Al-Ghadir and Islamic Unity

Friday, April 04, 2014

While some may question the position of a work such as Allamah Amini’s Al-Ghadir in relation to the Islamic unity movement, the author of this article, Shahid Mutahhari, believes that both Allamah Amini as well as his monumental book plays an important role in fostering proximity among the Islamic schools of thought. The author begins by defining the aims of proximity-i.e., to establish relations between the two steams of Islam through the many commonalities that they share in order to restore their dignity in the face of growing common enemy. As the author states, this is a mandate of the Quran and was exemplified by the actions of Imam Ali (a) himself. The author then highlights some passages from Al-Ghadir in which the intentions of Allamah Amini in writing the book become quite clear-to clarity certain misconceptions and to create the grounds for unity through a better understanding of faith.

The noble book of Al-Ghadir has created an enormous wave in the Islamic world. Islamic thinkers have studied it from various aspects including literary, historic, kalamic, narrative, exegetic, and social angles. What one may see in the social aspect is “Islamic unity”.

The Islamic reformers and intelligentsia of our age consider unity and cohesion of Islamic schools of thought and Islamic nations to be one of the most essentials Islamic needs, especially in current circumstances when the enemy is assailing the Islamic world from all sides and is constantly seeking to instigate ancient differences and invent new ones. As we know, Islamic unity and brotherhood are considered highly by the holy Legislator of Islam and are among the most significant aims of Islam. Quran, Sunnah, and history of Islam provide testimony to this truth.

Thus, the question arises whether the compilation of a book such as al-Ghadir-the theme of which is the most ancient point of contention among Muslims-serves as an impediment on the holy path and lofty ideal of “Islamic unity”?


What is Islamic unity? Does it mean that one school must be chosen among all Islamic schools and the rest must be discarded? Does it mean that the common points in all schools must be converged and differences disclaimed, thereby innovating a new school unlike any of the current schools? Or, perhaps Islamic unity has nothing to do with the unity of Islamic schools of thought but signifies the unity of followers of all schools, despite their scholastic differences, against an external threat.

Those who do not support the idea of Muslim unity define it as a scholastic unity which is obviously an illogical and unviable concept. Being such, it is defeated from the outside. It is self-evident that enlightened Islamic scholars do not propose the delimitation of all schools into a single one or convergences of common points into a new school of thought free from any differences. Such a course of action is not reasonable, logical, desirable, or feasible. Instead, these scholars have in mind the formation of Muslims into a single front against their common enemies.

They assert the Muslims possess many common points that may form the basis of a powerful manifestation of unity. Muslims all worship the One God. They all have faith in the apostleship of the noble Prophet (s). The book of all Muslim is the Quran and the centre of their worship is the Ka’bah. They all believe in the institution of the Hajj and perform its rites together in a similar fashion. All Muslims start families, conduct business, educate children, and bury the dead in the same way. Expect in certain details, Muslims do not have any differences with regards to these issues. They possess the same worldview and a common culture. They are all a part of great, ancient civilization. The unity-whether in worldview, culture, civilization background, thought, behavior, religious beliefs, worship, and religious mores-can make a single united nation out of Muslims? As such, they can form an extraordinary unstoppable force against the great powers of the world, impelling them to bow before the Muslim nation, especially since this principle has been made clear in Islamic texts.

As per the explicit wording of the Quran, Muslims are brothers and sisters, and specific rights and responsibilities link them to each other. This being so, Why should Muslims not utilize all these extensive capacities that Islam has endowed upon them?

According to this group of Islamic intellectuals, Muslims are not required to make concessions in their primary or secondary scholastic principles for the purpose of Islamic unity. In the same manner, there is nothing to prevent Muslims from discussing, ratiocinating, and writing books about their particular primary and secondary principles. The only thing that Islamic unity does require in this area is that Muslims maintain dignity so as to prevent rancor. They must not curse at, lie about, or cast aspersions on each other. They must not belittle the logic used by other parties, hurt the feelings of others, or extend beyond the boundaries of logic and discourse. They must, at the very least in their interactions with the fellow Muslims, observe the limits required by Islam for inviting non-Muslims to Islam:

Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good advice and dispute with them in a manner that is best. (16:125)

Some individuals assume that schools that only differ in secondary tenets of faith, such as Shafi and Hanafi, can be brothers and form a single unity but schools, whose fundamental tenets differ, can never unite. According to exponents of this view, all the fundamental tenets of faith form a cohesive whole and, in the locution of scholars of usul, they are “aqall wa akthar irtibati”-i.e. they must go together or not at all. Therefore, if one sacrifices a fundamental tenet, it is like sasscrificing all tenets [since they have no value without that one tenet]. For example, if the tenet of Imamate is sacrificed or undermined by those who believe in it for the sake of unity, then the unity is null and void [since Imamate is a fundamental tenet of faith in their school]. Based on this approach, people can never hold hands in brotherhood and fight on the same front, regardless of who the enemy is.

The first group will respond to the second group in this way: There is no reason to consider all the fundamental tenets of faith as a single unity based on the idea of “everything or nothing”. For we have two other principles that may be applied here: “that which is doable is not annulled due to that which is difficult” (al-maysur la yasqut bi al-ma’sur) and “That which cannot be attained in its entirety should not be relinquished in its entirety”(ma la yudrak kullah la yutraku kullah).

The practice of Amir al-Mu’minin ‘Ali (s) is the best instructive of lessons for us. ‘Ali (a) implemented an extremely logical and reasonable methodology, one worth of the great man that he was. He made every endeavor to reclaim his rights and applied all his resources to revive the principle of Imamate but he never followed the slogan of “everything or nothing”. In fact, he made the principle of “That which cannot be attained in its entirety should not be relinquished in its entirety” the basis of his endeavors.

Ali (a) did not rise up against those who had apprehended his rights. His restraint was not due to powerlessness. It was, rather, a calculated and voluntary decision. He did not fear death so why did he not rise? At the most, he would have been killed. Death in the path of God was his most intense desire. He ever thirsted for martyrdom and sought it more than a suckling baby seeks her mother ‘s breast. ’Ali (a) had corrertly recognised that the intrests of Islam in such circumstances were to abandon revolt and even cooperate with his persectors. He made this fact clear repeatedly.

In one of his letter to Malik Ashtar, ‘Ali (a) wrote the following:

I therefore withheld my hand until I saw that many people were reverting from Islam and trying to destroy the religion of Muhammad (may Allah bless him and his descendants). I then feared that if I did not protect Islam and its people and there occurred in it a breach or destruction, it would mean a greater blow to me than the loss of power over you which was, in any case, to last for a few days….

After the appoinment of ‘Uthman by ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Auf in the board of six menters, ‘Ali (a) showed both his protest and his willingness to cooperate in the following manner.

You have certainly known that Iam the most rightful of all others for it [i.e., the caliphate]. By Allah, so long as the affairs of Muslims remain intact and there is no oppression in it save on myself I shall keep quiet…

This shows that Ali (a) rejected the principle of “everythin or nothing” in this case. There is no need of furthter discuss the traditions of Ali (a) in this area as there is sufficient historical evisence in this regard...
To be continued