I have always had a fascination with religion and religious history. If one would try to categorize my curiosity, I would be a type A, total fantasist about what lies beyond and the one to always ask the craziest of questions right from childhood about my religion, my ancestry and so on. It has stood me in good stead over the years, as throughout my life as a Muslim of the Sunni sect indoctrination in various methods and forms of bigotry and hate have been commonplace.
I can pinpoint the start of my curiosity with the Shiate sect of Islam. I had heard plenty of myths about their revered Imam Ali and his failings, his rage, his drunkenness and so on. I had also heard stories about his sword, how it never existed, how it was just a figment of shia hyperbole. Well one day while visiting the Topkappi museum in Istanbul me and my wife saw it, among other historic Islamic exhibits like the Quran Hazrat Usman was attacked on. Immediately we looked at each other and smiled because believe me when you see the length and the breadth of this sword (the exhibit said it was real) you can begin to understand the failings of the historians in our sect who have done their best to vilify Hazrat Ali. Even if that sword we saw was not “Zulfiqar” and one of the swords Ali wielded, by god no mere mortal can even lift that thing it is enormous!! To date no one will believe me, perhaps they are right or perhaps they are blinded by the hate ingrained in them, well hate serves no purpose and as moharram is in front of us and undoubtedly violence will break out on this somber occasion in Pakistan, one thing is clear to me. It does not matter if you are celebrating the birth of our prophet (PBUH) or in tears at the tragic death of his nephews in Karbala, belief is something which cannot be judged.
So I thought, hey gods given me a voice, why don’t I do something about this hate. Well I want to finish it, and the only way I know how is to educate people, thus I got together people from different strata and careers in the “shia community”and asked them the questions most used against them by imams of other sects. Perhaps this exercise will go some way in dispelling the myths created and manipulated about shias.
Due to the overwhelming response from twitter and among my friends, these will be a series of posts with the same set of questions asked from totally different individuals.
Participants in this post
Raza Abbas : 25 year-old student and blogger from Karachi. A Computer Science PhD student in the states at present.
Shaista Hussain : A blogger and peacemaker from Isloo, organizes like a demon and has the power to equally convince and shoo away at a moments notice
Samar Fatima : She claims she aint a scholar but her words speak otherwise to me
Often sunnis are told that shias do matam because they are cursed by bibi ayesha what truth is there in this if any?
Raza: This is totally false. Matam is an expression of grief in the Arab world where they beat their chests and slap their faces in times of tragedy. Different cultures have different ways of doing matam (expressing grief). The matam done here is a little different to the one done in Iran and Iraq, but is purpose is the same i.e., remembrance of the great tragedy of Karbala.
Shaista: Had the Shias been really cursed, they would have been self-flagellating all year round! Enough Said….
Samar : Matam simply means a state of mourning and lamentation. But most of us take it as beating ourselves And if we quote Sunni Books, its written that Hazrat Ayesha (R.A) said, at the last time of my husband Hazrat Muhammad (S.A.W.W) his head was in my lap, when he breathed hus last I was so much disturbed that I picked up grinder (a form of wood cylinder) and do matam on my head with that and do matam on my legs with my hands.. Ibn Katheer al Nasibi in al Bidayah wa al Nihayah Volume 5 page 420. Theres no truth in Shias being cursed by Ayesha.
Why are taaziyas taken out and matam done in pakistan when these practices are not common in public in yhe majority shia countries like
Samar: Tazias are common everywhere. There are juloos and Alams even in Iran, KSA or Gulf countries. Tazias are symbols. Verse 158 from Chapter Al Baqarah,
“Verily, Safa and Marwa are among the signs of Allah”Al-Qur’an, Surah 2, Ayah 248And (further) their Prophet said to them: “A Sign of His authority is that there shall come to you the Ark of the covenant, with (an assurance) therein of security from your Lord, and the relics left by the family of Moses and the family of Aaron, carried by angels. In this is a symbol for you if ye indeed have faith.”
Samar: Shia masjid/imam bargahs are never closed for anyone, shia sunni whoever be. Even women can, since its Allah’s house. No one can stop anyone from entering it.
Samar : Mut’ah is a type of Nikah until an agreed time. It can be for a day, two days, a month, one year, three years etc. It has certain condtions to be fullfilled. If they fullfill them, then theres no harm in doing it. And no to forget, theres a similar concept in Sunnism as well, often refered as Misyar marriage, which can be further elaborated.
Raza : How is muttah an “abhorrent shia tradition” when it is part of Sunna itself? The second Caliph revoked this practice (which we dispute he couldn’t do since no one can revoke a sunnat), and we, therefore, claim it still stands. It is not widespread, certainly, and is simply there for extreme situations. Remember, Islam is a DEEN of great flexibility. Muttah was never meant to be part of our daily lives, but only something that could be invoked under specific circumstances.
Shaista : Muttah was coined to support the soldiers who would be traveling long distances, away from their wives. The idea was obvious, and it allowed them to meet their desires without violating the limits set out by Allah. However, Muttah as I understand is perhaps not practiced anymore because the world as a global village hardly has any distances that cannot be borne. Muttah is also an exception for those who are not ready to support a life long relationship and it allows them timebound relation with another woman (who should not be in another active relationship/marriage)
There is some mention of a hadith by shias in which umar broke down alis door and dragged him to abubakar for his refusal to give bait causing bibi fatima a miscarriage wud u shed some light on this also?
Raza: The hadith is not only mentioned by Shias, but is also present is several works of hadtih done by Sunni scholars as well (for example, Al-Tabari). It is not fiction, and this actually did happen. What more can I say? Things weren’t as rosy as they are painted out to be in our “glorified” Muslim history. There were schisms in Islam deeper than we think. That is why I recommended you that book yesterday (After the Prophet). It is objective, and talks about this particular event happening as well. Suffice it to say, there are several things that are not brought up when talking about history, in order to present a much more peaceful and positive view of that time in early Islam, yet we see that only 10 years after the Prophet’s death, Ali (A.S) and Hazrat Ayesha (R.A) fought a battle against each other. And only 50 years after the Prophet’s death happened the great tragedy of Karbala. Does this sound like a rosy history to you?
Samar : Yes, burning people’s homes was a favourite threat from the khalifa to get people to see things their way. It didn’t work to get the Bayya when Abu Bakr and Umar burned Ali (as) and Fatima (as)’s house.
Shaista : As far as I know, this is true and has been mentioned in history books esp the ones that I have read. I do not have exact references but somebody should be able to pull out Sahih Bukhair or Tirmazi reference for the Sunni audience.
Sunnis claim shias have changed the kalima by adding ali un waliullah to it what is the purpose behind this change? Does it actually happen?
Raza : What does Kalima mean my friend? It is simply an exclamation of faith. Nowhere in Quran is written La Illaha Ill Allah Muhammad un Rasool Allah. It is simply arabic for “No God but one God, and Mohammad (PBUH) is his Messenger”. The kalima is not end-all, nor it has been claimed to be. To add one more phrase to it is not KUFR. It is simply a expression of our faith.
Shaista : The short answer to your question is that there is only one Kalima: There is no god but God, and that Mohammad is His Prophet. Citing ‘Ali un Waliullah’ is an exclamation of your allegiance to acknowledge Ali as the rightful spiritual leader of the Muslims, after Prophet Mohammad’s departure. This by no means implies that if you do not ever say it in a lifetime, you shall not be considered a Muslim, no absolutely not. However, it is important to note that this was coined at the famous incident of Ghadeer when the Prophet himself declared Ali as his ‘Wali’ post Hajj. This incident has been cited in Sahih Bukhari and other history books also. You will find some contradictions in history books (views of sunnis and shias) that Prophet Mohammad praised Ali only to ‘protect him from further criticism, esp after his departure’ and yet majority of the Muslims also believe that whatever Prophet ever said was by the Will of God. Therefore, the fact that all history books agree on Prophet stating Ali as Wali should suffice for this argument. Interpretations of why he said so become secondary in my point of view.
Samar : Kalima means any sentence that means something. Theres no single hadith that say that Kalima is fixed and cannot be changed. Or even Kalima Tayiba in quran ? Not merging up the verses but complete Kalima in just one sentence ? If innovations are Biddah, then What is As-salatu khair al-min an-Naum which was added by Umar !
I have seen some of my shia friends do sajda on a small tablet of mud from kerbala or khake shafa i think its called. Why is this done is it thought of as a medium?
Raza : Yes, its called Khaak e Shifa. We pray on Khaak e Shifa because of its FAZEELAT. Its unlike any other sand anywhere in the world. Another reason is that, our scholars have recommended to do sajdah on things that are natural (and what could be more natural than sand, and that too, sand of Karbala).
Shaista : Sajda is meant to be done on a pure surface (organic if I may say so such as leaf, piece of wood or sand). Majority of the Shia muslims use khak-e-Shifa (as sijdagah) to place their forehead on a ‘clean’ surface. This by no means implies that they are ‘worshipping’ that, or that it is used as a ‘medium to connect to Allah’. It is used only for the stated purpose, placing forehead on a clean surface.
Samar : In Ahl’ul Sunnah’s authority work Targhib wal-Tarhib, Vol 1 page 581 we read:
“The Messenger of Allah (pbuh&hf) said: Make your faces dusty, and cover your noses with dust.”
The Prophet (s) explained the reasons for prostrating on soil in the most beautiful manner.
Why is the entire shiate faith si shrouded in mystery? Or is it that the sunni ulema give it that color to make us feel like its some sort of cult?
Raza : I would argue that the entire Shia faith is made out to be so different and mysterious for our Sunni brothers, when it is not. True, there are differences among us, but there is far more common to us than we think. Too often these differences are used politically and otherwise to divide us, and the only way to defeat them is to seek out the truth yourself instead of letting others tell you what Shia do or do not believe.
Shaista : Shiaism in my humble opinion is a branch of the Muslim Ummah that show their allegiance to Mohammad’s immediate family and acknowledges them as the rightful spiritual leaders of the Muslims. It is by no means a ‘cult’. People as we understand them come in all shapes, sizes and social practices and there are extremists in every corner of this world. This should by no means undermine the true spirit of this faith, which forms part of the larger Muslim Ummah. Remembering Hussain for his great sacrifice for his grandfather’s religion is a way of ensuring that the event is not shrouded in the dark corridors of history. Because if Hussain has a progeny and followers who mourn him every year, then so does the army who stood against Hussain and his cause! Therefore, Moharram every year should serve as a reminder that Hussain’s sacrifice was for Islam, as we understand it today. Had Hussain not given up his life, along with his friends, family and especially children, our present faith would have been distorted and totally chaotic. Read Allama Iqbal’s poetry for further reinforcement!
Samar : Nothing is mystry. You just need to learn and you can just learn everything. Lack of knowledge and mistook silence can be the reasons.
Why are fiqaye jafria timings for seher and iftar different? Don’t u think we can even agree on something small like this?
Raza : It is simply a matter of interpreting hadith. Our scholars have concluded that Sehar must be stopped a good 10-12 mins earlier than actual time (for precaution). And Iftar should be opened 10-12 minutes later when it is sufficiently dark. This is not something small, and I think it still is no big deal. We’ve always had it this way.
In general, I would say the JAHAALAT and narrow-mindedness of our people has helped fuel the divide between us. Again, I would ask you to refer to Maulana Ishaq’s video about shia-sunni differences. Just because we interpret things differently does not mean we are any lesser Muslim. People should think with an open mind, and accept that this difference has been there for ages and concentrate on 90% of the things that we have in common rather than the 10% that makes us different.
Shaista : Quran does not state that Seher timings should be 4:45 a.m or that Iftar is at 5:35 p.m sharp! It provides indications that have been interpreted in different ways. Shias interpretation of Iftar after maghrib prayers come from the Quranic statement of dusk/darkness and next Ramzan you must objectively notice how much light there still is when the first call of Maghrib Azaan takes place. However I agree that this could be settled between Ullemahs but then again, for a nation that cannot agree on Eid (which is again based on the citing of the moon) how can we expect them to agree on something perhaps a bit more complicated than Eid
Samar : The time for the breaking of fast in Ramadan, and for Maghrib prayers is the same, therefore for the breaking of fast Allah Almighty says:
“Establish prayers after the decline of the sun till the darkness of the night and the morning recitation…”
Surah al-Israa, verse 78
“…the time for Maghrib prayer is when the sun is concealed from one’s vision. This concealment is meant to be in terms of going below the surface of the earth. In this case, one should wait till the darkness prevails over the horizon/sky”