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10 - Sunni-Shia Reconciliation in Malaysia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 April 2020

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Summary

It is never easy to define Shiism as a collective category. There are the Zaidiyyahs, Isma’ilis, and the Imamis (Twelvers). The Shias in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Indo-Pakistan and Southeast Asia differ significantly. With all the diversity within Shiism itself, I will have to go back to the basic definition of Shiism. Fundamentally, the Shias believe in the succession of Ali ibn Abi Thalib after the demise of Prophet Muhammad and in ‘Adl, or Divine Justice:

The Imamate or wilayah is the very basic principle; ‘Shiism, however, concentrating on the question of wilayah and insisting on the esoteric content of the prophetic message, saw in Ali and the Household of the Prophet (ahl al-bayt), in its Shi’ite sense, the sole channel through which the original message of Islam was transmitted, although, paradoxically enough the majority of the descendants of the Prophet belonged to Sunnism and continue to do so until today.

On the principle of divine justice, in Asha’arism (Sunnism) there is “an emphasis upon the will of God, whatever God wills is just, precisely because it is willed by God; and intelligence (‘Aql) is in a sense subordinated to this will and to the voluntarism which characterizes this form of theology’”. Nasr further stated that rationality played a crucial role in Shiism and that this distinctive belief helps to define the Shias:

In Shiism, however, the quality of justice is considered as innate to the Divine Nature. God cannot act in an unjust manner because it is His Nature to be just. For Him to be unjust would violate His own Nature, which is impossible. Intelligence can judge the justness or unjustness of an act and this judgement is not completely suspended in favour of a pure voluntarism on the part of God. Hence there is a greater emphasis upon intelligence (‘aql) in Shi’ite theology and a greater emphasis upon will (iradah) in Scorn kalam, or theology, at least in the predominant Ash’arite school.

Sunnis and Shias agree on three basic principles: divine unity (monotheism), nubuwwah or prophecy and Ma’ad or resurrection. Thus, the basic differences between Sunnis and Shias are historical and philosophical.

There are also other significant differences that put adherents from both schools in a difficult situation.

Type
Chapter
Information
Alternative Voices in Muslim Southeast Asia
Discourse and Struggles
, pp. 156 - 182
Publisher: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
Print publication year: 2019

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