Lucknow: On Eid ul-Zuha this Friday , the 168-year-old Imambara at Sibtainabad here will host an event that has no precedent in the city’s history: Shias and Sunnis jointly offering namaz in a symbolic gesture that seeks to purge their history of strife.
Shia and Sunni prayers on Eid have historically been held separately in Lucknow. Mohammad Haider and Atif Hanif, part of the core group behind the citizen-led initiative `Shoulder to Shoulder’, said the attempt was to find a common ground, and emphasize the similarities between the two sects.
The move is significant in light of sectarian strife within Islam, particularly in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan, where large-scale violence led by Islamic State against Shias and retaliatory aggression has killed tens of thousands of faithful in both sects.`Shoulder to Shoulder’ had held a similar event in Delhi on Eid ul-Fitr on July 19 this year, but on a smaller scale. While there are 1.25 lakh Shias in Lucknow, the number of Sunnis is five times higher.
“Lucknow, a city of rich cultural, linguistic, architectural and culinary heritage, is also infamous for sectarian violence,” Haider said. “Almost every year, big and small clashes between Shias and Sunnis make headlines nationally. Shops are burnt, bones broken, curfew imposed for a few days and some youth end up in prison, losing their future prospects,“ he added. Sunni and Shias share all spiritual beliefs of Islam; their differences are political.While Sunni means one who follows the Sunnah, or the traditions of the Prophet, they believe in the Prophet’s close companion Abu Bakr as his successor. Shias believed in the leadership of his cousinson-in-law, Ali bin Abu Talib.
Since there is a minor difference in the way Eid prayers are offered by the two sects, the group wrote to world-renowned Shia scholar Al-Sayyid Ali Al-Husseini Al-Sistani in Iraq, as well as Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei for approval. Both confirmed that joint prayers are permissible.
The S2S members also agreed over fixing the time for the namaz. Since Sunni Muslims, unlike Shias, can offer sacrifice only after namaz, they often hold prayers early in the morning. “Baqrid namaz for Shias usually happens much later in the day . But after a mutual discussion among the core team members, we settled for 8am,“ said Hanif, highlighting that the initiative is not backed by any political party or organization.
The joint namaz will be held in the Imambara lawns to send out the message of universal brotherhood and the ritual prayer will be led by a Sunni cleric at a venue that is mostly seen as a `Shia monument’. S2S began as a WhatsApp group in Lucknow, eventually leading to the creation of multiple sister groups. A Facebook event that was subsequently created went viral.
An S2S delegation met and got support from noted clerics from Lucknow, including maulanas Kalbe Jawad, Khalid Rasheed, Kalbe Sadiq and Mohammad Athar. Sadiq will even be joining the prayers.
The response has been excellent. “We’re expecting lawyers, businessmen, writers, journalists, IT professionals and students, among others,” said Hanif. “Many non-Muslims will also be volunteering and having sewain and Kashmiri chai with us at the venue after the prayers. Everyone’s invited.”