As a Muslim raised in a society where the Shia community is considered a minority, I grew up with a very limited and somewhat stereotypical knowledge about this particular sect of Islam. Luckily, since now I live in a city where Muslims from all sects are equally represented, I wanted to take this chance and attend the events held by the Shia community in the city. And without reading any background about the sect’s particular beliefs, I went to attend one of these events with a friend.
For a while I thought I can totally relate to the speaker’s remarks, but then I started noticing how fundamentally disparate my beliefs are compared to what I was hearing that day. I got so uncomfortable to the extent that I walked out of the room in the middle of the lecture because I just couldn’t handle it.
That night and the following few days I reached out to my Shia friends whom I never discussed religious matters with before. I spent hours asking question that led to heated arguments discussing the historical events that led to the Sunni-Shia divide till this day. As much as I tried to have an open mind, our discussion ended with both of us acknowledging that we believe in different historical events and that’s it.
When I got the chance to reflect on this incident, I realized that my unanticipated discomfort was caused by my ignorance and intolerance when it comes to ideas conflicting with my own beliefs. And the best way to fight this, is through seeking knowledge and learning more about what led others to believe in what they believe in. This incident was a refreshing reminder that as much as I'd like to think that I'm not rigid in my own beliefs, there is still more work to do when it comes to softening my own world views. So it continues!
- Norah Elmagraby