Muslim leaders are trying to strengthen Sunni-Shiite ties in the United States, hoping to head off conflicts between the faith’s two major sects and get American Muslims to focus on common problems.

With sectarian divisions fueling violence in Iraq, Sunnis and Shiites in the U.S. are increasingly wary of a spillover effect. In one public example, leaders from both traditions have launched “Intra-faith Code of Honor” campaigns in three cities with major Muslim populations.

So far, 20 Sunni and Shiite leaders in Southern California have signed the first such code. The document denounces “takfir” — the labeling of another Muslim as a nonbeliever — forbids hateful speech about revered figures and urges debates at the scholarly level, not the street level.

Similar agreements are expected to be completed this month in Detroit and Washington, D.C.

“As technology has made information from across the globe and information from historical conflicts more available, people have been pondering their self-identity,” said Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council, which is helping organize the effort. “That has brought a requirement to appreciate the nuances, but it’s also brought challenges.” . . .

Shiite Imam Hassan Qazwini of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich., the largest mosque in North America, said sectarian tensions are not a serious problem, and most Sunnis and Shiites get along.

At the same time, intra-faith efforts can address the graver problem of anti-Muslim sentiment, he said. Bias incidents against Muslims including harassment, violence and discrimination rose nearly one-third last year to a 12-year high, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.


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