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Oct 15, 2010, 3:06 PM

This Article is subtracted from Al- Taqrib Journal of the Islamic Unity written by Mr. Hamid Adams of Cape Town South Africa.

Islam is a unified religion that gave rise to a singular civilization. Al-though there are different madhahib which have formed within the matrix of Islam-either due to political, ideological or fiqhi (jurisprudential) reasons- the need for solidarity between Muslims today is of utmost importance. This article discusses some of the differences and commonalties between the madhahib, and encourages Muslims to find common ground with each other. It also calls on the ulama of all schools of thought to conceptualize a religiously sanctioned (i.e., shar'i) vehicle through which the leadership issue in the Muslim ummah can be resolved. In this regard, it commends the Islamic revolution in Iran as well as organizations such as the Majam ?al-Taqrib baynal-Madhahib al-Islamiyyah for helping to pave the way towards a sustained unity.

There is no doubt in the mind of any objective observer within the Muslim ummah, during our time or that of our forefathers that Muslims have settled into centuries of their own madhahib or "schools of thought". These schools of thought, in many instances, have become akin to cultures, and these "cultures" have taken o the definition of "religion" and even of Islam itself. In some instances, the cross-cultural Islamic dynamic is normal, but in other instances it is on-existent. Even if we go back to the first centuries of Islam, we find that there was a sometimes vibrant and sometimes "self-centered" exchange of ideas from one Islamic persuasion to another.

We Muslims, it must be stated from the outset, belong to the same Islamic civilization and history that has come down to us throughout the centuries by way of or particular interpretation of this history and civilization. We may say that Muslims in the Span of the last fourteen centuries have had differences of opinion in three areas of ijtihad. The first was, and perhaps still is, the political sphere of activities. In this defined area, our common history speaks of "Sunnis", "Shias", and "Khawarij". The second was the conceptual or philosophical differences that are found more in our history books than in our everyday lives. These ideas come under the historical titles of Murji'ah, Qadariyyah and Mu'tazilah. Whether for good or bad, on one nowadays is consciously living or behaving as if he belongs to any one of these historical and philosophical schools of thought.

And third, we have the fiqhi (jurisprudential) schools of thought. These are the scholarly opinions and judgments that developed early in Islamic history, particularly during the first two centuries after the demise of the Prophet (s). Initially there were tens of these fiqhi madhahib; however, today the survivors are generally limited to the following: the Hanafis, the Shafi is the Malikis, the Hanbalis, the Ja'faris, the Zaydis and the Ibadis.

Our Islamic history in the past millennium shows a scant interest in intra-Islamic discussions and scholarly input when it comes to these historical developments within the larger Islamic reality. Recently, though, in the past century, there are two noteworthy attempts to bridge the differences among these schools of thought. The first one was Dar al-Taqrib, which was established in Egypt and which brought within its fold many scholars who are well known within the major Islamic schools of thought. Among them were such scholars as Ayatullah Qumi, Shaykh Mahmud Shaltut, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, Abd al-Halim Mahmud, Muhammad Muhammad al-Madani, and many other prominent personalities. The effort of Dar al-Taqrib in facilitating the meeting and written correspondences of these scholars continued for a good many years until about half a century ago when it came to a screeching halt.

More recently, in the developing outcome of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, we have now a strong, vibrant and continuous momentum to bridge the gaps among the Muslim peoples and their schools of thought. This is best represented by Majma 'al-Taqrib bay al-Madhahib al-Islamiyyah (the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought). I understand that for the past two decades, it been a formidable contributor to a historical understanding and reconciliation of the broad scholarly works that have come to us in the packages of the "madhahib".

When Islamic scholars meet one another to discuss sensitive issues with the hope of bringing Muslims of different schools of thought together, this dose not mean that their differences will vanish; these scholars will, most certainly continue to have varying opinion. But this needs to be acknowledging at the outset before we can begin to work with each other. We must remind ourselves that we share a variety of legitimate and authentic opinions, and we cannot let our prejudice or discrimination come in the way of this noble goal.

We have heard a statement of truth by Ayatullah Taskhiri to this effect when he says that bringing the schools of thought closer to each other dose not mean canceling out any one of them. Instead, it is to bring the adherents of these schools of thought closer to each other, to identify and find the common grounds that they share, and to help them assist each other in their mutual endeavors, so that together they can put into practice the many things they have in common.

In another reference to the same theme, the Mufti of Oman, Shaykh Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Khalili in commenting on the idea of bridging the Islamic divisions, says that our thoughts should be focused on those issues that consolidate the ummah since there are many common denominators between the Muslims. Among the common reference that the ummah shares is the Book of Allah (swt), which is the first reference that pertains to the realm of ideas, fiqh and life-methodology. Another reference is the Prophet (s) himself, as an authentic model worthy to be emulated. As for the differences of interpretation, extrapolation and other secondary issues, Shayky al-Khalili views them as an opportunity for a calm and friendly discussion-free of recriminations and negative feelings.

Thus, we can say that in our time and age, there is a broad agreement on the highest levels of Islamic scholarship which welcomes a sincere approach of common understanding among all current Islamic schools of thought. This brings to mind the open and free discussion that took place in and around the Ka 'bah between two illustrative personalities in the early years of Islam- 'Abdoullah ibn 'Abbas and Nafi ibn al-Azraq (the famous Khariji). This critical discussion, with open minds and hearts among Muslims of differing legitimate opinions, may have been the impetus that led al-Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni to put together his book al-Kafiyah fi al-Jadal (the Contentment of Argumentation).it may have also spurred Abu Ishaq al-Shirazi to write his book al-Talkhis fi al-Jadal (the Abridgment to Argumentation).

As far back as over a thousand years ago, Islamic history records a sincere yet exacting exchange of opinions between a representative of Ahl- Sunnah by the name of Abu Bakr al-Baqillani and a representative of Ahl al-Tashayyu by the name of al-Shaykh al-Mufid. More recently, even though this may not have been a sustained intellectual effort, the well-known Islamic trailblazer, al-Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (Asadabadi), called for a well-thought out program to tie together the Islamic schools of thought. His famous student, al-Shaykh Muhammad 'Abduh also favored a "madhhabi togetherness". The now defunct Islamic magazine al-Manar had an editorial policy that accommodated and printed articles form different Islamic schools of thought. Its editor was the well known Muhammad Rashid Rida, whose Quranic tafsir is known by the name Tafsir al-Manar.

The Common Denominators among the Islamic Schools of Thought

All Muslims shear the same fundamentals or foundations of this din. They believe in the oneness of Allah, the Exalted, and that His Divinity is not shared by anyone or anything. They believe in all the rusul or messengers of Allah (swt), and they believe that Islam is Allah's last religion.

All Muslims are of one mind that Muhammad(s) is Allah's last Prophet and messager. Their schools of thought harkens back to Muhammad and no one else. All Muslims believe that the Holy Quran is their summons and citation on all affairs of life, existences and the Unknown. They share the same standard and depth of moral, social and political values and principles. At times, they may have a dissimilar understanding of some details, but the reference material is one and the same. They believe that Islam is the framework through which the individual and social lifestyles can be molded.

All Muslims face towards one qiblah. No salah is accepted towards any other qiblah as a matter of Islamic consensus. Although, there may be some very technical hair-splitting difference pertaining to the timing of the salah, the overall and general performance of salah is similar and standardized. All Muslims perform their hajj and umrah to the Ka 'bah in Mecca. And finally, all Muslims fast the month of Ramadan from dawn to dusk...

To be continued