By Ayesha Fakhar
Bilateral relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabiahave been strained over different geo-political issues such as aspirations for leadership of the Islamic world, oil export policy, relations with the US and the west, the interpretations of Islam, etc. Although, Saudi Arabia and Iran are both Muslim-majority nations and follow and rule through Islamic scripture, their relations are apprehensive with hostility, tension and confrontation, due to differences in political agendas that are strengthened by their differences in faith.
The dispute between the two Middle Eastern nations has deep religious, historic and political roots. These two have been on the opposing sides of an argument at the heart of Islam — between Sunnis and the Shi’a. Apart from the Shi’a-Sunni rivalry, the conflict can be labelled as a power struggle in the Middle East and has been there since forever, which in ways led to the Syrian civil war that threatens to change the map of the Middle East. This feud escalated a few days back when Saudi Arabia executed a total of forty seven people who they presumed to be a part of some domestic terrorism and could be a threat to a monarchy. Due to the execution of a prominent Shi’a cleric, the dispute ignited Iran and since then diplomatic ties have been broken, angry words have been exchanged and protests outside the Saudi embassy in Tehran could be witnessed.
It is visible that Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’a Iran have used this sectarian divide to further their ambitions. But the question remains: How will this rivalry be settled in order to shape the political balance between Sunnis and the Shi’a and the future of the region? Sunnis and Shi’a Muslims have lived peacefully for centuries and have been tolerant towards one another. Despite the efforts of many Sunni and Shi’a clerics to reduce tensions through dialogue and counter-violence, the threat of Islam’s divide will lead to escalating violence and hurt the peace and security of not only these two nations, but far beyond.
Sunni-Shi’a tensions contribute to prominent and multiple flash points in the Muslim countries, especially in the Middle East, which have been posing a threat to international peace since some time now. Sectarian violence has increased tremendously since 2013. Extremists have been fuelled by sectarian motivations on both sides particularly in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt to name a few that caused a global outrage against Muslims around the world. The ongoing civil war in Syria is an aggravated version of sectarian violence that has displaced millions of Muslims belonging to both Sunni and Shi’a sects, who are now refugees seeking asylum throughout the world. This sectarian dispute has led to a massive international humanitarian crisis.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have deployed considerable resources towards proxy battles especially in Syria in recent times and psychologically speaking it has caused fear, distress, despair and chaos among Muslims living in the Middle East and it will psychologically upset them for the rest of their lives. Sectarianism is a curse for any society. Though most religions are divided into many sects (including Christianity), it has adversely affected the Muslims. This rift and divide has already created many troubles and involved many countries. They should realise themselves that their ongoing tussle will ultimately weaken themselves. Sooner or later, they too will face the same circumstances. Time demands realisation of the intensity of the issue and if not controlled through proper dialogue, these two nations will end up in ruins just like Syria, creating havoc among the entire Muslim community.
The state of Pakistan must also take strong measures for its perpetual prosperity. The state must ensure that each of its inhabitants is out and out Pakistani with equal rights and responsibilities, belonging to whatever sect and race. The people of our country should remain calm, peaceful and keep a neutral stance because this religious divide can surely fracture the geography of our country as it has fractured Syria.