The split in faith, in all major religions is somehow appreciated as it signifies the democratic nature of faith, giving many options for followers, but at the same time, these splits in the form of sects become the catalysts of violence, hatred, discrimination and unrest.
Speaking of Islamic faith, while the religion itself emphasizes strongly on unity and detests chaos and unrest strongly, such evils are now seen to symbolize this faith. To tell you about the roots of this split, I would like to start by sharing about how naïve I was about my faith, when we were kids. My friends, my siblings and I were strongly forbidden by our parents not to watch TV during days of Muharram, because according to the common perception, something Un-islamic used to be telecasted during the ten days of Muharram. While watching TV during one Muharram, I came to know it was mainly the stories, lectures, and awareness programs about the tragic martyrdom of the Prophet and his beloved family, leaving me to wonder why Muslims families would not allow their children to learn about something so important of their faith.
When I was in university, I became friends with a Shia girl. She was supposed to be an “infidel” and was called apostate, and was mocked by many people. Being inspired by her good morals, my interest was developed to learn about the scattered sects of Islamic faith, specifically, Shiaism. Before I knew about it, I was mentally not ready to accept that it existed. To me, it seemed that if there is no proper demarcation, there isn’t any at all, because Islam was introduced by Prophet Muhammad and he was not Shia, Sunni, Ahmadi, Ismaili, Salafi, Wahabi or Kurdi! He was simply Muslim. But over this last decade, the strong wave of sectarian violence, brutal target killings, attacking scholars and followers of same beliefs but different sects made me think that there is something more powerful among the sects of the same faith, enough that there is a strong bone of contention, which needs to be found out and dug out to know more about the roots of this brutal conduct.
Finding answers in books always leads to confusion. Books by Muslim historians are exaggerated out of respect and attachment to the extent that it gives the feeling of being a myth rather than fact. Hence, myths and legends cannot be applied to real life challenges and solutions. There should be a gap. Therefore, they cannot play role models for real people. While doing a comparative study, one comes across the challenge of one faith trying to overly purify itself while trying to prove the other fake, and the same with the other.
I read this book by an American-English Author, a female journalist. When I shared about the significance this book had for me with my friends, I was told, do not learn about your faith from foreigners, they will spoil your belief. While constantly questioning, judging and monitoring my faith, I read the book, sticking fast to the belief which I had developed that a foreigner is a better observer than the native and habitual one, having the long habit of living, one’s mind stop stimulating about the events, an flow of incidents taking place in connection, a foreigner has no sentimental attachment, therefore they can stick to the facts. Most of the time, they can remain neutral. I had to read the book, I had to learn what others had to say about us, and I needed to learn why this faith is being faded with symbols of violence.
What I observed is that it started with racism, the first evil. Thus, the two cities Mecca and Medina, were seen as the paternal and maternal cities of Prophet Muhammad. People of Mecca were opulent and rich businessmen, least concerned with faith - and the anticipated traders of idols. The business of God was at its peak.
When the faith of Islam was first introduced to the people of Mecca, they popularly denied it. They were self-ruled businessmen, enjoying life with women, wine and transacting loans on interests. The instruction of this new faith was devastating to their economy. Wine and interest became haram, forbidden. Idol worshiping was denied, and was replaced with worshiping the invisible god. The rejection of women led to their being treated as commodities. This was like choking the elite, worshipping an invisible god meant no sacrifices, no symbols, no offerings, no buying and selling of gold and precious stones. All of these, were the teachings of this new faith.
The final decision was made to kill the Prophet for he was seen as the violator and cause of unrest to a culture that was centuries old. Hence, the prophet migrated to Medina, with his friends and family who later joined him. He and his companions were warmly welcomed, hosted, and supported. It was told that they were the best companions and they set the best example of brotherhood, giving Islam its foundation. Medina became the center where Islamic faith flourished and became so strong that they knocked the doors of Mecca, and the people of Mecca embraced Islam without a fight. Those who showed strong opposition tried many times to kill the Prophet - they imprisoned and humiliated him. But they were given forgiveness.
While the Prophet, throughout his life, strongly emphasized on unity of faith till his last sermon, he left no hereditary ruler for the transfer of power. The members of society met and came up with a consensus to select their leader, which was based on merit, irrespective of bloodline, opulence or mightiness, there was no role of the race obviously.
But the tug of war started with the death of the Prophet, people of Mecca wanted the leadership and political influence for themselves as they thought highly of themselves. They believed that the Prophet was born among them, and also because the Kaaba was in Mecca - the sacred mosque, while the family of the Prophet was in Medina. The foundation and stronghold of Islam was in Medina. They were supposing themselves as the rightful heirs of political influence after the Prophet as the meeting of Shurra, or the public gathering to select their leader was still working well. Racism and want for power was also developing.
With time, Muslims won conquest after the conquest, making the center more powerful in terms of wealth and power, giving rise to integration and corruption. The supremacy of race and the claim of the rightful heir of the Prophet was running in the background. It came to the forefront, by embezzling, the Shurra and society which was supposed to be electing the leadership with money and power, the criteria of leadership was changed from more talented one to more brutal and powerful.
While validating every act evil or pious with Quranic teachings, as faith was in the blood of people, they were confused. They bought scholars, historians, military men and indulging them in state affairs – they were once the enemies of this faith. It gave rise to civil unrest, conspiracies and the budding of different self-righteous groups. All of this started early after the Prophet, and the family of the Prophet was martyred with the claim that they were infidels and apostate.
Opulence, luxury, dictatorship and over-controlling society became the norm to run a state, in order to make people think less. They were dragged into different executions. They were kept less aware of the knowledge and the state affairs, in order to get more influence over people, more and more disintegration was introduced, giving rise to self-proclaimed self-righteous groups which emerged into extremist groups. Specifically targeting gender, women became a commodity again, they were traded for settling conflicts, as per the Prophet’s saying, burying daughters alive was sin. But the tradition was twisted into not to bury them underground but keep them as if they were living, but were dead actually! This book is a perfect evaluation of the trajectory, and has been written with a very sound sense of analysis.