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A Bright Sunni-Shiite 'Selfie'! Totally Confused, Overwhelmed And Upset

21 June 2016

By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

Two expectant fathers were anxiously waiting for good news at a hospital in the eastern region during the 1991 Kuwait Liberation War. ''Congratulation, you have a son!,'' came the news. One boy was named Yazeed, after the son of Caliph Mu'aawiyah, and the other Abdul-Zahra, the servant of the Prophet's (peace be upon him) daughter, wife of Caliph Ali whose son Hussein was killed by Yazeed's army, 14 centuries ago, in Karbala. The choice of names was obvious as the first son was born to a Salafi Sunni parents, and the latter was born into a Shiite family.

Twenty-three years later, both sons had finished their regular schooling and religious teaching. They were raised as fine, cultured and beloved children in their prominent and affluent families. Weeks after both were graduated from the same university, parents and sons were urgently called to visit the hospital of their birth.

''It seems we've made a terrible mistake!,'' said the hospital administrator. ''We have strong reasons to believe that your sons were switched at birth. To be absolutely sure, we need to take DNA tests,'' he explained.

You can imagine the shock and disbelief. After almost a quarter of a century, they now face the prospect that each family has raised the wrong son. Worse is the fact that each one was brought up into a different sect.

The DNA tests prove their worst nightmares.

That is how the ''Selfie'' sitcom episode started. Unlike any TV drama we have seen before, this Ramadan show was different deep, bold and smart.

Abdullah Al-Qasabi, who played the Shiite father and his team were brilliant. The story written by Saudi writer, Khalaf Alharbi, hit the right buttons and caused heated discussions.

The story showed the absurd religious divide between the followers of two Islamic sects. Without much knowledge of each other's faith, both parents went into complete reeducation of their sons, dismissing most of what they had been taught before. The brothers (by breastfeeding) were totally confused, overwhelmed and upset. The episode ended with a fine note, as both decided they will be good brothers and friends, regardless of their sectarian divide.

Another episode hit an equally similar chord. This time the young Daesh terrorist was sent by his ringleader to bomb a Shiite mosque. He refused to take Captagon pills to ease his mind, because he wanted to be widely awake as he starts his trip to paradise.

On the way, he saved a Shiite little girl about to be overrun by a car. Once inside the mosque, he discovered that it was no different than any Sunni place of worship. People were peacefully praying, the same way, to the same God and toward the same qibla. He decided not to detonate his explosive vest, and went out looking for a ride.

A Shiite, praying alone near his pickup, which he used to transport and sell watermelons, was forced to provide the escape car. For many hours, they couldn't find a way out, because security checks were surrounding the district.

Finally, they went to a cabin by the sea, where the Shiite used to drink alcohol and sing with his pals. He explained that only three days ago, he decided to get sober and pray again.

During a night on the beach, eating watermelons, and exchanging life stories, the young men found lots in common. They decided that since they were equally Muslims and citizens, they would become best friends. The problem was how to get rid of the vest.

Against the Shiite hesitation, the now-ex-terrorist, walked into the sea to get rid of his vest. ''I agree it is a vital risk, but if it took my life, I deserve it.'' It did go off, but to the relief and extreme delight of his new friend he managed to throw it away into deep waters. The episode ended with both singing a patriot song.

As much as I was happy that we are finally tackling the sectarian issue so openly, many were not. Extremists on both camps were crying foul. They felt the episodes were making fun of them, and siding with the opposite sect.

This means the bad guys are losing ground. The silent majority well-received the message and their own followers are having doubts.

I remember the same cries two years ago, from both camps, during the Ramadan show of (Caliph) ''Omar'' series. Again, moderate Shiite and Sunnis were happily surprised. Extremists on both sides were warning their followers not to watch them.

I believe we owe the brave and talented team of ''Selfie'' a billion thanks, and our full support. Hopefully, more episodes and series with similar messages of tolerance, love and unity will follow. Art has a humanistic role to play, and now is the time.

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi


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