America, I am not well. One of the latest reasons?
The Muslim community of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has been reeling over the bizarre murders of four male members. Over the past two weeks, many Muslims either left town or hunkered down in their homes in fear.
As a target of Islamophobia myself, I immediately wondered if this was a hate crime. I started following the story closely.
When I learned that the prime suspect apprehended was himself a Muslim, it took my breath away. The suspect is a Sunni Afghan immigrant, and three of the four victims appear to have been from the Shia community. My heart sank further.
What bothered me further was that I didn’t see a barrage of emails and Facebook posts condemning the murders from my Muslim community. Silence in a community allows poisonous ideas to grow.
Is the silence the result of embarrassment? Are we still in shock? Do we need time to process? Or did this heinous act force us to confront our own biases?
The Muslim world has its share of problems, but perhaps one of the biggest ailments we suffer from is the Shia-Sunni divide.
Shia and Sunni communities emerge from the same cultural, historical and textual traditions. We all are instructed to pray five times a day to Allah, the God of Abraham, Moses and Noah. We all fast 30 days in Ramadan. We are all expected to perform Hajj once in our lifetime. We all profess that the Prophet Muhammad was the final prophet of God.
Where Sunni and Shia Muslims differ is in their philosophy over who was the proper successor to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon him.) after his death. The difference among us is not a theological one, as much as a political one, but it has resulted in sectarian and large-scale violence in many countries, including Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Blood has been shed and continues to be shed – but not in America. Until now.
Shia and Sunni Muslims have lived in peace and cooperation in this country. We often share the same mosques. We pray side by side. We marry each other.
About 10% of U.S. Muslims are part of the Shia community, reflective of the ratio across the world.
There seems to be a tragic norm throughout the history of humanity. Minorities of any population, whether they be racial, religious, ethnic or sexual, invariably suffer from bias or discrimination. They live a little smaller. They move cautiously in spaces that were not necessarily built with them in mind.
We majority Sunnis are not immune to this. We are guilty of whispering to each other at parties if a new Shia member arrives in the community. We perpetuate stereotypes about Shias by not squelching them at the start.
Making general statements that “we are all Muslims” is not enough to bring about change and transformation. Persistent work and leadership are needed to have transparent conversations and confront the sentiments that gave rise to the murders. We can highlight our differences and celebrate our commonalities in the same breath.
Many Muslim organizations, such as The Council on American-Islamic Relations and The Muslim Public Affairs Council, have unequivocally condemned this heinous crime. Their leadership is an example for all of us.
I hope that smaller organizations and mosques across the nation quickly denounce this violence and offer a real embrace of our Shia brothers and sisters.
We need to address our biases in our Friday sermons, make an effort to invite our Shia brothers and sisters, have open dialogue and invite our Shia leaders to give Friday sermons at our Sunni mosques.
To my fellow Americans who weaponize Islam to stoke fear for their own gains: Please don’t. This is an isolated incident, and Muslims in New Mexico are already reeling.
Islamophobia has been on the rise since 9/11. We have had to apologize for the actions of a tiny, hated extremist faction for the past 20 years.
Don’t ask us to apologize for the murder of four of our brothers in faith. Don’t politicize this tragedy to prove your ill-informed point that Muslims are indeed the ignorant savages that you “all thought.”
Mostly, please don’t use this tragedy as another reason to demonize Brown immigrants.
It is time we stop “othering” and start thinking and feeling.