We hear a lot today about diversity and inclusiveness. There’s a certain amount of political motive in this, but the basic point is we should not leave anyone out.
From my youth, it was “I am somebody.” From a few years back, under one president’s administration, it was “No child left behind.” More recently, it has been “Black lives matter,” or “All lives matter,” or several other versions of this basic truism that human beings are temporally, ultimately, and eternally significant.
For all the talk about inclusiveness, it seems to me, “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the most inclusive statement ever written (Mark 12:31). No wiggle room here. “Neighbor” is a very big and inclusive word.
In the Middle East and North Africa, SAT-7 broadcasts across 24 countries wherein people speak Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish, and a few other languages. The dominant religion in this region is Islam, but perhaps many do not know that, like all religious faiths, over time, people have disagreed and developed branches of the dominant religion. In the case of Islam, it’s Sunni and Shia.
The differences between Sunni and Shia are rooted in perspectives about who should have succeeded their prophet, Muhammad, after his death in 632 AD.
Shia believe Muhammad chose his successor, his cousin, and son-in-law Ali ibn Abu Talib. Sunni do not believe this. Shia believe in the use of shrines. Sunni do not. Shia honor Imams, descendants of Muhammad, whom they consider infallible. Shia open leadership to many devout individuals.
In prayer, Sunnis fold their arms in various positions. Shia keep arms straight by the sides and usually raise their hands for certain parts of their prayers.
Both Shia and Sunni believe in the Quran, the Hadith (sayings of Muhammad), and the Sunna (customs). Both worship on Friday. Both believe in Sharia law, though with different interpretations.
Both Shia and Sunni observe the five pillars of Islam, including the Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in life, the Salat, a requirement to pray five times per day, and the Sawm, the importance of fasting, especially during the month of Ramadan.
Both branches of Islam believe in Jesus, or Isa, that he will return to the earth after having spent thousands of years in heaven with Allah, and finally, that Jesus will at that time kill a person they label a kind of antichrist. Neither believes Jesus is superior to Muhammad or that Jesus is Lord and Savior.
This Sunni Shia division may be largely overlooked by many Muslims worldwide, as is the case at this point in the United States. Or it may be a source of competition or even conflict. Worldwide, there are approximately 1.2 billion Sunni and 200 million Shia. 80-90% of Muslims identify as Sunni.
Shia are in the majority in Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Lebanon. Significant populations of Shia Muslims can be found in Iran and Iraq. Large Shiite minority communities are also in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and Lebanon. Sunni are in the majority in most Muslim countries, e.g., Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.
Recently, the power of the Christian faith was brought home to SAT-7 in the wake of turmoil in Afghanistan. In this video, Christian Iranian children can be heard praying fervently for Afghan children.
That Iranians would pray for Afghans is itself remarkable, for there is often no love lost between Farsi-speaking Iranians and their Arabic-speaking or Dari-speaking neighbors. But Christian concern transcended nationality.
Another remarkable thing about this is that the culture and dominant religion of Iran is Shia, whereas the culture and dominant religion of Afghanistan is Sunni. So again, Christian love transcends cultural, religious perspectives, reaching across all borders.
SAT-7’s vision is “to see a growing Church in the Middle East and North Africa, confident in Christian faith and witness, serving the community and contributing to the good of society and culture.” Surely, children in one country praying for children in another country is an expression of serving and contributing.
SAT-7 wants to express God’s love for all, sharing the story of Jesus with all our neighbors, no matter what differences may characterize their lives. Thank you for your part in this daily opportunity.
Dr. Rex Rogers
President, SAT-7 USA