Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the U.S. Come Together in Life and Prayer

The call to prayer at the Unity Center mosque in suburban Detroit is unique, not because of what’s being said, but because of who answers the call: Both Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

Typically, members of the two sects pray separately, but in West Bloomfield, Mich., Sunni and Shiite built the Unity Center so they could worship together.

“Some of my closest friends, the closest friends of my children are Shiite. I happen to be Sunni but when we work together we never really look at ourselves as Shiite and Sunni. The Sunni and Shiite work together in businesses, they pray together in our mosques, our children go to school together,” said Victor Ghalib Begg, a Sunni Muslim and Unity Center Founder.

“We are Muslims, that's all that is important," added Begg, who usually hosts his Shiite friends at his home after Sunday prayers.

It is a scene that is becoming more common in the region, which is home to the largest Arab population outside the Middle East.

Social gatherings are one way Muslim leaders are trying to keep the calm in order to prevent the violent factional conflicts in Iraq from spreading to the United States.

"We're coming together like Muslims aren’t doing in the world and the reason for it is that we have an opportunity to feel part of this country and feel that we have a future and it's not a one-sided situation where Shiites are in control or Sunnis are in control,” said Eid Alawan, a Shiite Muslim.

As many as 60,000 Iraqis have been killed since the start of the war four years ago, according to some estimates. Many are victims of sectarian violence.

“Because of all of this news of sectarian divisions in Iraq, we have taken additional steps to bring Sunni and Shiite imams together and they have been actually meeting regularly for past few months,” Begg said.

One of those steps has been to regularly hold "peace meetings" with Shiite and Sunni imams, and to form "rapid response team," comprised of five Shiite imams and scholars and five Sunni imams and scholars who make themselves available if there is every a need for a combined response from the Muslim community on an issue or incident. This group also comes together to discuss any repercussions sectarian violence in Iraq may have in their communities.

"The Americans are a beacon to the rest of the world in terms of pluralistic society that we have created here," Begg said. "We have lived together for a long time here and we want to make sure that message goes out to the rest of the country to the rest of the world."

Saeed Khan, a professor at Wayne State University who is an expert on Arab and Muslim history, said now that Saddam Hussein is gone, the Shiites are the majority of the population in Iraq and they feel they can impose — or that they at least would like to impose — a more Shiite-oriented Iraq when it comes to the political landscape.

But many in Michigan's Arab community are trying to make sure those issues stay behind.

"Immigrants come to this country and they're on a level playing field," Khan said. "The government doesn't favor Shiite over Sunni, as did Saddam Hussein back in the home country, and so whether they're here in Dearborn or other places in the United States, they feel as though they have an equal opportunity and that people don't look at them differently. They don't treat them differently based on whether they are Sunni or they're Shiite."

Some Arab leaders in Detroit have said the war in Iraq now boils down to turf battles over land. But in Michigan, the Muslim power struggles are few, and are certainly less violent.

Last month, two Shiite mosques and six Shiite-owned businesses in metro Detroit where hit with rocks and spray painted with graffiti.

Police said no one claimed responsibility for the attacks and believe the vandalism was random.

But some Shiite say it was Sunni revenge for Shiite celebrations of Saddam Hussein’s death.

“It's pure 100 percent religious. It's pure 100 percent against Shiite Muslim,” said Quither Alhemuzi, a Shiite Muslim.

"Because I'm Iraqi, right, I feel like I'm being threatened by these people who are the Baath party people — Saddam people," said Fadhel Al-Jebori, another Shiite Muslim.

Although he acknowledged that some tension rises here in the United States as sectarian violence grows in Iraq, Khan said he doesn't see acts of physical violence here increasing anytime soon.

"This is a country where people come from all over the world and it is the only country where you find every sect, every nationality of Muslims living side-by-side," Khan said.

Despite the smattering of vandalism in Michigan, Arab leaders hope their show of interfaith solidarity will set an example for other Muslim communities worldwide.

“I'm convinced the kids of future generations are going to be building a better country for us a better community and a better understanding of one another in the Islamic tradition,” said Alawan.

FOX News' Ruth Ravve contributed to this report.