The Third and Final part to the Sunni Shia Marriage “Sushi” marriage true story. Read part one and two first !
My husband, a man of mixed race ethnicity next to me a Pakistani girl. We have gotten used to the stares, especially the really long ones from the older Asian ladies.
At first it was hard. I moved into his family home. His family were really nice but living with them was very hard because our differences were around me all the time. Shortly after we got married it was Ramadan. His family opened their fast ‘later’ than Sunnis, they didn’t do taraweeh prayer and they prayed differently. The year before I prayed every single tarawee in the mosque. On Eid his family celebrated on different days than my family and it was all just a bit awkward.
My husband didn’t really talk about religion initially to me. He must have been fed up of talking about it by this point. Maybe he wanted me to feel as ease in the initial months. His father, on the other hand wasted no time. He talked to me about Shiaism all the time. He told me stories of how Omar (ra) caused the miscarriage of Fatima Zahra, the battle of Camel and of course stories about the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (ra). He talked about Islamic History as if it was the most important part of the religion and how many companions were wrong. He threw names at me like Zubair and Muawiyah. I knew who these people were due to my Islamic history courses but I never gave them too much weight. I felt really uncomfortable. I never used to respond to anything he said, I just listened. We moved out after 1 year so the discomfort was short lived.
The challenges we faced as a married couple were made to feel even greater because of the underlying feeling ‘maybe this wasn’t meant to me’. It dawned on me early on how much my cousins words had impacted me. I think I must have initially believed that the marriage was haraam because anything, even slightly different to what I thought was ‘normal’ frightened me. I felt like I was in a dream, that all this would be over soon, I would be back home and all would be normal again. I believed my cousin was right and I was in a sinful marriage. I still don’t understand why but I did. The only way I could save myself now was to ‘save him’. To save him from the ‘error of his beliefs’. It would be a mercy to him because he was wrong. So I began my mission to save him and spare myself.
Any religious discussions between us were basically him explaining his point of view on certain topics and me disagreeing with them. I couldn’t find a real reason for disagreeing with them but I did all the same. I criticised everything. I used to think he was doing things differently to be awkward. I became arrogant. My husband, on the other hand, was very patient with my constant questioning of his beliefs. Maybe he understood the narrative I was exposed to and that I needed time to realise it wasn’t true.
Nothing was ever forced upon me in terms of belief and practices. I prayed how I wanted, I went to whichever mosque I wanted and I prayed tarawee when I wanted. I was never told to go to a shia mosque or listen to shia lectures. I listened to my ‘own Sunni scholars’. My husband never went to the Muharram majlis’ and generally prayed in whichever mosque was closest (which at most times ended up being a Sunni mosque anyway). He was more interested in ‘political Islam’ and philosophy.
With time my arrogance lessened. I became wiser and humble. I started listening to his views rather than just hearing them poised to argue the points. Since there was no pressure to conform to his beliefs, there was no reason to ‘defend my religion’ so I began to listen. And when I listened I learnt. I understood and agreed with a lot of his beliefs. For example; the need for a correct system of authority and leadership. In the Sunni world there are so many ‘scholars’ all preaching their own versions of Islam some people are left not knowing what version is right. There seems to be a lot of confusion and unanswered questions especially amongst the educated youth.
If you want to become a doctor, you have to go through 5 years of medical school plus another few years training before you become qualified enough to treat and advise patients yourself. However when it comes to matters of religion, people seem to be able to preach without anyone questioning whether or not they are qualified to do so.
The state of world affairs never sat comfortably with me. Throughout university I never understood why there was no more support for Palestinians. Why Saudi Arabia was always on the ‘wrong side’ of any political stance. For instance, why has Saudi Arabia, never openly condemned Israel for their treatment of the Palestinians? Why was there an Iran/Iraq war that lasted 10 years, muslim on muslim fighting? I leant about Wahabiism, Salafism and the different ”isms” is Islam and what they all meant. I learned to chose my ‘scholar’ wisely and not to just listen to anyone who calls himself a scholar. When you have a question ”Find the most knowledgable scholar” he’d say to me. And still does.
As a Sunni I still disagree with certain Shia practices; temporary marriage and the necessity to pray on the ‘turba’ being 2 of them. The prophet sws used to pray with his forehead on the ground/mud. There would not have been prayer mats in those days and if they did they would be made with a natural material. Therefore Shias like to pray with their foreheads on a ‘turba’ or paper as opposed to a synthetic carpet. That seems logical, but I notice all the turbas have ‘Ya Hussein’ written on them making me think its a bit more politically driven. My husband doesn’t pray on a turba himself, he prays on a piece of paper (a natural material) so this issue doesn’t affect me practically.
The ‘Shia Imams’ are the descendants of Prophet Muhammad sws. They were people of knowledge and even the Sunni Imams were taught by them. The famous Abu Hanayfah was a student of Imam Jaffar al Sadiq. As a muslim you cannot but have love and respect for these imams. I don’t however believe they were divinely appointed and are infallible. I believe the divine guidance stopped at Prophet Muhammad.
The other contentious issue between Sunnis and Shias is that of the companions of the prophet sws. I will never question the legitimacy of Abu Bakr (ra) I will never accept that someone who stood by the prophet sws all his life, who was mentioned in the Quran during their time in the Cave of Hira, would upon his death become misguided. I will not accept that Omar (ra) caused the miscarriage of Fatima Zahra and I will never listen to anyone do lanat on any of the companions. (Lanat is the practice of cursing certain figures in Islamic History.) It says in the Quran:
”God is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him. This is the greatest triumph”
Having said that my husband has never done ‘lanat’ against any of them and doesn’t disrespect them either. Does he agree with everything they did? Probably not. Does he curse them or openly disrespect them for it? Absolutely not. In fact I don’t think I have never heard any Shias do lanat against the companions in the 10 years I have been married. It does happen. My sister in law (husband’s brothers wife) told me once she doesn’t think there is a problem with it. I wouldn’t be surprised if she is one of the ones that does do it, but I have never heard her and its not as common as its thought of being in the sunni world.
I used to worry about our religion differences, but the more I meet people I realise that even in sunni-sunni relationships there are disagreements. I don’t just mean fiqh(jurisprudence) issues, people disagree with matters relating to Aqeeda(faith). One partner is more of the hardline Salafi opinion while the other is more mainstream. I also notice outright hostilities between different ‘sunni groups’ There’s a lot of name calling. The ‘salalfi’ mosque calls the followers of the ‘more sufi’ mosque ‘wobblers or barelvis’. The Barelvis in turn call the Salafi mosque ‘The Isis Mosque’. Its all quite childish. People should be free to decide what opinion they wish to follow and respect followers of other schools of faith. I believe Shiaism is just another school of thought.
What makes you a muslim is the shahada: There is no God but Allah and the Prophet Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. Anyone who believes that is a muslim. It really is that simple.
I believe I have married a muslim. I believe I have married a better muslim than myself whom I love, admire and have the utmost respect for. He prays 5 daily prayers, he fasts, he has good manners, he is fair and just. If that doesn’t make you muslim then I don’t know what does. People may disagree and they have every right to do so. This is my opinion.
People often ask me about our children. With regards to them we can only do our best. Will your children be sunni or shia? I get asked that regularly and my answer to that is, do they really need to choose? Calling yourself a sunni or shia by definition divides you from the other so I would rather they just call themselves ‘muslim’. I asked my husband once about how the children would pray and he said, ”as long as they pray, I don’t care how they pray.” And that’s it. Its the principle more that the fiqh that really matters.
I would like my children to grow up and accept the religion of Islam. I don’t know what specific part of the religion they will be inclined towards. I don’t think I would be able to make them conform to any specific belief even if I wanted to. When they grow up all the different religions and schools of thought and opinions will be surrounding them. They will ultimately make their own mind up. I will guide them as much as possible, I will educate them so they can investigate on their own. They will be taught about the Prophet’s life. They will learn about the lives of the 4 caliphs. They will learn about the Shia Imams.
I do not want my children to have an ultra conservative hardline upbringing. I would not want them to believe for example that only Salafism is the right way, or that only Shiaism is the right way. The most important thing to me is that they are Muslim and that their characters and manners be the embodiment of Islam.
What they ultimately will believe only Allah knows. At the end of the day I’m still learning myself.
There will always be people who disagree with our marriage. There will always be people who think our marriage is haraam. Even to this day, when I meet new people I am hesitant to tell them I am married to a Shia until I know them better. I try to correct the misconceptions where I can. People seem to listen to me because I am a ‘sunni’. Shia people are persecuted for being Shia throughout the world especially since the rise of ISIS and its very sad.
I’d like to think that I could contribute to building bridges between the 2 schools. In a world where there is a rising trend of hostility towards Muslims we must unite to defend our beautiful religion of Islam.
”The ones who separate (the) islamic world by making Shiite-Sunni divisions, are neither Sunni nor Shiite, the are impures. They are certainly the hands of opressors who want to invade the Lands of Islam.”
”Verily Allah will not change the condition of the people, until they change what’s in themselves.” Quran Al Ra’d 13:verse 11