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Sunni – Shia: Brief History


 

It is important to remember that despite all of these differences in opinion and practice, Shia and Sunni Muslims share the main articles of Islamic belief ..

By: Huda Dodge
About.com* –

Both Sunni and Shia Muslims share the most fundamental Islamic beliefs and articles of faith. The differences between these two main sub-groups within Islam initially stemmed not from spiritual differences, but political ones. Over the centuries, however, these political differences have spawned a number of varying practices and positions which have come to carry a spiritual significance.

The division between Shia and Sunni dates back to the death of the Prophet Muhammad , and the question of who was to take over the leadership of the Muslim nation. Sunni Muslims agree with the position taken by many of the Prophet’s companions, that the new leader should be elected from among those capable of the job. This is what was done, and the Prophet Muhammad’s close friend and advisor, Abu Bakr, became the first Caliph of the Islamic nation. 

The word “Sunni” in Arabic comes from a word meaning “one who follows the traditions of the Prophet.”

On the other hand, some Muslims share the belief that leadership should have stayed within the Prophet’s own family, among those specifically appointed by him, or among Imams appointed by God Himself.

The Shia Muslims believe that following the Prophet Muhammad’s death, leadership should have passed directly to his cousin/son-in-law, Ali. Throughout history, Shia Muslims have not recognized the authority of elected Muslim leaders, choosing instead to follow a line of Imams which they believe have been appointed by the Prophet Muhammad or God Himself. The word “Shia” in Arabic means a group or supportive party of people. The commonly-known term is shortened from the historical “Shia-t-Ali,” or “the Party of Ali.” They are also known as followers of “Ahl-al-Bayt” or “People of the Household” (of the Prophet).

From this initial question of political leadership, some aspects of spiritual life have been affected and now differ between the two groups of Muslims.

Shia Muslims believe that the Imam is sinless by nature, and that his authority is infallible as it comes directly from God. Therefore, Shia Muslims often venerate the Imams as saints and perform pilgrimages to their tombs and shrines in the hopes of divine intercession. Sunni Muslims counter that there is no basis in Islam for a hereditary privileged class of spiritual leaders, and certainly no basis for the veneration or intercession of saints. Sunni Muslims contend that leadership of the community is not a birthright, but a trust that is earned and which may be given or taken away by the people themselves.

Shia Muslims also feel animosity towards some of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad , based on their positions and actions during the early years of discord about leadership in the community. Many of these companions (Abu Bakr, Umar, Aisha, etc.) have narrated traditions about the Prophet’s life and spiritual practice. Shia Muslims reject these traditions (hadith) and do not base any of their religious practices on the testimony of these individuals. This naturally gives rise to some differences in religious practice between the two groups. These differences touch all detailed aspects of religious life: prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, etc.

Sunni Muslims make up the majority (85%) of Muslims all over the world. Significant populations of Shia Muslims can be found in Iran and Iraq, and large minority communities in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and Lebanon.

It is important to remember that despite all of these differences in opinion and practice, Shia and Sunni Muslims share the main articles of Islamic belief and are considered by most to be brethren in faith. In fact, most Muslims do not distinguish themselves by claiming membership in any particular group, but prefer to call themselves simply, “Muslims.”

Huda Dodge is an educator, freelance writer and editor. She is the author of The Everything Understanding Islam Book, published in 2003 by Adams Media Corporation. She has been active on the Internet for over a decade, and has been About.com‘s Guide to Islam since 1998. She currently teaches elementary school in the Middle East.

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2007 in Articles

 

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Christmas a time for bridge building

By: Abdul Malik Mujahid
IslamiCity* –

The church is built above a cave where it is believed Jesus was born.

Treating Christmas with Respect

Christmas is an annual Christian religious holiday commemorating the birth of Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him. For many Muslims who do not even celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, it becomes an issue of what stand they should take.

There have been a number of legitimate criticisms of the holiday from Muslims and non-Muslims based on theological and cultural considerations. However, this cannot be used to disregard the holiday as merely an exercise in ancient pagan practices, for instance, or excessive consumerism. Muslims have to remember that for practicing Christians, Christmas really is about Jesus. 

Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was so accommodating of Christians that according to the two earliest Islamic historians, Ibn e Saad and Ibn Hisham, the Prophet even allowed a delegation of 60 Byzantine Christians from Najran in Yemen to worship in his own mosque in Madinah. Lead by their bishop (Usquf), they had come to discuss a number of issues with him. When time of their prayer came, they asked the Prophet’s permission to perform this in the mosque. He answered, “conduct your service here in the mosque. It is a place consecrated to God.” 

God expects us to stay away from mocking the religious beliefs of others, no matter how much we disagree with them. He says in the Quran: “And insult not those whom they (disbelievers) worship besides God, lest they insult God wrongfully without knowledge. Thus We have made fair-seeming to each people its own doings; then to their Lord is their return and He shall then inform them of all that they used to do” (Quran, 6:108).

We also have to remember that even if for many nominal Christians, the celebration is not really about participating in religious traditions, Christmas is a time for families to get together. In a number of cases it is the only time of year families get together, either because family members are scattered in different parts of the country or the world, because of communication and relationship problems, or because in America today, the family unit is becoming weaker and weaker. 

Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, is located five and half miles from Jerusalem.

Christmas is a great time to relate to our neighbors. We should not forget though, that “relating” does not mean “preaching”. Dawa cannot be made in a rude manner. Allah says in the Quran: “Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful advice, and reason with them by ways that are the best and most gracious: because your Lord knows best, (those) who have strayed from His Path, and those who receive guidance ” (Quran, 16:125).

In particular, when dealing with Jews and Christians, Allah says: “Do not argue with the People of the Book unless it is in the politest manner, except for those of them who do wrong. Say: ‘We believe in what has been sent down to us and what has been sent down to you. Our God and your God is [the same] One, and we are Muslims before Him'” (Quran, 29:46).

This may not be an occasion to emphasis the differences as much as the commonality of our beliefs, unless someone is really asking you about them.

A starting point for a discussion about Christmas could be the Islamic belief in all Books revealed by Allah and all Prophets sent by Him. In this discussion, special emphasis could be made on Prophet Jesus. Non-Muslims are often surprised to discover that Muslims also believe in this noble Prophet and his great mother Mary (peace be upon her).

Remember that respect does not mean compromise. This article is not asking you to compromise anything. You have freedom of religion given by God to believe in what you believe in. But in a world where conflict is increasing, a Muslim should be a bridge- builder and a peacemaker. It was due to the Muslim practice of Islamic ideals of respect and tolerance that the key of the holiest Christian Shrine in Jerusalem, the church of the Holy Sepulcher, remains entrusted with a Muslim family, as it has been for over 1400 years. 

These are the lessons which need to be learned by those extremists who attack Christians during their worship in Nigeria and those extremists who burn Masjids in the USA.

Abdul Malik Mujahid, is the President and Director of Sound Vision Foundation Inc. He is an Imam in the Chicago area and the Chairperson of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC).

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2007 in Articles

 

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Can Muslims be friends with Jews and Christians?

 

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We are only discouraged from befriending those who fight Muslims because of their religion ..

By: Majd Arbil
IslamiCity* –

O YOU who have attained to faith! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for your allies: they are but allies of one another and whoever of you allies himself with them becomes, verily, one of them; behold, God does not guide people who are unjust. (Quran 5:51)

This verse is often quoted to show that Islam is intolerant.

Quran is a complete book of guidance and while studying various issues it should be kept in mind that a particular issue may be discussed over several chapters or several verses in the same chapter. A complete understanding can only be achieved by understanding the whole issue as presented over all the verses and chapters and not by looking at only part of the Quran. God specifically warns us against doing just that, upholding part of the Quran while disregarding the rest. 

.. Then is it only a part of the Book that ye believe in, and do you reject the rest? but what is the reward for those among you who behave like this but disgrace in this life? – and on the Day of Judgment they shall be consigned to the most grievous penalty. For God is not unmindful of what ye do. (Quran 2:85)

To understand the issue of befriending the Jews, Christians or people of any other faith, we have to study all the concerned verses from the Quran collectively. 

Let us look at some other verses about this issue. The following two verses regulate relations with any people, regardless of faith: 

As for such [of the unbelievers] as do not fight against you on account of [your] faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for, verily, God loves those who act equitably. (Quran 60:8)

God only forbids you to turn in friendship towards such as fight against you because of [your] faith, and drive you forth from your homelands, or aid [others] in driving you forth: and as for those [from among you] who turn towards them in friendship; it is they, they who are truly wrongdoers! (Quran 60:9)

From the above verses, we learn that we are only discouraged from befriending those who fight Muslims because of their religion. Now let’s go back to the verse immediately after 5:51, to see if it sheds some further light on the issue. 

And yet you can not see how those in whose hearts there is disease vie with one another for their good will (the hostile Jews and Christians), saying [to themselves], “We do fear lest a change of fortune bring us disaster.” But God may well bring about good fortune [for the believers] or any [other] event of His own devising, whereupon those [waverers] will be smitten with remorse for the thoughts which they had secretly harboured within themselves-  (Quran 5:52)

During the time of the Prophet when the Jews and Christians were in open conflict with the Muslims, there were some Muslims who were more concerned about maintaining there alliances with the Jews and Christians at the expense of the Muslim community. The above verse is referring to such situations where Muslims with doubts in their hearts will ally themselves with the enemy.

Chapter 5 Verse 57 of the Quran makes it clear again, who are not to be taken as friends; O you who believe! take not for friends and protectors those who take your religion for a mockery or sport,- whether among those who received the Scripture before you, or among those who reject Faith; but remain conscious of God, if you are (truly) believers. (Quran 5:57)

God teaches us throughout the Quran that there are righteous Jews and Christians. As such there is no prohibition for Muslims to be friends with Jews, Christians or people of any other faith who are of good character.

Quranic verses referring to the righteous Jews and Christians:

Of the people of Moses there is a section who guide and do justice in the light of truth. (Quran 7:159)

And We caused Jesus, the son of Mary, to follow in the footsteps of those (earlier prophets), confirming the truth of whatever there still remained of the Torah; and We sent him the Gospel, wherein there was guidance and light, confirming the truth of whatever there still remained of the Torah, and as a guidance and admonition unto the God-conscious. (Quran 5:46)

Verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians – all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds-shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. (Quran 2:62)

Not all of them are alike: Of the People of the Book are a portion that stand (For the right): They rehearse the Signs of God all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration. They believe in God and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; and they hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works: They are in the ranks of the righteous. (Quran 3:113-114)

And there are, certainly, among the People of the Book, those who believe in God, in the revelation to you, and in the revelation to them, bowing in humility to God. They will not sell the Signs of God for a miserable gain! For them is a reward with their Lord, and God is swift in account. (Quran 3:199)

The following verse from the Quran capsulates this issue:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). (Quran 49:13)

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2007 in Articles

 

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Explaining Islam

 

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The three religions lay claim to a common ancestor, the prophet and patriarch Abraham, the first “monotheist” in the strict sense of the term ..

IslamiCity* –

So hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of God.
(Quran 3:103)

No compulsion in religion! Truth stands clear from error, and he who rejects false deities and believes in God has grasped a firm handhold which will never break.
(Quran 2:256)

The task should become easier with the passage of time. It becomes more difficult. Explaining Islam in all its dimensions to westerners, whether Christian, semi-Christian or agnostic, involves crossing a minefield. Misunderstandings, together with ancient fears and prejudices, lie just beneath the surface, ready to explode on contact, and I have learned over the years to watch where I place my feet. The task becomes more difficult for two reasons: firstly because of an increasing realisation that my Faith, like any major religion, has something in common with the breadth of the human world itself with all its ambiguities and subtleties; secondly because contemporary western culture is immensely complex both in its origins and in its character. Every generalisation that one tries to make is soon blown apart.

Brought up as an agnostic, I have been Muslim for some fifty years, long enough to feel at home in the religion, but this does not alter the fact that I am a westerner and cannot entirely escape my early conditioning. Asked once by a young Muslim in America if I did not find this dual identity painful, I told him that I regarded it as a privilege comparable, perhaps, to being bilingual. Only those who have, in some measure, escaped from their European or American identity can know how suffocating this culture is. The term “political correctness” is of recent invention, but in fact the western mentality has always been subject to comparable restraints in one form or another. The orthodoxies of one generation may be turned upside down by the next, but the pressures to accept what all “right-thinking” people believe at a particular moment in history remain the same. When someone who has little interest in religion asks me why they should take an interest in Islam, my answer is: “To sample a different perspective and enjoy a breath of fresh air.”

Whether in confrontation or in cautious dialogue, Muslims and Christians have faced each other and been obliged to deal with each other for the past thirteen centuries, and the very existence of Islam has had a profound influence on the changing patterns of western civilization. This civilization is commonly described as Judaeo-Christian in origin, but there is a third strand in the monotheistic “rope of God”, the rope grasped by those who desire a good life and a good exit from this life: Islam. The three religions lay claim to a common ancestor, the prophet and patriarch Abraham, the first “monotheist” in the strict sense of the term. They are three facets of this adherence to an undiluted awareness of the divine unity and singularity. What they have in common outweighs their differences, but the intertwining of the three strands is fascinating and often illuminating. Jews, when they are able to put aside the politics of confrontation, usually feel closer to Muslims than to Christians and understand them better. Christians, since the Bible includes the Jewish scriptures, cannot escape from the Judaic tradition however savagely they may have condemned the Jews for rejecting Jesus. Muslims, in their turn, regard their Faith as the culmination of this triple revelation, while the Quran suggests a preference for the Christians.

In the chapter of the Quran called Ya Sin there is a parable usually taken to refer to Moses, Jesus and Muhammad: “The people of the city when those sent (by God) came to them when We sent to them two, and they rejected them, so We reinforced them with a third, who said: ‘See! We have been sent to you.’ They (the people of the city) said: ‘You are only mortals like ourselves. The Most Merciful one has revealed nothing. You are liars!'” This theme of rejection recurs constantly in the Quran because it has been a constant factor in human history and in human nature, which is drawn simultaneously in two different directions-towards two magnetic poles-the Light and the dark.

The term “Muslim” (with a capital letter) is properly applied only to those who follow the message of the Quran, but, when it takes the lower case, it has a far more universal meaning. In the first place, everyone and everything is muslim in the sense that all, knowingly or unknowingly, are subject to the Divine Will and cannot escape from it. The rock that falls by the force of gravity is muslim; so are the birds and the beasts of the field, so too is humankind as a whole. All submit to the will of their creator. Secondly, those who choose to obey guidance from above are muslim in a higher sense. When, in the Quran, the followers of Jesus confess, “We are muslims”, they cannot have meant that they followed a messenger as yet unborn. There is, then, Islam as a recognisable religion, there is islam as the faith and practice of all who believe in God and, finally, there is the islam of creation as such. Nothing that enjoys the light of existence is self-sufficient. Everything depends upon the source from which it came and to which it will return when creation is wrapped up and submits to its own end.

Excerpted from the book “Remembering God” by Charles Le Gai Eaton.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2007 in Articles

 

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