by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 1, Rabi' al-Thani, 1435)
At a time when takfirism deliberately promoted by the Saudi regime and its henchmen, is grabbing headlines, sincere Muslims of all schools of thought in Islam are working for unity. This reflects the view of a clear majority of Muslims worldwide.
At a time when the Muslim world is beset by so many problems, eruption of disunity based on takfirism (the practice of declaring other Muslims kafirs) is a self-inflicted wound that Muslims can do without. In the noble Qur’an, Allah (swt) refers to Muslims as one Ummah, “Verily, this Ummah of yours is one Ummah, and I am the Sustainer of you all; conform then, to Me [alone]. But men have torn their unity wide asunder, [forgetting that] unto Us they all are bound to return” (21:92–93).
Throughout his blessed life, the noble Messenger (pbuh) strived for unity not only among Muslims but also worked for understanding with others. In the Covenant of Madinah promulgated as part of establishing the Islamic State, he declared people of all faiths, including the Jews residing in Madinah, as one Ummah with the Muslims. Thus, the Islamic State the Prophet (pbuh) established accepted Jews as “Muslims” in the civic sense while recognizing their separate religious identity.
So how do some Muslims justify their behavior by hurling fatwas of takfir at other Muslims with whom they disagree on some fiqhi issue(s)? We have repeatedly stressed in these columns that takfirism is first and foremost a political rather than a theological issue. It is used by some Muslims to delegitimize those they disagree with in order to justify their own opportunistic and utilitarian political behavior. Even if the allegation of takfir were true, Islam does not give anyone the license to kill another human being. The sanctity of life is emphasized in the Qur’an as well as in the Farewell Khutbah delivered by the noble Messenger (pbuh) during his one and only Hajj. The noble Messenger (pbuh) said, “O people! Indeed, your lives, and your possessions, and your family honor [womenfolk] are sacrosanct until you meet your Lord…” He emphasized this again in another part of that final Khutbah, “O people! Indeed your Sustainer is One, and your common father [referring to Adam] is one. All of you belong to Adam and Adam was made up of earth [soil]. The most honorable of you in Allah’s sight is the one who is the most conscious of Allah’s power and authority…”
There is no Muslim, even the most takfiri-minded, who can disagree with these directives yet many who call themselves Muslims indulge in behavior that is totally contrary to Qur’anic principles and prophetic precedents. We can trace this mindset all the way to the Khawarij who emerged during the khilafah of Imam Ali (ra). It was this group that carried out the criminal act of killing the fourth khalifah of the Muslims. The Khawarij had adopted a very narrowminded interpretation of Islam insisting they alone were right. Those that disagreed with them were considered legitimate targets for execution. This is precisely the mindset prevalent among takfiris as well.
While Muslims cannot ignore such un-Islamic behavior, they must not become despondent. Despite grabbing headlines, the takfiris and their sponsors are a tiny minority in the Muslim world. A survey conducted by worldpublicopinion.org last year found that more than 67% of Muslims worldwide wanted unity among Muslims. Even the 33% that appeared opposed to unity did so primarily because of misunderstanding. They were under the impression that Muslim unity meant they would have to abandon their particular fiqhi choices.
What does unity mean? It means fostering understanding between the different schools of thought without anyone claiming superiority over others. There have been numerous attempts by leading Muslim thinkers, scholars and activists to foster unity. Names such as Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (Asadabadi), Muhammad ‘Abduh, Shaykh Mahmoud Shaltut, Shaykh Kashif al-Ghita’, Dr. Mohammad Iqbal, Sayyid Qutb, Imam Khomeini, Dr. Kalim Siddiqui and Imam Seyyed ‘Ali Khamenei immediately spring to mind. There have also been institutional efforts to foster unity and understanding. For instance, on November 9, 2004 coinciding with the 27th of Ramadan, 1425ah, the Amman declaration was issued by King Abdullah of Jordan calling for tolerance and unity in the Muslim world. Subsequently, a three-point ruling was issued by 200 Islamic scholars from more than 50 countries in July 2005. The three points defined who a Muslim is, prohibited excommunication of Muslims (takfir) and outlined principles on which fatwas must be based.
The Amman Declaration said the following eight schools of thought (madhahib) were recognized in Islam. Among the Sunnis, the well-known four were included: Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki and Shafi‘i. Also recognized were the Shi‘i Ja‘fari (Ithna-‘Ashari and Isma‘iliyah), the Shi‘i Zaydi, the Ibadi (what survives of the Khawarij), and finally the Zahiri. Concurrent with this was the declaration that it is forbidden to pronounce excommunication (takfir) upon followers of the following creeds/practices/thoughts: Ash‘ari, Tasawwuf and the enlightened Salafi thought of scholars like Muhammad ‘Abduh and Muhammad Rashid Rida. The declaration forbade takfir upon others recognized as Muslims; and finally, it stipulated preconditions to issuing religious edicts, intended to prevent the circulation of illegitimate fatwas.
Unfortunately, some of the ‘ulama that had signed on to the Amman declaration later indulged in the very conduct they themselves had condemned. Such fickleness has caused irreparable damage to the Ummah.
In light of the re-emergence of takfirism in a virulent form in Syria and Pakistan, a conference of 300 scholars, ‘ulama and Islamic activists from 58 countries gathered in Tehran in January 2014 to reaffirm the unity of the Ummah. Present at the conference were Sunnis, Shi‘is, Ibadis as well as ‘ulama of other schools of thought. They unanimously adopted an 18-point charter that among other things forbids takfir as well as disrespect of the Sahabah and the wives of the Prophet (pbuh). It also pointed out that proximity did not mean converting Sunnis to Shi‘ism or vice versa; it meant each respecting the views of the other.
This effort was spearheaded by Majma‘ al-Taqrib bayna al-Madhahib al-Islamiyah, a Tehran-based organization that has worked for decades to strive for unity among Muslims. It is through such efforts that Muslims would be able to foster unity and remove some of the misunderstandings that have caused so much suffering in the Ummah.