Israel and the Ever-Elusive Muslim Unity

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book, Arab Winter Comes to America: The Truth About the War We're In, is now available.


It was a momentous occasion: the first visit to Egypt by a President of Iran since the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Egypt Tuesday to an enthusiastic welcome from Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi and top Egyptian officials. Yet underneath the kisses and expressions of mutual regard, the visit revealed yet again how deep the divisions are in the Islamic world – and why Sunnis and Shi’ites may only be able to unite on the basis of their mutual hatred of Israel.

Then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said of the Islamic world in January 2007:

“There’s still a tendency to see these things in Sunni-Shia terms. But the Middle East is going to have to overcome that.” Rice’s statement, of course, was staggeringly naïve, and manifested a deep ignorance of the region, as well as of Islam. No one should be surprised that six years later, Sunnis and Shias still haven’t “overcome” their tendency to “see these things in Sunni-Shia terms,” and chances are that in six hundred more years, they still will not have done so, for the Sunni-Shi’ite divide goes back to the earliest days of Islam, and yet in fourteen hundred years has not burnt itself out, but still rages today as fiercely as ever.

And so it was that as Sunnis and Shias war against each other in Iraq and Pakistan, the Shi’ite President of Iran touched down in Sunni Cairo and was almost immediately scolded by Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University, the foremost institution in Sunni Islam, for Iran’s meddling in Bahrain. Almost seventy percent of Bahrainis are Shias, but the king and the ruling elites are Sunnis, and in Bahrain’s version of the “Arab Spring,” the “pro-democracy” protesters were Shias who wanted either closer ties with Iran or for Bahrain to be annexed outright by the Islamic Republic, in line with Iran’s claim that it is actually an Iranian province.

But al-Tayeb told Ahmadinejad to back off, and to recognize that Bahrain was a “sisterly Arab nation” – i.e., within the Sunni Arab, not the Shi’ite Persian domain. And according to a senior al-Azhar cleric, Hassan al-Shafai, al-Tayeb and Ahmadinejad quickly began squabbling about Sunni-Shi’ite theological disagreements. His assessment of the meeting was far from positive: “There ensued some misunderstandings on certain issues that could have an effect on the cultural, political and social climate of both countries. The issues were such that the grand sheikh saw that the meeting … did not serve the desired purpose.”

However much he got mired in theological issues with al-Tayeb, however, Ahmadinejad still had another hope for Islamic unity: mutual hatred of Israel. “The political geography of the region will change,” he asserted, “if Iran and Egypt take a unified position on the Palestinian question.” He expressed the hope that the people of Gaza would allow him to pay them a visit: “If they allow it, I would go to Gaza to visit the people.”

Why wouldn’t they? Iran already crosses the Sunni-Shi’ite divide to fund Hamas; billboards in Gaza proclaim: “Thanks and gratitude to Iran.” The Sunni-Shia split, according to Islamic tradition, goes all the way back to the death of Muhammad. According to the Sunnis, he left no instructions as to who should succeed him. According to the Shia, he chose his son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was then passed over three times as caliph, leader of the Muslim community, until finally he got the job, only to be assassinated five years later. When Ali’s son Hussein was killed at the battle of Karbala in 680, the Sunni-Shi’ite split became definitive, with both sides considering the other heretics and violence remaining a constant of their interaction.

A few examples: In the year 754, plans to enthrone the Shi’ite Jafar As-Siddiq as caliph, thereby ending the split, were disrupted when a Sunni, al-Mansur, murdered Jafar and took the caliphate himself. In 972, Shi’ite Fatimids conquered Sunni Egypt, and continued fighting Sunnis until they ruled much of North Africa and the Middle East. In the 1040s, the Sunni Zirid revolt against Shia rule began in North. In 1169 the Sunnis Nuraddin and Saladin seized Egypt, finally ending Shi’ite Fatimid rule. But the Shias saw victory in Persia in the early 1500s, when they violently suppressed Sunni religious authorities and took control of the country. In 1514 and again in 1623, war broke out between the Sunni Ottoman Turks and the Shi’ite Persian Safavids. The Safavids captured Baghdad in 1624; the Ottomans recaptured it in 1638.

And so on and on, until the 1980s, when Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-controlled Iraq fought a protracted war against the Iranian Shi’ite mullahcracy, and our own day, when there is ongoing violence between Sunnis and Shia in Pakistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

But there are always those whom the Qur’an designates the worst enemies of the Muslims: the Jews (cf. Qur’an 5:82). Morsi’s remarks about Jews being “descendants of apes and pigs” (a Qur’anic reference, cf. 2:63-65; 5:59-60; and 7:166) has gotten widespread attention recently, and a rebuke even from the Obama White House, which has otherwise been warmly supportive of the Morsi regime, even as it becomes ever more brutal toward its opponents and ever more ruthless in its determination to hold absolute power.

In Iran, however, Morsi’s words would not have caused, and did not cause, any concern. Ahmadinejad reads the same (or nearly the same) Qur’an that Morsi does, and he no doubt also thinks that the Jews in Israel (and elsewhere) are the descendants of apes and pigs. Clearly Morsi, who said in the same 2010 remarks that there should be “no negotiations” with the Zionist entity, is only held back from tearing up the Camp David Accords and going to war with Israel by the prospect of losing American aid. Iran, meanwhile, has been busy forging trade agreements with states that don’t care about the U.S. sanctions (including our “ally” Turkey); thus one focus of Ahmadinejad’s visit may have been talks about how to shore up the Egyptian economy so that it could survive without American aid, and Egypt would be free to join Iran in a renewed jihad against Israel.

The necessity for that jihad is one thing they can agree on.

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  • http://www.adinakutnicki.com AdinaK

    Those who study the region, as well as Islam, understand that Sunni & Shia are forever warring for hegemonic power. HOWEVER, whenever common interests converge they merge together. Literally.

    Their common foes are the "Big Satan" and "Little Satan" and this is not hyperbole. It is what it is.

    As such, should it surprise anyone that the two are confabbing in Cairo? Of course not – http://adinakutnicki.com/2012/11/19/war-front-upd

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel – http://adinakutnicki.com/about/

    • Smote

      The two 'Big Satans' are Iran and Saudi Arabia, while the 'Little Satan' is, for now, Egypt. In the Islamic world, allegiances shift like the desert sands. I wouldn't even shake hands with any of those yobbos.

      God is watching what they do.

      • Bartlett

        You forgot to mention the other two big satans, viz, Pakistan and US.

        • SCREW SOCIALISM

          Barlett, I think you meant Pakistan, neo-commie Russia.

  • David M

    Iran is the world's # 1 terrorist land ( worse than Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) and has its terror networks and lobbyists all over the world and Iranian Shiites are massacring Sunnis in Baluchistan and Kurdistan. Iran (although a backward country with a very low educational standard) looks, ideologically, like Nazi Germany in the 1930:s. The West hesitated to fight Nazis and it had disastrous consequences. Although I have the opinion that the West should never help Muslims but in a controlled way can help Sunni Kurds and Baluchis to fight and weaken the Iranian mullah regime. Sunnis and Shiites have massacred each other in centuries but when they come to the West they unite and want to kill what the call infidels. I wish Europe and the USA had a tiny bit courage of Israel but it has not.

  • Radders

    David M, May I ask what countries you compare Iran too when you say its 'backward' and has 'a very low educational standard', the fact you made these statements show how very little you know about Iran.

    • Indioviejo

      Their development is all smoke and mirrors. The Soviet Union projected great strentgh until it collapsed. According to the GWB regime, Iraq was such a developed Muslim country that it would take to nation building very quickly because of its educated population. And then we conquered an underdeveloped, uneducated, barbaric Muslim country unwilling to democratize. I think David M may be more right than wrong.

    • Mary Sue

      how they're treating women now is certainly backwards.

      • JacksonPearson

        Other than his lust for sex, Muhammad had utter disdain and contempt for women. That same contempt have passed from Muslim generation to Muslim generation since the 6th century, all the way to today.

  • Smote

    Put the two miscreants in a boxing ring and let 'em go for it. The loser has to bend over. I'm sure they'd both like that.

    Imagine Morsi riding Ahmadinejad? I'd pay good money to see that! Haa, haa!

  • Marty

    It's very easy to use the comparison of pact between nazi germany and the soviet union to partition poland and slaughter all of its Jewish citizens (with the assistance of delusional polish non-Jews who didn't comprehend they were next). The soviets and germans then proceeded to mass murder one another in the tens of millions for four years. Hopefully, the egyptians and persians despise each other so much that they'll skip Israel and begin killing one another very soon.

  • Mutantone

    Better yet how Obama has helped expand the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, bulking up the arsenal in Egypt to assist them further. He advocated and pushed to assist the expansion of the brotherhood using American troops and equipment and funds. Or how he gave the Russians the classified information covering the Missile defensive shield that was placed there to protect our interest in Europe and the region of Middle East, Allowing them to find a means to negate it's effectiveness. So now we can see an event where an F-16 carrying an atomic device flies over a region unchallenged, or an advanced systems submarine carries a device to the east coast of America for Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood all thanks to Obama.

  • tagalog

    To my knowledge, the Arab world has never been united. Neither has the Muslim world despite all the talk about Dar al-Islam and the umma. Both worlds are tribal and both worlds have been riven by sectarian and tribal rivalry since the time of Muhammed, if not (in the case of the Arabs) since before that time.

  • RUTHIE

    "Israel and the Ever-Elusive Muslim Unity"

    What is so hard?

    In Genesis 16:12 God said this,

    12 Ishmael will be ·like a wild donkey [L a wild donkey/ass of a man].
    ·He [L His hand] will be against everyone,
    and ·everyone [L everyone’s hand] will be against him.
    He will ·attack [L dwell against] all his brothers.”

  • g_jochnowitz

    Despite the age and continuity of the struggle between Shi'ites and Sunnis, their hostility toward each other is greater today than ever before. The reason is that they are filled with hatred against Israel, and that hatred is so powerful that it spreads to absolutely everything else.
    Iran is totally unaware of the fact that it has no practical reason to quarrel with Israel. Iranians have never liked Arabs, and Shi'ites hate Sunnis. Palestinians are both Arabs and Sunnis. But then, Hitler never had any practical reason to kill Jews. The most powerful hatreds are those that have no cause.

  • Ghostwriter

    Well,the Middle East is probably the most anti-American place on the face of the earth right now.

    • SCREW SOCIALISM

      "Well,the Middle East is probably the most anti-American place on the face of the earth right now. "

      That is exactly why socialists and regressive "progressives" LOVE islamofascist regimes like iran, syria, hamass, hezbullah.

  • Len_Powder

    Is Obama a Shiite or a Sunni Muslim? Although in many respects this is a profound question, with respect to Israel, does it matter? In either case he is devoted to the destruction of Israel. In fact, he might be both Sunni and Shiite since even in the USA he pretends to be all things to all people. He decides which mask to wear depending on which political winds are blowing and where he stands in the polls. Stay tuned!

  • SCREW SOCIALISM

    I predict the sunni and shiite savages will be killing each other shortly.

    Tradition!

    • kafir4life

      That's awsome!! I alway applaud muslims that understand that there are some "wrong styles" of muslims, as well as those "not muslim enough", and willing to put their mohamat where their mouth is. When they honor their women, and by extension, shut down a bomb factory, they're to be commended.

      • ObamaYoMoma

        That's awsome!! I alway applaud muslims that understand that there are some "wrong styles" of muslims, as well as those "not muslim enough", and willing to put their mohamat where their mouth is. When they honor their women, and by extension, shut down a bomb factory, they're to be commended.

        Those aren't Muslims. They are blasphemous apostates and per the dictates of Islam must be executed. That is if they aren't deliberately being deceitful in order to dupe gullible infidels.

  • ObamaYoMoma

    It's very simple really. As long Israel exist in the heart of Islam it will be under assault, and it really doesn't matter if the Israelis are Jews, or Christians, or Buddhists, or Hindus, or etc. As long as they are infidels, i.e., unbelievers, Israel will be under assault. Indeed, that is to sole reason behind the so-called Arab-Israeli Conflict. Of course, being Arab has nothing whatsoever to do with the jihad the Islamic world is perpetually waging against the Jews in Israel and all other infidels around the world as well. Is anyone stupid enough to believe that the non-Arab Pakistanis love Jews? How about the non-Arab Persians in Iran?

    • SCREW SOCIALISM

      Islamofascists are at war with people ALL OVER THE WORLD.

      India, Philippines, Nigeria, Algeria, Mali, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen, Russia, Bulgaria, UK, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden.

      You know who the racists, fascists are by those who ignore world-wide Islamofascism and focus their hatred on Israel.

      If the FAKE anti-war fascists had their head on a chopping block, about to be decapitated by Al Qada, they would curse Israel.