Last summer I posted about the manner in which the Shi’a tend to regard their Sunni brethren from a theological perspective. I noted that the going opinion among the lead Ayatollahs tends to be that for civil and political purposes, the Sunnis are regarded fully as Muslims, but that there is something inherently deficient in their faith by virtue of a failure to recognize the Imam of their time. At the same time God is All Merciful and All Forgiving, so hope is not lost.
It seems to me that the matter could well be flipped, and one could very well ask what precisely the position of modern Sunnis is toward Shi’ism. The broad trend in modernity, recent flareups notwithstanding, very much leans in favor of something similar. Hence the famous “Amman Message” very much includes Shi’a theology within the broader banner of Islam, and every time there is tension in Iraq, the tendency is to hold an intersectarian prayer, with Sunnis and Shi’a alike participating, led by one or the other, in a manner that would be impossible absent some sort of theological recognition of the Muslim nature of the other. Not theological equivalence by any means, but some sort of theological recognition.
Even the Pledge of Mutual Respect and Cooperation published by leading Sunni theologians in the United States, which I found really and truly awful as a Shi’i Muslim, recognizes implicitly the Islamicity of Shi’ism. It is an awful document because it urges cooperation exclusively among Sunnis and exhorts them to stop the intra Sunni rancor, in 2007, which in the context of the highly sectarian times (Shi’a mosques being bombed in Pakistan, Sunnis and Shi’a being killed on the street in Iraq on the basis of sect alone, Qaradawi on a one man campaign to discredit anything and everything Shi’i he can think of, and Lebanon in sectarian deadlock which can fairly be blamed on both sides) is quite thoroughly ridiculous. It does claim not to “negate” any statements respecting harmony across “diverse Muslim communities” or “deny the urgency” of efforts at greater cooperation across those communities. Isn’t that nice? People killing each other left and right, each side as to the other, and you write a document about mutual respect that doesn’t “negate” the possibility of mutual respect with Shi’a and doesn’t “deny the urgency” of such efforts. You just don’t want to get to that urgent matter yet.
1. Do you know what “urgency” means?
2. If yes, then why not get to it now?
Ah, the document tells us, because Sunnis “first need to get their own house in order.” I see. Add to this the Pledge’s demand that the Believers (that’s Sunnis, Shi’a are not part of this thing remember) portray Islam as not violence prone and you’re left really confused. We hate violence, we hate intra Muslim violence, we don’t want to see killing, and so what we’ll do about that is say that we aren’t opposed to efforts of other people to urgently stop a major sources of killing, which is sectarian, but we won’t say anyting else about it because “first” we have to make sure we have our own house in order. Isn’t that turning your back on where so much of the violence occurs? If you want to stop violence and want to say you aren’t violence prone, shouldn’t the statement say something about mutual respect for Others rather than merely fail to negate the possibility of such respect?
I still remember Imam Zaid Shakir’s response at the time–if someone said the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army, both of which are Shi’i, should stop killing each other, would you say that was anti Sunni? (I am paraphrasing, exact quote on the threat of the Pledge link above)? My answer would be that as much as I respect Imam Zaid, this does not work. If the statement was “Mahdi Army” and “Badr Brigade”, please stop killing each other then of course that’s fine. Same for “Sunni Saudi Tribe X and Sunni Saudi Tribe Y, please stop your blood feud.” Because it’s directed to two groups who happen to belong to a sect, but it’s not about broader Muslim violence. But if in the middle of the horrific sectarian violence of Iraq circa 2007 when these folks wrote this pledge, if the Shi’a of Iraq got together and wrote a “Mutual Pledge of Respect and Cooperation among Shi’a” to respond to the relatively low levels of violence as between Badr and the Mahdi army, at the same time not “negating” the urgency of efforts to stop the real killings going on, those between Shi’a and Sunni, and delayed efforts at the later because it was important “to get our own house in order”, ummm yeah, I’d regard it as pretty anti-Sunni. Really anti-Sunni actually.
Still, let’s lay the credit where it belongs, it does refer to urgent efforts to foster harmony “across diverse Muslim communities” and hence does grant some Islamic recognition to the Shi’a given the reference to Iraq in the same paragraph. (And some of these folks, like Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir, are not inherently sectarian people I should add, leading to my substantial disappointment that they participated in this. But that’s another story.)
But is that changing? I was struck by the mob lynching in Egypt of four Shi’a accused of proselytizing just yesterday. The mob apparently was urged on by some Salafi preacher zealot (big surprise there). The police arrived late and made no effort to intervene. This took place just outside of Cairo, not some remote village and involved a fairly well known Egyptian Shi’i Hasan Shehata. So while I wouldn’t describe the state as complicit (lots of crime occurring every day in Egypt right now), it is derelict and questions have to be asked.
In any event, the only way I can get to lynching as a punishment for “proselytizing” Shi’ism is if the Shi’a aren’t Muslims to begin with. If they are not, then plainly under the reading of folks like this Salafi, they are urging people to commit apostasy, apostasy is a capital crime, and hence they have to be killed. If they are just theologically deficient Muslims, so you can marry them, and you can eat their meat, and you can pray with them, then it’s hard to see how urging someone to join the ranks of the theologically deficient could possibly be justified as killed. that’s the shedding of the blood of a Muslim, which you’re not supposed to do lightly. And yet, it happened, and yet, the police watched.
Maybe it’s just a mob killing, and emotions boiling over on Syria. Or maybe that’s what kindled it, but we’re seeing a broader trend toward lesser recognition, in a world where sectarianism was already a cancerous scourge holding back growth. Worth watching to find out.