Up from Shi'ism

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Why the Need for Such a Book?

I have been asked many times what has motivated me to take an analytical look at the positions taken by the Sunnis and the Shias with respect to the teachings of Islam. I believe a brief account of my life would explain why I took up this task. I hope that this humble work, with the help of Allah, will be useful to those who care for the truth.

I was born in a middle-class modern Iranian family during the Shah’s regime. The second of four brothers, I grew up in an environment of conflicting values; an environment in which many Muslim youth are still living and suffering.

We were told by the advancement of science in the twentieth century that there was no longer a need to follow the commandments of Allah and to obey His blessed Prophet, upon whom be peace. We were taught not to believe in ideas such as God-consciousness, sin, the virgin birth of Jesus, life after death, the Day of Judgment, Hell fire, and Paradise.

At the same time, we were not to discard them totally. The result was a life based on a compromise between the divinely ordained way of life and a manmade, materialistic, modern way of life. This compromise brought about great distress and confusion to even the “educated and enlightened” class. As for children, this confusion grew worse as they grew up and faced many problems related to their individual and social life. For example, we were told it was acceptable to have a girlfriend or a boyfriend (a modern concept) but not acceptable to have sexual relations outside marriage (an Islamic concept).

Living in a Muslim country, part of our education curriculum was three hours of religious studies per week. We were taught about the lives of the Prophets, such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (upon them all be peace), and the twelve Shia Imams, who are considered Prophet Muhammad’s successors. We were taught what great men they were: men of truth, wisdom, patience, and sacrifice. Men who spent their entire lives in pleasing Allah and serving humanity. But three hours of religious study a week were not enough to keep me on the straight path.

As a young man fascinated with American movies and technology, I prayed long and hard to come to America, the land where dreams came true! Finally, after overcoming many obstacles, I joined my older brother, who was studying in California, in September 1977.

I was only sixteen years old. At first everything seemed new and interesting. Here I was finally in the land of freedom, equality, and justice. However, what I learned in my U.S. history class changed my perception of America completely. My high school history teacher, teaching from a state-approved textbook, shattered my ideas about freedom, equality, and justice in America. He told us all about the elite white Christian ruling class and the disenfranchised minorities. Despite some improvements in the past few decades, thanks to the civil rights movement, the power and wealth of the country remained in the hands of a few.

I also noticed a clear lack of knowledge and understanding of the rest of the world and other cultures among my peers and the public in general. Over time I realized that many of the things I had learned in Iran about America from the movies, magazines, and people who had vacationed there were not entirely accurate. Moreover, I realized that living in California, having a blonde girlfriend, getting my driver’s license, and going to parties did not bring true happiness and contentment.

I felt lonely and purposeless. At one point it even seemed logical to end my life and see if there was a better life after this. I was in a bind. After many months of pondering and soul searching, I finally decided that with the limited time I have on this earth I should make a positive difference in people’s lives. So I planned to become a doctor, join the United Nations, and serve humanity. This goal gave my life a meaningful purpose and directed all my actions.

Now that I had decided to live, I planned to take courses and trainings that would help me accomplish my goals. One class that really helped me was psychology. What I learned in psychology made me realize that I had the choice to choose empowering beliefs as well as disempowering ones. Thus I decided to adopt—among the many empowering beliefs that helped me become mentally and physically stronger and more confident—the empowering belief that there was an absolute Supreme Being. I chose to believe that a Supreme Being had created me and had a clear plan for my life and that everything good or bad happened in my life for a reason. This was definitely an empowering and health-enhancing belief for my mind and body, instead of the disempowering one that my life was the result of a series of accidents.

Also, I thought it would be a wise decision to continually improve myself, exercise, eat right, and strive to get the best out of life. However, to get the best that life has to offer, I decided never to transgress the bounds of morality and goodness.

The more I studied ways to improve myself, the more I realized how my life was really based on mere guesswork. The great differences among the “experts” in every field led me to a simple fact of life: If this world has come about by the will of an All-Knowing, All-Wise Creator, there has to be a way of knowing His guidance on various matters. Obviously, He would have complete knowledge of everything. I sincerely wished that there was a way that I could tap into God’s knowledge. It was exactly at this stage that I entered the University of California at Davis.

There I met a number of very nice, very devout, fundamentalist Christians. One of them was my roommate. They were the first truly religious young people I had met. They did not drink or smoke and had healthful living habits. I did not really care for their warnings about sin, Hell, and so on, for I considered those ideas outdated. At the time I had a strong sense of purpose for my life, was very self-confident, and did not feel I needed a religion to be happy or fulfilled. However, I was looking for a way to tap into God’s knowledge, and studying religions seemed like a logical way to start.

Thus my search into religions was out of an inspiration to learn and grow, not out of desperation of trying to grab hold of something to get me through life. I had met people who, out of the need for spiritual fulfillment, would accept and rationalize practically any religion or way of life. As I had learned in psychology, it provided them with some peace of mind and/or gave them a sense of community, all to fulfill a psychological need. Although those were wonderful benefits, one may attain those by practicing yoga and meditation and joining a support group or a club, without following a religion. (A simple and logical approach)

I started my search with Christianity and Islam and eventually studied all major world religions and some of the minor ones as well. Being a skeptical and scientific-minded person, I was not willing to accept any idea or concept simply based on faith or a good feeling in my heart. I always believed in keeping an open mind and reasoned that if you couldn’t prove it to me here and now, how can I supposedly meet God (or face myself in the mirror) and justify why I followed a particular religion or way of life.

I began to read the Bible and ask questions of my Christian friends and their ministers. Coming from a Muslim background, where one believes in one God and prays directly to Him and only asks God for help and forgiveness, it was very difficult for me to pray to Jesus. I noticed in the Bible that Abraham, Noah, Moses, and all the other people never prayed to Jesus, so why should I? My Christian friends could not provide a convincing answer. I also did not find any passage in the Bible where Jesus asked people to pray to him. I had prayed to God directly and received answers to my prayers in the past.

It was also difficult for me to believe in the trinity or in the doctrine of original sin. Again, I did not
find any passage in the Bible where Jesus (peace be upon him) taught these. The few visits I made to various churches, from Baptist to Mormon, and the discussions I had with their ministers and elders, brought me no closer to Christianity.

I continued to read the Bible and began to read the Qur’an and compare both texts. I found reading the Qur’an to be an intensely intellectual as well as intensely spiritual experience. It constantly challenged me to think, judge, evaluate, and use my mind while presenting beautiful inspiring examples, stories, and arguments, such as:


Verily! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for people of understanding. Those who remember God standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and think deeply about the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying]: “Our Lord! You have not created [all] this without purpose, glory be to You!”
(Qur’an, 3:190–191)

And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may find tranquility in them, and He has put between you love and mercy. Verily, in that are indeed signs for a people who reflect. And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colors. Indeed, in that are indeed signs for those of sound knowledge.
(Qur’an, 30:21–22)

Besides asking the reader to think and ponder, amazingly enough, the Qur’an even asks the reader to prove that it is not a revelation from God. (Read more passages from the Qur’an.)

Of course, I also read several books about Prophet Muhammad, written by both Muslims and non-Muslims. I was looking at his life from the human achievement perspective. I saw an ordinary illiterate man known for kindness and honesty who saw Angel Gabriel at the age of forty while meditating in a cave and was transformed into a leader, judge, general, statesman, legislator, team builder, reformer, and much more. At home, he lived an austere life and helped by cleaning, cooking, and mending his own clothes.

The transformation that occurred in the men and women who were his followers, which numbered half a million by the time of his death, was quite amazing. A nation of warring tribes, drunks, criminals, adulterers, and dysfunctional families, some of whom buried their baby girls alive out of shame, was transformed into a united, sober nation, free of crime and injustice. (Learn more about the life of Prophet Muhammad.)

I also studied the scriptures of Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism and took a comparative religious studies course. I discovered that among the world’s major religions only the life of Islam’s Prophet and its book have been meticulously preserved. In fact, from the way Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) brushed his teeth to the text of his letter inviting Heracleus, the emperor of Rome, to Islam has been preserved. Whatever was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was written down, memorized, and remained as revealed words. No editing, no proofreading, no changes. Unfortunately, the books of all other major faiths have been tampered with and the lives of the ones they claim received God’s message are shrouded in mystery.

Islam provides the clearest and most comprehensive explanation of Abrahamic monotheism. It teaches that there is one universal Creator and Sustainer, without a partner or a chosen people, and there is no other god. It teaches that there is no lasting love, true security, real honor, lasting happiness, or real peace and contentment except through God. There is no absolute obedience except to God. It combines this with reason, logic, and science to satisfy one’s mind and spirit. There is One Creator. He is the only one worthy of worship without any intermediaries (persons, objects, clergy, etc.) between Him and us: a direct one-to-one relationship.

This really appealed to me because I could not see humbling myself to anyone but my Creator. Islam teaches that God, whose name is Al-Lah, has no gender, partners, or associates and does not have a chosen people based on race, tribe, nationality, or blood relations. He has put us all here for a few years as a test until we return to Him for judgment. He is the Most Merciful and the Just.

Islam also teaches that God’s creation does not share His exclusive attributes. He alone knows the future, forgives sins, and answers prayers. So there is no room for astrologers and palm readers who claim to know the future, priests to forgive sins, and saints to answer our prayers. Also God does not suffer limitations of His creation. Anyone or anything that sleeps, eats, gets sick, or has an end cannot be God. This puts an end to taking people and other creations as gods. Since God has complete power over all things (the Qur’an tells us that not even a leaf drops without His permission) and everything happens based on His wise plan, there is no room for superstitions, such as believing that a rabbit’s foot brings good luck or Friday the 13th brings bad luck. Everything happens based on God’s will and wise plan. (Learn more about Islamic monotheism.)

Despite all this, I was not ready to commit to Islam. One night, on the suggestion of some Mormon friends, I knelt before the Almighty and sincerely asked Him to save me from confusion and show me the right path. It felt strange for, at the time, I did not believe God would interfere with such matters. I soon discovered that He actually does!

Shortly after that night I fell ill for ten days. During this illness I had a chance to read through more of the Bible and the Qur’an. As I was reading and comparing, the following verses from the Qur’an came to my attention:


Indeed, We sent down the Torah, in which was guidance and light. The prophets
who submitted [to Allāh] judged by it for the Jews, as did the rabbis and scholars
by that with which they were entrusted of the Scripture of Allāh, and they were
witnesses thereto. So do not fear the people but fear Me, and do not exchange My
verses for a small price. And whoever does not judge by what Allāh has
revealed—then it is those who are the disbelievers.

And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that
which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel, in which was
guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as
guidance and instruction for the righteous. And let the People of the Gospel judge
by what Allāh has revealed therein. And whoever does not judge by what Allāh
has revealed—then it is those who are the defiantly disobedient.

And We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Scripture and as a criterion over it. So judge between them by what Allāh has revealed and do not follow their inclinations away from what has come to you of the truth. To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allāh willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allāh is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ.
(Qur’an, 5:44, 46-48)

The beauty and clarity of this passage, and its emphasis on thinking for myself and judging based on what has been revealed, made perfect sense to me. This passage replaced the distress and confusion with the peace and light of faith. How could this not have been from the Creator Himself? The more I studied the Qur’an, the more I was amazed at its clarity, power, and beauty. In fact, it is common to hear people say that they have always been a Muslim at heart but did not know it until they read the Qur’an.(Learn about the miracle of the Qur’an.)

Needless to say, I had many questions about Islam’s position on women, jihad, tolerance of other faiths, human rights, science and religion, and so on. However, the more I studied the more impressed I became with how Islam presents a balanced way of life where everyone’s rights are protected. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the West. (Some myths about Islam.)

Six months later I learned about a mosque in Davis. I still remember the day I decided to visit it. I drove by and then parked across the street. I hesitated for a while. I wondered, What if there are some violent fanatics inside? Would I face any hostility? I eventually left and came back with a friend, just to be on the safe side. Once inside, I was pleasantly surprised to find very nice, humble people, just like those I met in other houses of worship. Actually most of the people I met at the mosque were students like myself. (To find a mosque near you, visit www.islamicfinder.org.)

The Muslims I met at the mosque while regularly attending the congregational prayers followed the Sunni sect of Islam. I knew that there were two major sects of Islam with 90 percent of Muslims being Sunni. (Watch videos on Islam and Muslims.)

Although I was from a Shia background, I felt this was a wonderful opportunity for an objective study of the Sunni and Shia ideologies and a sincere search for the truth in this matter. After all, had not Allah guided me to Islam while I was lost? How could I possibly face Him on the Day of Judgment without having lived the life of a truth seeker?

First, I prayed for guidance in this matter and to make this task easy for me. Then I started looking for a good book that compared the Sunni and the Shia beliefs. Unfortunately, I could not find such a book in English. So I started to talk with both sides on different issues. I soon came to realize that there is a great deal of difference between Sunni and Shia sects, not only in the basic teachings but also concerning historical events. However, it all came down to one issue: the question of khilafah or succession to the Prophet, upon whom be peace. I discovered that this is the root of the problem. Sunnis believe the election by which Abu Bakr, one of the leading companions of the Prophet (upon whom be peace), was chosen to be the leader of the Muslims was valid; Shias do not accept the election results and believe that ‘Ali, Prophet’s cousin and one of the leading Muslims, should have become the leader. The following pages will deal with this issue in an unbiased way.

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