Muslim Unity and Juristic Schools of Thought
His Eminence’s speech to
The International Symposium for Setting a Joint Strategy for Bringing Closer Muslim Juristic Schools of Thought
In response to an invitation by Al-Imam Al-Khou’i Charitable Foundation
Ebla Cham Hotel, Damascus, Syria
10–12 April 1999
In the Name of Allah,
the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
All praise be to Allah, Lord of all the worlds. Peace and blessings be upon Prophet Muhammad, his forefather Prophet Abraham, his two brother prophets Moses and Jesus and their families.
Dear members of the committees for bringing Islamic juristic schools of thought closer, dear honourable attendees, may Allah’s peace, mercy and blessings be upon you.
This meeting is being held in Damascus under the auspices of the Qur’anic verse:
“Verily, this religion of yours is one religion, and I am your Lord and Cherisher, so worship Me alone.” T.Q., 21:92.
It is being held in critical circumstances of change that come over the world, and choosing Syria for this great event is truly wise because on this land the history of all Islamic schools of thought meets, and here rest the companions of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) and his pure family in honourable nearby graves. We are happy that Syria is one of the richest countries in the Muslim world with regard to diversity of Islamic juristic schools of thought.
Syria has lived throughout its history within the bliss of brotherhood, which is being confirmed today through the wise leadership of President Hafez Al-Assad.
On this occasion, I am honoured to welcome my brothers and sisters — people of knowledge and intellect who are interested in Muslim unity — as they arrive in Damascus, and I hope they spend some happy, fruitful and blessed days here.
Dear brothers and sisters, a quick reading of the large Muslim world today shows us what features of the global Muslim community are sought today by the callers to truth and justice on earth, as they look forward to the rise of the Muslim world as a power equivalent to the new world order. Such Muslim power is the guarantee of support for truth and justice, defending the oppressed in the world and spreading love and brotherhood.
The rise of the Muslim world as a united power on earth, although dependent on political will, is primarily a responsibility placed on the shoulders of scholars and people of intellect. They are the ones who instruct new generations and represent the hope of the youth in the Muslim world in understanding and reaching the desired Muslim unity. If the mission of decision makers in the Muslim world is to achieve such desired unity, it is the duty of scholars and people of intellect to search in the roots for shared intellectual links and to exert their efforts in warning against ways of dispute among schools and groups. Does the Muslim world contain roots for real unity, which would qualify it for joint work?
Some sceptics see Muslim unity as one great illusion by thinking that disagreements among Islamic schools are so strong that they hinder closeness and unity. However, a correct reading of history reveals the illusions of such sceptics.
Islam has achieved a society of secure tolerance and human brotherhood despite the existence of several religions within the Muslim society. Almighty God says:
“Allah does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who do not fight you on account of religion nor drive you out of your homes. Verily, Allah loves those who are just.” T.Q., 60:8.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) passed away while his armour was still mortgaged to a Jew for some barley, which clearly indicates that co-existence is possible despite basic intellectual differences. So how could such people doubt our ability to achieve Muslim brotherhood within the Muslim group?
The 1.5 billion Muslims we are speaking about, who are the largest religious group in the world, have been methodologically united by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) when they all face one direction in their prayer and when they all have one message to deliver, one Qur’an, one Messenger and one worship. These huge numbers of Muslims all agree on more than 90% of the basics of their religion. The pillars of faith for them all are to believe in Allah, His angels, His Scriptures, His messengers, the Day of Judgment and divine destiny. The pillars of Islam are to testify that there is no god to be worshipped but Allah and that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is His servant and messenger. They are also to perform ritual prayers, pay zakat (compulsory charity), fast in the month of Ramadan and make pilgrimage to the sacred House in Makkah. These pillars are points of unanimous agree¬ment among all Muslims.
The Western world differs in so many aspects of culture, national language and religion, yet the West holds on to what are common points for the sake of securing its interests. I am amazed at a community that is so united in its direction of prayer, worship, scripture and its Prophet’s traditions, yet it does not find sufficient ways to achieve unity whereas other nations or communities have achieved such unity without having one tenth of its shared links.
I have declared on many occasions that I object to the phrase “Bringing closer Islamic schools of thought”, because bringing closer means to push together separate parts and to decrease disagreements. I do not think that this applies to the Islamic schools of thought in that they already agree on more than 90% of their goals and means. Bringing closer is something that we have surpassed a long time ago. Here, therefore, I call for a complete unity among Muslims on the levels of intellect, strategy and building the present and future according to the words of Almighty Allah:
“And hold fast, all together, to the Rope of Allah (the Holy Qur’an), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favour on you; for you were enemies one to another, and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, you became brothers.” T.Q., 3:103.
However, I would like to assure you that this call for Muslim unity should not aim at cancelling juristic schools of thought since they are a source of great intellectual wealth for the global Muslim community, and they prove the richness and diversity of Islamic jurisprudence. They are a form of Allah’s mercy, as stated by the righteous Muslim caliph, Umar bin Abdel Aziz: ‘I would not have liked it if the companions of Allah’s Messenger had not differed, for had it not been for their difference, there would not have been comfort and mercy in our jurisprudence.’ It is such a beautiful and wise rule that states that we work on what we agree upon, and we make excuses for each other on what we differ in.
In fact, the differences in some schools of thought are restricted to small issues that open the door for ease in applying the teachings of Islam.
This integration grants legislators in departments of fatwa in the Muslim world juristic and scientific richness which guarantees that they can find solutions to the most complicated problems in society. This does not hinder us from respecting and glorifying the choices of all imams of Islamic jurisprudence, whether their opinions are adopted in our legislation or not. According to what has been agreed upon by Muslims, when a mujtahid (a qualified independent scholar who deduces rulings from the religious texts) is found to be wrong, he takes one reward, and if he is correct, he gets two rewards.
Dear brothers and sisters, the axe of intolerance is shattering much of the hope for unity in the Muslim world. Some foreign elements are taking charge of reviving the spirit of hatred and enmity among half-educated people who are living under the yoke of the mistakes and illusions of the past. We wish that those people who deduce their judgments from the past chose its shining pages, where the interests of the community were favoured over personal benefits and consideration of schools, instead of narrating stories of disparity that divide our community.
The attitudes of the leaders of Muslim unity have always been a safe and true haven that protects people from separation and disunity by bringing them into unity and brotherhood. The hero of Muslim unity, Imam Al-Hasan bin Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) stretched his hand to Mua’wiyah (may Allah be pleased with him) and invited him to unity, whereas other voices were calling for war and violence. However, the call of Muslim brotherhood made him raise Muslim unity above all other considerations. While 43,000 of the companions of Imam Al-Hasan were around the mosque of Al-Kufa, waiting for his return to lead them to war against his opponents in Al-Sham (Greater Syria), everybody was surprised at his entry into Al-Kufa mosque, hand in hand with Mua’wiyah. The Imam ascended the stairs of the tribune, to the astonishment of people, and said: ‘O people! We, the family of Prophet Muhammad, are the ones through our first one of whom you got your guidance, and by the last of whom your blood has been spared. It is us whom Almighty Allah meant in the Qur’anic verse:
“For Allah only wants to remove all kinds of uncleanliness (sins, defects, etc.) from you, O members of the Family [of the Prophet], and to purify you with a thorough purification.” T.Q., 33:33.
People started crying until the mosque echoed their weeping. Then Imam Al-Hasan said in a great heroic attitude, ‘Oh people, this matter of disagreement between Mua’wiyah and me is one of two things: he having a right over me, which I give back to him, or I having a right over him, which I give up in the interests of all Muslims.’ Mustadrak Al-Hakim.
This was how he presented a great example to the world of a Muslim rising above interests and seeking the unity of all Muslims, regardless of their differences. When one of the people said to him, ‘You have humiliated Muslims!’ he answered with an attitude of confidence and trust, ‘Humiliation is better than hellfire. By Allah, I am not pleased to be the leader of this state over the bloodshed of even one Muslim.’ This is why the great Muslim civilisation that flourished during such days of peace and stability owes a lot to the great Imam Al-Hasan.
Thus, the glad tidings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) came true when he said, ‘This son of mine will be a master, and may Allah use him to make peace between two great parties of Muslims.’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
This great imam found the way to unite with the other party by relinquishing leadership, despite being better than his rival as all Muslims believe, because unity is one of the most important objectives of this pure religion. Muslims recognised the favour of this great imam and named the whole year “the Year of Unity”, in memory of his heroic act, which is a lesson to all Muslim leaders in every generation.
I call on my brothers in the committees to take the initiative in commemorating the anniversary of Imam Al-Hasan’s great stance, which is 16 Rabee’ Al-Akher 41 AH (after the Prophet’s Hijra (migration)), and to recommend this conference to make that day the Day of Muslim Unity, to be celebrated every year.
Dear brothers and sisters, what is required here is not to fight schools of thought, but to combat scholastic intolerance. So, keeping the different opinions in juris¬prudence after examining them closely and deleting the invalid ones does not contradict the goal of achieving Muslim unity, which is the hope of all honest people. I said in my meeting with scholars and seekers of knowledge in the city of Qom, ‘If being a Sunni means following Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) with all that he received from His Lord, we are all Sunnis, and if being a Shiite means loving Muhammad and his family, we are all Shiites.’
It is time that people of awareness, intellect and callers to Islam were able to distinguish the voice of advice from the horns of scandal and to differentiate between voices calling for unity and voices calling for dispute and division.
I do not deny that Islamic history contains instances of division, but there are also situations of unity that should surface. We need to reconsider the actions of people of the past in order to take the positive and avoid the negative.
I would like to conclude with one great example of Muslim unity so as to use our heritage as a source of light and not as a store of division. A certain man spoke badly about the companions of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the presence of Imam Ja’far As-Sadiq, with the intention of wakening ill feelings of division. Imam Ja’far looked at him and wisely replied, ‘Are you among those mentioned in the Qur’anic verse:
“[A share of the spoils must also be given] to the poor emigrants (refugees), who were expelled from their homes and their property while seeking Allah’s grace and His good pleasure, and aiding Allah (striving in His cause) and His Messenger. They are the ones who are truly sincere.” T.Q., 59:8?’
The man said, ‘No,’ so Imam Ja’far asked, ‘Then are you among those who are mentioned in the other verse:
“And those who, before them, had homes in [Al-Madinah] and had adopted the faith, love those who emigrated to them, and entertain no desire in their hearts for things given to them, but rather prefer them (the emigrants) above themselves, even though they are in need. Whoever is saved from the miserliness of his own soul, such are the successful.” T.Q., 59:9?’
The man answered, ‘No,’ so Imam Ja’far said, ‘Nor do I think you are among the ones in the verse:
“And those who came after them say: ‘Our Lord! Forgive us, and our brothers who have preceded us in faith, and leave not, in our hearts, any hatred towards the faithful. Our Lord, You are indeed full of Kindness, Most Merciful.’” T.Q., 59:10.’
At the end of my speech, I would like to thank Almighty Allah for facilitating the meeting of people of unity in the field of Islamic intellect on the good land of Al-Sham.
I wish you an enjoyable stay and accomplishment of your goals.
“Our Lord! Accept from us; for You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.” T.Q., 2:127.
All thanks and praise be to Allah, Lord of all the worlds.
(T.Q. = Translation of the meanings of the Holy Qur’an)
(pbuh = May Allah's peace and blessings be upon him, and may Allah exalt his mention and raise his position more and more)