The current war in Yemen is not a sectarian-driven conflict. Rather sectarianism is being used by western governments and their agent regimes in the Muslim world as a political tool to achieve their foreign policy aims in the country, in the same way it was used in the Iraqi and Syrian wars.
Western powers use the ‘sectarianism narrative’ and the inflaming of sectarian violence as part of their colonial divide and rule policy of the Muslim world. It is a capitalist means used to try to keep the region divided and generate instability and conflict between Muslims to justify continuing western intervention, interference and colonisation of lands for political and economic interests. Former US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad once said regarding the sectarian violence in Iraq following the US invasion, “We have opened the Pandora’s box and the question is, what is the way forward?” Sectarianism is also used to propagate the false belief that entrenched animosity between Sunni and Shia Muslims means that they can never unite under one state, in order to hinder the unification of Muslim lands. All of this is to try to prevent the establishment of the Khilafah (Caliphate) based upon the method of the Prophethood.
The political structures, governments and constitutions Western powers impose on countries such as Iraq which are shaped upon representation of people along ethnic or sectarian lines, and their installing of sectarian minded individuals to lead regimes, also fuels sectarian division in the Muslim lands. This is because various political factions compete for power on the basis of sectarian or ethnic interests, while sectarian-minded heads of governments suppress, curtail the rights of, and often commit atrocities against those who are from a different school of thought to their own. Rima Majed, a researcher and PhD Candidate in Political Sociology at the University of Oxford, writes, “The main determinant that can explain why a “Sunni-Shia” conflict surfaced in one country and not another, is the position of these sectarian groups within the power structure… Sectarianism is an invented concept that it is created using historical, economic and cultural material for the purposes of political mobilisation. The usage of such a sectarian discourse, especially in times of heightened violence and instability, helps crystallise sectarian identities and serves to recruit more individuals into those very political battles that are framed under religious terms.”
Muslim regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Bahrain as well as the Kufr Syrian regime play the ‘sectarian card’ for their own political domestic and regional gains. They use it as a cynical means to present themselves as heroes of the ‘Sunni’ or ‘Shia’ Muslims to consolidate their seats of power and exert influence regionally for selfish personal or nationalistic purposes. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javed Zarif for example, in an attempt to overinflate the ‘sectarian’ problem in the Muslim world for political purposes stated to the BBC, that the sectarian strife between the Sunni and Shia is, “the most serious security threat not only to the region but to the world at large.” However, the Muslim regimes’ desertion of those they claim to champion, such as Saudi’s abandonment of the Muslims of Palestine, Syria, Myanmar and elsewhere to their oppressors, demonstrates that they care only for their own egos and self-interests.
The Sunni and Shia Muslims in Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere lived side by side in peace in the same neighbourhoods for centuries under the Islamic rule of the Khilafah. They intermarried, prayed in the same mosques and fought together against enemies of the state. On the 30th of September 2011, the Muslims of Yemen, many of whom are Shia, demonstrated in unison with the Muslims of Al-Sham in a joint protest against their dictatorships, reflecting their Islamic brotherhood.
Both Sunni and Shia Muslims have shared the same fate under the secular and other man-made political systems which have subjected them to gross injustices and oppression, mass poverty and a mountain of problems. They have therefore both been victims of the fallout of non-Islamic systems and foreign-installed authoritarian regimes.
It is Islam, its culture, history and heritage that is the common uniting factor that bonds Muslims across the Muslim world, whether Sunni or Shia, while the western-imposed secular system has exploited differences for political aims. The Islamic beliefs that unite them are much greater than certain theological differences that exist between the various schools of thought. They both agree on the fundamental tenets of Islam and that the Qur’an and Sunnah are the principle sources of Islamic law. Additionally, there are overwhelming masses of both Shia and Sunni Muslims across the Muslim world who wish to live under Islamic rule. Their bond of Muslim brotherhood is manifest by the feelings of anger and sorrow expressed when witnessing the suffering of their Muslim brothers across the world.
It is only Islam and Islamic rule that has a proven track record of destroying sectarianism and tribalism; and of uniting people of different backgrounds, ethnicity and beliefs into one Ummah and one state. Before Islam, the tribes of Aws and Khazraj fought many wars against each other yet when they accepted Islam, they became brothers and together were known as the Ansar.
How the Khilafah (Caliphate) upon the method of the Prophethood will prevent and overcome sectarian division:
The Khilafah is not a Sunni or Shia state or one based on any Madhab (school of thought). Rather it is a political system built upon Islam which is for all Muslims and all human beings, regardless of belief, ethnicity or nationality.
In contrast to the non-Islamic regimes and systems in the Muslim lands today that exploit differences between the people for political aims, the Khilafah views political unity between all its citizens as vital. Its domestic policies reflect a unique methodology in moulding different people into one harmonious society that respects religious differences. They are united together in the Khilafah on the basis of citizenship, and the rights, roles and responsibilities this embodies. The Khilafah will also uproot any colonial interference in the Muslim lands, including the use of sectarianism to divide the Ummah.
Its political system is not based on representation along specific ethnic, racial, or sectarian lines which can fuel division, hostility and competition between different sectors of society for resources and power. Rather the Khalifah (the leader of the state) is obliged Islamically to be a guardian over the needs and interests of all his citizens, regardless of their creed, ethnicity or background. This includes ensuring every citizen of the state – Sunni or Shia, Muslim or non-Muslim – has their basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, education and shelter fulfilled, and a dignified standard of life as well as guaranteeing the protection of their blood, belief, honour, and property.
Those elected to be part of the Majlis-al-Ummah which is a consultative body which accounts the Khalifah regarding his duties towards the people, represent the interests of all in their community rather than specific groups of people within the society.
All citizens of the Khilafah enjoy the same rights of citizenship – in politics, economics, education, healthcare and other fields of life – regardless of their creed, ethnicity, race or anything else. This is because Islam prohibits discrimination between people in the provision of citizenship rights. The Prophet ﷺ said, «ادْعُهُمْ إِلَى الإِسْلاَمِ فَإِنْ أَجَابُوكَ فَاقْبَلْ مِنْهُمْ وَكُفَّ عَنْهُمْ ثُمَّ ادْعُهُمْ إِلَى التَّحَوُّلِ مِنْ دَارِهِمْ إِلَى دَارِ الْمُهَاجِرِينَ وَأَخْبِرْهُمْ إِنْ هُمْ فَعَلُوا ذَلِكَ أَنَّ لَهُمْ مَا لِلْمُهَاجِرِينَ وَأَنَّ عَلَيْهِمْ مَا عَلَى الْمُهَاجِرِينَ» “Call them to Islam, and if they agree accept from them and refrain from fighting against them, then call them to move from their land to the land of the Muhajireen (the emigrants), and tell them if they do so, then they will have the rights which the Muhajireen enjoy and they will have duties like the duties upon the Muhajireen.”
The Khilafah will not adopt legislation covering belief or Ibadaat (personal worship) issues in Islam unless they have a societal impact such as Zakat, leaving Muslims to follow in these areas whichever school of thought they view as strongest. This is because adopting on such matters can cause hardship and resentment amongst those Muslims with differences of opinion on these issues, which the Islamic system seeks to prevent. Rather the Khilafah will only adopt on those issues required for political unity and the effective running of the affairs of the state. Furthermore, the Khalifah may adopt from any school of thought for the state’s affairs, whether Sunni or Shia, based upon what he views as the strongest opinion in Islam.
The Education System of the Khilafah will promote the correct Islamic values and understanding. It will strive to build a strong bond of Muslim brotherhood between the Muslim students to heal and prevent any rifts between the hearts of the believers, including striving to eradicate any concepts such as sectarianism, nationalism and tribalism that cause division. It will also seek to build amongst its students, a strong sense of care and responsibility towards those of other faiths, and their rights, needs and interests, which will ensure a unified harmonious society.
The Khilafah’s Judicial and Penal Systems will deal harshly with those who seek to spread sectarianism or divide the Muslims or society in any way. The state will have a zero tolerance approach to any form of sectarian division or violence.
Dr. Nazreen Nawaz
Director of the Women’s Section in The Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir