by Isa Othman (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 27, No. 9, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1419)
From the earliest days of the success of the Islamic Revolution in Iran under the leadership of Imam Khomeini and the revolutionary ulama of Iran, the enemies of Islam have tried to isolate the new Islamic State and limit its impact on the global Islamic movement. One tactic used for this has been to dismiss the Revolution as a Shi'i phenomenon. Imam Khomeini recognised this, hence his immediate and intense emphasis on the Islamic nature of the Revolution and the unity of the Ummah.
Nonetheless, over the years, the efforts of the Saudis and others to split the Ummah down the middle have had an effect. There have been many reasons for this. Appeals to sectarianism tend to play on the fears and prejudices of some Muslims. Many well-meaning Muslims, who genuinely believe that they are working for Islam rather than for the enemies of Islam, have been fooled into helping them.
Another reason, which unfortunately cannot be ignored, is that some Iranian ulama and officials have tended to play into their enemies' hands by unnecessarily emphasising their Shi'i identity and not considering the wider Islamic perspective. The late Dr Kalim Siddiqui used to criticise them for this. In his last book, Stages of Islamic Revolution, he attributed this tendency to the fact that Shi'is have not held centre stage in Islamic history for many years, and suggested indulgence for their mistakes now. Dr Siddiqui repeatedly appealed for unity on the basis of all Muslims' common understanding of the Seerah, saying that all subsequent divisions which emerged were historical rather than Islamic.
A similar spirit, towards the mistakes and faults of all Muslims, is suggested in a new campaign for unity launched in London earlier this year. Charter 3:103 is a movement built around the Qur'anic ayah: 'And hold fast by the covenant of Allah all together and be not disunited, and remember the favour of Allah on you when you were enemies, and then he united your hearts so by His favour you became brothers; and you were on the brink of a pit of fire, then He saved you from it; thus does Allah make clear to you His signs that you may follow the right way.' (Al-Qur'an 3:103).
The Charter 3:103 movement is convened by senior Muslim community figures in London and the US. In London, the conveners are Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission and formerly a close colleague of Dr Kalim Siddiqui in the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, and Maulana Faiz ul-Aqtab Siddiqi, Head of the International Muslims Organization and Principal of the Hijaz University College, UK's premier Islamic college. The third convenor is Imam Mohammed Al-Asi of Washington DC, one of the Islamic movement's foremost English-speaking intellectuals and a columnist of Crescent International.
Massoud Shadjareh describes the spread of disunity as 'a scourge' which is blighting the attempts of Muslims to improve their conditions in every circumstance. 'The attempt to split the global Islamic movement along sectarian lines to isolate the Islamic Republic is obviously the highest level at which the kuffar are using sectarianism against Muslims. But this, in a sense is the easiest to counter.
'Just as serious are the problems created by sectarianism within communities, in western countries, and in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. We must remember that Shi'i-Sunni issues are not the only forms of sectarianism or disunity. The growth of 'fascist' Muslim movements, groups which claim that they have monopoly on Islam, and are more concerned with fighting other Muslims than non-Muslims, is perhaps even more dangerous. The growth of rival Muslim groups all claiming that those who don't follow their particular understanding of Islam are even worse than non-Muslims, is doing more damage to the Ummah than 1400 years of Shi'i-Sunni problems ever did. Nationalism and racism are other forms of disunity which are also causing untold damage.'
Shadjareh emphasizes that the only way of countering these disturbing trends is by developing a spirit of tolerance among Muslims, based on the Qur'anic ayah: 'Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah, and those who are with him and strong against unbelievers (but) compassionate amongst each other' (Al-Qur'an 48:29).
'Muslims must learn that there is no one way to be Muslim,' he says. 'Part of the strength of Islam has always been that it accommodates a wide range of cultures and styles of behaviour provided they are not inconsistent with the broad principles of Islam. But this sort of unity comes from the heart, not from ideology. We must change the way we feel and act, not just what we say.'
Maulana Faiz ul-Aqtab Siddiqi highlights a particular damaging tactic seen in many areas: the playing of the sectarian card for political reasons. 'Some Muslim leaders and politicians find it convenient to raise sectarian issues in order to rally support for themselves, and isolate or discredit others. This is extremely serious. It amounts of politicians deliberately damaging the community in order to advance their personal political goals. This is a totally immoral, typically western political strategy based on the idea that "the end justifies the means".
'Unfortunately, some parts of our community are susceptible to such politicking. Muslims must change their attitudes so people who use such tactics are isolated as unworthy of leadership in Islam. '
Charter 3:103 is being administered by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, London. Several hundred organizations have already signed up to it. Crescent International is among them. Individual signatories are also welcomed. For more information about Charter 3:103, write to P.O. Box 598, Wembley HA0 4XX, UK.