Shia And Sunni Muslims In India Stand Shoulder To Shoulder For Joint Prayers “We believe in the oneness of God, we have the same Prophet, we share the same holy book.” Carol Kuruvilla Religion Associate Editor, The Huffington Post Posted: 09/29/2015 02:51 PM EDT | Edited: 10/01/2015 10:45 AM EDT
Shia and Sunni Muslims in Lucknow, India, came together as one family to hold joint prayers for Eid al Adha this year. The Sept. 25 service was a grassroots effort by “Shoulder to Shoulder,” a group of volunteers seeking to highlight the common spiritual roots between these two sects of Islam. SYED ASAD HAIDER ZAIDI Sunni and Shia Muslims gathered together for combined prayers in Lucknow, India. Syed Asad Haider Zaidi, a 32-year-old Shia Muslim living in New Delhi, is one of Shoulder to Shoulder’s organizers. He was born in Kuwait and still feels a strong connection to that country. So when the Islamic State claimed in July that it was behind an attack on a Shia mosque that killed 27 people, Zaidi felt like it was his own home that had been damaged.
The split between Sunni and Shia Muslims can be traced back to a dispute between the prophet Muhammad’s followers over who should assume spiritual leadership after his death. Other differences in rituals and theology developed over time, but for the most part, these two branches of Islam have coexisted peacefully throughout the centuries. The leaders of the Islamic State, however, consider Shias to be heretics and have been accused of systematically targeting these Muslims. Zaidi was inspired by the reaction of Kuwait’s Muslim community to the mosque attacks. Shia and Sunni Muslims in the country joined together to hold joint prayers at the Shia mosque to show their unity in the face of tragedy. “It suddenly hit me that this is the way to counter the evil ISIS,” Zaidi told The Huffington Post in an email. “ISIS are not only anti-humanity but anti-Islamic as well. What better way to thwart their designs than having unity between Shias and Sunnis, by having love and brotherhood?”
Zaidi organized the first Shoulder to Shoulder joint prayer in New Delhi in July, with the help of his co-founder, Mazin Khan, a 35-year-old Sunni Muslim. This month’s initiative happened in Lucknow, with the support of that city’s natives. Clashes between Shias and Sunnis are frequent in Lucknow, Zaidi said. SYED ASAD HAIDER ZAIDI A photo from the Shoulder to Shoulder joint prayer service in Lucknow, India, which united Shia and Sunni Muslims. “#Lucknow, a city of rich cultural, linguistic, architectural and culinary heritage, is also infamous for historical sectarian strife,” organizers of the event wrote on their Facebook group page. “For most Muslims, however, all of this makes no sense. We believe in the oneness of God, we have the same Prophet, we share the same holy book.”
During the Friday service, a Sunni imam led the prayer at Lucknow’s historic Shia religious center, Imambara Sibtainabad. Zaidi said he drove to Lucknow from New Delhi just to be at the event. “It was a fantastic feeling to pray with my brothers in faith. But what really touched me was that a Hindu brother had also been present during the prayers. He didn’t offer namaz [prayer], but he came to mark his support for this movement,” Zaidi wrote. He hopes that these joint prayers will inspire more acts of interfaith unity in India. “This is not the end, just the beginning,” he wrote. This story has been updated with information about other supporters of the Shoulder to Shoulder initiative.