The Jordanian city of Zarqa, for example, has become a breeding ground for Sunni Islamic militants seeking Jihad in Iraq. A May 4th article in the New York Times, "In Jihadist Haven, a Goal: To Kill and Die in Iraq," describes six men, all under 25 years old, who represent a growing shift towards radicalism in Zarqa.
Their teenage years might be considered typical even in the United States; they enjoyed pop music and sports, and considered careers in physics and professional soccer. But these activities were interrupted and dreams decimated soon after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. A young woman from Narqa sums up the change: "Religion was something we just got from our parents. But after the war started, we decided we have to show the world we are Muslims."
Abu Ibrahim (who spoke on the condition of anonymity) and his five friends, each driven by his own circumstances and radicalized by one another, hired a smuggler to get them across the border from Syria. But while the other young men killed themselves in suicide bombings and shootings, Ibrahim was detained in a Syrian prison and eventually sent back to Jordan where he continues to dream of "fulfilling the rules of God": "It is our duty. If we don't defend our religion who should do it?"
Perhaps even more disturbing than the increasing numbers of young Sunni men seeking Jihad in the wake of the Iraq war is their intensifying anger towards Shiite Muslims. Ibrahim listed his targets as "first, the Shiites. Second, the Americans. Third, anywhere in the world where Islam is threatened." With videos of Shiite militias torturing and killing Sunnis circulating on the internet, more and more Sunni radicals echo Ibrahim's priorities.
The rift between the religious sects is deepening not only in the Middle East, but is also spilling over into the rest of the world. In my home state of Michigan, for example, vandals targeted Shiite-owned businesses and mosques earlier this year, and the Muslim Student Association at my own University of Michigan adopted rules preventing Shiites from leading prayers.
But even as this violence and discrimination pales in comparison to recent events in Iraq and just beyond its borders, perhaps Michigan's experience provides a small ray of hope. Today, May 10th, Muslim leaders from across Michigan will come together in Dearborn to sign a Unity Agreement. Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights wrote this in Tuesday's Detroit News:
Peacebuilding measures, grassroots movements and economic aid towards Iraqi reconstruction should likewise focus on the common ground between Iraq's ethnic and religious groups. Reconciliation may be, as Erik points out, extremely difficult - but at least the Sunni/Shiite honor code in Michigan provides some evidence that it is not impossible.
Let us behave like the prophet with compassion, courtesy, sincerity, humbleness, patience, dignity, fairness and understanding, recalling that our prophet created the bond of brotherhood among citizens and immigrants in Medina. Despite their differences, he took serious steps against prejudice based on nationality, race and culture.
Differences in opinion are not only allowed in Islam, but critical thinking is vital in dealing with new developments. When thinkers disagree with piety and sincerity, and if the goal is solving problems, variation in thinking leads every side of a debate closer to the truth.