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Shi'a Pundit

Devoted to the viewpoint of Islam of Muhammad SAW and Amir ul-Mumineen, Ali ibn Abi Talib SA, in the Shi'a Fatimi Ismaili Dawoodi Bohra tradition.

September 5, 2002

the primacy of the Qur'an.

Bill has posted an interesting analysis of Catholic-Protestant relations, which included this brief summary of these churches' attitudes towards each other:

There was a time when Catholics regarded the Protestant insistence on the primacy of the Bible to be anathema, and labelled them heretics. In turn, Protestants considered the Catholic hierarchy to be servants of the antichrist.

This is (somewhat) analogous to the Shia-Sunni view of each other's schools of thought. The Sunni regard the Shi'a insistence on a religious hierarchy (and the esoteric
interpretations of the Qur'an
) as blasphemy, insisting on the literal Qur'an. Speaking straight from my bias, I find this critique to be hypocritical, since most invariably place Bukhari-Muslim on a higher pedestal, even when hadiths from these "sahih" collections contradict the Qur'an. If you think about what hadith actually are (ie. purported sayings of the Prophet SAW), then this also becomes ironic, since Bukhari and Muslim have thus created a kind of cult of personality around the Prophet SAW, which is the same accusation leveled at Shia regarding Ali AS (and the Imams after him).

Turning the analogy backwards, no Shia that I know of would find the Sunni insistence on the primacy Qur'an to be an "anathema" the way Catholics regarded Protestants' view of the Bible. But the concept of what the Qur'an is trancends just the literal book. The Prophet SAW has said (in a hadith accepted uncritically by both Shi'a and Sunni observers, and whose isnad is traced back through Ali AS himself) that there is the Qur'an-e-Natiq (speaking Qur'an) and Qur'an-e-Samit (silent Qur'an). These refer to Ali AS and the physical book, respectively. In fact the "an" suffix of Qur'an itself implies a duality. Therefore Shia also believe in the primacy of the Qur'an, but find the view that the Qur'an is only a collection of literal words in Arabic to be overly simplistic (especially considering its divine source).

So, Shia and Sunnis are united in their regard for the Qur'an. However, understanding what the Qur'an actually is is another matter. But these are not incompatible positions and are actually complementary.

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Nahj-ul Balagha

About Shi'a Pundit

Shi'a Pundit was launched in 2002 during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The blog focuses on issues pertaining to Shi'a Islam in the west and in the Islamic world. The author is a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Bohras adhere to the Shi'a Fatimi tradition of Islam, headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS).

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