MUSLIMS from various backgrounds have been urged to unite and tolerate each other despite minor differences emanating from traditions practised within the faith.

The international deputy secretary general of the cultural institution, the World Forum of Islamic Schools of Thought, Ayatullah Dr Muhammad Mokhtari’s organisation funded a training workshop for 30 Muslim scholars in Harare last week.

The week long workshop, which was hosted at Fatima Zahra College, aimed to train Sheikhs, Imams and Ustazs from all the ten provinces of Zimbabwe on fostering unity and tolerance among local Muslims.

Ustazs are Islam teachers at mosques, Imams lead people in prayer while Sheikhs perform similar duties, although they have the power to rule a nation.

At the closing ceremony, Dr Mokhatari said the conference was held to demonstrate that Muslims should be united in different aspects of the faith.

“According to the Islamic teachings, there is no position for violence and ignorance. Islam is the religion of rationality. According to some of the verses of the Holy Qur’aan, there is no place for ignorance, superstition and heresy,” Dr Mokhtari said.

There are Shias and Sunnis within the Muslim community.

Online reports state that the word Sunni is derived from “Ahl al-Sunnah”, or “People of the Tradition”. Estimates reported in an article produced by BBC online titled “Sunnis and Shia: Islam’s ancient schism”, state that Sunnis, whose tradition is based on what the Prophet Muhammad said, did, agreed to or condemned.

The Shias’ name is derived from “Shiat Ali” or the “Party of Ali”.

The differences between the Sunnis and Shias is traced back to disagreements which arose over the successor to the Prophet Muhammad. The Sunnis maintained that the Muslim community was to select the Prophet’s successor to lead whereas the Shias believed the Prophet chose his son-in-law, Ali to be his successor (

According to the secretary general of the newly formed Forum for Proximity Islamic Schools of Thought in Zimbabwe, Sheikh Ishmail Duwa, Sunnis and Shias agree in nearly 80 percent of fundamentals of the faith, with their differences only being on aspects of tradition.

“Our prayers are common, fasting is common and going to Hajj is also common. So we are saying let us together.

“The differences are to do with the Prophet, what we call sunna.

‘‘These are the traditions of the Prophet and the way the Prophet was conducting Islam in general,” said Sheikh Duwa.

“We should not criticise each other if fellow Muslims follow different traditions. For instance, if we attend a funeral of one who believes that you don’t cry to show grief, then let’s do that. But if we attend a funeral of a fellow Muslim who believes in praying and singing, then we need to tolerate that.

“He who blesses is God and getting into heaven is by the grace of God,” said Sheikh Duwa, who is also the national chairman of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs.

According to a demographic study done by America based Pew Research Centre on “Mapping the Global Muslim Population, there are 1,57 billion Muslims of all ages living in the world, representing 23 percent of an estimated 2009 world population of 6,8 billion.

Sub-Saharan Africa has 15,3 percent of the world Muslim population. The report states that nearly a quarter of the world’s Shias (36 million to 44 million), live in the Middle East and North Africa.

Dr Mokhtari, who is also the Head of Research Institute of Unity Studies in Iran, said Muslim scholars have a duty to encourage people, especially the younger generation, to be united and follow rational matters.

“Because Islam like other religions is the religion of mercy and the Prophet of Islam is the character full of affection, so every Muslim must follow the Prophet according to the teachings of Islam and the Holy Quraan.

“In my opinion, establishing a conference in different countries is inevitable to bring awareness to all people. That’s why this conference is being held by Muslim scholars,” he said.

With 30 local scholars having gone through the training, Sheikh Duwa said they will be preaching the gospel of peace in their local communities.

“They are the leaders of the community and therefore we are expecting them to go back to their communities and implement what they learnt, that is to teach tolerance. Apart from monitoring the elders, the executive which was appointed will also foster tolerance, peace and tranquillity.

“They are accountable to a declaration that they signed. lt states that all schools of thought are no-longer going to be fighting. So we will have power to remove them from their positions if they fight,” highlighted Sheikh Duwa.