Throughout history, one of the major strategies for control and occupation has been to create division among the occupied. The British did that in the Indian Subcontinent, the French did that in Africa and today’s Middle East is no exception. Millions of lives are lost each year in sectarian violence.
Billions of dollars are spent to create rifts and conflicts between the Shias and Sunnis globally. In Iraq for example, attacks are carried out simultaneously in Shia and Sunni pockets, thereby creating an environment of suspicion, anger and hatred for each other. Lies, propaganda and systematic media campaigns are carried out against different sects with the sole intention of creating enmity.
Pseudo-scholars are propped up to come up with fatwas (religious edicts) declaring those who don’t follow their ideologies as unbelievers and often urging their followers to kill them. Such acts benefit none other than the ones who want to plunder the land, wealth and resources in the Middle East.
The following essay of mine would come as a surprise to many because the two great men whom I am writing about are either not known and if known, are known as oppressors and threats to world peace and not who they really are or what they really stand for.
The first one is Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Apart from the commendable role he has played in steering Iran through its journey since the 1979 Islamic revolution, he is appreciated for his efforts towards the unity of Muslims.
Ayatollah Khamenei has played a crucial role in creating unity among Muslims throughout the world. His major step towards this attempt was his fatwa issued in 2010 that prohibits the insulting the sahabas (companions) and the wives of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). According to the statement issued by the Ayatollah: “Insulting the symbols of the Sunni brothers, including Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) wife is forbidden. This includes the women of all prophets and especially the holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The fatwa was issued in reaction to Kuwaiti cleric Yasser al-Habib’s disrespect of Aisha, wife of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The Kuwaiti parliament had immediately taken steps to revoke al-Habib’s citizenship. The speeches of this pseudo-Shia scholar were used by many to evoke anti-Shia sentiments in the Middle East and worldwide. The Wahhabi-dollar scholars of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were already looking for an excuse to divide the Muslims and create further bloodshed and al-Habib’s actions became a golden opportunity to advance their agenda.
Had it not been for the timely fatwa of Ayatollah Khamenei, the already bleeding Middle East would have witnessed a bloodbath which would have spread throughout the world within no time. Similarly, the outcome of this fatwa was visible in Middle East very soon. Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyib, the rector of al-Azhar University of Islamic Sciences in Egypt, welcomed the fatwa saying that it was prudent and timely and would help ram the door shut to fitna (creating divisions among Muslims). Tayyib further noted that such insults have always been a source of controversy and disputes between Shia and Sunni Muslims and prevented them from forging a robust unity against common enemies.
Not just Sheikh Tayyib but numerous other Muslim scholars, thinkers, leaders and universities alike appreciated and welcomed this fatwa unanimously. This landmark fatwa averted a major sectarian crisis in the Middle East and worldwide. This fatwa not only averted a major crisis at the time it was issued but continues to serve as a shield against sectarian plots in the Middle East till today and God willing will continue to do so in the future.
Another great personality who played a crucial role in averting a mammoth crisis is Grand Ayatollah Ali Hussaini al-Sistani or famously known as Ayatollah Sistani of Iraq.
Iraq is the worst affected by sectarian violence in the Middle East. At least in Iran the government can deter or stop programs or shows that have the potential to stoke sectarian violence, but the same can’t be said about Iraq. There are extremist groups among both Sunnis and Shias that insult and disrespect each other and go to the extent of labeling each other as apostates. Such groups have served as fuel to the fire and ensured the continuation of the cycle of violence in Iraq. Some sections of the Iraqi media played and continue to play a nasty role in stoking violence in the region. Television channels like Fadak and Sawt Alitraa that are being transmitted from European countries are notoriously famous for publicly airing insults and curses on the female relatives and the companions of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) revered by the Sunnis.
Safa Channel is another such channel famous for airing sermons, lectures and programs that deliberately degrade and demean the Shias. In the ensuing quagmire innocent people are misguided, brainwashed and dragged into the cycle of hatred and violence. It was in such an environment that Ayatollah Sistani took the brave step to issue a fatwa against insulting and disrespecting Sunni sanctities. He famously declared: “This is to be condemned and denounced, and is contrary to the instructions of Shia Imams”
Ayatollah Sistani has time and again called for unity among the Shias and Sunnis. In his landmark 2007 message he declared: “Shias should not call Sunnis their brethren, but their ‘souls’. There is no real difference between Shiite and Sunni beliefs, and I am the servant of all Iraqis (either Sunni or Shiite) and love everyone, and this religion [Islam] is the religion of love.” He called for the Shias to defend the social and political rights of the Sunnis before defending their own rights.
These bold statements and the fatwa on unity and restraining disrespect and insults go a long way in forging strong ties among Muslims all over the world. Such brave steps taken by both these great men have averted many a crisis not just in the Middle East but throughout the world, even today both of them are involved in attempts to forge unity among different groups and bring about an environment of peace and stability in the Middle East.
However, there still exist those who continue with their hatred and enmity without realizing the ramifications of their ignorance and short sightedness.
But majority of the Muslims have realized that these divisions and enmity are created by the enemy whose sole aim is to divide and weaken the Muslims throughout the world and plunder their wealth, resources, morals, beliefs and ultimately their very religion. The most powerful weapon for the Muslims today is undoubtedly their unity. The sooner they realize it the better it will be for them as well as the whole world. For as the Holy Quran says: “And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of Allah and be not divided among yourselves.” (Holy Quran 3:103).