals also have a major responsibility. The way they follow their leaders, as does their status as intermediaries, makes their active and critical presence imperative: Holding the scholars and the leaders accountable, simplifying and participating in grassroots dynamics is an absolute imperative. The passivity of the educated elites, looking down upon inflamed and uncontrolled populations far below them, is a grievous fault. ...

UPDATE 2/20/2012

Terrible violence is taking place in Pakistan and other countries.  What is happening amounts to a war against the Shia by Salafi/Wahhabi extremists.  Imam Aslam Adullah of Nevada wrote the following appeal on Facebook:

Can Muslim organizations including ISNA, ICNA, ITNA, IMAN, CAIR, MPAC issue a joint statement condemning the killing of Shias in Pakistan and other places and write a letter to the Pakistani Ulema and religious organizations to take a stand on this issue and tell them that they would not be welcomed in their annual conventions if they refuse to stand for the sanctity of human life? Granted, that American Muslim organizations cannot do much to stop the killing, but they can at least make it known to Muslims that they are against acts of violence in the name of God and sectarianism. But I know a few would bother because in the analysis of most our organization, this is not important. Islamophobes and the fringe elements of the West are more threatening to Islam than those Muslim extremists who are bent on defying God. Can someone start a people’s campaign to collect as many signature as possible of like minded people against this continued insanity in Pakistan?


Nothing has changed for the better over the past decade.  Many statements have been issued.  It is time for some more concrete actions to be taken.

I don’t know if National American Muslim organizations are working behind the scenes, but would like to see them write an open letter to the Ulema in Pakistan and other countries and to government officials demanding that they do everything they can to protect the Shia minority from extremist violence.  Perhaps an official delegation can visit the Government Embassies and hand deliver such a letter. 

It is possible that American Muslims can exert some influence that might cause the Ulema and government officials to begin a public education campaign, and the government to do more than issue statements of regret after some terrible incident.  It is certainly worth attempting to end this terrible cycle of violence.

In Los Angeles, Sheikh Mujahid Abdul Kareem, of Masjid Al Rasool in Watts, who was instrumental in making the truce between the Bloods and the Crips the notorious gangs, led a protest against anti-Shia violence. 

UPDATE 6/14/2013

This morning I received an email from a group calling themselves St. Louis Dawah (I have saved this and many other of their emails over the past few years).  In this email, they share their view with members of the Muslim community that a well-known Muslim speaker is “not a Sunni by his own admission”.  In their warped view, they are declaring takfir on this individual because he has stated about the Shia that : 

— They follow the Quran and Sunnah.
— Their Iranian “Ja’fari” Math-hab is one of the five legitimate math-habs in Islam, which Muslims are allowed to ascribe themselves to.
— Their ascription, ”Shiite”, is valid linguistically (while Sunni and Salafi are not).
— Their scholars (i.e. Ayatollahs) can be referred to as “true scholars of Islam”.
— Speaking against them causes headaches and division in the Ummah.
— He has studied under Shiite scholars and benefitted [sic] from them.


Such groups need to study the above resources and note the overwhelming majority of mainstream Muslim scholars who have clearly stated these positions.  They also need to be called out by local Muslim leaders and scholars and asked to stop spreading fitna and attempting to divide the community through promoting such bigoted views.  It is clear that this sectarian fitna is being spread in the west by hate preachers, and they need to be condemned by name.

UPDATE 6/21/2013

The Huffington Post reports Muslim Leaders Fear Rise In Sectarian Tensions Over Saudi Preacher Mohammad Al-Arefe UK Visit:

Senior Muslim leaders in Britain have expressed concerns that a controversial Saudi preacher who arrived in London this week could exacerbate sectarian tensions.

They told HuffPost UK said they feared Mohammad Al-Arefe’s presence could “negatively impact the peaceful co-existance amongst the Muslim community”.

Al-Arefe, who is a Sunni Muslim, arrived in London this week, according to Tell Mama, which monitors intra-faith anti-Muslim prejudice, as well as Islamophobia.

The organisation’s director, Fiyaz Mughal, told HuffPost UK they were tipped off about Al-Arefe’s presence via their hotline, and have been liaising with the Home Office. 

It is not the first time a foreign preacher has caused concern about sectarian tensions. In May, the Times reported fears about a Kuwaiti preacher, this time a Shia cleric, who is set to lead a new mosque in Gerrard’s Cross, Buckinghamshire.

Sheikh Yasser Al-Habib, 33, was imprisoned in 2003 for inciting sectarianism after attacking key figures of Sunni Islam. Al-Habib has denied that he preaches hate against Sunnis or other faiths.

And in May this year, an anti-Shia protest organised by Anjem Choudary, [leader of banned Islamist group Islam4UK, ostensibly protesting Assad’s actions in Syria, turned violent on Edgware Road.

It is believed to be the first anti-Shia demonstration on British streets. It was roundly condemned by both British Sunni and British Shia groups.

Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, a Sunni Muslim, told HuffPost UK he expected action from the Home Office. “These preachers are purely here to promote themselves and create divisions where none need to exist.

“Neither he [Al-Arefe], or Al-Habib should be allowed to do this. And the Home Office must take action on this issue. This is just another branch of hatred, and it’s bizarre the Home Office doesn’t listen to people who are concerned about this.  ...

Why the government would let such individuals into the country, even after the Muslim community has warned them about their extremism is a serious concern.  See Britain should ban Geller & Spencer, and deport Al-Arefe & Al-Habib for much more on these anti-Shia hate preachers.

UPDATE 6/24/2013

Headlines from the past week are indicative of just how much damage sectarian preachers of hate have done —  Salafi extremists kill four Shia Muslims near Cairo, Egypt  — 14 killed in Iraqi Shia mosque bombingShia man killed by Saudi Arabian police in restive Qatif region14 Shia worshippers killed in Peshawar Pakistan bombing

This is horrifying and shameful, and it is well past time for the Muslim leadership in the west to attempt to use their influence to counter this sectarian division in any way possible.  At the very least, all of the American Muslim scholars and leaders who signed on to the Intra-Faith Code of Honor (originally prepared in 2007) need to follow through on what that document stated:

The tragic deterioration of the situation in Iraq has resulted in a ruthless power struggle. This is expressed as “Shia-Sunni” confrontation. Defining the conflict in such sectarian terms is likely to lead to further polarization and division, and entrench parties into deep historical grievances. It exacerbates the limited theological differences, while ignoring the vast areas of sameness and the extensive common ground on which all Muslims stand. This situation, if not treated, will render the problem unsolvable.

As Muslim Americans who live and struggle together in harmony and cohesion, and who agree that the challenges of the future should supersede the problems of the past, we are eager to offer any help and join hands with all those who wish well for our Ummah toward stopping this vicious cycle of violence in the Middle-East which is abhorrent to all Islamic values and principles.

Additionally and primarily, we have to prevent this tragedy from spilling over to our Muslim society in the United States. As a first step in that endeavor, we suggest a Community Code of Honor for all Muslims to live by in order to respect one another, not only in matters in which we are in agreement, but more importantly on issues and times of disagreement.

The Intra-Faith Code of Honor
1.No group or individual shall use, propagate or tolerate the rhetoric of takfir (charge of unbelief) for anyone who believes in the oneness and supremacy of Allah, in Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as the seal of the prophets and the last receiver of a divine scripture, and in the viability and authenticity of the Glorious Quran, and who faces the qibla (direction of the Ka’bah) in prayers.

2.All forms of hate and condescending speech and literature shall not be allowed in our midst.

3.We shall respect each other and the personalities, places and events that any group among us holds in esteem, even if our respective reading of history leads us to agree or disagree on the importance or role thereof, all of which can be expressed in language which is neither inflammatory nor insulting.

4.With respect to the minor differences in performing Ibadat (acts of worship), it is only prudent that the interpretation and style of the majority in any given Mosque or institution should be respect. As such, if a person visits a majority Shia Mosque, he or she shall not impose their manner of worship on the current local Imam of such Mosque in the observance of Jama’ah (congregational) prayers, and vice versa.

5.We shall use all reasonable measures to prevent the dissemination to the public of local or imported literature that is divisive, inflammatory and irrelevant to the future of Islam in America.

6.Specialized and objective academic halaqas (study group) should be formed for the qualified scholars that need to study in depth issues of Muslim history, creed and jurisprudence for the sake of knowledge, academic research and reconciliation, and not as a tools of propaganda and division. If a problem were to arise than a joint body of prominent Muslim scholars, representing both schools of Islam (Shia and Sunni) should be consulted to evaluate the issue and render a balanced and constructive solution.

7.Above all, we shall emphasize areas of commonality, the virtue of compassion and empathy and the awareness that Allah is closer to us than our heart and veins and He Almighty is recording our thoughts and intentions, as well as our words and deeds.

UPDATE 5/3/2014

I had hoped that the only update that would ever need to be made to this story would be one that was positive.  That was not to be.  As reported by Rahat Husain World’s first Anti Shia Alliance convention results in calls for violence and sectarian purging:

Last week, the world’s first ever “Anti Shia Alliance” convention was held in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. The event was attended by thousands of participants, who called for “jihad” against Shia Muslims. Several government officials were in attendance. During the conference, a Shiite journalist who was covering the program for Ahlulbait Indonesia, reported being detained, interrogated, and beaten by group organizers and attendees.

The alliance is a coalition of various groups who all maintain an anti-Shia agenda, including the Anti-Heresy Front, led by Ahmad bin Zein al-Kaff.

The convention resulted in an “Anti Shia Declaration” which reads as follows:

The anti-Shia declaration:

The alliance is a preaching forum to promote virtues and prevent abominable acts.
The alliance will take any necessary measures to maximize the prevention of the proliferation of heretical teachings by Shia followers.
The alliance will forge good relations with other preaching organizations.
The alliance will demand that the government immediately ban Shia and revoke all licenses for foundations, organizations and institutions owned by Shiites.

In a speech, bin Zein al-Kaff said “It’s time that we declared jihad against them…We should not tolerate them anymore.”

Another part of the alliance, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) had its members attend wearing black ski masks and camouflage clothing, with shirts that said “Heresy Hunters.” ...

There are no words for this disgusting this spectacle of bigotry.



SUMMARY of the Amman Statement on 8 schools of law: Based on the fatwas provided by these great scholars (who included the Shaykh Al-Azhar; Ayatollah Sistani and Sheikh Qaradawi), in July 2005 CE, H.M. King Abdullah II convened an international Islamic conference of 200 of the world’s leading Islamic scholars ‘Ulama) from 50 countries.

In Amman, the scholars unanimously issued a ruling on three fundamental issues (which became known as the ‘Three Points of the Amman Message’): They specifically recognized the validity of all 8 Mathhabs (legal schools) of Sunni, Shi’a and Ibadhi Islam; of traditional Islamic Theology (Ash’arism); of Islamic Mysticism (Sufism), and of true Salafi thought, and came to a precise definition of who is a Muslim. Based upon this definition they forbade takfir (declarations of apostasy) between Muslims.

Based upon the Mathahib they set forth the subjective and objective preconditions for the issuing of fatwas, thereby exposing ignorant and illegitimate edicts in the name of Islam. These Three Points were then unanimously adopted by the Islamic World’s political and temporal leaderships at the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit at Mecca in December 2005. And over a period of one year from July 2005 to July 2006, the Three Points were also unanimously adopted by six other international Islamic scholarly assemblies, culminating with the International Islamic Fiqh Academy of Jeddah, in July 2006. In total, over 500 leading Muslim scholars worldwide as can be seen on this website [click here to see the entire list] unanimously endorsed the Amman Message and its Three Points. This amounts to a historical, universal and unanimous religious and political consensus (ijma’) of the Ummah (nation) of Islam in our day, and a consolidation of traditional, orthodox Islam.

The significance of this is: (1) that it is the first time in over a thousand years that the Ummah has formally and specifically come to such a pluralistic mutual inter-recognition; and (2) that such a recognition is religiously legally binding on Muslims since the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) said: My Ummah will not agree upon an error (Ibn Majah, Sunan, Kitab al-Fitan, Hadith no.4085).

The specific item in this statement regarding Shia is: The specific item in this statement is as follows:

1) Whosoever is an adherent of one of the four Sunni Schools of Jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali), the Ja’fari (Shi’i) School of Jurisprudence, the Zaydi School of Jurisprudence, the Ibadi School of Jurisprudence, or the Thahiri School of Jurisprudence is a Muslim. Declaring that person an apostate is impossible. Verily his (or her) blood, honour, and property are sacrosanct. Moreover, in accordance with what appeared in the fatwa of the Honourable and Respectable Shaykh al-Azhar, it is not possible to declare whosoever subscribes to the Ash’ari creed or whoever practices true Sufism an apostate. Likewise, it is not possible to declare whosoever subscribes to true Salafi thought an apostate. Equally, it is not possible to declare as apostates any group of Muslims who believes in Allah the Mighty and Sublime and His Messenger (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) and the pillars of faith, and respects the pillars of Islam and does not deny any necessary article of religion.


1st National Shia-Sunni Dialogue in America on December 25th in Chicago, Abdul Malik Mujahid
A Call for Shia Sunni Dialog: Why and How, Abdul Malik Mujahid
A Plea for Unity, Sheila Musaji
Al-Azhar Fatwa on permissibility of following the Shia Madhabs by Shaikh Mahmood Shaltoot in 1959
Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of Iran’s Expediency Council call for Sunni Shia Unity
Al Sadr Calls for Sunni Shia Unity 2004
American Muslim Leaders Sign ‘Code of Honor’ to Promote Intrafaith Harmony
American Muslims Transcend Sectarianism, Hasan Zillur Rahim
Amman Conference Forbids Takfir
Amman Conference Statement of the International Islamic Conference - Eight Schools of Islamic Law
The Amman Initiative: A Theological Counter-Attack Against Terrorism, Abdallah Schleifer
Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s Approach to Shia-Sunni Dialogue, Yoginder Sikand
An Appeal to the Conscience of Muslims, Tariq Ramadan
Are All Shi’a Really Going to Hell?, Dr. Robert Dickson Crane
Branches of the Same Tree: Overcoming Sectarian Divides Among Muslims, Rose Aslan
Communiqué of the Shia-Sunni Dialogue to Save Lives
Comparison Chart of Sunni and Shia Islam
Creating A Sunni/Shia Divide, Conn Hallinan
Ahmed Deedat on Sunni Shiah Unity
Destruction of Al-Askari Shia Shrine a Great Sacriledge
Detroit Muslim Leaders to Sign Sunni-Shia Code of Honor
Dialogue Between Shias and Sunnis, Muhammad Zakir Khan Azmi
Freedom of Religion in Christian, Buddhist, Sunni, and Shi’a Jurisprudence: The Role of ‘Ilm al ‘Adl, Dr. Robert D. Crane
The Great Middle East Power Games, Soumaya Ghannoushi
Historical Sunni Shia Relations’a-Sunni_relations
The Importance of Shia-Sunni Dialogue, Maulana Waris Mazhari (tr. Yoginder Sikand)
Interview with Maulana Wahiduddin Khan on Intra-Muslim Sectarian Dialogue, Yoginder Sikand
Interview with Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, VP of the All-India Muslim Personal law Board, Yoginder Sikand
Intra-Muslim Dialogue: How To Combat the Menace of Sectarianism, Maulana Waris Mazhari (tr. Yoginder Sikand)
Syed Ali Khamenei’s Fatwa for Sunni Shia Unity
Imam Khomeini on Sunni Shiah Unity
Let Us Understand Each Other, Abdul Hadi Abdul Hameed Saleh
MPAC Calls on US Muslim Leaders to Emphasize Unity After Anti-Shia Attacks in Detroit
The Next Sunni-Shia War, Yahya Birt
Muslims United at Hajj - Sunni-Shiah Dialogue in Chicago, Abdul Malik Mujahid
New Rand study suggests exploiting Sunni, Shia and Arab, non-Arab divides to promote US policy, Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Our Real Enemy, Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa
Politics, Not Faith Behind Shia-sunni Divide in Iraq, Parvez Ahmed
RAND Corporations Ungracious Strategy For a Civil Democratic Islam: Muslims Searching For Partners, Javeed Akhter
RESOLUTION of the Shia-Sunni Dialogue To Save Lives
Maulana Kalbe Sadiq’s Theology of Islamic Ecumenism, Yoginder Sikand
Saudi Wahhabism in the Service of Western Imperialism: The Politics of a Fatwa, Yaqub Shah
Saudi cleric, Abdul Rahman al-Barak, issues religious edict declaring Shiites to be infidels
Sectarian Strife in the “House of Islam”, Yoginder Sikand
Shia resources collected by Abdul Haq Godlas

SHIA Organizations:
Aga Khan Foundation
Institute of Ismaili Studies, U.K.
List of Shia Organizations
Shiah Search Engine
Universal Muslim Association of America

Shia-Sunni Dialogue: Maulana Kalbe Sadiq’s Theology of Islamic Ecumenism, Yoginder Sikand
Shia-Sunni Unity, Dr. Shahid Athar
Shia-Sunni Unity for World Peace, Tanveer Jafri
Sistaining Democracy, Ibrahim Mansour
The Split Within Islam Must End, Abdullah al Rahim
Sunni and Shi’a - Allied Forces, Samia van Hattum
Sunni & Shia: I’m “Sushi”, Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa
Sunnis and Shias: The Battle the U.S. Wants to Provoke, Naomi Klein 2004,3604,1186445,00.html
Sunni misconceptions about Shias, Shahid Athar
Sunni or Shia, Fault Line Runs Between Haves and Have Nots,2763,934264,00.html
Sunni Shia Unity, Sheila Musaji
Sunni-Shiah Unity, Dr. Shahid Athar
Sunni Shia Violence Must Stop, Sheila Musaji
Time to start mending the torn fabric of the Muslim Ummah: The Shia-Sunni Divide, Javeed Akhter
Ugly Sectarianism is Getting Out of Control, Yasin T. Aljibouri
Unity and Diversity: Islam, Muslims and the Challenge of Pluralism, Dr. Jeremy Henzell-Thomas
Unity between Shi‘as and Sunnis
U.S. Muslims Strive For Sectarian Peace
U.S. Muslims Tackle Sectarian Divisions
VIDEO:  CAIR Rep. Ibrahim Hooper discusses Sunni-Shia strife in Detroit
VIDEO: The Difference Between Sunni and Shia, Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad
Video: Prominent Sunni Sccholar Tahir ul Qadri answers the critics who oppose him on working with Shias
Why I see no moral difference between Islamophobia and intra-Muslim hatred, Shelina Zahra Janmohamed

originally published 1/23/2003 updated 12/10/2012