Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
I have a Shi`ite co-worker. We often discuss and argue about differences between Sunnis and Shi`as. They seem to have many strange practices, such as self-flagellation, praying differently....
I pray this finds you in the best of health and spirits.
The most important thing is that we don't dispute with others about matters of religion. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) warned firmly about the harm in dispute, and showed us that the way of a believer is righteous action, not mere talk and argument.
Our differences with our Shi`a brethren
The root of the difference with the Shi`ias is not one of some aspects of fiqh, such as the points you mention--self-flagellation, praying differently, and so on.
The primary difference is one of methodology: how and where we take our religion from.
The Sunni path is based on the Qur'an and Sunna, as transmitted to us by all the Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace). We believe in the uprightness of all the Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace).
After them came the Followers (tabi`in) and following generations, including the imams of fiqh, hadith, aqida, tafsir, and tasawwuf.
The Shi`ite path is based on their transmission of the positions of the Twelve Imams. They reject the authority, and even uprightness, of the vast majority of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace).
Thus, there are fundamental differences between Sunnis and Shi`a in matters of belief, in fiqh and hadith methodology, and in our general way in deen. Given these differences, Sunni scholarship regards Shi`ism as an innovation (bid`a). However, as Ibn Abidin emphasizes in his Radd al-Muhtar, none of the mujtahid imams of Sunni Islam held Shi`as to be disbelievers. They are people of belief in Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace), and we owe them the basic rights we owe any Muslim.
The sunna with those of innovation is not to argue with them, and to avoid the company of those who would argue on such points--or, at least, to avoid such arguments. Rather, arguments and debate on religious matters are for scholars, and only when there is a genuine religious interest in these.
You asked about:
1. Self Flagellation (beating/Maatam) during Muharram. As far as I know the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) strictly prohibited the loud wailing etc. that people exhibit upon the death of a close relative. It causes great pain for the deceased when those left behind do this act. Using the same analogy, would it not be Ghunah to beat yourself with chains/razors/knives etc? Please advise if possible.
Allah Most High said, "We have ennobled the children of Adam." From this, the scholars mention that the entire human being is to be respected, and it is not permitted to deliberately cause harm to oneself or others except in ways the Sacred Law has permitted. However, we should not enter into polemics with Shi`as on such points--argument harms relationships, and makes the upholding of the brotherhood of faith that we share difficult.
2. Shiite namaz is different to that of any of the 4 Madhab. They say they read according to the Ahle-Bayt. So, does that mean that in our case, our namaz was different before the guidance of Imam-E-Azam Abu Hanifa (R.A)?
According to Sunni scholarship, the transmission of Shi`a scholarship from Ahl al-Bayt is weak and--if we apply the principles of hadith methodology--unsound. Sunni hadith scholars hold that Shi`ite methodology in hadith is, in general, weak and unsound.
However, these are points of dispute that have raged for centuries. Rehashing them--particularly for non-scholars--has little benefit and much harm. Rather, we should be aware that we have fundamental differences, but respect each other and fulfill each other's rights of brotherhood as Muslims with dignity.
And your final question:
3. Is it permissible for an Ummati (non-Sayyid) to marry a Sayyid woman? There seems to be no distinction in Iran, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. I know of many people at work (mostly Iranians) where this has occurred. This seems only to be a problem in Pakistan and India. What would be the official line on this? I seem to remember some thing that after Karbala the Sayyidas did marry Ummati ( Hazrat Zain-Al-Abideen's Sisters?)
There are two things:
As for permissibility: It is permitted for a non-sayyid to marry a sayyid woman if her parents consent, because the fatwa in the Hanafi school is that in situations where the suitor is not a legal match (kuf') for the woman, the validity of the marriage depends on the consent of the parents. [As mentioned by Ibn Abidin in his Radd al-Muhtar]
The Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) himself explained, however, that the first consideration in choosing a spouse should be their deen. "Deen" is a very comprehensive word. It does not only mean praying and fasting. The deen relates to one's entire life-transaction:
(1) One's relationship to Allah, through belief, worship, and following His Commands;
(2) One's relationship to others, through being good in one's dealings, good character, honesty, uprightness, and so on;
Therefore, it covers:
(2) Outward worship;
(3) Good character and manners (akhlaq);
(4) Good, upright dealings with others (mu`amalat), in accordance to the Sacred Law and guidance of the Beloved of Allah (peace and blessings unlimited be upon him, his family, companions, and followers);
(5) One's turning to Allah in all one's affairs (suluk).
Therefore, these are things one needs to consider when marrying someone. Someone with the above is better than a sayyid with shortcomings in the above, and would be a more suitable choice in marriage. This is why another condition for a legal match is that their "deen" be comparable to the deen of the girl and her father. [Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]
Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) reports that the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) said,
"Whoever's actions slow him down will not be speeded up by his lineage." [Muslim 4867, Tirmidhi 1853, Abu Dawud 1243]
At the same time, if there is a suitable suitor who is a sayyid, this would be a legally-recognized consideration for a sayyid woman and her family.
Check the Related Q & A answers from the Hanafi fiqh list that may be of relevance.
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