Ask Rodwan Saleh if he is a Sunni or a Shia and his reply comes quickly. “I am a Muslim,” says Saleh, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, an umbrella organization that includes both groups. “Muslims should always identify themselves that way.”

Other Houston Muslims respond similarly. Business consultant and Iranian native Ali Khalili replied: “I was born in a supposedly Shia family and country. But if anyone asks me, I answer: ‘I am whatever my holy prophet was. I am a Muslim.’ “

In stark contrast to the daily sectarian bloodshed that has gripped Iraq, Sunnis and Shias generally enjoy good relations in Houston.

When Shahem Barazi, a Sunni, meets with his Shia friends, he doesn’t discuss politics.

“My friend stays my friend, and it is very important to me,” said Barazi, a local home builder and native of Syria. “We know we disagree on points, but we don’t want to emphasize it in times of crisis.”

At the Islamic Society, Saleh takes a similar approach. “One thing we never ask, even of our officers serving in the board: ‘Are you a Sunni or Shia?’

“It’s not the idea of being rude,” he said. “It is the concept of Islam. There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his messenger. And that’s it.”

Much in common

Scholars and local Muslims agree that the religious differences between Sunni and Shia Islam are not great. The animosity in Iraq, observers say, is rooted less in religion than in politics, history, and tribal and ethnic differences. . .

A survey of 1,000 registered Muslim voters, released last fall by the Washington, D.C.- based Council on American- Islamic Relations, questioned Muslims’ views on religious issues. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

31% attend a mosque on a weekly basis, 16 percent attend once or twice a month, and 27 percent said they seldom or never attend a mosque.

36% identified themselves as Sunni, 12 percent Shia, 2 percent Sufi and less than of 1 percent Salafi. Most respondents said they consider themselves “just Muslims,” avoiding sectarian distinctions.

84% said Muslims should emphasize the values they share with Christians and Jews more strongly.

77% said Muslims worship the same God as Christians and Jews.


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