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Islamic unity starts between Shias first

Last Sunday’s Muslim Unity Picnic in Dearborn was simply amazing.  We at Islamic Insights would have been impressed if even 200 people showed up for the event–after all, it’s not easy to coordinate such an event for the first time.  We were delighted that over 1,000 people showed up–some from as far away as neighboring states and Ontario–to be there.  We expect nothing less from organizers in the years to come as the picnic becomes a regular institution. 

Last Sunday’s Muslim Unity Picnic in Dearborn was simply amazing.  We at Islamic Insights would have been impressed if even 200 people showed up for the event–after all, it’s not easy to coordinate such an event for the first time.  We were delighted that over 1,000 people showed up–some from as far away as neighboring states and Ontario–to be there.  We expect nothing less from organizers in the years to come as the picnic becomes a regular institution.

The event’s success was based on its focus of spiritual unity.  It was not focused on nationality and such secondary issues.   Nationality is important, but faith is more so–events like the picnic emphasize that we are a believing people who have much in common as worshippers of Allah.  To see different Shias coming together like this for the first time locally and on such a wide scale was beautiful.  We just wish it had happened sooner, and hope this trend continues, not just in Dearborn but everywhere. 

We support the idea of unity.  At the same time, it is very important that the Shia community be careful about what direction it takes in its unity with others.  We should focus on what we have in common and not promote other alien religious beliefs in the name of unity, and neglect our own.  This is especially true when we are not benefitting in any way.  It is not right that in the name of unity we lose our identity.

We have often heard our brothers and sisters say that there should be unity among Sunnis and Shias.  That’s true to an extent, but what is to be done when the Shia perspective is completely ignored or abused?  This happens daily across the Muslim world.  For those who don’t believe it, look at how loudly people like Yusuf Al Qaradhawi speak against Shias in the name of unity yet remain silent when our shrines are attacked.  Such people are not the types we should try to be united with.

Unity is not based upon the idea that one group of people impose its idea of reality upon another or that one side accept the other side’s claims to truth.  When unity is being discussed, what needs to be focused on is what interests the different parties have in common. 

It is strange to us that we hear about unity with others but we ignore it when it comes to our own kind.  We must look deeply into what we have in common as believers in the Quran, final messenger and his family.  Too often thos e threatened by this idea say that the idea of Shia-unity is a promotion of sectarianism.  But our unity as a community with others carries more weight when we have unity amongst ourselves!  If we look to our scholars and ask for defined positions that we can stand united by, that is ultimately more valuable than that we simply "unite" with others on an unclear agenda.

At the same time, we should not overlook the benefits of Islamic unity.

Take the example of the foot baths at the local University of Michigan in Dearborn.  Recently, pundits like Debbie Schlussel–to hear her views about us makes reading the work of Islamophobes like Ann Coulter feel like taking Lunesta–started a hue and cry about Muslims wanting to start an Islamic government at UofM, just because the school itself was considering installing the units for Sunnis to wash their feet in during their ablutions.  Amidst the controversy there were some in our community who argued that the Sunnis should have the footbaths, even though we believe in wiping, not washing, the feet.  Others argued that installing the footbaths would cost 25 grand and were not something we needed to partake in.

The footbaths themselves are not the main issue.  If the rights of Sunnis to have footbaths are ignored, our rights will be ignored next.  Think to yourself about the laws and mores that protect you so that you can get out of school when a special time like Ashura rolls around.  The moment we start to campaign against footbaths–wrong as we might believe such washing is–we will have given ammunition to those people here who would like for all minorities to submit to the majority, including Shias. 

We shouldn’t unite with Sunnis on whether they should wash their feet; we have our own ideas about that which don’t allow us to promote it.  What we as Shias can unite with Sunnis upon–and this is the opinion of the scholars we have consulted with on this issue–is that we agree that UofM-Dearborn should recognize the beliefs of all Muslims and accomodate them when necessary, just as it recognizes other religious communities.  This is beneficial for both Shias and Sunnis and is an attainable goal.

We as Muslims in general and Shias in particular realize that when we have a common interest, it is in our benefit to work together to achieve that goal.  If we find anyone from any community shares our goals, we work with them to achieve those goals.  We should be careful that in asserting our identity we do not undermine our own standing in the wider society by attacking the rights of Sunnis, for example.  As long as nobody is imposing policies or views on the Shia community which are forbidden for us or abusing us we should be ready to unite with them.  But clearly before we talk about unity with others, we must unite amongst ourselves.

 

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