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What Do Sunnis and Shi’is Dispute and Disagree About?

Part 1

The Role of Politics and Jurisprudence (Fiqh)

It all boils down to two major and broad components: politics and jurisprudence (fiqh).

The former signifies “the art or science concerned with winning and holding control over a government; or competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership, as in a government; and the total complex of relations between people living in society” (Merriam-Webster).

The latter is an Islamic science through which practical laws and religious duties of a person in this world are studied on the basis of the teachings of the Quran and the Prophet’ Sunnah.

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There are some other secondary sources and principles of fiqh, however, they must not in any way whatsoever contradict, or deviate from, the spirit and content of the Quran and Sunnah.

It is due to this that fiqh literally means “deep understanding” or “full comprehension”; that is to say, understanding and comprehending as much the message of Islam as life and its conditions for which it was meant, and applying effectively and agreeably the former within the requisite realms of the latter.

It goes without saying that in the spheres of both politics and fiqh differences of opinion, disagreements and even disputes of diverse kinds will always be the rule of the day. Achieving homogeneity, standardization and perfect harmony will always be impossible therein. Attempting to do so would go against the very nature of some elementary laws of existence and the evolution of human societies.

What is thus needed is a thorough ethics of disagreement and conflict resolution in Islam. At the core of such an ethical system should stand the fundamental values of the general Islamic ethics, beliefs and morals.

Its guiding principle should be the notion of separation between the fallible and changeable, and the infallible and immutable, and between the human and mundane, and the religious and divine, never allowing the former to encroach on and influence the latter. It should always be the other way around.

In the case of the Sunni-Shi’ah differences and conflicts, the matter is rendered yet worse by numerous political and jurisprudential (religious) protagonists, both historically and at the present time.

As for politics, it was a journey from sheer political activism to complex ideologies on both sides. Consequently, numerous historical episodes and incidents have been embellished, exaggerated, manipulated and twisted, sometimes beyond recognition.

The more people became detached intellectually and spiritually from the origins of the socio-political and religious occurrences and developments, which later became known as the standardized norms of Sunnism and Shi’ism, the more prone they became to misinterpreting and misrepresenting them, adding thus to their respective intricacies.

In such a difficult climate, raging emotions and sentiments gradually took over from reason and spiritual consciousness, completely shutting them and rendering them essentially ineffective and useless.

Similarly, the roles and influences of good and virtuous people from all strata of society were steadily decreasing, with others taking over who, not only were poorly grounded in Islamic scholarship and spirituality, but also had vested interests in the existing challenging developments of Islamic culture and civilization.

A number of critical developments in the realms of fiqh and other Islamic sciences were no less different, often serving the interests of the prevalent politics and the agendas of the incumbent, or aspiring, rulers.

It was typical that in such ubiquitous circumstances, such painful spiritual and intellectual diseases as deliberate mediocrity, fanaticism, zealotry, myopia, lethargy, narrow-mindedness and rigidity, frequently reared their ugly heads and reigned supreme in some of the most critical segments of the Muslim cultural and civilizational development, greatly hampering them.

Beset by the incessantly adverse sectarian happenings and experiences, many people could not see, nor understand, let alone act upon, the noble legacies of the great individuals from the first and at the same time best three generations in the history of Islamic community in relation to grasping, dealing with and overcoming the political and intellectual disagreements, differences and disputes of their eras.

Most of those exemplary persons were among the most prominent political, religious and intellectual leaders of what is called today Sunnism and Shi’ism. However, none of them spoke either the Sunnism or Shi’ism “language”.

In passing, in the early days of Islam and its embryonic culture and civilization, there were no such things as the concepts of Sunnism and Shi’ism. Religious sectarianism did not exist, and there was neither Shi’ism and Shi’i Islam, nor Sunnism and Sunni Islam.

There was only Islam in its original and purest form, the first and best generation of Muslims (sahabah or the companions), and the most exemplary Muslim community which was conceived and molded by the heavenly vision of Prophet Muhammad.

Of course — in addition — as time passed, there quickly emerged all those intrinsic and somewhat foreseeable issues and challenges that the people were confronted with and had to come to terms with if they wished to succeed in making any global civilizational impact.

The concepts of Sunnism (ahl al-sunnah wa al-jama’ah) and Shi’ism (shi’ah) were the products of subsequent times and subsequent generations that were characterized by people’s different mindsets, spiritual dispositions and socio-political ambitions.

The Painful Consequences of Religious Sectarianism

Pages: 1 2
About Dr. Spahic Omer
Dr. Spahic Omer, an award-winning author, is an Associate Professor at the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). He studied in Bosnia, Egypt and Malaysia. In the year 2000, he obtained his PhD from the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur in the field of Islamic history and civilization. His research interests cover Islamic history, culture and civilization, as well as the history and theory of Islamic built environment. He can be reached at: [email protected].