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The Shia Imams and Muslim Unity (Part 3)

Jun 17, 2011, 3:05 PM | Article By: ‘Ali Aqa-Nuri' - Translated by Hamis Waqar

By researching the many verses and traditions in this regard, it can be stated in general that an important goal of the Quran was to establish a unified Ummah where heated arguments, division, war, and bloodshed would not exist. People would congregate in accordance to intimacy, cooperation, brotherhood, love, and justice. Throughout this work, we will mention over fifty verses regarding unity and the methods of obtaining it, as well as division and the factors behind it. Here are some examples of the verses:

Hold fast, all together, to Allah’s cord, and do not be divided [into sects]. And remember Allah’s blessing upon you when you were enemies, then He brought your heart together, so you become brothers with His blessing. And you were on the brink of a pit of Fire, whereat He saved you from it. Thus does Allah clarify His signs for you so that you may be guided. (3:103).

Here, Allah, in addition to introducing the axis of unity as being a divine blessing, prohibits us from division. In another place He considers differences and division to be a disliked method of previous nations:

Do not be like those who become divided [into sects] and differed after manifest signs had come to them. For such there will be a great punishment. (3:105)

Maintain the religion, and do not be divided in it… They did not divided [into sects] except after the knowledge had come to them, out of envy among themselves. (42:13-14)

‘This indeed is my straight path, so follow it, and do not follow [other] ways, for they will separate you form His way. This is what He enjoins upon you so that you may be Godwary’. (6:153)

Of those who split up their religion and become sects: each faction exulting in what it possessed (30:32)

Allah, in the Quran, considers division to be in opposition to the prophetic lifestyle and the Sunnah. He states:

Indeed those who split up their religion and become sects, you will not have anything to do with them. Their matter rests only with Allah; then He will inform them concerning what they used to do. (6:159)

Muslims are prohibited from heated debates. The results of heated debated are mentioned in the Quran where it states:

And obey Allah and His Apostle, and do not dispute, or you will lose heart and your power will be gone. And be patient; indeed Allah is with the patient. (8:46)

As is seen, the apparent meanings of these verses denote a prohibition from differences, heated debate, and division in religion. The command has been given to hold fast to the divine cord and division is depicted as the characteristics of the polytheists and those who have been destroyed. The condemnation of the polytheists in some of these verses is not because of their polytheism, but rather because of the differences in their speech and their role in dividing religion.

B. Methods of creating unity and preventing division

According to what was said, it can be claimed that the general spirit of the social teachings of Islam is a follows: the prohibition of war, of enmity, of dissensions, of the formation of parities, of breaking up the society of believers, of racism, and of the mistrust of individuals and groups. The positive foundations of the social teachings of Islam unity, cooperation, mutual love, and doing well unto each other. With regard to the command and permission that Islam gives to war, it can be explained in that such permission for war can prevent social mishaps and protect the material and spiritual rights of the people. One may ask, however, if the scope of these commands and prohibitions covers the different degrees of the multiple views and understandings in the fields of theology, jurisprudence, and politics that have caused the formation of Islamic schools of thought? It seems as if it can prohibit war, heated argumentation, and unfruitful disputes and consider love, purity, brotherhood, and social cooperation in a positive light. Yet, does the religious code call for a unification of opinions and beliefs?

Answering positively to this question would bring us face to face with other questions and attempts at answering them. For instance, inviting someone to think about and ponder deeply over religion implies that various opinions and understandings will inevitably be formed. Can it be said that Islam orders something, but does not take account of its natural consequences and in fact prohibits them? It is quite evident that one cannot tell an individual to think about something and then forbid them to express their conclusions regarding it. Of course, there is a criterion that has been placed on this process of thinking, but even if two individuals were to use the same criterion, there is no guarantee that their conclusions would be the same.

The variances in man’s cognitive potential and his ability to understand and intuit is certain and undeniable. Infact, some commentators of the Quran have used verses of the Quran to prove that variation of perceptivities is the rationale for creation. As such, these differences call for diverse intellectual understandings leading necessarily in their turn to varying beliefs and opinions. The necessity in question can only be removed when the source of variation and differences is removed. It is self-evident that the removal of the source is not possible; so how can the necessary differences be resolves without removing their source?

Therefore, the differences of opinions and the differences of viewpoints amongst the various theological, political, and jurisprudential schools in Islam cannot be judged without differentiating between the cases and without understanding the motives. Rather, the characteristics of undesired differences must be contrasted to those differences that are based on certain criteria. In the Quranic culture and the Islamic code of practice, what is given more importance than anything else is the importance of observing the limitations, expressing the theoretical and practical criteria, and expressing the methods of clarifying the differences; to uprooting its source? This article will suffice itself by mentioning two importance cases in his regard:

First: Division as a result of truth-seeking or rebelliousness 


The differences and divisions which stem not from contemplation in religious matter and seeking the truth, but from political, social, and personal factors-such as the love, hatred, or conceit of an individual or a group towards another-is not rejected but outright prohibited. Examining certain verses of the Quran, it becomes clear that some undesired differences and divisions stem from rebelliousness, envy, and the assertiveness of the people who cause division. One of the most important factors behind wars and bloodshed in human society is the desire to be superior or the notion of it that some groups have. In the category of Quranic verses pertaining to differences and division, one set of verses mention how some people divided after knowledge had come to them and after the truth had been made clear to them. The Quran prohibits believers from such division and sates in numerous verses:             

Do not be like those who become divided [into sects] and differed after manifest signs had come to them…. (3:105)

….Maintain the religion, and do not be divided in it… They did not divide [into sects] expect after the knowledge had come to them, out of envy among themselves… (42:13-14).

To continued