Sunni-Shiite Violence Soars in Pakistan

Shiites torch a procession mourning deaths of Prophet Mohammad’s grandchildren. Photo by Naveed Ahmad. Via RNS.

Qadeer Abbasi is recovering from a broken arm in his two-room shanty home not far from the capital, Islamabad.

On Nov. 15, Abbasi, 34, offered noontime Friday prayers at Madrassa Taleem ul Quran when the seminary was attacked by a procession of Shiite mourners. Besides the Sunni madrassa, the Shiites also struck 100 shops, four private banks, and scores of cars.

In less than an hour, 12 people were killed and intense gunfire prevented humanitarian services from ferrying the injured to hospitals.

Commentary: Don’t Surrender Islam to the Islamists

Gobierno de Chile, Wikimedia Commons

Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Gobierno de Chile, Wikimedia Commons

“The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”  

This was the Islamist poem quoted by the mayor of Istanbul, Turkey, in December 1997. Charged with using inflammatory speech, he was ejected from office and sentenced to jail by the Ankara High Court.

Today, that mayor, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is prime minister of Turkey. During a decade in office, he has slowly but inexorably pushed secular Turkey, a member of NATO, toward an unabashedly Islamist future.

As a Muslim, I refuse to give up Islam to the Islamists. So should others who believe in a deeply pluralistic Islam of the sort my Indian-born grandparents taught. It is the only path to peaceful resolution of inevitable religious differences, within Islam and with other faiths.

Yet today pluralist manifestations of Islam are contracting. Never before has there been a time when Islam has been more threatened from within. That threat today is twofold: ideological and sectarian.

Syrian Civil War Forces Sunni and Shiite Muslims to Pick Sides

Photo courtesy FreedomHouse via Flickr

Syria independence flag flies over a large pathering of protesters in Idlib. Photo courtesy FreedomHouse via Flickr

The Syrian civil war is increasingly drawing in nations across the Middle East, a regionwide conflict that threatens to pit world powers against each other and Muslim against Muslim.

On Wednesday, the United Nations Human Rights Council pushed through a resolution to investigate the abuses of the Syrian regime, over the objections of the regime’s ally Russia, who insisted the West was making matters worse.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry continued his travels in the region, trying to get all parties to agree to a peace conference in Geneva in the next few weeks. But councils representing the Syrian rebels again refused to join, demanding that representatives of Bashar Assad’s regime be banned.

In a war that is now clearly pitting the two main branches of the Islam — Sunni and Shiite Muslims — against one another, the dithering and differences between world powers is bringing about a desperate situation, according to experts.

Shiite Muslims Quietly Establish a Foothold in U.S.

4634093993 / Shutterstock

Muslim men singing a lament. 4634093993 / Shutterstock

The variation in the proper way to pray is one among several differences that exist between Shiites, who make up about 15 percent of Muslims globally and in America, and the majority of Sunnis. Until recently, those differences mattered little in the United States, where the two groups bonded as Muslim minorities and prayed in the same mosques. 

"There weren't enough of either to justify the cost of building sectarian mosques, and because in general, early generation immigrants were less focused on establishing formal houses of worship," said Andrea Stanton, a religious studies professor at the University of Denver.

That is changing, however, as American Shiites are increasingly establishing their own mosques. According to "The American Mosque 2011," a survey sponsored by several Muslim American organizations, 7 percent of roughly 2,100 mosques in America are Shiite, and most have been built in the last 20 years.  

One reason: Shiites have become numerous and financially strong enough to manage the expensive process of buying or building their own mosques. Another factor: the growth in Shiite populations as immigrants flee persecution in Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, where Taliban gunmen recently executed at least 22 Shiite bus passengers.

Report Highlights Islam’s Global Diversity

RNS photo by Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian

Portland's largest mosque, the Islamic Center of Portland, draws diverse Muslims. RNS photo by Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian

Nearly all Muslims can agree on the basic beliefs of Islam: There is one God, Muhammad is God’s prophet, Muslims should fast during the holy month of Ramadan, and give alms to the poor.

Yet beyond these central pillars of the faith, Muslims worldwide vastly differ as religious convictions are shaped by cultural and social contexts, according to a new report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity” draws on 38,000 face-to-face interviews in 39 countries, and finds that Muslims differ sharply over questions of faith like who counts as a Muslim and what spiritual practices are acceptable.

With 1.6 billion adherents, Islam is the world’s second-largest religion, behind Christianity, and accounts for one-quarter of the world’s population.