Friday, November 9, 2007

Interfaith v. Intrafaith?

I participated in a Muslim public service-oriented program this summer and the issue of Sunni versus Shia dialogue (the two major sects of Islam) surfaced and re-surfaced multiple times. Months after the program has finished, I find myself still mulling it over -- it seemed, for all the "We all believe in the same God" discussions we had been having in our respective communities with regards to our Christian and Jewish brothers and sisters, very few people were actually engaged with the realities of religious diversity within Islam.

This topic, in light of the seeming non-stop sectarian violence in Iraq and even incidents of sectarian tension in the United States, has brought about many positive changes of course (to name a few: the Los Angeles-developed Muslim Intrafaith Code of Honor and the more international Amman message) but I am still often frustrated by how dispersed these efforts seem. Does the oft-repeated Quranic verse, below, not apply to differences of opinion within the faith as well?
"O Mankind, We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you" (Quran 49:13)
A quick Google search reveals different, yet similar issues within the Jewish faith tradition, especially with regard to intrafaith marriages (which, unfortunately, are not at all as common in the Muslim community); I am intrigued. What is it about intrafaith work that makes it so much more difficult to do than interfaith work? Do we approach our conversations with people outside of our faith, be they Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, etc, with more of a willingness to listen and less of an attempt to proselytize or convert or persuade than we do in those conversations with people who carry the same religious label as we do? Does it bother us to think that there are others practicing our faith differently than we do?


Khalil said...

In your comment you mention interfaith violence in Iraq between Sunni and Shia. But if you actually look at the violence in Iraq you will see that most the fighting is actually between Shias of various political parties (Dawa vs. Mahdi vs. SCIR) and Sunnis of various ethnicities (Arab vs. Kurd). Some fighting is indeed between Sunni and Shia, but it is political in origin, in the sense that it is between groups supported by the occupation and groups banned by the occupation.

This is political fighting, not religious fighting, regardless of the media says. There hasn't been a war between Shia and Sunni in Iraq for many centuries.

JAM-uslim said...

no but kahlil- altaf makes a very good point and at times it seems that while Muslims have difficulty talking with those of other faiths, they have an equal amount with those of their own faiths.
I feel strongly that this is simply a byproduct of our culture and ethnic background. It seems that Sunnis are exposed to Sunnis and Shiites to other Shiites. And with this self-segregation, you have all the elements necessary for disharmony and ill-will.
When can we live in a world where when a Sunni meets a Shiite and instead of saying I am Sunni or I am Shiite, they both say: I am Muslim

Khalil said...

I'm all for religious, ethnic, harmony, etc. And I realize that this blog is about interfaith relations, not about politics. But when Sunni-Shia tension are discussed in today's world, it is hard to ignore the one million Iraqis killed since 2003, whose death is blamed on such tension.

Intrafaith tension is alive and well in all religions. But this particular intrafaih tension between Shia and Sunnis is being blamed for quite a bit of what is wrong in the world today, and that cannot be ignored in any discussion of this tension. Even if the discourse context is delimited by saying that only religious relations, not politics, are to be discussed, political interpretation will be applied bevause of the events going on today.

The point of my earlier post was that the current fighting is *not* religious in nature, citing as evidence the fact that most of the actual fighting is among three Shia groups (Dawa, SCIR, Mahdi) and 3 Sunni groups (Iraq Arab Sunnis, Sunni Kurds, foreign Sunni fighters), not between Shias and Sunnis. And the fact that there has not been a war between Sunnis and Shia in many centuries.

U.S. occupation is the real cause of the fighting in Iraq, as English occupation has been the cause of hundreds of years of fighting in Ireland. And the occupation is the main source of the myth that the fighting is religious in nature.

I do not doubt that this is all common knowledge amongst us all, but since there is a real world context to this discussion on intrafaith tension in Islam, the real political causes behind it need to be mentioned even in a discussion of religion.

Omayma Abdel-Latif has an excellent article in Al-Ahram Weekly from earlier this year titled "The Shia-Sunni divide: myths and reality" that exposes the myths quite well:

Anonymous said...

The Sunni/Shia tension in Iraq might not be the most central factor in the fighting but it IS a factor, albeit however small. If not in the ground fighting, the Sunni/Shia schism is at least definitely played out in the politics in Iraq/the parliament. In any case, I don't think the point of this post was to go into politics. Because really, the point remains whether or not these Sunni/Shia tensions are real OR perceived. Consequently, I'd be curious to see what people think about the main issue here though with regards to intrafaith v. interfaith efforts. -M

JAMmaster J said...

Intrafaith dialogue is a really under-appreciated necessity right now. It certainly needs to take in the Jewish community. More and more people are starting to say that the secular-religious divide in Israel is even greater than the Jewish-Arab divide.

I think that what makes it so hard is that we often hear about "respecting others and their differences," but within our own people we have a certain image of who we are, and any deviation from that image is thus threatening to one's personal sense of identity. We also, of course, are less afraid to voice our emotions to those of the same identity.

JAM-uslim said...

It also seems we focus so much on showcasing those things that make us distinct and unique from other faiths that we cannot accept that another "sect" that claims the same name as our own faith, too is so distinct and unique from us. It seems that we almost wish Judaism or Islam was only restricted to our beliefs, that Islam was only for Sunni's and Shiites had a seperate religion or in Judaism, Orthodox was the only true Judaism and the rest are heresies.
Altaf, to respond to one of your questions, this seems to be somewhat of an answer.
I feel we should stop playing the role of God in criticizing and looking down not only on those of other faiths be they Jews, Christians, or Muslim, but more importantly, on those within our own faiths.