By Dr. Ethar Makhseed

As a Shia, British Muslim that is able to freely practice my religion without persecution is a bitter-sweet privilege that I do not take lightly. It is a privilege that cannot be said for most Shia Muslims around the world. Before delving more into my personal experiences as being a “minority within a minority” I would like to get some important formalities out of the way.

I want to begin by highlighting that the similarities between Shia and Sunni Muslims far outweigh their dissimilarities, but there are differences nonetheless.

I want to begin by highlighting that the similarities between Shia and Sunni Muslims far outweigh their dissimilarities, but there are differences nonetheless. Said similarities are vast and include but are not limited to both ideologies believing in the 5 pillars of Islam: the declaration of the unit of Allah and that Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is his messenger, the 5 obligatory prayers, charity, fasting and the pilgrimage to Makkah. Both schools of thought believe in the divinity of the Quran, its authorship in being the word of God and that Prophet Muhammad is the final of Allah’s prophetic missions to mankind. The supreme excellence of the Holy prophet in embodying the peak of theology, leadership and wisdom and ultimately the symbol of humanity is shared between both ideologies.

However, differences between the two sects originate over dispute regarding the rightful successor of Muhammad the holy prophet. According to Sunni school of thought the Holy Prophet had not appointed a successor which led to the election of the Caliphate Abu Baker at Saqifa immediately after the Prophets death. This is a highly controversial event in Islamic history mainly due to the fact that most of Prophet Muhammad’s close companions including his cousin and son-in-law Ali (A.S) were excluded. Whilst the Prophets close family including Ali (A.S) were preparing his body for burial, this election concluded in the appointment of Abu Baker as Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) successor.

The word Shia means “follower” in Arabic, therefore Shia of Ali means follower of Imam Ali (A.S). Contrary to popular belief, Shia Muslims are not a political group that emerged after the Prophets death but are a school of thought that formed during the Prophets life and was perpetuated by the significant historical event at Ghadeer Khum. The Prophet Muhammad had gathered the Muslims at Ghadeer Khum shortly before his death upon his return from his Farwell Pilgrimage. He gave a sermon whereby he says, “He whose mawla I am, Ali is his mawla”. The Sunni sect see this declaration merely as a symbol of the Prophets likeness for Imam Ali whereby the Shia sect view it as the Prophets designation for Ali (A.S) to lead the Muslim ummah following his passing. Therefore, the Shia school of thought depict that not only is Ali (A.S) the rightful successor to the prophet but was appointed by the Prophet himself as the spokesperson of Allah at Ghadeer Khum.

British Shia’s make up only approximately 5% of the nation’s Muslims which is why you may hear Shia’s being referred to as a “minority within a minority”.

British Shia’s make up only approximately 5% of the nation’s Muslims which is why you may hear Shia’s being referred to as a “minority within a minority”.Growing up in Stockport, Manchester I was lucky to be surrounded by a great Muslim community from all schools of thought. I attended a Sunni Arabic school and regularly visited both Sunni and Shia mosques. Besides the odd “why do you pray on a stone” remark, I have not faced much discrimination if any. Said “stone” is called a “Turbah” and is a stone made of earth from the lands of Karbala. Shia’s can prostrate on any kind of purified earth but due to the significance of this holy land and its connection to Imam Hussain (A.S), praying on a Turbah made from the soil of that land is practiced widely. It had been narrated in many Sunni texts (such as Jami` at-Tirmidhi 3775) that the Prophet Mohammad (BPUH) had said “Husain is from me, and I am from Husain. Allah loves whoever loves Husain. Husain is a Sibt among the Asbat". Therefore, praying on said Turbah is practiced as a way of honoring the Prophet (PBUH) and his family. Additionally, it is commonly believed amongst Muslims that the place you prostrate will testify on your behalf on the day of judgment, therefore performing sujood on the holy dust of Karbala is performed in hope that it would be a witness of devotion to Allah (SWT) in the hear after.

The United Kingdom is home to many Muslims from varying sects and that is reflected in our communities. Please do not mistake my personal accounts for complete ignorance towards the politically lead rifts between Shia and Sunni sects, but more as your “average Joe’s” experience. The truth is news like to sensationalize our differences when in fact Shia and Sunni’s not only successfully co-exist in Britain but live as part of one community. My closest and dearest friends are mostly Sunni whereby open debate and healthy discussions are encouraged between us. In fact, most of them have joined me in the commemoration of Imam Hussein (A.S) during Muharram.

I would like to conclude by expanding on what Muharram means and why Ashura highlights an unprecedented moment of valiance and sacrifice in history, not only for Muslims but for humanity in general. Firstly, I would like to stress that Imam Hussain (A.S) grandson of the holy prophet, is an influential figure globally which is reflected in the literature written about his spiritual, religious, and political prominence by authors from all religious denominations and backgrounds. On the 10thof Muharram 10,680 AD Hussain Ibn Ali (A.S) and 72 men and his family members including women and infants were denied water and brutally massacred by Yazed and his 30,000 army. Imam Hussain had refused to give his allegiance to Yazed the tyrant and hence sacrificed his most beloved and himself in the name of the preservation of Islam. As Charles Dickens once says, "If Hussein fought to quench his worldly desires, then I do not understand why his sisters, wives and children accompanied him. It stands to reason therefore that he sacrificed purely for Islam". Imam Hussain’s powerful stance against injustice is a message that transcends time and is the reason why this story is revered by so many and remembered yearly.

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