Why Diversity in Islam is Not a Malady?

11 August, 2016
Q If Islam is all that it is cracked up to be by practicing Muslims, why are different factions of the faith, for example, Sunnis and Shiites and no doubt many more, unable to see eye to eye? Not to mention, of course, the ridiculous notion that when a devout Muslim dies he will be rewarded in Heaven with the presence of Allah and loads of celestial virgins. It is no wonder that among the Muslim community suicide bombing is so popular.

Answer

Salam (Peace) Dear Peter,

I would like to thank you immensely for your eagerness to know about Islam.

Let’s start, before anything else, by stating one fact: People are created to lead a life of diversity because without this diversity life would be boring and difficult.

Imagine if all people came from the same background, eating the same food, thinking in the same way; what would life be like?

What really makes life so boring is that people misuse this great blessing of diversity which is a gift of God for them to lead a happy and pleasant life. Yes, there is a difference between people in the way they look at things, the way they love things, and the way they perceive truth.

What’s Really the Difference?

Speaking of Sunnis and Shiites, I would say that both parties share the core of Islam, which is the belief in the One True God and the finality of prophethood with Muhammad (peace be upon him).

They share many more of the main beliefs of Islam including the belief in angels, all the prophets of God, the scriptures of God, the Day of Judgment, and divine destiny.

Moreover, they share the main practices of Islam, including the five daily prayers, zakah (obligatory alms), Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah), and fasting during the month of Ramadan.

Both parties celebrate the two Eids (festivals) of Muslims and many other occasions. Thus, if we look into what they actually share, we will discover that both Sunnis and Shiites have much in common. Sunnis and Shiites are regarded by each other as Muslims and accepted within the realm of Islam.

What led to the division, at the very onset, was a political difference on who deserved to become the ruler of the Muslim state after the death of the Prophet.

This political difference later developed into some kind of theological and practical difference wherein some practices and dogmas were formulated in support of each view.

However, the basic beliefs and the main practices without which a person cannot be considered a Muslim are observed and adhered to by both parties.

This difference is by no means to be likened to the difference between Catholics and Protestants, because the former difference is not in the core beliefs or the main practices of Islam, and supporters of both views still see others as Muslims.

Is Difference Necessarily Bad?

As explained above, politics was the main cause that led to this difference. Of course, as human beings we are subject to difference and as Muslims we see this difference as one of the signs of the mercy of Almighty Allah and one of the proofs of His power.

When we look at the universe as a whole, we see that it is immensely diverse. We then remember that it is one of the wonders of Allah and celebrate His praises. He says in the Quran what means:

{And among His wonders is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and your colors, for in this, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are possessed with knowledge.} (Ar-Rum 30:22)

Instead of crying over spilled milk and lamenting how negative diversity is, we Muslims are always called upon by God to utilize this diversity in exploring our differences and making the best outcome of them.

We are encouraged by the Quran to engage in fruitful dialogue that involves accepting our differences and admitting the fact that God knows it is best for us to be as different as we are.

With such an eye of appreciation we look at our differences as Muslims — Sunnis and Shiites — and with the same eye of appreciation we look at all differences in this world: they should lead to more acceptance and coexistence, not wars and fighting.

On Suicide Bombing

Now we come to your point on suicide bombing and saying that Muslims go and kill themselves because 72 maidens will be waiting for them in Paradise.

I would like to assure you that not a single Muslim who understands the religion correctly would ever kill themselves or harm any innocent human being around them, simply because our religion teaches us that killing a single soul is akin to killing the whole humankind.

Research has shown that suicide bombings are not actually motivated by religion. Listing the groups involved in suicide bombings according to the number of bombings, we see that Tamil Tigers, who are Hindu and secularists, top the list.

Right after them are the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), who are secularists, then PKI, who are Sikh, then Hizbullah, who are Shiite Muslims, then Hamas and Palestinian Jihad, who are Sunni Muslims, followed by some other Palestinian secularist organizations, and finally Al-Qaeda who are counted among Sunni Muslims.

Looking into the strategic goals of these suicide bombers, we will discover that religion is not among them either. Rather, they vary from just ending occupation like what happens in Palestine, or removing foreign occupying troops like what happens in Iraq, or seeking freedom of a people like what happened in Kurdistan.

I think this information can give you a hint now that when we speak about suicide bombing, we should stop associating it with any religion, simply because religions teach us that killing oneself is a heinous unforgivable sin.

Besides, killing others is in itself another sin that is tantamount to killing all humankind. Such an act is prohibited in all divine injunctions.

Claiming that suicide bombing is Islamic is as false as claiming that it is Christian or Jewish, again because it is not motivated by religion.

It will probably surprise you that the facts I mentioned above were not mentioned by a Muslim researcher at all. You can easily find them in the book Dying to Win by Robert A. Pape.

I hope I have given a satisfying answer to your question and I welcome any feedback or further discussion. Thank you and stay in touch.

Salam.