Reflections”The Matchbox of the World” [Archives:2004/721/Opinion]

March 18 2004

By Yahya Al-Olfi
[email protected]

Many observers and thinkers have termed Religion as the matchbox of the world. This to them is quite true, because each religion contradicts the others. The followers of each religion believe that their religion is the right one and thus try to preach and spread it. The followers of each religion are subdivided into different sects and hence form different factions within the concerned religion. The most dangerous of which are those who claim heredity from the founder, because they aspire to become dominant, starting with the desire to seize power and then turned it into religious belief. This is true about medieval Europe, India, and Yugoslavia etc. Thus, Jews do not believe in Christianity, true Christians do not believe in Judaism and Muslims do not believe in either (Muslims believe that the original Judaism and Christianity were correct but later were tampered with). The followers of these three religions i.e. Christianity, Islam and Judaism, claim that their religions disapprove other religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.
Now, imagine if the countries of the world deal with each other based on the true teachings of their respective religions.
Europe developed as it is today because it ceased looking at things from a religious perspective and countries like France always endeavor to keep religion at bay. The same applies to the Japanese, Chinese and Indians, who are not ruling their countries according to their religions. If they had, they would have been backward as they were for centuries prior to their modern renaissance.
Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Bangladesh are beginning to embrace the same ideals despite many difficulties they are facing.
W now come to the Arab World, which was ruled through the Caliphate System for hundreds of years and later occupied by the West. Religions in the Middle East still have a powerful impact and the Islamic sects of different kinds try to seize power. Islam is mainly divided into two major sects, the Sunnis and the Shiites. The Sunnis form the largest portion of the Muslims in the world, almost 90%, whilst the Shiites are only a majority in countries like Iran and Iraq. In the case of Yemen the majority are Sunni Muslims, whilst the Shiites are subdivided into four sub-sects: Zaidists, Ismailists, Hadaoists and Twelvthists. Prior to the foundation of present-day Israel a significant portion of Yemenis were embracing Judaism but were later transported to Palestine in an operation termed by the Jewish Agency as “the Magic Carpet”. Yemen still has a few hundred Jews whose number is falling due to the worsening economic situation of the country and the encouragements used to attract them to leave Yemen in order to settle in Occupied Palestine. Now each of the two major Islamic sects is subdivided into different sub-sects each of which is contradicting the other. The Sunnis have four main sects and are further subdivided into eight whilst the Shiites are subdivided into eleven sects, and many more melt into the remaining eleven (vide the book of Nashwan Al-Himyari one of the last Himyarite Nobles, titled ” Al-Hoor Al-Aeen”).

What Sunnis think about the Shiites?
Sunni Muslims believe that they themselves embrace True Islam and declare that prominent disciples of Prophet Mohammed such as Omar, Abubakr and Osman are Sunnis. They do believe in the Alshoura system with regard to governance (Alhakimia Lilah) i.e. prominent clerics meet and cast their votes and the one getting the majority of votes becomes a Caliph (i.e. successor of Prophet Mohammed). To them, Shiites are mere heretics and apostates. That they are after worldly gains and have ambitious to seize power. Thus, Sunnis do not believe in the Shiite interpretation of Islam nor do they believe in their many books. In fact one of the most prominent Sunni Savants named “Abuhanifalnoman” declared as follows:
“That who becomes a Shiite has chosen for himself to become an infidel”. (Although Sunni and Shiite leaders in Iraq deny any disputes, several incidents have been taking place since toppling Saddam and serious efforts should be exerted in order to contain them before it becomes too late)

What the Shiites think about the Sunnis?
The Shiites believe that the leadership of the Muslims should be inherited. As Prophet Mohammed did not have any male children, the children of his daughter, Fatimah, are holy and must be the Muslim Leaders until doomsday and accuse the Sunnis of deviation from the right path. Shiites do not see eye to eye with each other regarding the succession to power and each Shiite sect has its own opinion. The Shiites in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Lebanon distinguish themselves with black turbans and black apparel, whilst in Yemen they wear colorful turbans, baggy blue or white dresses and sideways silver adorned daggers. At the time of Shiites' theological rule of Yemen prior to the 1962 revolution, normal Yemenis were ordered to kiss their knees and the back of their hands and were in certain cases kicked or shoved away in return. The distinguished ones call themselves “Masters” in Arabic 'Sayyids', and normal Yemenis were ordered to dismount their horses, donkeys or camels if they ever came across them.
The Judges at this time wore similar apparel and hence were mistaken for Sayyids, so one of these judges who is now 90 years old recounted to me a story. A normal peasant approached him and bowed to kiss his knees in veneration, thinking that he was one of the Sayyids. During the kissing process, the peasant felt unsure whether this man was a genuine Sayyid or not and hence asked him whether he belonged to the class. The judge hastily answered him, “hey man! First complete your duties”.
On the other hand, Yemeni Jews had to dismount their horses, donkeys or camels if they ever went past any Muslim and were forbidden to build buildings more than three stories high. The Shiite Imams of Yemen did possess women slaves and eunuchs and exchanged slaves with some Arab monarchs until they were overthrown in 1962 in a revolution led by an army officer named Ali Abdul Moghni, whose name has been given to the main street central Sana'a (their era is chronicled in a novel written by the late prominent Yemeni Novelist Zaid Motea Dammaj whose work has become part of International Cultural Heritage and is considered as one of the most important 100 Arab novels of the 20th century). The Novel is titled “the hostage” and has been translated into many international languages. It is worth mentioning that the current President of Yemen was 16 years old at the time of the revolution and participated as one of the rank and file. He still remembers the degradation of the Imamic rule and had to go through the same suffering as normal Yemenis in those days. In fact, this is why the man in the street would like him to make a difference.
Now, while Sunnis amongst themselves do not agree with each other on many issues and they belong to the same stream, the eleven Shiite sects do not agree either and when given chance oppressed each other.
Modern military rulers in the Arab countries have been juggling with the different Islamic groups. In certain cases violence was used to crush attempts by the Islamists to ascend to power, in countries like Egypt, Syria, Algeria and others.
With the American occupation of Iraq the sectarian giant has emerged. In my opinion the Americans should avoid striking a deal with any sect. They should learn the lesson of their alliance with the Sunnis in Afghanistan.
On the whole, if the Americans do succeed in establishing a workable democratic system in Iraq, I believe that shall be vital for what will become of the Arab World in the years to come.