Yemen’s sectarian record of tolerance [Archives:2004/767/Opinion]

August 26 2004

Yemen has a long history of relative peace among the religious sects of the population and both the Sunni (Shafe'i) and Shiite (Zeidi) constituencies that make up the majority of the people of Yemen have no historical record of armed conflict between them. Thus, one is not expecting that the present conflict in Sa'ada should reflect any real conflict emanating from religious persuasion. The Government should make great efforts to contain the conflict as much as possible and seek all serious efforts to reach a hopefully peaceful finale to this sad tragedy that apparently got out of proportion unnecessarily, with the sad outcome of many lives needlessly lost, many of whom were civilians, who had nothing to do with the conflict. The Government has wisely chosen to encourage dialogue as the right course to settle all religious sectarian disagreement and to confront any extremist ideas from distorting the mostly moderate religious inclinations of most Yemenis, Shafe'i and Zeidi. If the guns could stop doing the talking in Sa'ada, perhaps this dialogue can extend to this conflict and hopefully continue to ensure that Yemen remains free from any sectarian strife. Furthermore, the religious scholars of both sectarian persuasions have always managed to ensure that adherents of both sects respect each other and exercise the highest levels of tolerance and acceptance of each other as bona fide members of the fold of the faithful.
Religious differences amongst the various sects in Islam are really secondary in nature and almost all have their roots in political conflict, almost starting soon after the Prophet Mohammed (Peace of Allah be upon him) passed away without setting out the mechanism for choosing the leadership of the state. We can assume this, despite the existence of some claims to the contrary. But, one is convinced that had the Prophet set forth the appropriate system or defined a clear succession, no one in his right mind would have dared to challenge such guidelines. Most likely, in view of the democratic nature of Islam and its advocacy for participation of the faithful in the determination of their political future, the Al-Mighty and the Prophet left it for the faithful to decide on their political future, based on the political maturity of the faithful. Thus, as political differences became encouraged by those who sought different political angles to the succession of the leadership of the Moslem Nation (Ummah), sectarian inclinations evolved. These sectarian inclinations seldom touched on the major pillars of faith, which luckily for Islam pretty much kept the religion in keeping with the Prophet's teachings on the basic theological dogma and worship rites. In fact most “founders” of the different religious sects never claimed to be seeking to come up with a religious sect or claimed that their views surpassed those of their predecessors. The sects came only after the passing of these “founders', who only sought to suggest that their knowledge of religious doctrine led them to believe in certain interpretations of the Quran or the traditions of the Prophet, on which Moslems must look to for proper adherence to the faith. Ironically, almost all these original religious scholars, were more outspoken on the regression that the political regimes of their times have imposed on the faithful and sought to end all forms of persecution and tyranny they found to be anathema to Islamic teachings. Many of them were themselves victims of political repression for their outspoken views and gave their lives accordingly. There are nine leading teachers, to which most of the sects of Islam originate from, many of whom had their “sects” develop long after their passing. The first of these leading religious teachers was Zeid Ibn Ali (on whom Zeidis rely for their interpretation of Islamic dogma). His pursuit centered on challenging the oppressive rule of the Omayyad Caliphate, which has set up a regime that far deviated from the original democracy and pious adherence to Islamic social and political principles generally manifested by the early Islamic State under the first four Caliphs (Orthodox Caliphate). Zeid was called upon to lead a popular rebellion against the repressive regime and to return Islamic governance to the principles of human rights and social equity taught and practiced by the Prophet Mohammed and his early successors. Zeid was unquestionably a scholar in religious dictates and many of the “founders” of the other sects refer to him considerably in fomenting their own teachings. The “founders” of the Hanafi, Ja'afari and other sects all refer to Zeid's theological and dogmatic renditions of the teachings of Islam. Of course none ever denounced each other for their respective interpretation of religious doctrine. Thus, it is imperative for Moslems to start studying the teachings of all the famous religious interpreters over the ages and they will surely find that, in essence, most of these religious scholars pursued the same ends, mainly on the political front: Islam must insist on political freedom and social equality for all the faithful and an end to all forms of oppression exercised by the state, not to mention the misuse of public funds and property for self enrichment by the ruling establishment. Later, the followers of these different teachers may have introduced dictates for “their followers” to perhaps to give some form of distinction that will bring these followers together, but in reality did not dare to introduce tremendous differences among the faithful that over all deviated from the basic pillars of Islam. Sometimes successive political regimes in the history of Islam sought to encourage sectarian differences by having some scholars introduce various tenets amongst followers of different sects, for the sake of “divide and rule” or to keep people busy on trivial religious issues and steer away from political thought or outright protest against political oppression. Notwithstanding this, however, very seldom has religious conflict among the different Moslem sects led to bloody confrontations amongst adherents of the different sects in Islam, such as those Europe witnessed, especially after the Reformation of Martin Luther. In Yemen, this peaceful coexistence among the constituencies of the major religious sects has been exemplary and it is hoped that it shall continue to be so.
Apology: Common Sense apologizes for inadvertently not presenting the edited proof-read edition last issue, thus the obvious mistakes appearing in the article.