Dr. Safiyyah Ally: I want to talk about what happened in a mosque in Pakistan where many Shia congregants were killed. More than 50 people were killed, many others were injured, and it was quite gruesome with body parts all over the mosque. Dr. Shabir, can you share your initial thoughts on what occurred?
Dr. Shabir Ally: It's absolutely despicable that somebody would go to a mosque and detonate a bomb, killing himself and so many worshipers. It's awful and we have to see an end to this. Even once is too often. But it's happened many times and that's wrong.
Dr. Safiyyah: Of course, ISIS claims responsibility. We're not quite sure if they actually did it, but there's been a lot of Sunni extremists who have inflicted violence on Shia Muslims.
Dr. Shabir: Yes, and every once in a while somebody tries to take revenge for that but it happens too often and it's terrible: it's wrong. It's un-Islamic and it's haram. First of all, you cannot kill another individual without just cause. Just cause in an Islamic context would be the application of capital punishment as a judicial measure, where this is most appropriate. Of course, in the ancient world, capital punishment was more in vogue than it is nowadays. So, we have to take all of this into consideration. However, for an individual to take matters into his own hands and then decide as judge, jury, and executioner, that some people deserve to die and then he kills them and kills himself as well - this is a compounded error and sin. To kill one's self is suicide and suicide is haram, or prohibited, in the Islamic faith. Some may have the mentality that if you're going into enemy lines, for instance, you're in the heat of battle and it seems that to serve your country and to get ahead in the war, somebody has to make self-sacrifice, but that's a very extreme situation. It's not a cold, calculated situation where you're going into civilian territory and you're going to blow yourself up and others as well. Even in the heat of battle, it's not a goal to go and die. When you get into the battle, you want to be victorious and you want to be alive to celebrate that victory. However, circumstances in the heat of battle are going to be very different from circumstances in civilian territory.
Dr. Safiyyah: For instance, a mosque, where Muslims are praying. Whether they're Muslim or not, they're human beings and they're doing something good, right?
Dr. Shabir: Yes, and so they're not harming you.
Dr. Safiyyah: They're innocent.
Dr. Shabir: Absolutely, and while they're not harming you, there is no reason for you to harm them. Hate, intolerance, and the idea that some people are corrupting the religion is something that we have to put a stop to. All of this is the result of much preaching of the wrong sort throughout time, where people's minds are somehow brainwashed into thinking that they've got to go out and kill those people who think that if you dehumanize them first, that's the only way you can go. You have to imagine that they're on the side of the devil, they're incorrigible, you can't do anything to save them, and they're corrupting your religion and that's why you have to go and do this. However, that's wrong and it's based on intolerance. Whereas in the Quran, we see a lot about tolerance, and the prophet Muhammad, peace upon him, did not go around killing people because they had a different faith or because they had a slightly varied faith than others. You mentioned that in this case, the people were just praying, correct?
Dr. Safiyyah: Yes.
Dr. Shabir: They're praying like us, like Sunnis.
Dr. Safiyyah: We have privilege as Sunnis. We're the majority and sometimes it can seem for Shia Muslims as if they're marginalised, left out and excluded. Even when they come to the mosque, they come to a Sunni mosque. People sometimes look upon them differently, especially if they pray slightly differently or do anything a little bit differently. I think we have to be aware of that.
Dr. Shabir: Yes, and being sensitive to the situation, I was about to correct myself in using “us” in self- reference as if it's us as distinguished from Shias. I would like to say that the term, “us”, actually includes Shias. Sunnis and Shias are actually all Muslims. We basically pray the same way. We fast in Ramadan and we perform Hajj. We do all of the pillars of Islam, including giving charity. We believe in all of the main things: Sunnis and Shias hold to the belief in one God and the belief in our Prophet Mohamed, peace upon him, as the final messenger of God. We all hold to the same Quran. We believe in the same book and we are worshipping the same God, following the same Prophet Mohammad, peace upon him. There are different interpretations on some issues of lesser importance, not that they're unimportant, and we should have dialogues over those issues and try to understand each perspective better. However, at the end of the day, we need to embrace each other as fellows and believers in the same faith. In this regard, I'm happy to be able to say that I'm part of the Canadian Council of Imams that includes representatives and Imams, leaders from both the Sunni and the Shia perspectives.
Dr. Safiyyah: That's amazing and long overdue, of course.
Dr. Shabir: Yes, of course. This has been in place for a long time. The Canadian Council of Imams has had representatives of both of these streams for as long as I can remember because an average Muslim may be taught one thing and might be thinking that this is the only way to understand. They could have the mentality that this is Islam and anything different from this must be non-Islam and must be wrong, and think “I must oppose it with every ounce of my power”. Yet, those who are scholars know that when you study history, you understand that there are certain things that we do not have the final answers for, or the answers are a little bit vague. Similar to how the water in a glass might be interpreted as half full or half empty. The same thing might be looked at from two different perspectives. When we look back in our history and we look at the formation of the caliphate after the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, you can see that while Sunnis - and I'm hesitating to say “we”. I almost said “we” but I have to be sensitive to the circumstance and not think of “we” versus the Shias. When Sunnis look at this, they see it one way and they see that the Sunni version of this history is the correct one. But, when the Shias look at it they see that they have a version of that history as well and they believe that they have the correct version. It's not failing the use of a time machine to go back to the scene and see exactly what transpired - all we have are reports. The reports come through two different streams. The Sunni stream has one set of reports and the Shia stream has another set of reports. Each one believes that they have the correct representation of how the caliphate should have been. However, the caliphate is not the entirety of Islam. This is just one aspect of Islam. The question that arose for Muslims was who should be the legitimate successor of the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, not as a prophet, because in his unique role as a prophet, there cannot be another to succeed him. But, in his role as governor, who was to be the next? The Sunnis picked Abu Bakr, or rather we can say that from the Sunni perspective, Abu Bakr was a natural choice. That was the choice of the majority of the people. Naturally, he was used by democratic acclaim. Whereas the Shias have the idea that it was the family of the prophet Mohamed, peace be upon him, that should have carried the mantle of governorship. So, Ali would have been the first, the son-in-law, and the cousin of the prophet, peace be upon him, and then the descendants of Ali. That's two different perspectives. This is about governorship. It's not about the essence and the core of the religion. The first question regarding religion is, “who is your God?”. For Muslims, the second question is, “who is your prophet?” and also “which is your sacred scripture?”. On all of these basic things, Sunnis and Shias are in complete agreement.
Dr. Safiyyah: It's hard to think that so much animosity and violence could arise out of that. While I think that dialogue and understanding are important, I also think that the impetus is on the Sunni majority. They're the majority and should try to make overtures towards the Shia community and include them more. They should think about perspective and include it when we think about Islam, non-generic Islam and non-sectarian Islam. We should also think about Shias being within that circle.
Dr. Shabir: Yes, and of course, the majority of Sunni Muslims do consider Shias to be part of our faith and would find little reason to exclude Shias from thinking of them as Muslims. When Muslims boast that we are 1.25 billion people in the world, we are definitely including the Shias when we boast of that number. It is only a minority, such as those extremists in this case, since we can see ISIS claiming that they're responsible for the attack. Even if they're not, they see this as a chip on their shoulder to boast about, but that's despicable. How can you boast about something like that? You're just giving a bad name to yourself and Islam, though they think that this is a badge of honour and think that they killed those people for the sake of God, however, you are committing murder in the name of Allah and that does not add up.
Dr. Safiyyah: I feel like there isn't that explicit violence but sometimes there's a bias against Shias that Sunnis might not necessarily notice, but Shias will notice. We need to do more to reach out and accommodate them better.
Dr. Shabir: Yes, I agree. On this note, I would add that it may be a good idea to invite a Shia Imam to our show.
Dr. Safiyyah: That would be fantastic.
Dr. Shabir: We could have the Imam explain to us, from their perspective, what we can do as Sunnis to better accommodate people of the Shiite perspective. Those who may be in proximity to Sunni mosques might want to come in and pray with Sunnis. How can we be more accommodating to them in that special circumstance, but even more generally, how Sunnis and Shias can reach a better understanding of each other and can be more accommodating of each other. Especially how Sunnis, being the majority, can be lenient, accommodating, tolerant, and respectful of our fellow Muslims who happened to be Shias.
Dr. Safiyyah: Let's do that, Dr. Shabir. Thank you.
Dr. Shabir: You're welcome.