Not Sunni, Not Shia, a Call for Unity
By Paul Salahuddin Armstrong
Co-Director, The Association of British Muslims
“And strive hard in God’s cause with all the striving that is due to Him: it is He who has elected you [to carry His message], and has laid no hardship on you in [anything that pertains to] religion, [and made you follow] the creed of your forefather Abraham. It is He who has named you – in bygone times as well as in this [divine writ] – (al-muslimeen) ‘those who have surrendered themselves to God’, so that the Apostle might bear witness to the truth before you, and that you might bear witness to it before all mankind. Thus, be constant in prayer, and render the purifying dues, and hold fast unto God. He is your Lord Supreme: and how excellent is this Lord Supreme, and how excellent this Giver of Succour!” – Holy Qur’an 22:78 (M. Asad)
Frequent questions one often gets asked these days, is whether one is Sunni or Shia, what school of thought (madhab) to which one belongs or which “methodology” one adheres to… Isn’t this a sad state of affairs? Are these really such pertinent questions? A good question would be, to which sect did Prophet Muhammad belong, peace be upon him, or any of his immediate companions? Many will then point to the fact that a political dispute arose during that first generation, over who was to be the rightful heir of the Prophet, peace be upon him.
However, while this is true, my own analysis indicates that what was understood then by the group of companions, who in later generations came to be understood as laying the foundation for Sunni Islam and the group later understood to have contributed to the foundation of Shia Islam, this was not the same as what is now meant by the terms Sunni and Shia today… Many of the earliest scholars of Islam, such as Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib and Imam Jafar as-Sadiq, may Allah bless them, are scholars relied upon by all schools of thought and sects.
“VERILY, as for those who have broken the unity of their faith and have become sects – thou hast nothing to do with them. Behold, their case rests with God: and in time He will make them understand what they were doing.”
– Holy Qur’an 6:159 (M. Asad)
How many Sunnis really understand the Sunni traditions in any great depth? The same likewise applies for the Shia. Before continuing these disputes over ever more generations, shouldn’t we first at least strive to be Muslims? Isn’t the foundation of Islam the pure belief in the Oneness of God? Whatever happened to the Kalima Shahada? Brothers and sisters of all different groups will state categorically in response, we haven’t forgotten the Kalima! Insha Allah, I pray this is true. However, if Muslims maintain the Kalima at the essence of their faith, how can the Ummah be divided?
La ilaha il Allah, Muhammad-ur Rasul Allah
No god but God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God
At the heart of Islam lives this most profound of statements, the foundation of the beliefs of all Muslims. The only real god is God, Muhammad, peace be upon him, is the last and final Prophet. If we truly believe this, how then can we be divided? I implore all brothers and sisters to reflect deeply on this point…
The Kalima Shahada and the Holy Qur’an are accepted by all Muslims, regardless of their school of thought or sect. These pre-date all other reference material on Islam, even that compiled by the earliest scholars. During these last days of Ramadan, wouldn’t it be wonderful if more people could transcend their differences, realising that at heart we’re all one. After all, what is our primary nature, are we not all human? Every other description we adorn ourselves with, whether pertaining to our spiritual beliefs, our tribe or nationality, surely come secondary to this. First and foremost we are human beings, the children of Adam and Eve, in essence we are One Human Family. How beautiful would it be if humanity started behaving like one?
“O YOU who have attained to faith! Remain conscious of God, and be among those who are true to their word!”
– Holy Qur’an 9:119 (M. Asad)