Extremism and Shia-Sunni Confrontation

Friday, June 7, 2013

Iran-US Interaction Directly Related to Security of Muslims

Hossein Alaei
University Professor and Senior Analyst of Middle East Issues

Religious differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims constitute a reality which has existed since a very long time ago between these two major denominations of Islam in most Islamic countries. A careful glance at books and other written works created by both Shia and Sunni scholars will reveal that a lot of clerics and scholars on both sides have clearly explained their discussions and ideas with regard to this issue during the past hundreds of years. Following the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Islamic Republic decided to provide opportunities to foster unity between Shias and Sunnis and the uprising of the Iranian people was an “Islamic, not Shia” uprising. Imam Khomeini, as a source of emulation for Shia Muslims, has issued very important fatwas (religious decrees) in this regard, the most important of which was about allowing Shias to say Friday and congregational prayers alongside of Sunnis, especially at Masjid Al-Haram (the Grand Mosque) in the holy city of Mecca, and at Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi (the Prophet's Mosque) in the city of Medina. Also, designating a week of the year, which coincides with the birthday of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), as the “Unity Week” by the Islamic Republic of Iran was an effort aimed at reducing historical differences among Muslims and gathering them under the single flag of monotheism. During the past three decades, Iran has done its best to promote a kind of attitude among the Muslim nations which opposes and rejects domination of both the Western and the Eastern powers on the Islamic countries. Tehran has also tried to change the issue of Palestine from a purely Arab issue to a concern for all Arab and non-Arab Muslims. In the meantime, espionage as well as propaganda machines of the West have not remained idle, but have been trying to bank on certain historical grounds to foment discord between Sunnis and Shias. In this way, they have tried to make the most of the existing differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims in order to protect themselves against possible attacks by Salafist groups and Al-Qaeda which would have otherwise picked Israel and the United States as their targets. The massacre of more than 100 Shias in Pakistan during the past few months and a spate of armed and bomb attacks on Shia mosques and other places of worship in Iraq, which have left more than 1,000 people dead and thousands of others injured in the past month alone, as well as the killing of worshipping Muslims in other Islamic countries are all telltale signs which attest to seriousness and the success of hegemonic powers in their effort to sow discord among Muslims.

After the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Muslim clerics gained more credit, not only among Shias, but also among Sunnis, and the general position of the Muslim scholars in political affairs was also strengthened. For example, before the Islamic Revolution, the local social structure in such Iranian border provinces as Kordestan and Sistan and Baluchestan was based on a diluted form of feudalism in which big families, clans and tribes had the last say on every matter. That situation was ended by the Islamic Republic which increased the power of the local Sunni clerics in the face of tribal lords and local clans. I believe that, however, such efforts were not backed by a futuristic scenario in those regions and this void allowed many extremist currents such as Al-Qaeda to use the opportunity in order to promote their ideas among Sunni Muslims in those parts of Iran. At its outset, Al-Qaeda was considered among combatant Sunni currents which were engaged in a religious Jihad against the occupation of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union in order to rid Afghanistan from the domination of the infidels. During the period when Afghanistan was under the occupation of the Soviet Union, Iran considered Afghan Mujahids as revolutionary elements and in many instances supported them against the domination of infidelity over the Muslim country. However, the Sunni clerics unfortunately failed to protect Sunni Jihadist groups against the infiltration of extremism. As a result, they practically played their role within framework of plans made for them by the United States, and Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI. Most recently, they have been even cooperating with the remnants of the Iraqi Baath Party who are still loyal to the country’s former dictator Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, during recent years, both Al-Qaeda and some other Salafist groups affiliated to it have been actually killing defenseless Shias in some Muslim countries like Iraq and Pakistan, instead of fighting further domination of the United States over the Middle East or trying to liberate Palestine from the clutches of the Israeli occupiers. It is now clear that the tribal and nomadic social structure in some regions has been more effective in preventing the infiltration of certain extremist groups like Al-Qaeda, and it is apparently easier to block the course of tribal violence in certain regions such as Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province and Mesopotamia by taking advantage of tribal chieftains. One of the main problems plaguing Shias and Sunnis in the region is the absence of unity and convergence among these two major branches of Islam. At present, the lack of unity and convergence between Shias and Sunnis has caused many problems for Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Lebanon and those problems are very provoking and dangerous. It is evident that as long as convergence and alliance has not been created between the power of Shias in Iran and the power of Sunnis in such countries as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and as long as the flow of money from such countries as Qatar to armed extremist elements [in Syria] has not been blocked, mass murders and violence will continue between these two branches of Islam.

Under the existing circumstances, the United States is trying to exploit the available opportunities in the Middle East in order to realize a maximum degree of its interests. Anytime there has been cooperation in the region between Iran and the United States over their common interests, such as the downfall of Saddam [in Iraq] or toppling of Taliban [in Afghanistan], the security has increased for Muslims and, as a result, the killing of the innocent people has decreased. However, when the main discourses followed by these two countries start to distance from each other and conflicts increase, the region is witness to an upsurge in violence and the killing of the Muslims, especially in those regions dominated by Shias. Unfortunately, in all cases, negative propaganda against Shias and their places of worship followed by attacks and massacres have been started by extremist Sunni figures, especially, among Wahhabi and Salafist sects and this is a historical reality. Such measures as the destruction of the mausoleums of Shia Imams at Saudi Arabia’s Al-Baqi' Cemetery the most recent examples of which have been the bomb attack against a Shia shrine in the Iraqi city of Samarra and mass killing of pilgrims of Shia shrines in various Iraqi cities, have made some Shias feel disappointed at their governments. As a result, they have on certain occasions tried to show reactions to the violent measures of Al-Qaeda and other Salafist groups. This has, however, failed to solve the existing problems. Therefore, it should be noted that both the discourses of Sunni and Shia Muslims should distance from violence and move toward more convergence. The Holy Quran has stipulated that Muslims should agree on common grounds even with People of the Book (Christians and Jews). Quran says, “O! People of the Book, let’s converge on the word which is the same among us and among you [and it is] that we must not worship any other God but Allah.”

Therefore, I believe that governments play an essential role in controlling the crisis and reducing challenges which currently exist between Sunnis and Shias in the region. In the meantime, the government of Iran, helped by other Muslim states, should plan an overarching scenario for such issues. In this way, the same policy which was followed in early years after the Islamic Revolution for bolstering unity and convergence between Shias and Sunnis would further develop both in words and actions. At any rate, to reduce the challenge of confrontation between Shias and Sunnis in the Islamic world, it is necessary for Muslims to go back to the original discourse introduced by Imam Khomeini soon after the victory of the Islamic Revolution about unity among Muslims. Then, they should make up their minds to follow the path of the Quran, and the Sunna of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and his progeny in order to foster brotherhood and friendship between these two major denominations of Islam.

Key Words: Extremism, Shia-Sunni Confrontation, Muslim World, Iran-US Interaction, Alaei

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Hossein Alaei:

*Benefit – Security Equation in the Persian Gulf:–_Security_Equation_in_the_Persian_Gulf.htm

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