By: Shahid Athar, M. D.
One of the ironies of our Islamic history is the Shia-Sunni divide. We must make every effort to eliminate misconceptions on both sides of the divide.
Following are some common misconceptions that Sunnis have about Shias.
Responses have been consulted with two Shia scholars in America; Dr. A. S. Hashim of Washington and Imam Muhammad Ali Elahi of Detroit.
Misconception 1: Shias have a different Quran. They add another 10 chapters to the original Quran.
Response: Not true. I have checked many times the Quran kept in Shia homes and mosques. I still find it the same as the original Quran. More recently, I took care of an Iranian lady patient hospitalized here. I saw a copy of the Quran by her side. I borrowed it from her and browsed through cover to cover. In Arabic it was the same as our Quran. Of course, since I did not know the Persian language, I can't say much about the translation. It is a sin to even say that the Quran can be changed or added to by Shia when it is protected by God.
Misconception 2: Some Shia consider Ali as God.
Response: Not true. It is disbelief to even think of such a thing. During the time of Ali, some pagan groups called Gholat did consider Ali as Lord. When he found out, they were severely punished.
Misconception 3: Shias have different declarations of faith and they add to the call to prescribed prayer.
Response: The declaration to become a Muslim, as administered to non-Muslims, is the same. Some Shia add, "Ali is a friend of God or Ali is a spiritual leader of God," after the call to prescribed prayer, but not as part of the call to prescribed prayer.
"If Ali Ibn Talib (cousin of Prophet Muhammad) was a Shia, then I am a Shia. If he was a Sunni, then I am a Sunni.
Dr. Shahid Athar
Misconception 4: Shias do not perform Sunnah prayers. Sunnah prayers are non obligatory prayers performed by Prophet Muhammad.
Response: Shias do perform non-obligatory prayers, 36 cycles per day in total, but call it Nawafil and not Sunnah.
Misconception 5: Some Shia believe the Angel Gabriel made a mistake and prophet hood was meant for Ali and not Muhammad .
Response: Not true. No Shia thinks of such false claims. "Only demented minds think of such questions."
Misconception 6: Shias slander and ridicule the first three caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman) and Prophet Muhammad's wife, Ayisha.
Response: Shia consider the first three caliphs as great companions and good Muslim administrators, but not spiritual leaders (imams). Imam Jafar Sadiq, whose mother and grand mother came from the line of Abu Bakr, said of Abu Bakr, "He gave me birth twice." Ayisha is respected by Shias as the "Mother of Believers," as Ali respected her when he sent her back from Basra to Madinah after the Battle of the Camel. If some Shia do slander the three caliphs and Ayisha, they do it out of ignorance and should ask God's forgiveness.
Misconception 7: Shias combine all five prayers into one prayer in the evening.
Response: Not true. In Shia mosques, whether in Iran or the USA, all five daily prayers are performed. Some working Shia do combine noon and afternoon and evening and night, but Shia scholars recommend performing them separately. Such combinations may not be ideal, but better than not praying at all. How can a Sunni who does not pray at all be better than a Shia who combines prayers?
Misconception 8: Shias do not pay Zakat (poor-due).
Response: Not true. They not only pay 2.5% left over from savings as zakat, but also an additional 20% as khums or general charity. However, they prefer to pay directly to the needy rather than corrupt Sunni government.
Misconception 9: Shias practice temporary marriages (mutah).
Response: Mutah (temporary marriages) was allowed during the time of Prophet Muhammad . Later on Caliph Umar prohibited it due to social reasons as the Islamic world was rapidly expanding. Shias discourage mutah but do not consider it prohibited. Some do abuse this.
Misconception 10: They consider Imams infallible and above the prophets.
Response: Not true. All prophets are born Prophet but as mentioned in the Quran about Abraham that after passing the test, a prophet becomes a leader (Imam). Imams are carriers of the message of Islam. Shias consider Ali only as an Imam, but Muhammad is the Prophet (nabi), Messenger (rasul) and leader (imam).
Excerpt from Dr. Shahid Athar's article "Some common misconceptions about Shi'ism"
Shahid Athar M.D. is Clinical Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Endocrinology, Indiana University School of Medicine Indianapolis, Indiana, and a writer on Islam.