For the past few months I have been attending a monthly women’s halaqah that is mostly attended by Shias, and the organizers are Shia. It is an inter-sect group, though, and the presenters are both Sunni and Shia. I also went last week to attend an event affiliated with the same group in which we heard a recitation of Dua Kumail followed by a short discussion on some ayaat from a particular Surah from the Quran. There is another meeting this Thursday and then the following Thursday during Ramadan, and Inshallah I plan to attend those, too. We pray in a Shia jamaat at these events.
Throughout my time various Muslim American communities, I have always had a couple of Shia friends who participated in our local Sunni mosques and Muslim groups, perhaps due to lack of Shia oriented options. I remember having Shia friends complain to me about Obnoxious Aunties at the mosque who came up to them and told them Shi’ism was the wrong path and that they should convert to Sunni Islam. I actually had some similar experiences when I lived in Oman, which is an Ibaadhi majority country. Occasionally an Ibaadhi person would just say, “Why don’t you convert to Ibaadhism? It is better.” Though I was a sectarian minority in Oman, and though there has been political and even physical fighting between various sects in Oman, I never felt threatened or offended by such suggestions. Although it didn’t occur to me at the time, perhaps this was because deep down I knew that Sunnism is the global majority sect, and outside of this tiny Omani bubble I would suffer no personal judgement or persecution for being a Sunni. I can’t say that the same thing is the case for Shia friends who have been told to convert to Sunnism by Obnoxious Aunties. Although there is a history of warring between Ibaadhis and members of other sects, it is regionally limited and not something as widely known as strife between Sunni and Shia. Although I see the devastation of Sunni Shia tensions playing out in places like Pakistan, Afganistan, and Iraq, I also look at the long history of coexistence and even syncretic lifestyles among Sunni and Shia. My mother in law told me that in her childhood in Lucknow, Sunnis regularly observed Muharram’s public sobriety, and that on special occasions, it was important to pay respects to the Shia Imambara no matter what one’s sect was. This is really the way we should be living, I suppose.
I don’t mean to sound self-important, but I am really proud to be part of this inter-sect group. I like the idea of Sunnis and Shias learning and worshiping together. These are bridges that should be frequently crossed. During these halaqas, we get to hear from a larger variety of sources of knowledge and traditions, which is enriching.
I really know very little about Shi’ism, though. I’d like to learn more. At a friend’s suggestion, I am planning to watch the Iranian serial the Mukhtar-Nama. I may watch it dubbed Urdu. I have been watching really silly and trivial stuff in Urdu for the past few months (Humsafar, Maat, Durr-e Shahvar, etc) when I could be watching something that adds to my knowledge and perspective instead of just titillating me with saas-bahu dramaybaazi and romantic tension.
This particular Shia group that I have fallen in with is progressive oriented and much more gender egalitarian than some of my other study options around here. I have no idea if this is common for Shias. (Common for Twelvers, that is. I know Ismailis are very egalitarian in their jamaatkhanas.) Actually, I am sure it is not that common. But this group is good about such things, at least. For example, when we met as a mixed gender group for the du’a recitation, both men and women read aloud and recited and participated very actively in the discussion. The woman who read the dua in English used gender-egalitarian language when she spoke of the Worshiper, rather than just saying “He…” and so on. That is a nice and refreshing change from some other types of mixed gender halaqas I have attended where women sat in the back and had to ask questions by writing them down on slips of paper.
So, that is what I have been up to lately in terms of my spiritual life.