One of my life-long dreams came true at the Sunni-Shia Unity Conference to launch efforts to promote Intra-Faith dialogue on December 15, when a group of dedicated local Muslims came together at a local Islamic center in San Jose, CA under the auspices of the Intra-Faith Committee of Northern California Islamic Council.
The conference was a result of months of background work by the committee I was fortunate to lead. We have one goal- to bring Muslims from all sects together despite our differences. We realize we will not solve 1400 years worth of differences, but we also appreciate the common bonds we share: One God, the love for Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an. We realize we have much more in common than differences.
We are also fully cognizant of our divisions and differences, and that we can not pretend that there are no issues between us. Having said that we felt we needed to first highlight our common bonds and why we need to act as one Umma.
There are theological and social reasons to act as one Umma.
Growing up, I was the only Shia student in my group of very closely-knit group of friends of 7-8 in my medical school years. We studied together, ate together, watched movies together and went out together. We did everything together- except when it came time for Juma prayers, or Ramadan and Muharram!
We felt a certain divide between us during those times. We went our own ways to pray Juma salat and broke our fast during Ramadan at separate times. Muharram was altogether a different story. For the whole month, I would be attending the religious programs to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his family. For the whole month, we would not talk much about our activities as if we lived in different worlds. I could never understand it then, and I still don’t understand it now. You see we did all the secular and “Shaitani stuff” together. But the very thing that unites us- our faith, is when we felt so divided!
As I grew closer to religion in the past 25 years or so, I still struggle with the thoughts of observing our religious rituals and practices separately. There are religious and social inspirations to be united. These two verses from the Qur’an send a strong message to us.
And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favor on you; for you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, you became brethren… 3:103
And be not like those who became divided and disagreed after clear arguments had come to them. For such there is an awful doom. 3:105
We further drive the inspirations for our work towards reconciliation as ordained by the following verse, and supported by the hadith:
The Believers are but a single Brotherhood: So make peace and reconciliation between your two (contending) brothers; and fear Allah, that you may receive Mercy. 49:10
Anyone who goes to make peace between two persons, the angels of Allah send blessings upon him until he returns and he will be given the reward of the Night of Destiny. Hadith of prophet Muhammad
Our group has very simple objectives:
- To promote peace, harmony and brotherhood between various Muslims sects, in particular the Sunni and Shia Muslims, by highlighting our common heritage and our common bonds.
- To work towards institutionalizing dialogue that is sustainable and relevant to Muslims in the Bay Area in particular and North America in general.
- To counter Islamophobia as one Umma.
We pledged to:
- Commit to promote a culture of brotherhood and sisterhood as One Umma. Resist the forces that may work to divide us.
- Commit to a culture of open-mindedness and honesty.
- Commit to a culture of respect for each other, while avoiding insulting each other. When we do disagree, we will do so respectfully and in a civil manner.
- Commit to a culture of avoiding insulting the revered figures of all Muslims.
- Commit to follow the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad PBUH: “None of you has faith until he loves for his brother or his neighbor what he loves for himself.”
- Commit to a culture of non-violence and respect for life.