Hartford Seminary

The Sunni-Shi’i Relationship and the Burden of History

Karim Douglas Crow

Please join us in the Meeting Room for a talk by Dr. Karim Douglas Crow, Scholar-Coordinator on Islamic Thought and Muslim Modernity for the Council for Research in Values and Philosophy.

The most damaging and long-lasting division within the Islamic Community is the Sunni–Shi’i schism, which has greatly intensified in bloodshed over the past three decades. It fuels social disintegration in several majority Muslim states, devolving into intra-Muslim civil or sectarian wars (Iraq, Syria, Yemen). This schism unfolded out of a serious disagreement over succession to the Prophet Muḥammad (died 632 CE) among his leading Companions, involving the proper direction Islamic polity and society should follow.

The persistence and intractability of renewed sectarianism is a direct consequence of the opposing religious identities this division historically bestowed upon both Sunni and Shi‘i Muslims. The sectarian clash is now being cast by the contestants in terms of a recapitulation of historical Sunni–Shi’i enmity, rooted in competing idealized visions about the first generations of Muslims. We should seek to understand the opposing sacred histories and world-views these two traditions embraced as primary self-defining narratives. Both Sunni and Shi‘i have used and abused their past.

In order to pursue strategies of pragmatic accommodation encouraging social stability and shared security, Muslims must relinquish their inherited enmity prompted by their in-group’s historical vision wedded to distortion of the ‘Other’. Such self-critical reappraisal might enable national reconciliation promoting peaceful societal coexistence. Only this may empower Islam to make a positive contribution to world order.

This talk is one of a series supported by the Imam Ali Chair for the Study of Shi’i Islam and Dialogue Among Islamic Legal Schools.

About the Speaker

Professor Douglas Sloan Crow was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and educated in the United States, Beirut, Cairo, and Montreal. He currently serves the Council for Research in Values and Philosophy as scholar-coordinator on Islamic Thought and Muslim Modernity, based in Kuala Lumpur from 2000, and Washington, D.C., since 2017.

Dr. Crow earned his Ph.D. and M.A. (1978) in Islamic Studies at the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University in Montreal; and his B.A. (1972) in Philosophy and Religion at The American University of Beirut; with one year of post-graduate studies in Cairo in 1974–75.

From 2008-2014, Dr. Crow worked in Kuala Lumpur as Principal Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies – Malaysia (IAIS). He also co-edited its quarterly journal Islam and Civilisational Renewal.

Dr. Crow taught Arabic Language and Literature (all levels) and Arabic text-based courses on Islamic religion and thought for 27 years at both undergraduate and graduate levels in the United States, Singapore and Malaysia. He has served on the faculties of Columbia University, New York University, Fordham University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Maryland.

From 1994–98 he directed the program “Islam and Peace” at the NGO Nonviolence International based in Washington, D.C., while traveling widely in Asia and serving as an advisor for peace education programs in Indonesia, the Philippines and the Caucasus.

Professor Crow is an authority on Islamic rationality, on Shi’i Islam, and the Sunni–Shi’i schism; his other interests are Muslim peace studies and metaphysics. His numerous academic articles and book chapters examine Islamic reason and ethics, Muslim consumption, Islamic peace, and the Sunni–Shi’i schism. Among his edited books are Facing One Qiblah (Singapore, 2005), Cultural Transformation and the Re-emergence of Falsafah (Tehran, Iranian Institute of Philosophy, 2010); and he is completing major monographs on: ‘Aql /Cognition In Early Islam, and Life and Thought of Imam Jacfar al-Sādiq (d. 148/765).

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