ING Condemns Repeated Attacks on Shi‘i Mosques in Afghanistan

Updated October 15, 2021

We at ING are deeply outraged at another deadly attack on a Shi‘i mosque in Afghanistan on Friday, October 15th, which is part of a series of repeated attacks that have targeted the Hazara Shi‘i Afghan community. We wish to express our sympathy for the victims, their families, and all Afghans who are mourning in the wake of these tragedies. The most recent attack, by suicide bombers in Kandahar, the heartland of the Taliban who now govern the country, killed at least 50 people, and that number is expected to rise as more bodies are found in the rubble. This comes after an attack that killed five people outside of a mosque in Kabul, and another attack that killed at least 70 people and injured another 140 inside a mosque in Kunduz. An ISIS affiliate, the Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), has taken responsibility for the first two attacks, and it is believed likely that ISIS-K is responsible for the latest attack as well.  It is especially egregious that such attacks took place in houses of worship, which are sacred spaces, and at times when worshippers were gathered. Below we reissue our statement from October 8th, 2021, in condemnation of these crimes:

The primary Islamic sources—the Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (p)—categorically condemn murder, especially the killing of civilians, as a grave sin. Moreover, leading Sunni and Shi‘i scholars have also condemned such acts through the centuries and in recent decades. According to Islamic law, the lives of all human beings are sacred and must be protected; even in times of war, there are strict rules outlined by the Prophet Muhammad (p) and his successors that prohibit the killing of civilians, specifically women, children, and the elderly.

These attacks in Afghanistan strike at the very heart of Islam as we and the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world understand the faith. Islam is a religion of compassion and mercy whose sacred texts clearly call Muslims to respect religious diversity and the adherents of other faiths, respect which also applies within the family of Islam. There can be no excuse for Muslims who use religious differences within Islam or political agendas as a pretext for violence.

For most of their history, Sunni and Shi‘i Muslims have provided an example of how communities with differing perspectives can live peaceably together.[1] The attacks we have just seen must not blind us to this reality. We can best live up to the example that the great majority of Sunnis and Shi‘a have set historically and in the present by doing everything we can to promote mutual understanding and peace in society and the world. This legacy of peace and fellowship is especially relevant as many Sunnis and Shi‘a around the world prepare to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (p) this month with communal gatherings that recall his noble character and actions.

For more information about Islam and Muslims, visit our answers to frequently asked questions about Islam and Muslims here. For teaching resources for educators, visit our Educator Toolkit here.

[1] In fact, Sunni and Shi‘i Muslims have coexisted peacefully for centuries. For instance, the Sunni Ottoman Empire and the Shi‘i Safavid Empire lived peacefully alongside one another for most of their history. Shi‘i and Sunni scholars have a long history of dialogue and mutual influence, and today Al-Azhar University, the greatest institute of Sunni Muslim scholarship, also teaches Shi‘i jurisprudence and theology. There has been and continues to be frequent intermarriage between Sunnis and Shi‘a, and they often pray at the same mosques.

This is not surprising, since what unites Sunnis and Shi‘a is considerably greater than what divides them. The split between the two groups came about from differing views on leadership of the Muslim community following the death of the Prophet Muhammad (p) in 632 CE. Shi‘a believe that the community should have been led by descendants of Prophet Muhammad (p), whereas Sunnis maintain that the community rightly chose those they deemed most qualified. Out of this split emerged some differing views on ritual and law that continue to this day, but these differences pale in face of what unites the two groups. They share the basic beliefs in the Qur’an and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (p), and they both practice the five pillars of Islam—the professional of faith, prayer, almsgiving, fasting in the month of Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Mecca.

When conflict has erupted between Sunnis and Shi‘a, it has generally been rooted not in differences in religion, but due to political tensions. Today, a main driver of Sunni-Shi‘i conflict has been the rivalry between predominantly Sunni Saudi Arabia and predominantly Shi‘i Iran, as well as other global powers. This in turn has led to conflicts between proxies of these powers elsewhere in Muslim-majority nations. It is important, therefore, to see attacks such as these, and indeed other instances of conflict between Sunnis and Shi‘a, for what they really are: not, as some politicians and media claim, the manifestation of a 1,400-year war within Islam, but rather cynical attempts to weaponize comparatively minor differences in religion for political purposes. For more on the similarities and differences between Sunnis and Shi‘a, visit ING’s FAQs webpage.