Some make the argument that we should work on unity amongst the followers of Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) first, and then worry about the rest of the Muslim Ummah. While on some level they may have a point, on the other hand there needs to be a balance.Across the world, the supplication for the protection of our 12th Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance) is recited in places of worship, at times proceeding, during, and following the obligatory prayers, and during many of our religious services. We vehemently call for the hastening of the reappearance of the Imam of our time, and yet we still are not blessed with his presence. We continue to wait, or more accurately phrased, our Imam continues to wait for us.
Imam al-Mahdi has said: “If our followers (may God give them success for their worship) kept their promise and had unity and agreement in remaining loyal to the Divine Compact, the blessing of seeing us would not be delayed from them, and they would have had the felicity of seeing us sooner.” (al-Ihtejaj at-Tabarsi)
The answer is right in front of us. It is not enough to simply make calls for the hastening of the reappearance of the Imam; it is conditional on his followers reaching a certain status. If we look to the final revelation of Allah, He says: “Do men think that they will be left alone on saying ‘We Believe,’ and not be tried?” (29:2) Is it enough to claim we are Shia, to call for the reappearance of our Imam, and expect this to be accomplished without a test? This, of course, is impossible; the Imam has clearly laid out for us what needs to be done: unity.
Take the most liberal or progressive Muslim you know, put him/her in the same room with a staunch hardliner conservative, and they will agree on one thing: that there is a lack of unity in the Muslim Ummah today. We all want unity, but a vast majority of us are either unaware of its necessity or unwilling to put in the work it takes to achieve it. In order to work towards a goal, you must first define it clearly and keep focused on said goal until it becomes a reality. If we break down the hadith of Imam Mahdi, his mentioning of unity is not unconditional. There is no such thing as blind unity. As defined by the Imam, the unity must be founded on remaining loyal to the Divine Compact (Islam). What does that mean practically speaking? Does it mean we simply accept all scholars and followers simply based on their claim to be following Islam, or does it entail a movement which is founded on the teachings of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) and the Qur’an? Allow me to further explain this point, and Insha’Allah we can take steps towards achieving true unity.
“Be not like those who are divided amongst themselves and fall into disputations after receiving clear signs; for them is a dreadful penalty.”(Qur’an 3:105)
“We Muslims are busy bickering over whether to fold or unfold our hands during prayer, while the enemy is devising ways of cutting them off.” – Imam Ruhollah Khomeini
Some make the argument that we should work on unity amongst the followers of Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) first, and then worry about the rest of the Muslim Ummah. In my unqualified opinion, while on some level they may have a point, on the other hand there needs to be a balance between working on our own communities and working with communities of other schools of thought. In other words, we start with our own house, but we don’t forget about the rest of the Ummah either. The Imam has said to build unity on the basis of adherence to Islam, so whoever is willing to follow the teachings should fall under this umbrella of unity. Some take it a step further and argue about how there can be unity with the Ahlul Sunnah when they follow some companions whom we do not hold in the same regard or who was at odds with someone from the Ahlul Bayt. I will let the words of Imam Khomeini on unity make my point for me.
“Today, world peace is such that all countries are under the political influence of the superpowers; they observe a control everywhere and have schemes for defeating every group. The most important of these is sowing discord among brothers. Muslims should be awake, Muslims should be alert that if a dispute takes place among Sunni and Shia brothers, it is harmful to all of us; it is harmful to all Muslims. Those who want to sow discord are neither Sunni nor Shia; they are agents of the superpowers and work for them.
I hope that through considering this Islamic precept – that all Muslims are brothers – all Islamic countries will triumph against the superpowers and succeed in actualizing all Islamic ordinances. Muslims are brothers and will not be segregated by the pseudo-propaganda sponsored by corrupt elements. The source of this matter – that the Shia should be on one side and the Sunni on the other – is on the one hand ignorance and on the other hand propaganda of the foreigners. If Islamic brotherhood comes to the fore among Islamic countries, such will become a great power which none of the global powers will be able to cope with. Shia and Sunni brothers should avoid every kind of dispute. Today, discord among us will only benefit those who follow neither Shia nor Hanafi. They neither want this nor that to exist and know the way to sow dispute between you and us. We must pay attention that we are all Muslims, and we all believe in the Quran; we all believe in Tawhid and must work to serve the Qur’an and Tawhid.”
Now that we have established the need for striving towards unity, what are some practical steps that we can take towards achieving it? First and foremost, we need to collectively break out of our cocoons and interact with all Muslims of differing madhabs, races, and ethnicities. Often times we find that Shias have been spooked about stories about crimes against us by Salafis, the Taliban, etc. This can lead to a situation where we isolate ourselves from all of the followers of Ahlul Sunnah. Because of this isolation, our Sunni brothers and sisters are left to be informed about Shi’ism from other sources, which may or may not be accurate in explaining the essence of Shia Islam and have the potential for breeding rumors and hearsay. I kid you not, a revert told me that when they first accepted Islam and prayed at a local masjid, they were told to keep away from all Shias, as they “eat their own children!” It sounds absurd, yes, but the point is that we need to do our best to interact with all Muslims and prevent misconceptions.
How we interact with our Sunni brothers and sisters is another point to mention as well. We need to tackle is what I call “rah rah Shias”. The extent of our faith is not measured by how hard we beat our chest during matam, or how loudly we scream “Ya Ali” in a local gathering. (Although some would have you think otherwise.) Rather, the extent of our faith is measured by how closely our life and actions reflect the life of the Ahlul Bayt. Sometimes we are guilty of almost attempting to paint the word Shia across our foreheads as if it is a brand name, to be recognized. Instead, if we follow the examples set by the Ahlul Bayt in our beliefs, reasoning, and actions, we will find that it will be much more beneficial as opposed to introducing myself as “Ali the Shia of Ali”.
To drive the point home, as an individual, evaluate what steps you can take in your daily life to promote unity, whether its attending Friday prayers on a college campus, events hosted by the local MSA, or even in a class or place of employment. Our objective should be to build those bridges. As a community, we need to make sure we don’t fall into the trap of creating an environment which is hostile to outsiders. Again, this doesn’t mean to apologize for historical events or our beliefs, but if for the sake of unity we refrain from making others feel uncomfortable. Examples of what we shouldn’t be doing is this dangerous trend of speakers who use the pulpit to focus their entire energy on bashing Sunnis, or a situation during a unity event which is attended by followers of both Shia and Sunni schools of thought, and the Shia brothers loudly scream “Ya Ali”. Again, is this the best approach for unity? Nobody is for one minute lowering the status of the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him), whose status in the eyes of Allah is unquestioned. However, if we examine his life, there is a valuable lesson to learn. There are many examples of when Imam Ali was in the company of someone who had hatred for Imam, but they were unaware the Imam was present alongside of them, and through the actions of the Imam, their hatred turned to love.
I’ll end with a saying of Imam as-Sadiq (peace be upon him), who was asked by Mu’awiya bin Wahab: “What should be our attitude between ourselves and our fellow tribesmen and acquaintances from the people who are not of our persuasion (madhhab)?” The Imam answered, “You should look towards your Imams whom you follow and do what they used to do. By Allah, they used to visit their sick, participate in their funerals, testify for and against them, and honor the trusts.”