Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sunni - Shi'i cooperation in Michigan

The above picture is of a meeting organized by the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan (CIOM) regarding increasing cooperation and brotherhood between the Sunni and Shi'i schools of thought. Can you tell who are the Sunnis and who are the Shi'is in this picture?

Historically in Michigan going back to the 1930's, there has never been a major issue between Sunni and Shi'i relating to a void in cooperation and dialogue. In fact among the Syrians, whose families have been in Metro Detroit for approximately a centurty, there has always been intermarriages between Sunnis and Shi'is. Many Syrians and Lebanese have families that are half and half.

Furthermore, there has been interchanging of ideas and joint programs taking place between Sunni and Shi'i leaders going back to the Islamic Center of America's founding Imam and the founding Imam of the Albanian Islamic Center. We're talking about the 1960's here, not yesterday.

Sunni leaders have given lectures and led prayers in Shi'i majority centers and Shi'is have done similiar. In fact, I'm not a Shi'i, yet I've led prayers and have lectured in 6 Shi'i majority mosques in Metro Detroit.

Cut & paste to listen to a lecture that I gave about Sunni-Shi'i relations in November 2003:

After a rash of vandalism, which took place after the execution of Saddam Hussein, conspiracy theories flew around that perhaps Sunnis vandalized Shi'i centers like what's going on in Iraq.

That extrapolation, however, is only conjecture, not fact.

One theory is that so-called Yemeni Wahhabis aka Salafis were behind the vandalisms because of their love for Saddam. The fact of the matter is that Salafis are anti-nationalism and did not support Saddam's Ba'athist/Socialist government, which was far from a theocracy. Those outside of Iraq, such as some in Yemen, who were Pro-Saddam, are the same people who were or would have been Pro-Gamal Abdel Nasser, the deceased Arab Nationalist, who repressed Islamic movements in Egypt. Ironically, Abdel Nasser did give seed money, which helped the Islamic Center of America (Shi'i majority mosque) to get built.

Anyway, hardcore Ba'athists were and are primarily secular minded, not religious - the Ba'ath party was started by an Arab Christian by the way. Many of the top Ba'athists were also Shi'i such as the 1st Iraqi Prime Minister after the invasion, Ayad Al-Allawi. Tariq Aziz, Iraqi's Deputy Prime Minister under Saddam, is Christian.

Domestically speaking, the Iraqi Sunni population in Metro Detroit is miniscule. The portion of the Iraqi American population that benefitted the most from Saddam were Chaldeans, Iraqi Catholics. Saddam donated approximately half of a million dollars for the construction of a Chaldean Church and the Chaldean Community Center off of E. 7 Mile in Detroit.


In fact due to his generous donations to the Chaldeans, Saddam received the Key to the City of Detroit while Mayor Coleman Young was in office.

This is not an assertion that a Chaldean or Arab Christian was behind the vandalisms. This is simply providing information to broaden the horizons of those who read about one belligerent call to an Iraqi-American restaurant in Arabic, which was vandalized or vandalism to the Karabala Islamic Educational Center in Dearborn that was stenciled grafitti in Arabic not to jump to conclusions. The FBI, Dearborn Police and Detroit Police have caught no one, and the acts of vandalism that increased in January 2007 appear to be unrelated.

There is no major Sunni - Shi'i split here.

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