Sunday, July 02, 2006

egypt and the shias

Since I'm on the Su-Shi web ring, every once in a while I feel obligated to blog on the subject every once in a while. To be honest, I don't think I've significantly deepened my thoughts about how to understand the Sunni-Shia split since the last post. I'm basically Sunni but I'm intrigued by the idea of how close to Shia Islam a Sunni can get. I occasionally recall how almost all the Sunni Sufi tariqats trace their lineage through Ali (ra) and some of the exalted titles given to Sufi Shaykhs (like Insan al-Kamil or perfect man) seem to come awfully close to the Shia concept of Imamate. So even though Abu Bakr (ra) was the valid khalifah, a Sunni could still say that a unique spiritual characteristic was transmitted through Ali (may allah enoble his face [1] [2]) and touched several of his descendants. (Some of the Shia imams also appear in the chains of Sunni tariqats).

I'm rehashing some of this, because I recently came across the following article from Al-Ahram: Egypt: Sunni but Shia inclined which discusses the role of Shia Islam to the history of Egypt.

Grenada's past:
sushi revisited: part one
sushi revisited: part two


arafat said...

interesting link! i wasn't aware that they taught jaafari jurisprudence at al-azhar.

also, i think i agree with your observations. in bangladesh, for example, popular religion invokes a lot of elements from shi'ite piety, even though in terms of 'discourse', people maintain/claim a very clear distinction in identity. consider the fact that ashura is a national holiday, and sunnis observe the day in one way or another. i'm not sure about the reasons for how this came about historically, but part of it might have to do with sufi influence (which then supports your suggestion). islam in bangladesh owes a lot to numerous sufi saints who came over to bengal throughout the middle ages, and the many venerated shrines and other sites (and the pious communities built around them) throughout the country is a remarkable phenomenon in itself.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Ashurah is kind of interesting but it doesn't simplistically support my general point. For Shias it commemorates the death of Hussain. But for Sunnis it celebrates God rescuing the Jews from Egypt and is in some ways similar to Passover and Yom Kippur wrapped in one. But then there are other hadith accounts which also associate other examples of God's mercy on that day.

Check out day after day after day... and ashurah.

arafat said...

that's true: i am aware that many sunnis observe ashura in memory of the passage. in bangladesh, however, as far as i know, people associate it mainly with the death of hussain. now that i think about it though, that may be a fairly recent development. for the last 10 years or so, for example, the bangladeshi national television has been usually broadcasting an iranian film about hussain or something related on the day of ashura.

DA said...

The Naqshbandi trace their lineage from Abu Bakr (as) instead of Ali (as), BUT then trace it through Jaffar As-Saddiq, 7th imam of Shia Islam. I am a sunni, but I think all Sunnis should honor Al-Hussein's (as) Jihad against the pretender Yazid.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Yes. One of the other interesting things about silsilas (the lineages of the Sufi orders) is that they are allowed to branch... it doesn't have to be a mutually exclusive issue that leads to a fight.

Also, I've read/heard that the Zaydis are Shia but have a more moderate attitude about these issues. I wish I could find out more about them. They say Ali (ra) was the first imam but I think they aren't as harsh on others as to Abu Bakr (ra) and Umar (ra) etc. Like they say that Muhammad (saaws) designated Ali but it wasn't so clear so they don't blame the Muslims for passing him over.

L said...


May Allah bless you for your efforts with your blog.

I somehow stumbled upon your website and thought I might share some thoughts.

I was born sunni, and even had a very negative view of shiaism for some time. I was exposed to the zaydiya school and have had the opportunity to study with leading scholars and continue to learn more.

The zaydiya are shias in that they belive the Ahl Bayt are an inseparable part of Islam based upon the many hadiths of Rasul (s), however differ from jafari (12vrs) in the following key ways:
1. Immamate:
a. Imams are not infallible, the Zaydi concept of Imam is basically same as the sunni concept of khalifa. They are leaders who are selected/elected but can make mistakes like anyone else. Ideally they are the most qualified.
b. There is no specific number of Imams. Like khalifas they will continue.
c. there can be more than one imam at a time. So you can have an imam in yemen and simultaneously another somewhere else.
d. Imams must be from the Ahl Bayt, i.e. descendants from Imam Hasan or Imam Husain. Keep in mind that traditional sunni islam required khalifa's be decedents of the quraish (read ahkam al-sultani, this used to be 'ijma-ah among all sunni madhabs, but for some reason has been lost).
2. Fiqh
a. Muta: zaydi ulema do not consider muta (temporary marriage) halal.
b. Matem: zaydi ulema do not allow self-flagellation to remember the greatest tragedy in humanity, the martydom of Imam Hussain (a)
3. Sahaba: Zaydis do not consider all sahaba's as deviant, nor do they curse them, this includes Abu Bakr and Umar. Though they do consider Imam Ali (a) as the rightful first khalif/imam. How do they square this? Well, there is diff of opinion, but basically even the Nahj Al Balagha Imam Ali states that it was a mistake they made, but did not put them out of islam (of coure even Umar admitted in a sahih narration that the way Abu Bakr was elected was a 'falta', a disaster, and if someone gets elected like that again they should be killed).

I can fully understand and appreciate how someone raised sunni would never become shia (muta, immamate, views on sahaba etc.), and how a shia would never accept becoming a sunni (feel as though giving up on ahl bayt, etc.). I believe zaydia to be the true middle ground between the two, and many will be surprised to know how rich the scholarship is in the zaydi tradition, as well as historically important it has been.

It has only been recently that they have fallen into relative obscurity, but then again, as the prophet (s) said...Islam arrived as a stranger, and will return as a stranger, so good tidings to the stranger (ghuraba)!.

Many cast the shia/sunni discussion as an intractable debate, but I believe there is an answer, as Imam Ali (a) has stated so eloquently 'There is enough light for those who want to see'...

May Allah guide us all to the haqq, and make our loyalties not to a madhab/shaykh/ideology/etc, but only to He that created us, and Whom we place all our hopes in...

Fee aman Allah,
Loyal to Haqq...
any follow up feel free to email me...