Sunni Shia Unity
Posted Feb 26, 2006

Sunni Shia Unity

by Sheila Musaji

How short is our memory.  Divide and rule is not a new tactic.  Differences within a society of race, religion, or ethnicity which might not mean much in good times, have been exploited for centuries when there is uncertainty and fear because of economic or political hardship.  When people feel threatened by forces outside of their control, then it is easy to stir up anger towards the “other”.  Whether the threat is real or imaginary, whether it is created through propoganda, or simply the result of looking for a scapegoat, it is easy to manipulate people into thinking that someone else is responsible for their troubles.  With a long history of colonial powers using such differences to divide and rule all of us should be aware of and resistant to this tactic, Since this doesn’t seem to be the case, and since we can still be so easily manipulated, our memories must be very short indeed.

The current trajedy of the bombing of the Shia Mosque in Iraq and the subsequent retaliation attacks on Sunni Mosques is possibly the most explosive and dangerous incident in our lifetime and could lead to even deeper divisions in our already divided community if we are not wise. 

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 demand 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.


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
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