From Shiites chanting alternative calls to prayer in Cairo’s 6th October district, to political leaders’ warnings about the Shiite crescent strangling the region – as issued by the King of Jordan, to Sheikh al-Qaradawi’s comments about the danger of the spread of Shiism in Egypt, where the Muslim community is 100 percent Sunni, to Shiite Husseiniyahs and Sunni mosques being targeted by bombings, to the remarkable step by al-Azhar to make defaming or insulting the companions of the prophet or his wives a criminal act in the Egyptian constitution, to the provocative tweets sent in Kuwait about the tribe and family of the prophet, peace be upon him, which required the Emir of Kuwait to intervene and order the prosecution of the perpetrators because they had struck a blow to national unity and sowed the seeds of discord.
Throughout history, the vast majority of rational people on our planet, from every sect and religion, and regardless of race, color or ethnicity, have agreed that sectarianism is a criminal act. Human nature abhors the very principle. This is true on paper, but in practice we see many differences and disputes over whether an act is sectarian or not. This is just like the human consensus on renouncing terrorism, for when we break terrorism down into individual facts and events, arguments erupt and debates rage.
There are many facts, events, words and deeds that constitute sectarianism, but the picture is not black and white. Here we can identify three categories; the first being blatant sectarian stances that no one can argue about except radicals, but these arguments have little weight. Blatant sectarianism includes the harassment of certain individuals just because they belong to a certain sect, denying certain communities’ citizenship rights in full or in part, whether relating to education, employment, health and so on, and passing harsh judgments upon them on the basis of the Gulf saying “there is no such thing as a clean rat”.
The second category pertains to words and actions that cannot be classified as sectarian. Central to this is the school of thought that a firm hand must be used against those who encroach upon public order and challenge the law, and that the rules must be applied even if the perpetrator belongs to a minority. Here one cannot pay attention to sectarian obsessions, or consecrate them, because the danger lies in not applying the laws of citizenship in their real sense, including punishment, to all members of society.
The third category remains problematic and is something of a grey area, but unfortunately it is not small. This category refers to people who hurl accusations of sectarianism at others hastily and without proof, when it is difficult to identify the real dynamics of the situation. For example, those who accuse al-Azhar of sectarianism because it is seeking to install an article in the Egyptian constitution that prohibits insulting the prophet or his wives, peace be upon him and his family, and criminalizes attacks on Sunni mosques or Shiite Husseiniyahs, are in fact themselves engaging in a form of sectarianism. We can say the same thing about those who criticize attempts to spread the Shiite doctrine in Sunni Muslim countries, as is happening now in the Sunni Muslim states of the Arab Maghreb. Those who criticize these attempts are immediately tarring themselves with the sectarian brush, even though they were trying to defend against it in the first place. We already have enough sectarian conflict to threaten the peace and security of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and several of the Gulf States, so how can we allow sectarianism to breed in countries known for their religious harmony and unity?
In short, anyone who wades into a conflict between sects is not safe from the flames of sectarianism at all, and if they manage to protect themselves from the fire, they will still suffer from the smoke.