“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you.” (The Holy Quran 49:13)
As Muslims, we already have enough Islamophobia and religious misunderstandings to occupy our lives until the end of time. Therefore the misunderstandings and bigotry that happen within our own communities is baffling and honestly quite sad, often targeted at the smaller and often more marginalized Shia Muslim communities. The amount of times I’ve come out as Shia to my non-Shia friends and have them either explode in anger or silently shake their heads in disrespect is uncountable, and unfortunately this happens to many of us on a daily basis. In a small attempt to clear out the misunderstandings and help foster a new environment of dialogue and open discussion, here are some of the most common misunderstandings of Shia Muslims that I’ve come across:
1. Shia Muslims don’t pray to God
This may come as a surprise, but there are a shockingly high amount of Muslims who have somehow been convinced that Shia Muslims do not pray to God (Astaghfirullah), and instead pray to Imam Ali or Imam Hussein or somehow do not pray to any entity at all. This is completely false. The main belief of all Muslims is the belief in One God, and God only. Shia Muslims, including all Muslims, believe in one God and pray to Allah five times a day if not more. We love God just as much as any other Muslim, and to assume that we do not pray to God is very offensive, and a blatant example of extreme bigotry.
2. Shia Muslims have a different Quran
This accusation is often easier to disregard and disprove, however is still unfortunately a highly popular misconception. The misconception that Shia Muslims read a different Quran is completely false. There is only one Quran, and one of the miracles of our religion is the preservation of the original Quran recited by Prophet Mohammad. Many have tried to convince me that Shia Muslims instead read some sort of distorted Quran made in Iran somewhere, however simply walk into any Shia Muslim centre near you and check the copies of the holy Quran on the shelf. We all (Alhamdulillah) read the same Quran.
3. Shia Muslims don’t pray the required five prayers a day
This is one of the most common misconceptions, and is used as an attack on Shia Muslims when it is absolutely not true. The five daily prayers that all Muslims perform is a requirement, and is a devotional form of love and respect to God. Shia Muslims pray the required five prayers a day. The only difference is the timings of prayer. We pray the five prayers but split it up into three times a day. The reasoning for this is because the Quran only mentions three times of prayer during the day. Sunni scholars agree that the Quran mentions only three times for prayer, however keep to praying five times of day based on hadith. So the only difference is the timings of prayer, and it is completely false to accuse Shia Muslims as not praying the required five daily prayers. In addition, there are many Shia Muslims who actually pray five times of day similar to the Sunni school of thought. It is therefore not true to accuse Shia Muslims of somehow not praying the daily prayers required of all Muslims.
4. Shia Muslims pray to a rock
This misconception comes from the fact that Shia Muslims pray on a torba, a round piece of hardened clay that one touches to the forehead during sujood. Shia Muslims do not pray to a rock (Astaghfirullah). We believe that whilst doing sujood our foreheads must touch natural earth, and not something artificial. This is to help keep the practice of what Prophet Mohammad did during his prayer. Numerous hadiths stated when the Prophet lifted his head from prayer the mark of earth could still be seen on his forehead. We pray on pieces of natural clay in order to keep prayer as natural and original as possible. While there are many hadith that support this claim, here is one of the most common ones by the famous Sunni scholar Bukhari:
“The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘The earth has been made for me a place of prostration and a means of purification, so wherever a man of my Ummah is when the time for prayer comes, let him pray.'” Bukhari
5. Shia Muslims only love Imam Ali and Imam Hussein and not Prophet Mohammad
This accusation is very common and clearly shows a lack of knowledge on the part of those participating in this misconception. Shia Muslims have pride in loving the Prophet, as well as loving his family which he encouraged us to do. Loving the Prophet means to love his beloved family as well. We love Imam Ali because of his role in preserving the religion and his love for the Prophet. We also love Imam Hussein (as well as Fatima, Hassan, Zaynab, and the rest of the family) because of their devotion to the religion in which they gave up their lives for. Many of my Sunni friends have no idea who the Prophet’s family were, which I believe is a lack of understanding of a huge part of who the Prophet was. To love the Prophet is to love his family, and to love his family is to love the Prophet
“That is of which Allah gives the good news to His servants, (to) those who believe and do good deeds. Say [O Muhammad]: I do not ask of you any reward for it but love for my near relatives; and whoever earns good, We give him more of good therein; surely Allah is Forgiving, Grateful.” (The Holy Quran 42:23)
6. Shia Muslims focus too much on Imam Hussein
This accusation is often used as an insult, which saddens me a level almost indescribable in words. I encourage all who do not have any knowledge on the Prophet’s grandson Hussein to read and understand who he was, both historically and religiously. Shia Muslims lament and remember his martyrdom, in which he was killed after standing up to corruption and injustice. Hussein’s body was mutilated and his severed head was displayed for all to fear. Imam Hussein’s family as well as other members of the Prophet’s family were chained and dragged to the Sham (modern day Damascus) to be held as prisoners in inhumane conditions. Both Shia and Sunni Muslims remember his death during the month of Muharram when he was killed, and the pilgrimage to his shrine in Karbala attracts more people yearly than the obligatory pilgrimage of Hajj. It is not only Shia Muslims who make this pilgrimage for Ashura, as hundreds of Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sunni Muslims also commemorate his life and his stand against injustice by paying homage to his grave in Karbala.
7. Shia Muslims don’t rely on hadith or have unreliable hadith
This misconception is an unfortunate product of more than a thousand and a half years of suppression and smearing of the Shia community. To begin with, how to pray itself is completely based on hadith for both Sunni and Shia. If Shia Muslims did not rely on hadith, how would we be praying? We rely on famous Sunni scholars for hadith as well as our own hadith that many Sunni scholars have declared unreliable simply because it is from a Shia source. The misconception that all Shia hadith is unreliable must be understood as being simply untrue and a form of suppression. What makes Shia hadith unreliable? Many people will say that simply being “Shia” makes the hadith unreliable, but many cannot go further to describe why. This obviously is a blatant example of targeted suppression with no basis in truth or logical common sense. Many of our hadiths are taken from Ahlul Al Bayt, with many famous Sunni scholars agreeing on the importance of the Quran and Ahlul Al Bayt. The most famous hadith of the Prophet Muhammad:
“I am about to answer the call (of death). Verily, I leave behind two precious things (thaqalayn) amongst you: the Book of Allah and my Ahl al-Bayt. Verily, the two will never separate until they come back to me by the side of the Pond.”
This has been narrated by Al-Hakim al-Naysaburi, al-Mustadrak `ala al-Sahihayn (Beirut), volume 3, pages 109-110, 148, and 533); Muslim, al-Sahih, (English translation), book 031, numbers 5920-3; al-Tirmidhi, al-Sahih, volume 5, pages 621-2, numbers 3786 and 3788; volume 2, page 219; Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Musnad, volume 3, pages 14, 17, 26; volume 3, page 26, 59; volume 4, page 371; volume 5, pages 181-2, 189-190; al-Nasa’i, Khasa’is’Ali ibn Abi Talib, hadith number 79; and over 30 other Sunni scholars as well as Shia scholars of hadith.
8. Shia Muslims all hate Sunnis or other non-Shia Muslims
This, similar to the previous misconception, is again used as a tool for dividing the differences and promoting hatred of the other. No, Shia Muslims do not hate Sunni Muslims or any other non-Shia Muslims. At the end of the day, we are all Muslims who believe in Allah and love the Prophet. Although there are differences, we all pray in the same direction, the same amount of times, to the same God, with the same amount of love for our religion. This misconception that we are closed minded or cut off from the rest of the Muslim community is false, and in fact we welcome dialogue and open discussions. Unfortunately it must be said that there are extreme on both sides which fuel sectarian hatred and must be stopped. The reality however is that there are numerous countries in which Shia and Sunni Muslims live side by side in peace and harmony: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and others. There are Sunni and Shia marriages, friendships, coworkers, and children. This over-exaggeration of the hatred between Sunni and Shia Muslims is a result of mass media and sectarian politics, and it should be our duty to put an end to divisive and toxic misrepresentations of the two schools of thought.
9. Shia Muslims are all from Iran or support the Iranian government
Unfortunately this misconception comes almost unknowingly to many and many don’t seem to even realize they are making this misconception. Not all Shia Muslims are Iranian or support the Iranian government. Yes, the majority of Iranians are Shia. However the majority of Shia are not Iranian. There are Shia in Saudi Arabia, in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Morocco, in Nigeria, in South Africa, in India, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, in Turkey, in Malaysia, in Indonesia, in Singapore. There are Shia Muslims in every single continent on earth, with a colorful array of different cultures and backgrounds. To say all Shia are Iranian or support the Iranian government is to say all Sunnis are actually Saudi Arabian and support the Saudi monarchy. This of course, does not make any sense and is a misconception that can be easily disregarded.
These are but a few of the common misconceptions surrounding Shia Muslims on a daily basis, and although there are many more, this attempt was to foster an opening for further discussion between Shia and Sunni communities. Unfortunately these misconceptions are but a few that plagues our world. With extreme leaders on both sides spewing hatred and ignorant misconceptions to wide-eyed youth, many people resort to violence and hatred of the other without even knowing why.
In conclusion, I believe it is important to remember that the Holy Quran encourages us to learn and to know one another, no matter what background or culture or belief we come from. We should uphold this beautiful concept, and move forwards towards intelligent discussions and open minded questioning in order to better understand ourselves and other Muslims.