The Islamic revolutions in the Arab world, known as the Arab Spring (or Islamic Winter), deepened furthermore the split between Shia and Sunnis, the two major and rival denominations of Islam.
In Syria, the prolonged bloody conflict between the Assad Alawite regime, supported by Shiite Iran and Hezbollah, on one side and the Sunni majority of Syria, backed by Sunni states lead by Saudi Arabia, on the other side has claimed the lives of more than 110,000 people and counting.
Its shock waves are being felt well beyond the Syrian borders, especially in Iraq, which suffers from a new cycle of violence between Sunnis and Shiites that left thousands dead in countless terrorist attacks since January 2013. Clashes, sometimes deadly, between Sunnis and Shiites were also recorded in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt.
Two incidents that occurred last year in Montreal indicated that Canada is not immune to Islamic sectarian violence. In March 2012 a 17-year-old man was stabbed by pro-Assad operatives after attending a demonstration in support of the rebels. Seven months later the Syrian Canadian Council reported that a Montreal businessman who helped the rebels was shot in his shoulder in an attempted assassination.
The Canadian Muslim leadership tried to sweep the sectarian conflict under rug inter alia by blaming Israel of standing behind the “plot” to divide the Muslim world for its own interest. That was one of the main messages of the pro-Iran and pro-Assad Quds Day rally that was held in Toronto on August 3, 2013.
“Zionism on the other hand preaches corruption and oppression and tyranny and bloodshed around the world. All the insurgencies you see in Syria they are blaming it on us,” said a young speaker reading his written speech on behalf of the organizers. “The Zionists thugs you see over there, they are the representation of all these problems and ‘fitans’ [cases of disunity] in the world. They are behind the insurgencies.”
The mounting sectarian tension has recently prompted the Sunni and Shiite leadership of North America to initiate a meeting to discuss the implications of the escalating conflict in the Middle East and ways to prevent its spill-over to the U.S.A. and Canada.
Sayed Muhammad Rizvi, the Imam of the Islamic Shia Ithna Asheri Jamaat of Toronto, revealed in his September 6, 2013, Friday sermon some details on the understandings reached in this meeting, which also shows the grave concerns of potential violence between the groups.
Here is an excerpt of Rizvi’s sermon:
“During the weekend, on Sunday of the last week [September 1, 2013], we witnessed an historical step taken by some Shiite scholars and some prominent Sunni leaders in Washington, where they were having their own convention, and the Council of Shia scholars were having their own convention and annual meeting in the suburbs of Washington, where the two groups were able to come to terms and agreement on condemning sectarian violence, which can be seen almost everywhere in the Muslim world and that also led to formation of a committee consisting of three Shia scholars and three Sunni scholars, who will be in touch with one another when common issues come up.”
“So, it’s not just a onetime declaration signed by both groups, rather it is an ongoing committee which has been formed and God Willing that will help at least to take away the silence that we see from the leadership of both sides.”
“At least it is not visible, it is not loud enough for the communities to know that when it comes to sectarian violence it is not acceptable. We have differences and we cannot deny that. We will not be sitting there to talk about it if we were all the same.”
“We talk about interfaith dialogue and discussions all the time, we promote it. Why not intrafaith within. We go out of our way to have dialogue with the People of the Book [Christians and Jews], why not to have dialogue with the People of the Koran [Muslims].”
“In spite of the differences in matters of faith and the way we do things, we can maintain our identity, our faith, our ways of doing things and we can also disagree on many issues, but we can do that politely and wisely without using abusive language and labeling one another as an apostate.”
The above mentioned declaration is unlikely to change Shaykh Faisal Abdur-Razak, a well known Imam in Brampton (ON) about the Salafi ideology. He describes it as “extreme”, “like a poison”, “like a disease in the Muslim community”, “indoctrination, like a brainwashing” and those who espouse it are “misguided”, “very aggressive” and “sometimes they can be violent”.
According to Abdur-Razak, the Canadian Salafi Imams and their followers cause “’fitna [sedition], disunity, problems, conflicts in mosques” and spread “hatred” in the Muslim community. He urged Canadian Muslims to be fully aware of the menace of the Salafis and to avoid any association with them as “they’re imposing their beliefs on everyone.”
Imam Syed Soharwardy, the chairman of the Al-Madinah Calgary Islamic Assembly and the founder and current president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, doesn’t leave a room for doubt about his position on violent jihad espoused and carried out by the radical Sunni groups. Here are some excerpts of his posts on his Facebook page:
“Those suicide bombers and their supporters are criminals and must be brought to justice. Although, they call themselves Muslims but the overwhelming majority of Muslims do not accept them as a part of the Muslim community … Once again we urge all the governments in all countries to declare WAHABISM a terrorist ideology and the followers of Wahabism an illegal terrorist cult. Unless all the western, eastern, Muslim and non-Muslim countries take this necessary step the Wahabis will continue to create chaos. These suicide bombings … are carried out by the followers of Wahabism who look like Muslims and pray like Muslims but they are agents of EVIL.”
“Is there any doubt left for Muslims to know that these WAHABAEES / SALAFEES / DEOBANDEES… are fighting, killing and destroying the Muslims and Muslim countries because they are serving the anti-Islam agencies… Every terrorist who calls himself a Muslim is in fact a WAHABEE OR SALAFEE OR DEOBANDEEs …”
“They are fanatics, Wahabis, Khawrjis. Their claim of Ahlul Sunnah wal Jama’h is fraudulent and untrue. They are imposters.”
“During the last ten years, more than 100, 000 Muslims have been killed in suicide attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and many other places by the hands of those who called themselves Muslims. In fact, they were all Wahabis/Salafis.”