By Taha Mehdi
Assalamulaikum! I would like to start off this article by thanking The Young Ummah team for giving me the opportunity to write about this topic. Let me start off by giving a little relevant background on myself. My name is Taha Mehdi and I’m a third-year college student studying information technology and web science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York. I have been involved with the Muslim Students Association at RPI since I was a freshman, and last year had the honor to hold an executive board position as Public Relations Secretary and to work directly with our local masjid, Masjid Al-Hidaya and Imam Djafer and Imam Arsalan.
I have lived in the Capital Region since the fifth grade, so I have spent several years growing up here. As most Muslim pre-teens and teens, I went to Sunday School, attended Masjid programs, and enjoyed family friend gatherings. That said, what set me apart from most of my cohorts is that I follow the minority Shia Ithna-Asheri school of thought within Islam, compared to the majority Sunni school of thought. Personally, whenever I go online or watch the news and see reports of sectarian violence, whether Shia on Sunni or Sunni on Shia, I always shake my head in disbelief and pray that Allah puts an end to sectarian violence. Does the Holy Quran, which all Muslims follow the exact same version of, not state in Chapter 49 Surah al-Hujurat, Verse 10, “The believers indeed are brothers; so set things right between your two brothers”? Whether Shia or Sunni, we are Muslim, and we are all brothers and sisters in faith.
Indeed, if one takes an objective look at the Shia and Sunni sects, one finds that there is much similarity. Both Shias and Sunnis worship Allah. Both Shias and Sunnis believe Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is a mercy to mankind and is the final prophet Allah has sent. Both Shias and Sunnis perform the obligatory acts of praying daily, fasting in the month of Ramadan, and performing Hajj. Both Shias and Sunnis are forbidden from eating pork. Even when taking a look at just prayers: both Shias and Sunnis must perform wudu before praying. Both Shias and Sunnis must pray Fajr, Dhuhr, Asr, Maghrib, and Isha prayers. Both Shias and Sunnis recite adhan and iqamah before praying.
That said, are there differences? Of course, that is why there are two sects. But most of the time, these differences are relatively minor compared to the overall bigger picture that Islam portrays; furthermore, we unfortunately misunderstand the other sect’s beliefs due to rumors, misinformation, or plain ignorance. And in that case, it is our religious responsibility to figure out why the other sect practices the way it does. As we know, the first word revealed of the Quran was “Iqra” – read, i.e. seek knowledge! An effective method for me has been to approach an informed member of the Sunni sect and ask why he or she believes what he or she believes and to have a reasonable discussion. I encourage my Sunni brothers and sisters to reach out to a Shia friend to understand beliefs of the other side.
Yes, there have been a couple minor arguments among some of my Sunni friends on certain topics, but at the same time they have taught me their point of view of life which is something I would not have otherwise learned. Alhamdulillah, I have been blessed to have been raised in a multicultural community where not only do I get to meet people from different religions but even within different sects of the same religion. This has allowed me to have an extremely diverse friend network and has really shaped who I have become.
Picture Reference: http://farmingtonlibraries.org/isis-islam-islam-is-peace/