Seyyed Hossein Nasr – “Sunnism and Shi’ism: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”
Here is an awesome lecture delivered by a scholar that I admire a great deal – he is perhaps the most important Islamic philosopher (certainly the most prolific, as far as I know) of the last century.
This talk outlines the theological differences between the two schools of thought, and he goes out of his way – and rightly so – to demonstrate that in terms of jurisprudence and for a great deal, theology, the differences in the schools of thought are quite minimal. He clearly demonstrates how the major theme in Islamic Thought today (especially that which is promulgated by certain state with petrodollars) resembles far less traditional Sunni orthodoxy than we in the West might think.
The fact that more books exist today about the Shi’a than traditional ‘orthodox’ Islam (which comprises the largest majority as a percentage from within any major religion today) tells me, at the very least, that our faith is being highjacked in favour of a more ‘puritanical, rationalistic’ Islam. Moreover, his analysis of the modern state that is now Saudi Arabia is very astute – especially in his reference to the transfer of technology from the US to SA.
If you can take an hour out of your day to watch this lecture (and even take notes), I would certainly attest that it would be well-worth your time. We need more people like Dr Nasr who will try to highlight how similar the competing narratives of Islamic thought actually are, and that how historically we, as Muslims, lived in very congenial circumstances – and to a large degree still do. Predominantly, the great cause of this discord within the community is proliferated by the Islam that al-Qaeda tend to promote – not by those very minimal theological and jurisprudential differences orthodox (Sunni) Islam has hen compared to mainstream Shi’ism.
In fact, the major point of this talk is that we as Muslims can continue to coexist despite these differences, and despite the catastrophes and humanitarian disasters being created in the Middle East today; efforts are still ongoing today to build bridges and continue to acknowledge one-another – but I fear that to a large extent these efforts are being undermined by that new, puritanical form of Islam which underpins a tyrannical regime which is actively creating discord in the Muslim world.
As a Muslim who tends to fall closer to the Shi’i tradition, I still hurt when I read about the highjacking of the faith because no doubt do these people commit a great injustice to the Sunni tradition – I call on the Shi’a (though many already do this) to equally rise up to the challenge of defending the Sunni orthodoxy for all its beauty and contributions, as well as academic integrity and diversity. It is our duty as a community to not let the legacy of or beloved Prophet – the Mercy for all the worlds – to be desecrated in the name of these illegitimate ideologies; we ought not be divided at their hands and their colonial masters. Islam has so much good to contribute to our world – without unity and the acceptance of each other, we will fall short of creating the best possible world. The Shi’a tradition emphasises heavily our duty to the Mahdi – we cannot be fatalists and let our creed, and the dignity of our brothers, be destroyed from within.