#Article (Archive)

Religious variety: The case of convergence (Part 1)

Apr 15, 2011, 2:19 PM

Islam has many features common to all its schools of thought, some of which consist of Islamic realism (in the positive sense), innateness, balance, lenience, moderateness, comprehensiveness, and universality. These features have enabled Islamic planning for true, practical unification while at the same time accepting differences of opinion that fall within reasonable parameters inasmuch as the emergence of all the extant and bygone Islamic schools seems natural. In order to prevent religious differences from causing stagnation, the Movement for Proximity of Islamic Schools must proceed in keeping with the five fundamentals identified in this paper. Moreover, advocates of proximity (henceforth proximitists) must adhere to the following principles and values: cooperate in cases of unanimity exempt one another in cases of difference; refrain from charges of apostasy, iniquity, and heresy; abstain from criticism of the consequences of opposing opinions; observe due respect in the course of dialogues; avoid reviling the sanctities of others; and allow freedom in choosing one’s school. In additions, the role of scholars and thinkers must not be disregarded in the process of achieving proximity. This paper succinctly discusses twelve important points in this regard.

Among one of the most general characteristics of Islam is realism in the positive sense; that is, acknowledging the (limitative) realities of the human world and developing practical plants for this improvement by drawing upon the divine guidance that pertains to humanity at large, in particular human needs and difficulties- all the while guaranteeing justice in their actualization. The negative sense of realism, on the other hand, consists of surrendering oneself to extant "realities"-acquiescing and concurring with them initially and eventually surrendering to fantasy and idealism-concepts that are completely disparate from reality.       

Islam, as the religion that concludes and perfects all other divine religions and incorporates and ultimately comprehensive life plan for people until the Day of Judgment, naturally subsumes qualities such as innateness, balance, lenience, moderateness, comprehensiveness, and universality. From these stems the Islamic plan to regulate the relationship between theory and practice among the individuals of the Ummah. Through the theoretical aspects of the Islamic schools of through do not fit in well with the ideal of unity-except in cases where reference is made to the general framework of the fitrah (primordial human nature), its definite principles, and is indisputable requisites and consequences- the practical position of the Ummah with regards to its main challenges and predicaments can brook on division, disagreement, or weakness.

On this account, Islamic planning for true, practical unity has been proposed as a factor in the realization of the following principal elements:

1. Doctrinal consensus on basic overarching principle;

2. Substantial agreement on Quranic and prophetic injunctions between all individuals of the Ummah in a manner completely free of bias;

3. Agreement regarding common Muslim responsibilities as well as the Ummah’s general administrative structure;

4. Uniformisation of critical laws and regulations in addition to comprehensive planning to demonstrate the Ummah's unity is not only its orientation and religious bent but also by virtue of its  coordination and solidarity in social, economic, legal and other matters;

5. Emotional communion in regards to moral human behavior entailing mutual cordiality, purge of rancor, and development of mutual trust and commitment to mutual rights which would ultimately lead to the prevalence of brotherhood and sisterhood in faith as well as the cooperation, self-sacrifice, and devotion necessitated by such fellowship;

6. Awareness of the opportunistic enemies lying in wait to unscrupulously expunge the Ummah's identity and obviate its very existence. It must be impressed upon all Muslims that this enemy has aside all its internal differences, uniting against the Ummah in order to overcome and destroy it. Unless the Ummah takes necessary measures, it shall be faced with major sedition and corruption.

Islam does not consider differences of opinion to be problem or setback; rather, it sees them as a natural state such that the Holy Quran even speaks of differences among prophets ('a):

And (remember) David and Solomon when they gave judgment concerning the tillage when the sheep of some people strayed into it by night, and We were witness to their judgment. We gave its understanding to Solomon, and each We gave judgment and knowledge... (21:78-79)

The process of the acquisition of greater knowledge and a higher understanding itself may give rise to such differences, just as in the story of Moses ('a) and the pious servant of God.

Nevertheless, the acceptability of differences of opinion is bound by certain restrictions and guidelines, some of which are noted as follows:

(a) They must not compromise the unquestionable the principles of human nature or definite Islamic fundamentals the doubting of which results in doubting the verity of Islam itself. In essence, such doubt signifies egress from the sphere of Islam's influence.

(b) They must be based upon reasonable arguments and rationales. Unreasoned and irrational statements must be avoided. Unfortunately, nowadays we are witness to an abundance of inferences and readings that interpret the religion in accordance with personal desires, interests, and tastes. These are interpretations that misuse the religion.

(c) Dialogues must be held in a peaceful manner and must incorporate a logical atmosphere free of any kind of intimidation or deception. The parties involved must be competent and enter into debate with sufficient knowledge of the subject matter. Discussions must proceed with mutual respect and in the most fitting manner possible.

(d) Before all else, every Endeavour must be made to discover areas of common ground, to expand on them, and to work together towards their fulfillment. In areas of difference, the parties of the dialogue must absolve one another.

Accordingly, the following must be avoided:

(a) Discussion with persons who lack necessary competence;

(b) Deceit, demagoguery, and pointless arguments;

(c) Intimidation, political intrigue, incrimination, insult and accusation of heresy or apostasy;

(d) Allowing disputes to escalate into physical strife;

(e) Attributing to another party something not claimed by them and also reproaching others when they do not hold to the consequences of their claims.

(f) Entering into futile lines of enquiry that are irrelevant to practical and tangible realities.

It must be noted that these items may be extended beyond the scope of Islam to encompass other religions and even other cultures and civilizations.

When we adopt the foregoing perspective regarding doctrinal differences between the various Islamic schools (opinions), the existence of difference is discerned to be a completely natural phenomenon. Many researchers have comprehensively dealt with this issue in elaborate scholarly treaties; by way of example, various scholars have expatiated on the necessity of ijtihad (literally Endeavour, but specifically signifying jurisprudential interpretation by means of the Quran and hadith).

To be continued