Muslim world needs to bridge the schism
Sunnis and Shiites have been divided for the last 1,400 years and the polarisation has been exacerbated in the last few years, especially after the US occupation of Iraq and the formation of a Shiite government there
The Muslim world stretches from as far west as Morocco on the Atlantic to Indonesia on the Pacific. It comprises 1.7 billion people representing one-fourth of the world's population. Islam is the second-largest religion after Christianity, and the fastest growing religion in the world today.
Islam is not a homogenous religion. Muslims are vastly Sunni while the Shiites are a minority. A great schism has divided the two sects for the last 1,400 years. It first emerged with the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran which brought to the fore the 1,400-year rivalry between the sects. That divergence and polarisation has been exacerbated in the last few years, especially after the US occupation of Iraq and the formation of a Shiite government propped up by both the US and Iran.
Today, the rift has widened and deepened and has taken its toll on the Muslim ummah. It is seen through sectarian fighting. The disagreements between the two sects are being politicised, which stokes more tension within the Muslim house.
As I write this column, Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah, Iran's proxy, praised Iran for its steadfastness in defending and embracing the Palestinian cause. He thundered threats against Israel and mocked the meekness of the Arab (mostly Sunni) states for acquiescing to Israeli hegemony and occupation.
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It is appropriate that Nasrallah spoke on what is know as 'International Al Quds Day', or International Jerusalem Day, which the late Ruhollah Khomeini first declared and observed on the last Friday of Ramadan to remind the Muslim world and the international community about the plight and the righteous cause of Palestine and Al Quds.
Of late, discord, disunity and polarisation are on the uptick in the Muslim world. These alarming trends are exacerbated by the militarisation of the rift. Scores of Muslims are being killed at the hands of other Muslims on a daily basis in many Muslim countries. Many countries are also using social media networks, mainly Twitter, as a platform to highlight the fragile relations within Islam.
Kuwait is a prototype of this. Lately, there have been more attacks through blasphemous and provocative tweets against revered figures for both Sunnis and Shiites, among tweets that stoke tribal and social tension. This sectarian and social divide is both dangerous and destabilising and threatens to get out of hand.
A few months ago, the Kuwaiti parliament passed a law stipulating the death penalty for those who make blasphemous statements and tweets.
This growing dangerous trend that the Muslim world is seeing is pushing the ummah to the brink. These trends have compelled Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz to call for the establishment of an intra-faith Islamic Dialogue Centre to unite Muslims, heal wounds and bridge the schism between various Muslim sects.
Calling for unity
The Organisation of Islamic States (OIC), comprising 57 members, held an Extraordinary Islamic Solidarity Summit in Makkah last week under the banner: 'Enhancement of Islamic solidarity'. It sought to discuss the ailments, threats and emerging crises gripping the Muslim world. King Abdullah, the host of the summit, which had strong participation, was very frank in declaring the need to overcome challenges and divisions, close ranks and narrow the gap among all Muslims, so as to overcome weaknesses.
The summit, that Syria was not invited to attend, took a bold decision to suspend Syria's membership in the largest Islamic organisation because the Muslim world "can no longer accept a regime that massacres its people" and its brutal onslaught to crush a determined rebellion. At the summit, the schism was apparent over Syria. Iran vociferously objected to the suspension of Syria's membership, but the other 56 states approved the proposal.
As Asia Times put it in a recent observation on the Islamic summit:"Iran may have lost the battle over Syria's expulsion but, ironically, it may have scored on the broader issue of an apt Syria policy by hammering on the importance of focusing on Israel and 'ending discord among ourselves', to paraphrase [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's OIC speech.
"With the Shiite-Sunni rift also addressed by Riyadh's initiative of a dialogue centre, the overall impression is that Tehran and Riyadh have decided to improve their relations and manage their traditional rivalry in a more structured fashion so that it does not get out of hand."
The final communiqué of the summit read by OIC secretary-general Ekmeleddin Ihsanogluhit pointed out to the exceptional circumstances the Muslim world is facing and the need for unity to enhance solidarity in order to overcome what is clearly putting the ummah at risk.
Clearly, the ummah is being torn apart at the seams. The summit only served to highlight and underscore this bitter fact. The ummah is facing threats at various levels from different fronts and enemies both within and outside. The sad part is that it has become mostly a fight from within. And we are not even talking about Islamophobia that demonises Islam and equates this peaceful religion with terrorism, radicalism and violence! We will discuss that on another day!!
Happy Eid Al Fitr to all!
Professor Abdullah Al Shayji is the chairman of the Political Science Department, Kuwait University. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/docshayji
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