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The chains of sects and the war on society

Honest stories circulated by our parents and grandparents prove that sectarianism did not exist in societies before Iran’s revolution

Turki Aldakhil

Published: Updated:

Honest stories circulated by our parents and grandparents prove that sectarianism did not exist in societies before Iran’s revolution. Sectarian terms were not circulated, and trade contracts and marriages between Sunnis and Shiites were very common in Al-Ahsa, Qatif and Saihat.

This social blending was genuine, and did not submit to an academic vision or to implementation of a theory as part of the social contract. It was the people’s ordinary and spontaneous approach, which was not disturbed by personal trends or political orientations.

Sects remained harmonious and tolerant until Iran’s revolution, after which the revival and awakening (sahwa) phenomenon among Sunnis began to emerge and made use of the revolutionary circumstances at the time. They began to tear societies apart, and statements between Sunnis and Shiites were characterized by an elimination approach as they exchanged insults and accusations.

Belonging to a sect thus transformed from having jurisprudential principles that may differ from others, to political sectarianism that increases hostility among sects. Ruhollah Khomeini, who led Iran’s revolution, said at its beginning that sects’ political affiliation is more important than ideological affiliation.

Late Saudi King Abdulaziz said there were 30,000 Shiites in Al-Ahsa, all of them respected, and although he sometimes urged them to decrease protests and celebrations, he did not interfere. Following the revolutionary phase, sectarian ideology became political, not religious.

This is the real problem, because slogans became more important than prayers, and chanting for a leader became better than chanting in the name of God. The preacher’s role expanded, and he became the absolute ruler who seeks the loyalty of those who belong to the same sect worldwide.

People in Saudi Arabia enjoy the same rights regardless of sect, while in Iran Sunnis cannot practice their rituals in a certain mosque according to their jurisprudential beliefs

Turki Aldakhil

Bitter harvest

It has been three decades since Iran’s revolution, and the country is reaping the bitterness of sectarianism. The other’s image between both parties has been inflated, and enmity reached its peak via civil wars between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Incitement in societies led to fighting and bloodshed.

They are fighting ‘others’ due to the imagination they have of them, although the image as drawn via religious sermons and delivered via religious podiums is an illusion. This reminds us of the threat of forming an idea about others. French philosopher Tzvetan Todorov said man’s existence lies in deep communication, that to exist means to communicate. “Life is dialogical by its very nature. To live means to engage in dialogue,” he wrote.

The entire theory of social contract throughout the phases of its development discussed the relation of man with others, and addressed planning activity among them in public life. Amid the presence of sectarianism, it is impossible to draw a social contract because oppression will be the alternative.

There is a huge difference between the humanitarian and social dimension in Saudi Arabia and Iran. People in Saudi Arabia enjoy the same rights regardless of sect, while in Iran Sunnis cannot practice their rituals in a certain mosque according to their jurisprudential beliefs.

This is how sectarianism plays a role in cancelling the existence of the other. This is not due to one’s jurisprudential choice, but to the dangerous problem of linking sect to political loyalty to a certain regime. The chains of hating the other are heavy. “Oh how happy are those who get rid of the chains controlling their lives,” said Jalal Eddine Roumi, 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian and Sufi mystic.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Sept. 27, 2016.
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Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.