There is no doubt that today’s Muslims are more divided than they have ever been. The divisions are so prevalent that in the political and economic sense of the word the Muslims of the world have ceased to be the “ummah” spoken about in the Qur’an and the Sunnah. A closer look at the condition of today’s Muslims and we realize that these divisions are related to disputes and disagreements that have become throughout the ages what appear to be irreconcilable differences. Historical arguments as well as contemporary opinions have consolidated themselves into a “self-righteousness” that elevates a personal belief or persuasion at the cost of denigrating the “other.” This self-righteousness extends itself into fields of conception, doctrine, opinion, behavior, morality, lifestyles, inter-social relations, language, choice of words and vocabulary, attire, ambitions, etc... All these divisive trends are practiced to the exclusion of the other Muslim, or with friction towards the other Muslim, or even to clash and “kill” the other Muslim. All this divisive holier-than-thou manner of acting or conducting oneself or society runs contrary to the very essence and meanings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. In the Qur’an and the Sunnah we have an obvious emphasis on the integrity, integration, and unity of the Muslims. We shall try to point out in this presentation the major reason for this dichotomy between a Qur’an and Sunnah that underscore the centrality of Islamic cohesiveness and togetherness on one hand, and the traditional or cultural divisions that characterize today’s Muslims from neighborhood to neighborhood and from continent to continent.
All Muslims recite and repeat the ayah
إِنَّ هَٰذِهِ أُمَّتُكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَأَنَا رَبُّكُمْ فَاعْبُدُونِ
And, indeed, this is your ummah, [when it is], one ummah; and I am your Sustainer – and, thus, conform unto Me. (Surah Al Ambiya’ verse 92)
Yet, it is all Muslims who live in exclusive cultural clusters, or individualized “independent” nation-states, or self-centered sectarian societies – all in inconsistency and incompatibility with the meanings of Scripture and Sunnah... Why so?
To begin to answer this question we need to scan the general history that we all share, regardless of our backgrounds or priorities. This general history appears to have developed along three parallel courses, for the purposes of this paper. The first course is a doctrinaire course, the second course is a political course, and the third course is a fiqhi course. These three parallels have produced for us conceptual schools of thought, political schools of thought, as well as fiqhi schools of thought. The origins of all these schools of thought were in the first two or three centuries following the demise of our beloved Prophet. Some of these tendencies or trends have virtually withered away, while others are still alive and kicking. Without going into any detail we have schools of thought known as “al-Jabriyah”, “al-Qadriyah”, “al-Murji’ah”, and “Al Mu’tazilah”. These intellectual trends do not exist in today’s world in a very substantial or in a very self-conscious way. We do not come across Muslims, who when asked to identify themselves, would say that they belong to any of the above intellectual trends. Therefore, for practical purposes we will not dwell on the historical differences that were very tense at the time between or among these bygone tendencies. We do acknowledge, though, that the potential for their “origins of thought” are still with us; because, after-all, these tendencies come from a human nature and a human mind that, in essence, are what they have always been and will express themselves with the same proclivities even though the “times” may have changed...
Another level of variation of thought is found in the fiqhi opinions of early and contemporary mujtahids. In this area we have towering fiqhi figures such as Al Imam al-Sadiq, Abu Hanifah, al-Shafi‘i, Malik, Ibn Hanbal, and Al Imam Zayd just to mention a few. Their personal and scholarly opinions, interpretations, and rulings are to be found in their copious books of fiqh. And if anyone were to compare their valued works he would find that they all shared a common trait of “thinking through” the meanings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah – even though they did not share an identical analysis or one and the same conclusion on some or on many issues.
Unlike the broad conceptual and doctrinaire intellectual efforts that have withered away through the course of the past one thousand years, the fiqhi efforts are still strongly adhered to by the majority of contemporary Muslims. It is unfortunate to say that some of these Muslims who are characterized, by and large, by a primitive understanding of ijtihadi matters consider their school of thought preference to be superior to other schools of thought in a divisive and sometimes offensive manner. This subject itself may need a rigorous and scholarly diffusion of its “tension” issues... issues that cause some Muslims belonging to one school of thought to be dismissive of or defamatory towards other Muslims who do not belong to their school of thought.
Which brings us to the most important element of divisions and divisiveness among the Muslims today – and that is what may be called the “political schools of thought” or the ayat and hadiths that are used by some to explain or rationalize the hatred of other Muslims or even hostilities and wars against other Muslims. We think that this is the most serious of all issues that has outlived the passage of time and that can be used by Imperialists and Zionists to keep the Muslims in a state of ideological tension, political divisions, and military aggression.
Before we give way to an outline of some of the dynamics involved in the “on-again, off-again” flare-up of strains and state of war we think it necessary to mention the ayat in the Guiding Qur’an that, if understood conscientiously, would deter tension and tumult among Muslims.
وَلَا تَكُونُوا مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ مِنَ الَّذِينَ فَرَّقُوا دِينَهُمْ وَكَانُوا شِيَعًا ۖ كُلُّ حِزْبٍ بِمَا لَدَيْهِمْ فَرِحُونَ
… And do not be of the mushriks, of those who subdivided their deen and became zealots – each party [obsessively] prideful of what it has… (Surah Ar Rum verse 31-32)
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ فَرَّقُوا دِينَهُمْ وَكَانُوا شِيَعًا لَّسْتَ مِنْهُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ
Verily, those who subdivided their deen and became zealots, you [O Muhammad] have nothing to do with them… (Surah Al An’am verse 159)
وَمَا اخْتَلَفَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ إِلَّا مِن بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَهُمُ الْعِلْمُ بَغْيًا بَيْنَهُمْ الْحِسَابِ
… and those who have been vouchsafed Scripture did not provocatively and aggressively take issue with one another except after having received knowledge [from on high]… (Surah Aal Imran verse 19)
Before we descend into the nitty-gritty of this issue we would like to state the following observations.
Differences of opinion are normal and natural within the given and consensual understanding of the impeccable Qur’an and the established Sunnah. The more variations of such ijtihad, the more effort invested in explaining their rich meanings. Differences of ijtihad within the combined understanding of the Qur’an and Sunnah are complimentary; whereas differences within a fragmented understanding of the Qur’an and Sunnah may become contradictory or even confrontational. Expressing such variations of opinions that are based on an integrated understanding of the Qur’an and Sunnah may take the form of accommodation which is the way it is supposed to be, or may take the form of discrimination which is the way it is not supposed to be. Therefore, whatever a Muslim’s fiqhi preference or political persuasion may be within the overall consolidation of the Qur’an and Sunnah he/she is required to accept and admit another Muslim’s preference and persuasion as long as it does not exclude Muslims from their professed commitment to Allah and HIS Prophet. It simply is not within the nature of things that all thinking human beings are going to be a carbon copy of each other. This applies to intra-Islamic ijtihad as it applies to cross-cultural and inter-human relationships and reasoning.
وَلَوْ شَاءَ رَبُّكَ لَجَعَلَ النَّاسَ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً ۖ وَلَا يَزَالُونَ مُخْتَلِفِينَ إِلَّا مَن رَّحِمَ رَبُّكَ ۚ وَلِذَٰلِكَ خَلَقَهُمْ
And had your Sustainer decreed it HE would have rendered [all people] as one ummah and they [still] would have had their differences except for he who is blessed by your Sustainer; and for that reason HE created them… (Surah Hud verse 118-119)
The issue to be noted is that when differences do occur, and they are inevitable, that there be no hostilities associated with such God-given differences. Differences of understanding and analyzing the aggregated meanings of the Qur’an and Sunnah will, in the long run, divulge some benefits. One such benefit is the fact that an ayah, a hadith, or a theme therein may indeed turn out to have a variety of mobile but not opposite meanings pertinent to time and place variations. Variations of analyses and analytical thinking are God-given freedoms that need to be juxtaposed and objectively evaluated, provided that there is no malice or ill-will in this regard.
With Qur’anic guidelines we may detect that “self-centeredness” or “the ego” or “covetousness” are feelings that act as catalyst for initiation of hostilities and fragmentation. Any “truth” when saddled with such individualistic compulsions turns into a causal factor for animosity and potential warfare. The following are some ayat that shed light on the nature of ego-centric claims to the absolute truth.
أَفَكُلَّمَا جَاءَكُمْ رَسُولٌ بِمَا لَا تَهْوَىٰ أَنفُسُكُمُ اسْتَكْبَرْتُمْ فَفَرِيقًا كَذَّبْتُمْ وَفَرِيقًا تَقْتُلُونَ
Is it so, that every-time an Apostle comes to you with what your egos are not inclined to accept you become arrogant and in doing so you attribute lies to some [apostles] and other [apostles] you kill? (Surah Al Baqarah verse 87)
فَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا الْهَوَىٰ أَن تَعْدِلُوا
… do not trail your egos to do justice… (Surah An Nisa’ verse 135)
قُل لَّا أَتَّبِعُ أَهْوَاءَكُمْ ۙ قَدْ ضَلَلْتُ إِذًا وَمَا أَنَا مِنَ الْمُهْتَدِينَ
Say [O Muhammad]: I will not follow your self-centered ways; for if I do, I will go astray and be not guided. (Surah Al An’am verse 56)
وَلَا تَتَّبِعِ الْهَوَىٰ فَيُضِلَّكَ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ
… And do not tag to your ego; for it [your ego] will divert you from the course to Allah… (Surah Sawd verse 26)
وَلَوِ اتَّبَعَ الْحَقُّ أَهْوَاءَهُمْ لَفَسَدَتِ السَّمَاوَاتُ وَالْأَرْضُ وَمَن فِيهِنَّ
And if the Haqq were to trace their self-love the heavens and the earth and everything therein would spoil… (Surah Al Mu’minun verse 71)
إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ
And many [people] do go astray because of their selfishness, void of knowledge… (Surah Al An’am verse 116)
Many Muslims refer to the first generation of Muslims who were brought up, schooled, and tempered by none other than the Prophet himself, as a generation that is flawless or incapable of sin. We do not want to enter into any argument with such people who hold such perception. Our concern is to try to have them think through their convictions. In doing so we will sight some of the differences of opinions that were held by prominent personalities of that same generation. We will avoid names, as some Muslims are offended by the names of these Muslims in positions that need to be corrected.
The first issue that became a matter of dispute or differing opinions was concerning the death of the Prophet. One of the Sahabah (radi Allahu anhu) held that the Prophet did not die; and he considered any such statement tantamount to playing into the Munafiqin’s hands...Of course the issue was later settled, and this prominent Sahabi came to his senses and was convinced that the Prophet (P) actually passed on to heavenly company... Another issue that had different opinions among that first generation of devout Muslims was: where should the Prophet’s grave be? Is it to be where he died, or should he be buried where the other committed Sahabas were buried? Eventually, this issue was also resolved, and the Prophet was buried in the same place as he passed on. Another issue of differences of opinion pertains to “who should succeed the Prophet” as head of state? And here we have a difference of opinion that continues to live on to this very day. We also have a difference of opinion about what should be the punishment of “ Muslims” who refused to pay their zakat to the Islamic State once the Prophet passed on. This deliberate policy by some people of withholding their due to the Islamic treasury had to be encountered. But how? Should they be disciplined by a military campaign? Or should there be other measures taken to see to it that they wind up paying their financial obligations to the state that offers them their rights and protects them from insecurity and aggression? Another issue of contention among those pioneering Muslims was: what shall be done with territories that are acquired by the Islamic State? Should these newly acquired territories become “private property”? Or should they be state owned? What we learn from this sequence of events is that these committed Muslims never adjudicated their differences by hatred towards each other or by waging war against each other. Differences of opinions, a variety of points of view, but never bloodshed and combat to reach a solution to these discrepancies.
All of these issues have been settled or marginalized throughout the course of time. There remains, though, the issue of succeeding the Prophet of Allah. This issue has been turned into a polarizing issue by ruling classes, religious classes, and ignorant classes of people. The resultant has become a matter of fanaticism or defamation of the other Muslim who does not agree with a particular point of view. And this has no basis in the Qur’an and no basis in the Sunnah. What follows is a list of accusations and counter-accusations that have been the material of feuding dynasties and religious bigotry throughout the years. These accusations and counter-accusations can be neutralized easily if Muslims agreed to refer these issues to Allah and HIS Prophet and to seek answers coming from sources and references that are reliable, trustworthy, and transparent. These are some of the issues that are turned into cannon fodder – used by some Muslims against other Muslims:
1- Some ignorant Muslims accuse other Muslims saying: they believe that the Qur’an is incomplete!! It just takes a little investigation to realize that both sides of this unsubstantiated accusation believe in the completeness and finality of the Qur’an.
2- Some less-than-informed Muslims attribute the weight of conviction - a Muslim’s iman – to the presence of some unfounded hadiths that are found in all Books of Hadith. Just because these Books of Hadith have within them baseless hadiths should not reflect on the integrity and sincerity of Muslims who, if enlightened and advised, would dismiss such hadiths that are incompatible with the Qur’an and the rest of the well-established Sunnah.
3- Some Muslims who should conduct an inquiry before passing judgment on Muslims accuse other Muslims of placing Imam Ali (radi Allahu anhu wa alahi as salaam) on a pedestal above the Prophet (P) himself. There may have been individuals here and there who reacted to particular oppression by going to extremes and expressing such heresy; but this does not apply to the Shi‘is who are the intended target of this malignment.
4- Another point of disagreement among today’s Muslims is the definition and the status of “Imam”. Without going into details about this matter, suffice it to say that, even though this issue may continue to be one of different definitions, it never should be one that pits one Muslim against another Muslim. And whatever definition is given to the word “Imam” that definition by whomever never violates the meanings of the Qur’an and Sunnah.
5- There is, from time to time, an accusation by some Muslims against other Muslims saying that they have been influenced, brainwashed, or infiltrated by Yahud. This also is one article of defamation that can be put to rest by some research and trans-denominational contact. Anyone who knows anything about the internal thoughts and experiences of all Muslims knows enough to rebut such slur and aspersion.
The above are in no way exhaustive of the misinformation that feeds into the policies of division and discrimination that have been activated from place to place to have the Muslim peoples remain divided and divisible. Our comment on this sad state of affairs is to point out the fact that almost all, if not all, the above mis-characterization of Muslims by other Muslims is attributable to the fact that Muslims no longer think for themselves. And when we no longer think for ourselves other people will begin thinking for us and thinking against us. Everyone here should be aware of the fact that there is an “intellectual world” that is at war with Islamic self-determination. The most advanced stage of this intellectual war is represented in the politics and policies against the Islamic State in Iran. To summon all their intellectual might against Islamic Iran, the Zionist and Imperialist powers of the world are resurrecting and feeding sectarian bigotry. The worst eras in our Islamic history are picked up by the common enemies of all Muslims to highlight what they consider to be an irreconcilable difference between Sunnis and Shi‘is. This train of thought begins by tracing the Sunni-Shi’i schism to a “[sectarian] Umar” opposed by a “[sectarian] Ali”. This misleading characterization extends into two classes of Sahabah: one of them deadly opposed to the other!! Buying into this scheme of things are Governments and regimes that are tied into the Zionist-Imperialist nexus- regimes that thrive in the Islamic East, some of which claim they are the custodians of Islam and the guardians of Iman!!
In our humble calculation of things, we say quite honestly and objectively, that the Islamic led resistance to Zionism in and around the Holy Land is proof positive that sectarianism has no future. By any definition, it is [Shi‘i] Hizbullah who are on the front line to liberate [Sunni] Palestine, aided and supported by the Islamic Government in Iran. Palestine cannot be considered a “Shi’i” land however way you seek to define it. And Hizbullah cannot be considered to be a “Sunni” movement however way you seek to define it. The more the Islamic non-Sectarian struggle against Zionism increases the more the Zionist and Imperialist enemies of both Sunnis and Shi’is will begin to despair of their policies of “divide and conquer.”
I know many people will hesitate to state it, but I will. So far, the leaders and the leadership of the Islamic State in Iran have shown an outstanding amount of understanding, resiliency, and maturity when it comes to the destiny of the Muslims and oppressed peoples of the world. It takes an Islamic State to carry the concerns and anguish of all the Muslims. It takes an Islamic State to extend beyond its geographical boundaries and cultural character to espouse and support the liberation forces in and around the Holy Land of Palestine. This is exactly the state of affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Where else in the world do the Muslims have a free forum to approach the issue of Islamic solidarity and Islamic unity? Where else in the world do the Muslims or oppressed people have a leadership that can bridge the gap between Muslim victims of Zionism and non- Muslim victims of Imperialism? The Islamic leadership in Islamic Iran has had to balance the demands of its internal ebb and flow with the gravity of the external circumstances and conditions in the region- beginning with Lebanon and Palestine and extending all the way to the Indo-Pak subcontinent- through Iraq and Afghanistan... We can see a brighter tomorrow in light of some policies that stand a good chance of success among an Islamic government in Iran, a potential Islamic administration in Turkey, and well tested Islamic liberation force of Hizbullah, an up-and-coming Islamic coalition and liberation force in Palestine. US Imperialism is slowly bleeding and dying through a thousand cuts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Zionist father of all political evils is in the throes of a growing Islamic reality and power in the region. The old political structure in Arabian lands is exactly that: an old, warn-out, dilapidated and expiring political (dis)order. We do not claim to know what will happen tomorrow; we are in no position to outline the details of the coming grand transformation that will usher in an awe-inspiring Islamic ummah as it is meant by the Almighty to be. But what we can see very vividly is the beginning of a formidable Islamic bloc that will deal the death blows to all invaders, occupiers, and plunderers. At the center of all this, undoubtedly, is the non-sectarian Islamic leadership, the struggling Islamic masses, and the freedom loving Islamic and oppressed peoples of the world. All this jargon about “takfir” and “bid’ah”, rawafid and nawasib comes from those quarters who are not capable of coming to terms with a universal Islamic awakening that has already begun. These words are not the first words in a new front of enemies against Islamic self-determination, they are the last words of a perishing class of rulers and manipulators who have no thoughts to express, so they turn to foul language and empty threats. We realize that this task of breaking new grounds and remaking the political will of independent Muslims is not an easy task. It is not a task that will be accomplished in a short period of time. It will require determination and sacrifice. It will need adherents and forerunners. But time is on the side of those who pledge their life and their wherewithal to the Almighty and the Arbiter of all. As we write these words there are threats originating from the centers of Zionism and Imperialism against Islamic Iran. This has been going on for quite some time now. And only those who are set apart from Allah can be intimidated by such threats, vain, and empty boasting. Those who call themselves “Sunnis” and lavish all types of innuendo and indictments against Islamic Iran should be ashamed of themselves. A confident “Sunni” will never think twice about coming to the aid of his brother Muslim, especially if this brother Muslim happens to be in an Islamic State that is under constant threat from Zionist and Imperialist powers. It is because these types of “Sunnis” are not sure of their “Sunnism” that they behave in such a manner. Never to overestimate things, these mouthpieces are few and do not represent the grassroots of the Muslims throughout the world. They speak the language of their political masters and their financial paymasters.
Finally, we cannot forget those who have sacrificed their lives and their limbs in the decades and centuries that passed to defend and maintain Islamic self-determination. The All-Merciful shall provide them the bliss that they deserve. We all are looking and anticipating a world of justice, where poverty is out and plenty is in. A world that is finally free of tyranny and oppression. A world that knows no discrimination on the basis of denomination, color, or ethnicity. When the future looks back at the present, the Islamic Republic and its Islamic leadership will be honored with the distinction of being the first to pioneer the path of Islamic brotherhood and freedom and equality for all.
This discussion paper was presented by Imam Muhammad Asi on the occasion of the twenty-third International Islamic Unity Conference on 3 March 2010.