Iraq Violence Tests Unity of US Muslims

US Muslim leaders are fearful that the bloody sectarianism is having a domino effect on Muslim immigrants and testing the unity of the sizable minority.

Iraq Violence Tests Unity of US Muslims

"It is a cause for concern as the problems and strains between Sunnis and Shiites in the old world appear to be following them to the United States," Mohamed Nimer, a researcher with the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, told Reuters Friday, February 16.

"If those tensions remain buried, they could explode in some communities," he added.

Sectarian tensions appeared to flare in Detroit in January, when vandals attacked two Shiite mosques and several businesses, following the execution of former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, at the hands of Shiite hangmen. No arrests were made.

Analysts say there are also signs of growing sectarianism among Muslim students on US campuses, where in recent months some Sunnis and Shiites have formed, or are considering forming, separate student associations.

Meanwhile, commentators say there have also been reports of heightened tensions between Shiite and Sunni inmates serving time in some US jails.

There are an estimated 6 to 7 million Muslims in the United States, of whom some 2.5 million are immigrants.

The majority of them are Sunnis, who have lived peaceably alongside Shiite neighbors in cities from California to New York for decades.

Sunnis and Shiites share most tenets of Islamic faith, although they differ over lines of succession to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and other legal and theological issues.

In the first high-profile meeting between top Sunni and Shiite scholars, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the president of the International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS, and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of Iran's influential Expediency Council, urged on Wednesday, February 14, on Muslims all the world over to act in unison and take into their strides differences to face challenges ahead.

But Qaradawi said a candid dialogue between Shiites and Sunnis is a must to remove all stumbling blocs to Shiite-Sunni unity.


US Sunni and Shiite leaders stress that relations continue to be good and strong between the two communities, who now worship at more than 1,200 mosques nationwide, although many are sufficiently concerned at the prospect of sectarian strife to have stepped up intrafaith meetings nationally.

"We want to help one another to improve communication and make sure that the politics and also ignorance won't come to our communities and divide (them) in the name of Shiites and Sunnis," said Mohammad Ali Elahi, a Shiite scholar who is taking part in an ongoing dialogue with local Sunnis in the Detroit area.

"We never had this problem in the United States (and) we are concerned," he added.

"Many cities had just one mosque -- if at all -- that was used by Muslims from both groups," added Liyakat Takim, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Denver.

Takim said differences began to emerge with increased immigration to the United States from across the Muslim world in the 1980s, which was accompanied by rising sectarian tensions in the Middle East in the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

"Now with what is happening in Iraq ... and with globalization ... all those differences are being exported into America," Takim said.

Almost 34,000 Iraqi civilians died last year as the sectarian violence reached new heights, above all in Baghdad.

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said Around 2 million Iraqis have left their country since the US-led war on Saddam Hussein almost exactly four years ago and a further 1.8 million "internal refugees" are scattered throughout the country.

The UNHCR calls it the biggest human displacement in the Middle East in recent history.


But many also feel that talk of a sectarian rift stateside is exaggerated.

Victor Ghalib Begg, of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, said the recent vandal attacks in Detroit may have been carried out by individual immigrants from Iraq, although they were unrepresentative of broader sentiment.

"They may bring some of their differences here, God knows. But is that reflective of the larger Muslim community?" Ghalib said.

"Give the community a little bit more credit for its American, pluralistic values ... there's 6 million of us here ... it's not a community wide problem," he added.

The view is widely echoed among US Muslims both in Detroit and beyond, who stress the continuing good ties between both groups.

However, some suggest that maintaining that relationship in the months and years ahead is also in some measure dependent on finding peace in Iraq.

"When we talk about peace and dialogue everybody wins, when there is war and bloodshed, everybody loses ... including the Shiite and Sunni communities in the United States," Elahi said.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16