Eid al-Fitr has brought all Muslims together and, at the same time, we witness continuation of Sunni-Shiite-Alawite sectarian strife. Today, cultural and sectarian conflict in modern Islam is at the peak, which was fueled by political conflicts that were spread over a vast geographical area.
When two Shiite leaders in Lebanon — Hani Fahs and Mohammed Hasan al-Amin — declared their stand against Bashar Assad’s regime, it was a courageous move in the midst of Sunni-Shiite divide over developments in Syria. In Iraq too, a number of religious and cultural figures have warned against the return of sectarian strife after the assassination of three key Sunni leaders. Far from the Arab region, killing of 20 Shiites in Pakistan shook the community there and many Sunnis have called for the arrest of the killers and punishment for the instigators of such acts that fan sectarianism.
The most important step in this context was the announcement by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah at the recently concluded Islamic Solidarity Summit in Mecca wherein the king called for a center of dialogue in order to prevent sectarian sedition that has plagued the Muslim world. For ending the scourge of sectarianism, views differ between those who want to criminalize sectarian talk and those calling for a culture of co-existence. However, voices publicly supporting sectarian sentiments and considering it jihad for their religious convictions still remain strong.
Most of the disagreements between Sunnis and Shiites started with political debate got down to religion and history and has now become sectarian conflict. It reflects a state of tension and political rivalry, which ends with proselytizing followers as has been the case in the Gulf region, which was never experienced before. In Kuwait, like many other cases, the sectarian debate is part of a dangerous game. One of the deputies said, “I have credible information that parties linked to sectarian reserve army in Kuwait are buying weapons from the black market in preparation for zero hour.” Whether what has been disclosed is true or not, dealing with armament is dangerous and goes beyond all limits of political debate that should exist between deputies.
The first step in the fight against sectarianism should be that all activists working in the arena of politics and media should be convinced that sectarianism poses the biggest threat to the fabric of the community as well as the state. The ongoing fighting in Syria should not be categorized as a fight by Sunnis against the Alawites — the sect of President Bashar Assad. Many Sunnis have collaborated and closely worked with the Syrian regime, fought at its side and shared its heinous sins for a couple of decades. It is a regime that has always represented itself and had been keen to divert the revolution into a sectarian war, a plan it announced a year ago. War against sectarianism is primarily a cultural effort. Therefore, Saudi Arabia has called for the establishment of a center for dialogue to assess the problem, which will, hopefully, bring the situation back to its earlier position. In most parts of Islamic history, Muslims lived with sectarian differences and many of them co-existed and respected others. Debate advocates may say that we are in a period that warrants criminalizing sectarian incitement, because it is the cause of killings, sabotage and destruction of countries. The danger of sectarianism in not less than the danger of terrorism, which manipulated religion to justify its acts.
Extremist ideology never subdued and was fought by the community only after all members had become convinced that it poses danger that should be eliminated by culture and arms.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. The article was published online in Arab News on August 21.