Religious Pride and Prejudice
And, indeed We have sent Messengers before you (O Muhammad(P)); of some of them We have related to you their story and of some We have not related to you their story, and it was not given to any Messenger that he should bring a sign except by the Leave of Allah. So, when comes the Commandment of Allah, the matter will be decided with truth, and the followers of falsehood will then be lost. (Qur'ân 40:78)
Without fail, if I tell people that I am half-Iranian and half-Pakistani, I get this question:
"Oh, so are you Shia or Sunni?"
And this is my question right back at them: does it really matter?
Apparently to some Muslims, it does, and to a point where non-Sunni Muslims are discriminated against. And not just discriminated behind their backs, but to their face when they're told that they're not "real" Muslims. Did you know that there is a verse in the Quran telling us that this is none of our business?
Surely they who divided their religion into parts and became sects, you have no concern with them; their affair is only with Allah, then He will inform them of what they did. (Quran 6: 159)
If you don't believe that this discrimination happens, let's take a closer look at the city of Calgary. While it's true that Sunni Muslims comprise the majority of Muslims in the city (or is it?), there are other communities that are substantial in number. These include the Ismaili community (a diverse and rich population from over 25 countries!), the Ahmaddiya community, and the overall Shia community (mostly found in Iran and surrounding areas). So while we are all one Ummah, in reality we tend to not recognize that we are. Oh, apart from Eid that is, when the Sunni community for example invites Mayor Naheed Nenshi (of the Ismaili sect) to speak at the large prayer held downtown. But other than that, we pretty much live in isolation of each other on a day to day basis.
And then the first glance at the Ahmaddiya community's website for Calgary (www.ahmaddiya.ca) tells you about an interfaith dialogue event in March. Their slogan is "Love for all, Hatred for none". How the heck can anyone dispute that?! Their consistent efforts at interfaith dialogue in the city and around the world is admirable. And did you know that like Sunni Muslims, Ahmadiyya's perform prayer five times a day and follow the same timings? There's so much that many Sunni Muslims don't know about Ahmadiyya's, yet we are so quick to judge based on the fact that they have their "own" mosque and because their cultural diversity is different.
I don't want to go on and on with more examples, but if Muslims truly believe in One Ummah, we need to start working together. Our outreach and impact would not only be much more powerful, but our weaknesses would be bridged and our strengths made even stronger. I'm not sure if it's out of ignorance that people don't reach other to intrafaith groups, or out of fear, or perhaps a combination of both? I don't think there's ever been an event where all Muslim sects have stood together and said loudly "we are all Muslim and we are here for our city and community".
Whether or not the Sunni community is ready to move forward, I know I am. If you've read other entries, you'll know I've attended events and lectures at Mormon and Lutheran Churches. There's a "Common Ground Project" being sponsored by the government of Canada that brings together interfaith and multicultural youth in a project aimed at social entrepreneurship. And I at least know that the Western Muslim Initiative is reaching out to the Jewish Community of Calgary, among others, to bridge a gap that has long existed.
So really, it doesn't take a lot of work on everyone's part to be a little more accepting of other intra- and inter- faiths. An open heart and mind, a sense of curiosity and respect, and erasing suspicious thoughts that someone is trying to get into your head are important. It's astounding that we are thirsty for knowledge in so many areas yet we rarely take time to explore diversity within our faith and others.
And yes, you're darn right that this is a call to action!