Thursday, May 12, 2016

"My religion is Islam; not Sunnis, Shias..."

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful; blessings and peace be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.


The Declining Day (Al-'Asr)
1. By the declining day,
2. Lo! Man is in a state of loss,
3. Save those who believe and do good works, and exhort 
one another to truth and exhort one another to endurance.

TURKISH President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his opening speech at the annual summit meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul recently said: "My religion is not that of Sunnis, of Shias. My religion is Islam."

Surprised at 'this controversial remark' and curious to know whether I could be a Muslim only; not to be associated by any sect (such as Sunnis and Shias) I posed questions to several 'ustazs' (religious teachers) regarding what was being said by Erdogan in Istanbul, considered a symbolic host city because of its former status as the capital of the Ottoman Empire, whose rulers were considered the caliphs of Islam.  

An 'ustaz' said in his opinion the Turkish President was only making a political remark...he was addressing leaders of Islamic world including key guests such as Saudi Arabian King Salman and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who were looked upon as leaders of the Sunnis and Shias people of the world respectively. Both countries are now locked on opposing sides in the Syria and Yemen conflicts and on other issues.

Erdogan was quoted: “Sectarianism is the biggest source of danger facing the Muslim world. We must unite to solve these problem ourselves...We should be be uniting, not dividing. We should strengthened alliances, not disputes; fondness, not animosity. Out of the conflicts, the disputes, the hostility only the Muslims suffer, only Islam countries suffer. We should increase friends and decrease enemies."

Turkey, now chairman of OIC; an umbrella for more than 50 countries, for the next two years said it wanted to narrow differences between the world's estimated 1.7 billion Muslims. Thus it was a relief to hear Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stressing that his side was against any message that fuels division in the Islamic 'ummah' (Muslim community).

The presence of King Salman in the summit too speak volumes about the importance of unity among Muslims regardless they are from the Sunni or Shia sect, but analysts have warned that Turkey (as the new chairman of OIC) needs to tread carefully in its alliance with Saudi Arabia, which is also overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, so it is not seen as a sectarian alliance aimed at Shia-majority Iran, with whom Riyadh is locked in a diplomatic struggle for influence in the Gulf region.

Several months ago, Saudi Arabia-Iran relation was at the lowest level after Riyadh executed Syeikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, a senior Shia cleric in the kingdom. The dispute between both countries was for decades but in late 1997, Iran which was chosen to host the 8th OIC summit, opened up its arms to Muslims brothers worldwide and it was embraced by the Saudis.

The summit was historical as it was 'a great avenue' when two main powers and leading countries in the organization (Saudi Arabia and Iran) - paved way for better understanding between them which had a sour relationship for a long time. It featured deliberations and declarations of major significance for the development of Islamic states, for relations with Western countries, and for peace in the Middle East, namely Palestine. 

As a journalist covering the event, I was touched by the declaration of the summit, among other things the OIC promised a bright future for the 'ummah' in the next century ((21st). Furthermore  the summit was the last in the 20th century, whats more it was held in the post era of the First Gulf War which saw the United States destroying Iraq but not to the extend of overthrowing Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein.

Now, we are in the 21st century but sadly the OIC promise was just a promise...the Muslim 'ummah' from Libya to Syria, from Xinjiang (China) to Kashmir (India), from Arakan (home of the Rohinga people of Myanmar) to Southern Philippines and of course in Palestine are living in dire conditions and situations and worst still relations between Islamic countries are fast escalating to the lowest level. 

Some analysts claimed that the Saudi Arabian-Iran and countries in their block are now at the brink of war; perhaps it was timely that Erdogan in his opening speech of the OIC summit declared that he is neither a Sunni or a Shia but a Muslim...well could we too claimed so?

Other than the 'ustaz' who said Erdogan's remark was only a political move, another 'ustaz' claimed that the Turkish President was right if we were to look at the meaning of his remark in the context of language and logic - for example when a person ask somebody about his/religion, automatically a Muslim would said he/she is of the Islamic faith; he/she would not be saying he/she is a Sunni or a Shia.

Erdogan was right in saying he is a Muslim not a Sunni or Shia because all the Muslims agree that Allah is One, Muhammad (s.a.w.) is His last Prophet, the Qur'an is His last Book for mankind, and one day Allah SWT will resurrect all human beings, and they will be questioned about the belief and actions but there are major disagreements between the two schools such as regarding political power.

More than 85 percent of the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims are Sunni. They live across the Arab world, as well as in countries like Turkey, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia. Iran, Iraq and Bahrain are largely Shias. The Saudi royal family, which practices an austere and conservative strand of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, controls Islam’s holiest shrines, Mecca and Medina. Karbala, Kufa and Najaf in Iraq are revered shrines for the Shias.

Saudi Arabia and Iran, the dominant Sunni and Shia powers in the Middle East, often take opposing sides in regional conflicts. In Yemen, Shia rebels from the north, the Houthis, overthrew a Sunni-dominated government, leading to an invasion by a Saudi-led coalition. In Syria, which has a Sunni majority, the Alawite Shias sect of President Bashar al-Assad, which has long dominated the government, clings to power amid a bloody civil war. And in Iraq, bitter resentments between the Shia-led government and Sunni communities have contributed to victories by the Islamic State. (NYT)

Finally could we declared that "my religion is not that of Sunnis, of Shias. My religion is Islam" as what had been said by Erdogan? The answer was a firm no by another 'ustaz' unless your knowledge on Islam surplus great Islamic scholars such as the four 'imams' (Ahmad Hambal, Malik, Shafie and Abu Hanifah), Imam Al-Ghazali, Imam Nawawi or during our time, Dr Yusof Al-Qaradhawi.

It was said Al-Qaradhawi worked hard for the better relationship and understanding between the Sunnis and Shias but sadly the result was as what we see today.

The 'ustaz' asked, why made it hard for ourselves in understanding religion for those great 'imams' and in this part of the world, our 'tok guru' had 'packaged' nicely the teaching of the Prophet s.a.w. for us to follow...our duty as an unlearned person with many shortcomings such as without knowledge of the Arabic language is to learn as much we could from 'respected teachers' and put into practice of what we had learned!

No comments: