by Molana Muhammad Taha Karaan (Allah’s mercy be upon him)
For well in excess of a thousand years the Muslim world has been split into a roughly 90% mainstream of Ahlus Sunnah, and a 10% minority of Shia belonging to a range of persuasions. This character of this sectarian divide has never remained static and uniform. It has seen, and continues to witness, periods of both war and precarious peace, of cooperation and of treason, and of oppression as well as of justice. It has also seen a great deal of polemical literature.
The present work responds to a particular type of polemic: the conversion story of an ex-Sunni, in this case, the Tunisian Muhammad Tijani Samawi. A visit to ‘Iraq in the late 70s led not only to his conversion to Shi’ism, but also to authorship of a slew of polemical books which were feted and celebrated in the Shi’i world, printed in large quantities in various international languages for circulation among Sunnis.
The power of the conversion story is self-evident. Shi’i polemicists from Ibn Tawus in the 6th/12th century, to ‘Abdul Hussain Sharaf al Din in the 14th/20th have remained unable to resist the temptation of the strawman conversion story. While the strawman element is not directly present in Tijani Samawi’s work, the wholesale reliance he places on ‘Abd al-Husayn Sharaf al Din’s works, especially al Muraja’at in which he magisterially fabricates a discourse between himself and Sheikh Salim al Bishri—the Sheikh of al Azhar who died two decades before he dared to publish his work—makes his own works as vulnerable to the strawman charge as any other. Other than the contemporary convert angle, his works offer preciously little that is original.
That the success of Iran’s 1979 Revolution introduced a new era of Sunni-Shi’i interaction and coexistence is beyond question. The great emphasis that Iran’s leadership placed on Sunni-Shi’i unity appears, ironically, not to have dimmed the enthusiasm for proselytisation in Sunni communities, despite the obvious consequences of such a policy. Similarly, the deep sense of hurt and outrage that was shared by Sunni and Shi’i alike in the wake of the publication of Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and the Danish cartoons does not appear to have given Shi’i proselytisers any appreciation of the hurt experienced by the Ahlus Sunnah when Shi’ism embarks—as it inevitably must—upon the character assassination of the Sahabah in the name of historical objectivity. And while the Shi’i leadership have from time to time made the requisite perfunctory statements, those statements are immediately contradicted, if not utterly belied, by the active encouragement that the circulation of books such as Tijani Samawi’s receive from the very same quarters.
The irony of building unity on the one hand, and destroying it on the other, cannot be more pronounced. It reminds of the verse of the Qur’an in which Allah says, “And do not be like she who untwisted her spun thread after it was strong [by] taking your oaths as [means of] deceit between you because one community is more plentiful [in number or wealth] than another community. Allah only tries you thereby. And He will surely make clear to you on the Day of Resurrection that over which you used to differ.”
It is for this very reason that the cycle of polemic followed by counter-polemic has no option but to continue, as vicious as it might be perceived in some quarters. Among the various responses to Tijani, Khalid al ‘Asqalani’s Bal Dalalta stands out as a comprehensive study that critically assesses each of Tijani’s arguments. The present work is an adapted translation of al ‘Asqalani’s work.
As I pen the final words to this introduction, I would ask that a moment be spared to think of the silent and silenced sector that, but for circumstances, would have formed an important participant in the field of conversion-based Sunni-Shi’i polemics. These are the hundreds upon hundreds of victims of the Iranian regime’s relentless suppression of Shi’i conversion to Sunnism in Iran. Many of them “disappeared” during Iran’s dark years that ran from 1981 to 1985. Many more continue to languish in Iranian jails under the charge of “Wahhabism.” The double standards of calling for unity whilst perpetuating proselytisation not only continues, but has sunk to an unprecedented level of depravity in the human catastrophe being perpetrated against the Sunni population of Syria by Shi’ism’s triple entente of Iran, Hezbollah, and their supporting brigades of Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani volunteers.
The indications and implications of such heedless and relentless pursuit of a geographically contiguous Shi’i crescent cannot be ignored. If anything, it underlines the need for polemics to continue.
Strand, Cape Town
7 Rajab 1441
6 March 2020
 Surah al-Nahl: 92
 More than 7900 Iranian political prisoners were executed between 1981 and 1985—at least seventy-nine times the number killed between 1971 and 1979. Laura Secor: Children of Paradise, p. 91.Back to top