x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Politics of division is disguised as religion

Muslims must reject the politicians who hide their agendas by exploiting the sectarian divide.

There is an increasingly hazardous and duplicitous game being played around the Muslim world of using religious language to promote political agendas. The peace of the ummah is collateral damage for the ambitions of these leaders, who position themselves as reasonable voices.

We - the majority that live comfortably with diversity of opinion, culture and thought - must hold them to far more rigorous account for the poison they are injecting into the Muslim world.

Malaysia positions itself as the modern moderate voice of the Muslim world. Disappointingly - since it could have led the Muslim world through an example of inclusivity - behind the scenes it is banning Shia Muslims. Their persecution in Malaysia is well-documented.

This week - despite Malaysia's constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion, as well as being a signatory to ASEAN's first human-rights declaration - a minister denied the ban would contravene human rights.

The ban comes at a time when sectarian hatred is escalating around the Muslim world. Worse, it flies in the face of a joint announcement in May between the former prime minister, Mahathir Mohammed, and the former Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami, that Sunnis and Shias should work to end sectarian violence.

Malaysia's leaders are not the only ones changing their stance. Egypt's Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi in 2004 signed the historic Amman Declaration which calls for tolerance and unity in the Muslim world. Alarmingly, he is now calling Shias "heretics" and has called for Sunnis to fight Shias.

Some argue that Syria is a sectarian war. But events in Syria do not undermine my argument, they prove it. Syria's factions fall along political lines. It is only as the conflict has progressed that it's been couched in the language of sectarianism to further the political agenda of external parties with vested interests.

The same applies to criticisms that the Iraqi government is pursuing a sectarian agenda when in fact its agenda is political. Hizbollah, too, has been accused of stoking sectarianism as a cover for its role in Syria, although it argues that its presence has been to protect the shrines from extremists.

The silence of Muslim leaders in the face of such intolerance makes them complicit. Egypt's Mohammed Morsi watched Shias get killed. Indonesia's president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised Shias whose homes had been burnt down they could return home for Eid, but has subsequently denied such a promise.

Positive steps towards entrenching Muslim harmony come instead from ordinary people. A philanthropist in Pakistan has opened a mosque specifically aimed at bringing together Sunni and Shia worshippers. The Muslim Council of Britain has launched a historic "code of honour" for relationships between Sunnis and Shias.

The irony of framing threats as Shia versus Sunni is that we are all in fact under the same shared threat from extremists, the ones that declare takfir (apostasy) against all those different to them and destroy sites of religious significance.

The Muslim majority must speak up and affirm that the historic respect between Sunnis and Shias is the Muslim world's default setting. If we do not, those using their standing for their own political agendas will rapidly lead us into a miserable hellhole, and we all will be the losers.

 

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk