Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
Concerned and confused, she said: “Since my return from the US during my school vacation, my classmate at King Faisal University, Fatima, is acting cautiously every time we communicate. On my visit to Dammam, I met her with the rest of our group, but noticed that she was not as talkative and excited as usual. Many of our group members were absent. I wasn’t impressed with their excuses, after all I told them weeks in advance I was coming.
“Finally, the party host told me, privately, that things had changed in the last year or so. Some Sunni girls are not welcoming the Shia, and the latter felt it without being told, and decided to withdraw from all but the most important events. So now only Fatima is attending, but she is not her same self."
I appreciated Fatima’s courage and insistence on fighting the sectarian divide and understood her cautious attitude.
“My visit to Bahrain was even more troubling. Feelings were not hidden, and no Shia were attending the reception my Sunni friends were holding in my honor. I was warned against visiting Shia friends, and was told that they had moved anyway from the neighborhood. Sunni and Shia now live and work separately! I called and met with some of them in a restaurant. While they were happy to see me, there was some tension in the air.
“Finally, I returned to Jeddah, where all my friends belong to the Sunni sect. But, alas, the discussion was focused on the same issues. I tried explaining that most ideas about the Shia were myths and propaganda by their haters. ‘You need to read their literature and talk to them, before making such damning judgement,’ I would say. Few listened. Fewer agreed. I felt like it had been ages since I had left home — not just 16 months!”
I told her: “Unfortunately, that’s exactly what has happened. But the fire has been under the Gulf sands much longer than your time away. This region has been under attack in many ways. The Israeli axis tried indirect control, and that wasn’t enough. They tried invasion and occupation and failed. But what they always succeed at, is what worked for them during the colonial era — divide and rule. So here we are, quarreling over issues that were dead 1,400 years ago, while the neocolonialists enjoy the show, waiting for the right moment to take us by surprise.”
Before the Arab Summit in Baghdad last March, I published a call to Arab leaders asking them to issue a law that criminalizes hate speech. The world, after losing over 50 million of its inhabitants during World War II, decided to ban and punish hate merchants. Democratic Europe and the US, proud as they are of free speech laws, would not tolerate inciting people against each other on the bases of color, faith, sex orientation or ethnicity. Shariah laws prohibit such incitements on principle. So we are more obliged to make it crystal clear to those dividers and hate speakers that “fetnah” — inciting Muslims to hate each others — is now against the law.
Today, it is not only an ideological debate on satellite TVs, and in sectarian magazines, religious schools and mosques. The issues have filled people with so much anger, distrust and aversion that marriages are broken, family members are estranged from each other, neighbors are fighting among themselves, and whole tribes, villages and towns, which were peaceful and coherent, are now divided along religious lines. Voluntarily or forcefully, districts are being cleansed from followers of opposite faiths.
The civil wars in India, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, the Philippines, Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Lebanon are only recent examples of what to expect. Shall we wait until the rest of us go down that hellish road?
I am calling on Muslim leaders convening today in the holiest place on Earth to put a stop to this madness and outrageous defiance of Allah’s laws. In the name of the Ummah of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), I call for a strict law that criminalizes any act or speech that calls for the hate or discrimination of any person or group, whether or not it leads to an actual attack on such people.
The mechanism of punishment should be clear and stipulated in widely promulgated laws. Tolerant and wise leaders of different sects and faiths should act together to voice their concerns, explain away misunderstandings and call for unity and peaceful coexistence. The dialogue that started in Makkah four years ago, under the auspices of King Abdullah, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, should continue between the religious leaders of Muslim sects.
To our leaders, I say: “Our future is in your hands, please make it secure and brighter with unity, love and peace.”