An attack on a Shi’ite mosque by a Sunni radical in Brussels last week has brought the issue of sectarianism in the diaspora to the forefront. Although act this seems to have been a one of its kind, it is too soon yet to say whether it is clearly indicative of the presence of a violent form of sectarianism in Europe or not.
It does not come as a surprise when experts attribute such friction to the increased proliferation of the Wahhabi/Salafi ideology and rhetoric within the Sunni segments of the Muslim population. The Wahhabi creed is regrettably characterized by a set of doctrinal beliefs and behavior prescriptions that are inimical to the values and interests of the vast majority of Muslims. And yet inspite this virulent ideology has found a place for itself as a dominant idiom in the international Islamic establishment, it is significant to note that leading Sunni scholars of their times have renounced Wahhabism because it rejected many of the traditional beliefs and practices of Sunni Islam. Noted scholar and academic Hamid Algar believes that Wahhabism is a specific phenomenon that calls for recognition as a separated school of thought or even as a sect of its own. Wahhabism ‘must be regarded within the specific context of its own time as an exception, an aberration, or at best an anomaly’, he says. Algar also argues that the Wahhabi movement, which he describes as a peculiar interpretation of Islamic doctrine’ was an ‘intellectually marginal’ one and might have passed into history as ‘a short lived sectarian movement’, had it not found a voice outside the limited confines of East Arabia after it got free access to Saudi oil money. Having said that however it is sad to see the extent of violence such rhetoric can incite as was witnessed in Brussels.
All this is ironic because the Muslims in Europe are already a minority group and further discord and divisions within the community certainly will not bear well for these Muslims. Also many Muslim groups belonging to minority sects live in the diaspora in order to flee persecution and hostility from the orthodox Sunni diktats within their home countries. The fact is that they continue to face such prejudice and violence in the Western world which is supposedly a ‘safe haven’ for them. It is noteworthy in this sense to see how the Shi’i-Sunni rivalry spills over into the diaspora. While it is natural for people to frequent congregations which are affiliated with their sects, it is another thing to revile the other sect and alienate its adherents by vicious hate mongering.