The Shia-Sunni Divide: How Real and How Deep? Can We Move Towards Genuine Unity?

The revolutionary initiative of Maulana Kalb-e-Sadiq in bringing Indian Muslims of the two Shia and Sunni sects together on the occasion of Eid has gladdened the hearts of many Muslims in the country.  So did Mohtarma Syeda Hamid’s first ever act recently as Qazi in a Sunni couple’s nikah ceremony. This may be the right time and it seems to have engendered the right atmosphere to discuss Shia-Sunni ideological differences and real prospects for unity in as objective a manner as possible.

It seems in order to explain at the outset that having come from a Sunni background I may have inherited and imbibed some Sunni misgivings and prejudices but on a conscious level I try to remind myself that Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) was neither Shia nor Sunni and we are essentially followers of the Prophet and Prophet alone. Every other revered figure in Islame only comes after him. Also, primarily Shia-Sunni differences were political in nature and ideological constructs came much later, probably just to invest these differences with a greater permanency, and perhaps again in pursuit of political goals.

I also feel that if it is so difficult in this day and age, with all sorts of media following us all around 24/7 to know exactly what is happening and who is doing what under what political motivation, it would be futile for us to participate in 7th century battles all over again. As we cannot go back in time and fight with Prophet Mohammad in the battle of Badr and Uhad, we can also not go back and save his family from the massacre at Karbala.

The choice before us today is whether we keep fighting this 14-centuries old battle or desist from it and make peace in order to be free to focus on other challenges and goals that may be more relevant for the times we live in. One of these being mapping an agenda for the 21st century Islam, rethinking each and every postulate of Islam in the light of present-day realities, despite all the opposition this would evoke from the obscurantist elements of our society.

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