By Shabista Naz
01 November 2014
Barely a few months back, the Sunni Muslim world, particularly Saudi Arabia, was going hammer and tongs against US-led coalition’s imminent war on Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terming it a pro-Shia intervention since only Iraq then was at the receiving end of ruthless Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s mercenaries.
As ISIS cast its net wide threatening even Turkey, which is slowly shedding its image as a “secular” Muslim country, the scene is fast changing in West Asia. However, going by the instances of Sunni countries brazenly overlooking ISIS means of terror to preach majority Shias “true” Islam, new seeds of sectarian schism have been sown. Hordes for Muslims from around the world, including the West, are either making a beeline for ISIS cadre ship or are emotionally supporting the “religious” cause.
Seen in this context, it is interesting to note where Indian Muslims stand. Is there any impact the “Islamic Caliphate” will have on Shia-Sunni brotherhood?
The sectarian schism in Islam is not new. It had started soon after the death of Prophet Muhammad over his legacy and succession. The main points of rift between Shias and Sunnis are their religious beliefs, norms and jurisprudence. Sunnis believe in Ijmah (community consensus) of the companions, while Shias believe in primacy of succession through Ahl al-Bait. The former resulted in the institution of Caliphate (Khilafat), the latter in the evolution of Imamat and Wilayat. The feud has continued even as the two institutions have ceased to have relevance in the contemporary world.
However, with the birth of ISIS and its proclaimed Caliphate, Sunnis’ belief of Ijmah has revived. But the brutal and barbaric tactics of ISIS have failed to unite Shias and Sunnis. The contemporary schism is not related to religious dominance, but is the end result of conflicting political, economic and geostrategic factors. Ray Takeyh, author of Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic, claims that the escalating enmity between Sunni and Shia sects “has to do with political power.”
Here, an important point to note is that fight for political dominance among the two sects in India is illusive because of multiple reasons. Unlike Pakistan — a nation created solely for Muslims but which has developed various sectarian fault lines — where Shias are mostly massacred by Sunni extremists and Sunni mosques are bombed by Shia fanatics, India is less likely to see the ugly head of fundamentalism of that scale.
First, the roots of democracy in India are so deep that there is no possibility of choosing violent means to achieve political dominance.
Second, Muslims are in minority in India, so there is a strong cohesion among the two warring sects in front of the majority Hindus.
Third, the idea of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, though having its genesis in ancient Hinduism, is not exclusive to a particular religion but has been in the DNA of all those born and brought up on Indian soil. The unique diversity of this country, which embraces everyone in its fold, is its real strength.
Indian Sunnis taking part in the procession of Muharram along with their Shia brethren is a common sight in India, but an incredible truth to the “rest”. Moreover, when the Sunni world was bewildered at the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, both Sunnis and Shias of India celebrated the development.
Fourth, Sufism, though a Shia culture, has had followers among Indian Sunnis as well. Even the Barelvis of the Sunni sect are diehard followers of Sufi culture. This exceptional example is nowhere to be seen in the Muslim world.
No matter whether there were ISIS flags in some Kashmiri hands during a recent protest or some Indian youngster’s evanescent idiocy to join ISIS, Indian Muslims will never become cannon fodder for the bestial goons of ISIS.
Shabista Naz is a research scholar having special interest in West Asian political and cultural affairs