An Ideological Break: The Sunnis And The Shiites


09 May 2010

By Dr. Hamad Al-Majid

In the English language, a “break” means a pause or interval to relax after exerting effort. Due to the tense sectarian climate in Saudi Arabia, Sunni preacher Dr. Saad al Buraik and Shiite preacher Hassan al Saffar took an ideological "break" on an episode of the Al Bayan al Tali talk show last Friday. The program is broadcast by the Al Daleel television channel and is presented by Dr. Abdulaziz Qassim who has achieved a number of successes with this show. When I described this episode as being exciting, I was not merely referring to its content, for by bringing together two figures that represent two different sects i.e. "the Sunnis and the Shiites" this is something that in itself represents enough "spice" for a "hot" media dish. However, I believe that this specific episode may have appeared "too soon" with regards to the presence of a Shiite Sheikh who is extremely influential in Saudi Arabia, especially as this channel is a Saudi owned and run satellite channel, and Saudi Arabians primarily follow the Sunni Salafist trend.

It is normal that this kind of interview at this particular time would receive strong objections to the extent that people have insulted and cursed this show, its presenter, its guests, its producer, its broadcaster, its viewers, and even the Arabsat and Nilesat Satellite operators. However, in my opinion, this kind of show is important as it broadens horizons and allows for different schools of thought in the country to understand each other in a way that is not distorted. This principle of understanding one another has become crucial for the social security of a religious or ideological group in any country in the world. A fact that may be unclear to many and therefore should be clarified is that the principle of coexistence, mutual understanding, and dialogue has noting to do with convergence between different doctrines.

The meetings of understanding and coexistence should not delve too deeply into religious references or shed light on the difference [between sects] or uncover past ordeals with regards to trials and tribulations and bloodshed. We should also not allow the tense voices amongst the followers of both sects to lead public opinion, and rather the wise and rational elites of both sects should be chosen to take over the leadership in order to navigate away from the mounting waves of sectarianism. An obvious example here is the Iraqi model where trouble makers on both sides pushed the country towards the brink and destroyed its security, stability, and welfare. In my opinion, the Saffar – Buraik meeting, despite the lack of a predetermined theme for this episode, represented a reasonable and encouraging start.

Critics of this type of dialogue must be aware that the ideological terrain is a divine force and a universal norm. In the same manner that people adapt to geographical terrain, to mountains and valleys and other geographical features, and accept they cannot change this, there is also no option but to coexist with and understand the nature of different ideological terrain.

The Saffar – Buraik meeting was a practical lesson in the art of dialogue which transcended the dialogue that take place amongst elites and intellectuals. During this program, my 9-year old daughter asked me while looking at Sheikh Hassan al Saffar's face "Is that Sheikh Saudi?" It was clear from her question that she was amazed to see a Sheikh with Saudi facial features wearing a turban. I answered "Yes, he is." This was an opportunity for my daughter to become acquainted with the religious topography of Saudi Arabia in an objective manner that protects her own faith from, while at the same time allows her to become familiar with other sects without being injured by the barbed wire that separates them.

 

 

 

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