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Fundamental causes of disunity (Part 2)

Sep 24, 2010, 12:32 PM

Many (potential) causes for discord can be enumerated but for now we will limit ourselves to actual (current) obstacles to unity. These obstacles can be summarized into three main categories:

First Cause of Disunity: Politics

Islam must be freed from siyasat (politics) of a perilous nature. Approximately 35 years early in a meeting attended by a number of distinguished individuals, I commented "Islam must be freed of the evil of politics." One of the attendees replied: Do you too belong to the group which alleges the separation of religion and politics? I said: No, in this lies the very mistake. We have two issues at hand here: firstly, religion (din) is the same thing as politics and politics is the same thing as religion. Since Islam includes a system of government, it necessarily comprises of politics as well. Those who due to alien influence claim that religion and politics must be separated are in face stripping religion of the strength it gains by providing a system of government. The second types of politics to which I was referring, is the form of politics that from the first century of Islam and throughout the history of Islam has obstructed the path to unity. Below is a mention of significant dynasties that have been in rivalry with one another:

1. Rivalry between Bani Umayyah, the of Ali ('a), and the Khawarij

2. Rivalry between the Bani Umayyah and the Bani 'Abbas

3. Rivalry between the Bani Abbas and the family of the Prophet(s)

4. Rivalry between the Bani Abbas and the Bani umayyah (in Spain)

5. Rivalry between the Bani Abbas and the Egyptian Fatimiyyads

6. Rivalry between Ayyubis and the Fatimiyyads

7. Rivalry between the Buyids (a Shi'ite maddhah) and the Seljuks (a Sunni maddhab)

8. Rivalry between the Ottoman caliphs and Safavid sultans

It is naïve to imagine that these caliphates, dynasties, and powers played no role in the creation of disunity among the Muslims. Sadly most if not all of these regimes purposely misused madhahib (schools of jurisprudence, theology, or through) to create dissention between the masses.

Islam must be freed from the perils of such unhealthy politics that have racked Islamic history for the last 10-12 centuries. Muslims all over the Islamic world, both in the West and East, are still suffering the consequences of these unfortunate politics.

At this point it is appropriate to quote one of the leading players in the efforts to create unity within Islam, the last Shaykh 'Abd al-Majid Salim, one of the foremost scholars of Al-Azhar, a teacher of Shaykh Shaltut, and a founder of dar al-taqrib bayn al-madhahib al-islamiyyah (Society for the Proximity between the Islamic sects). This was narrated from Shaykh Muhammad Taqi Qummi, the director of Dar al-Tabligh: Shaykh 'Abd al-Majid Salim once said in a meeting, "Madhahib (plural of madhihb) that have gained ground in Islamic countries have not done so by [convincing others with] reason and logical proof, but rather, they have spread and made progress due to political forces."

This is a reality that only furthers the argument that the matter of politics is a lone factor (in the genesis of madhahib). The unfortunate consequences of this form of politics are to be found in the Islamic countries and we must make attempts to remove them. To this end, it is first necessary to scrutinize each and every common practice and tradition among Muslims and seek out its origin so as to clarify the original source form which it stems. The traditions whose origins lie in politics need to be sifted out and only those which can be established with proof (form Islamic sources) ought to be practiced.

The late Sayyid Sharaf al Din Jabal 'Amili, another reformer of this century, has a beautiful saying regarding the matter at hand:

That is the form of deviant politics which is opposed to Islamic values has cause divisions amongst us; however, a humane and just Islamic political system will soon gather us around one another. Perhaps this great man had been divinely inspired with the knowledge that the Islamic Republic of Iran would soon come into existence and gather Islamic nations around each other.

Consequently, on amount of effort spent in speaking and writing is too great in countering the dire effects the policies of corrupt rulers of the past have had on the views, practices, traditions and on what the Muslims love and hate. As an example, in Egypt it was common to hold celebrations on the day of Ashura’. It is not clear which government or political faction started this unacceptable and divisive practice. But I recall that newspapers narrated that one year, the late Shaykh Shaltut and his colleagues held mourning ceremonies on the day of Ashura in Al- Azhar commemorating Imam Husayn (a), in order to expunge that evil policy left over from an earlier era.

There are both (positive and negative0 examples. The opposite has also held true in other places (where influential forces have promoted divisive practices).

Astonishingly, even now when the dire consequences of such mistaken politic maneuvering have become clear, there are those who insist on carrying on the erroneous practices of the past.

(Corrupt) rulers have consistently promoted their own unwise and anti-Islamic politics by resorting to madhhab and by means of court-scholars (darbari) and preachers of the sultans. In other words, corrupt scholars have been a part of the promotion of such political strategies. From this does the relationship between these forms of politics and madhahib become clear, forming out point of departure for the second cause of discord.

Second Cause of Disunity: Madhhab

In our discussion of madhhab as the second factor in disunity, we must first clarify the true meaning of madhhad and to what extent it can be a cause of discord.

Madhhab differs from religion (din). When we say the religion of Islam, our intension is those beliefs and rulings that are present in the Quran and the Sunnah that the Noble Messager(s) propagated. Madhhab, however, is a path started among the Muslims as a way to bring clarity to religion. On the whole, we can speak of the three categories of madhhad that correspond with three dimensions of Islam:

1. The dimension of belief and the formation of the theological madhhab of the Ash’ari, Mu’tazili, Shi'I, etc., whose underpinnings lie in beliefs. Followers of a madhhab maintain the belief that the path to true religion is the path that they are traversing, and all agree that the path of madhhab differs from religion.

2. The practical and fiqhi (jurisprudential) dimension.

3. The dimension of akhlaq (ethics) and irfan (gnosis).

Usually when disagreement among madhahib is spoken of, the second dimension (jurisprudential differences) comes to mind. These sects correspond to the four mainstream and well-known Sunni madhahib and the two or three Shi'i madhhab, as well as those less-popular madhhab in both groups.

It is evident that in some instances the above madhahib are in alignment with their theological counterparts, and in some instances they differ. For example the Shi’i madhhab has independence in the dimensions of beliefs and jurisprudence, and each is necessary corollary of the other. However this is not the case for Sunni madhahib, where it is possible that someone who belongs to the Shafi’I madhhab in jurisprudence may belong to either the Mu'tazili or the Ash’ari theological madhhab. .

(To be continued.)