Sunni or Shia? Simply Muslim, Thank God

Blogger, Muslim convert and PHD student João Silva Jordão argues that entrenched sectarian identities only weaken the Ummah and assist the enemies of Islam.

Quran 3:103 – And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favor of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers. And you were on the edge of a pit of the Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses that you may be guided.

In an age where rampant sectarian strife is tearing apart the Islamic nation, plaguing our minds, corrupting our hearts and destroying our countries, not to say also our public image worldwide, so too are the identities of so-called Shia and Sunni Muslims becoming more entrenched.

Muslims no longer feel comfortable nor satisfied in being identified as solely Muslim. On the first step in this sectarian spiral, Muslims started to need, in order to provide more information as to what they believe in precisely, to add an annex to their religious definition, and so from a nation of self-declared Muslims we went to several nations of self-declared Sunnis, Shias, Sufis and so on.

As the separation increases, so too does the distrust, and eventually, the dislike of the “other.”

And from the need to clarify theological, historical and political positions, comes a linguistic habit that degenerates into something much more grave – the splitting of one religion into two or more: this happens via the next step – a Muslim who formerly described himself as, let’s say, a “Sunni Muslim,” now only uses the term “Sunni.”

When discussing religion, whereas we would formerly have had Muslims discussing which position is more Islamically-sound, we now, increasingly, have Muslims discussing which tradition is better.

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When discussing politics, instead of trying to figure out how to improve our state and how to converge onto eloquent positions, we partake in childish blame-games and often even resort to name-calling.

Instead of collectively discussing what direction the collective should take, an attempt of mutual destruction is adopted, which effectively is turning into a recipe for collective self-destruction for all Muslims, often cheered on, directly or indirectly, by those who wish to destroy Islam.

The power of words

Quran 6:159- Indeed, those who have divided their religion and become sects – you, [O Muhammad], are not [associated] with them in anything. Their affair is only [left] to Allah ; then He will inform them about what they used to do.

Though this might seem to be no more than mere semantics, one should not underestimate the power of words nor the reverberations of the lexicon we use.

And this descent into a sectarian spiral is not only religiously regrettable. Paradoxically, it is politically understandable – the enemies of Islam are more often than not, if not immediately, then eventually, found to be behind the most sectarian and destructive speakers, financing them and encouraging their antics.

The obsession among non-Muslims regarding sectarian dynamics, who are especially keen to study its weaknesses, is also quite revealing. They love to know about the cracks in our community like a hunter likes to spy on the weaknesses of its prey.

Facing such a dire situation, and witnessing the catastrophes provoked by rising sectarianism, there are many steps to be taken.

One such step would be do identify and attempt to neutralize the planters of discord who act as agents of proximity for the enemies of Islam and whose actions ultimately amount to an attempt to cause an implosion of the Islamic community.

The war in Syria has exacerbated sectarian tensions
The war in Syria has exacerbated sectarian tensions

These agents are not hard to identify. They usually cover themselves with the cloak of piety but ultimately prove to be revengeful rather than merciful, hasty rather than patient, greedy rather than generous. Their words project grand visions about the future of Islam while at the same time their actions provoke the exact opposite, sinking Islam into an ever deepening abyss of crisis, despair and discredit.

They threaten to destroy the enemies of Islam with their words, but with their hands they mostly strike fellow Muslims. Their futile attempts to sound pure ultimately reveal the evil intent of their speech.

47:30 – And if We willed, We could show them to you, and you would know them by their mark; but you will surely know them by the tone of their speech. And Allah knows your deeds.

Their presence among us is one of the first warning the Quran has to offer, and this warning is more relevant than ever:

2:8 – And of the people are some who say, “We believe in Allah and the Last Day,” but they are not believers.

2:9 – They [think to] deceive Allah and those who believe, but they deceive not except themselves and perceive [it] not.

2:10 – In their hearts is disease, so Allah has increased their disease; and for them is a painful punishment because they [habitually] used to lie.

2:11 – And when it is said to them, “Do not cause corruption on the earth,” they say, “We are but reformers.”

2:12 – Unquestionably, it is they who are the corrupters, but they perceive [it] not.


But this does not mean we should solely blame “foreign” agents or infiltrators for our troubles. After all, to blame ourselves for our troubles so as to occupy a position of productiveness and self-improvement is arguably as important as being grateful for our blessings.

But these are grand, more ambitious, often out-of-reach goals that need time, popular backing and momentum. There is something that every single one of us can do every day to stop the sectarian folly. And that is to simply refer to ourselves and other Muslims as simply that, Muslims.

The divisions and destructiveness that stem from the constant and compulsive use of the denominations which divide us are taking their toll on all. Furthermore, it is insulting to Islam to act as though the title Muslim is not enough, as if additional interpretations and its respective additional title (Shia, Sunni, etc.) are needed to make it a title worthy of bearing.

Muslims increasingly crave for the bearing of a compound title, which seems to reflect sophistication and knowledge when it reflects only a pathetic lack of confidence in our religion in its pure, root form, and a general mistrust of large parts of the Islamic community from who we seek disassociation.

The enemies of the Ummah benefit from Muslim civil war
The enemies of the Ummah benefit from Muslim civil war

So the incapacity and unwillingness to simply call ourselves and each otherMuslims adds insult to injury. Injury to the Ummah, insult to Islam.

We all have different opinions, all have different positions. No Muslim is unaffected by a particular school of thought, no Muslim is free from the influence of some theological trend. However this does not mean we all have to take on different religious denominations.

Unfortunately, because we have gone so far down the path of division, the use of terms like Shia, Sunni, Sufi, Wahabi, Twelver, Maliki, etc., is almost inevitable, particularly in academic endeavors, and this very article has to resort to its constant use for obvious purposes.

But we should draw the line between academic and political analysis, and personal and collective conviction. One thing is to study a school of thought and referring to it by a name so as to understand it, coming closer to God using added knowledge and wisdom. Another thing completely is to define the very essence of our belief using increasingly divisive, essentially superficial and ultimately useless annexes.

It is time for us to stop trying our hardest to find divisions among our nation, and simply try our best to be the best Muslims we can be. Because seeing the difficult position Muslims find themselves in, and witnessing how far we have distanced ourselves from righteousness, our religion is so good that simply trying to be a Muslim, should be more than enough.

Thank God.

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