Muslim Unity against Scholastic Fanaticism
His Eminence’s speech delivered on his behalf at The World Muslim Conference
Los Angeles, California, USA
2–4 August 1996
In the name of Allah,
the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful
All praise be to Allah, and may His peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, the last of the prophets and messengers, upon his brother prophets and messengers and their households and companions.
Almighty Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:
“Verily, this religion of yours is one religion, and I am your Lord; therefore worship Me alone.” T.Q., 21:92.
Islam is the religion of monotheism and unity because Allah is one, so religion is one and the end is one too. Islam has eliminated all differences among the individuals of its society. It has united them and made them one people. It has also planted the seeds of successful unity among them by stressing the feeling of brotherhood and social, linguistic and cultural unity, and by preventing all kinds of aggression or transgression.
Muslim unity is not based on ethnicity, economics or geography. It is rather based on love, sympathy and coherence among all individuals. Through that unity, justice is achieved without any prejudice, and the criterion for preference, nobility and honour is righteousness, good deeds and nothing else.
Almighty Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:
“O people! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may know one another. Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you.” T.Q., 49:13.
Our great Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘All creatures are Allah’s dependants, and the most loved ones by Him are the most helpful to His dependants.’ Musnad Al-Bazzar.
Muslim Unity throughout History
When some people speak about Muslim unity as the gathering of all Muslims into one state, they think it a kind of fiction or imagination. If Muslim unity is considered as imagination, then what is the truth?
When Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) established his state in the illuminated city of Al-Madinah, he gave glad tidings to his companions that they would extend the Muslim state by conquering Persia, Byzantium and Yemen. Indeed, he turned the whole of Arabia into one state before his death.
During his last sickness, he prepared an army to conquer Al-Sham (Greater Syria), and he appointed Usama bin Zaid, a young Muslim fighter, as the leader of that army.
Conquests continued during the time of Caliph Abu Baker, and the area of unity expanded. After his death, the state expanded even more during the Caliphates of Umar and Uthman. The result was that Islam reached the borders of China in the east and France in the west, and those peoples became one people: the Arabs, Chinese, Persians and Romans all became brothers and sisters, and they kept that brotherhood as long as they were committed to Allah’s words in the Holy Qur’an:
“Obey Allah and His Messenger and do not dispute lest you lose courage and power, and be patient for surely Allah is with the patient.” T.Q., 8:46
and as long as they adhered to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) when he said:
‘O people! Your Lord is One, and your forefather is one. You are all the descendants of Adam, and Adam was created from earth. Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of God is the most righteous. No Arab has a preference over a non-Arab, nor has a non-Arab over an Arab. No white person has a preference over a black one, nor has a black one over a white one except in righteous¬ness.’ Then he asked, ‘Have I conveyed the message?’ They replied, ‘Yes, O Allah’s Messenger!’ He concluded, ‘Let those who are present inform those who are absent.’ Musnad Ahmad.
When they deviated from this way, they became disunited and scattered, and they lost power after they had ruled half of the Old World because they preferred disputes to agreement and disunity to unity. They simultaneously nominated more than one person as a caliph to rule the Muslim state, and those caliphs used their power against one another. After that, modern colonialism came to destroy what remained of their unity, replace it with seeds of disputes, dispose of the caliphate system and divide the Muslim state into small countries and scattered emirates. Consequently, Muslim unity turned into a dream after it was a reality, but its seeds are still there in the Muslims’ hearts calling for someone to water it, nurture it and bring it back to life.
Once, while I was in China, a Chinese Muslim looked at me and noticed my Muslim look and said to me in a non-Arabic tone, ‘Allahu Akbar? (Allah is greater!)’ Of course, I understood what he meant by his question. He meant to ask me if I am one of those who say, ‘Allah is greater!’ and I replied, ‘Yes, Allah is greater.’ Then he hugged me crying and reciting Allah’s verse in the Holy Qur’an:
“Verily, the believers are but a single brotherhood.” T.Q., 49:10.
Brothers and sisters, this age has generated many developments that have affected the form of the unity to which Muslims aspire, but it cannot affect its essence. Muslims can find a suitable way and atmosphere to achieve their unity if they so wish.
Requirements and Manifestations of Muslim Unity
Worshipping One Great and Almighty God, who is the Most Gracious and Merciful, also makes His servants merciful, compassionate and sensitive to one another’s pains and worries such that they share one dream and one pain. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘The likeness of believers in their intimacy, mercy and sympathy is like one body; if an organ of it suffers, all the rest of it will sympathise, suffering fever and sleeplessness.’ Sahih Muslim.
All acts of worship in Islam call for unity and express it. For example, in prayer, which is a basic pillar of the religion, Muslims have to stand in one line with no preference to anyone: the rich beside the poor and the ruler beside the ruled. All of them put their foreheads on the ground in prostration, showing their submission to Allah because He is the Greatest of all.
In pilgrimage, Muslims gather in one place regardless of their colour and ethnicity, leaving behind all their sewn clothes and selfishness, responding to the One and Only God and learning the morals of the Muslim community. Particularly in pilgrimage, there should be no obscenity, sinning or arguing.
Also, starting the month of fasting (Ramadan) at one time all over the world strengthens the feeling of unity among Muslims. All Muslims abstain from eating, drinking and committing unlawful actions. Their feeling of hunger and patience leads them to help and support the poor, the weak and the needy.
Finally, zakat, which is an obligatory charity on the rich to be given to the poor and indigent without reminding them of their favours or harming them, is a kind of cooperation in seeking Allah’s obedience and pleasure.
Islam, in addition to that, establishes the rules of treatment of non-Muslims living in a Muslim community so that they do not feel alienated or oppressed. Moreover, they must feel secure, safe and relaxed, and have peace of mind.
There is no compulsion in religion. Any individual is regarded as a human being before any other consideration. Human brotherhood is of a great value in Islam. Nothing can express or prove this like reporting the authentic incident when a funeral procession of a Jew passed by Prophet Muhammad. When he stood up for the procession, his companions said to him, ‘It is for a Jew.’ He directly replied, ‘Isn’t he a human being?’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
It is also narrated that Caliph Umar (may God be pleased with him) saw an old Jew begging for alms. Umar asked him about the matter. The man replied, ‘I am a Jew.’ Umar said, ‘We have not been fair with you when we took tax from you as a young man and now neglect you when you have become old.’ Then he took him by hand to the Muslim Treasury and assigned a monthly portion of money for him. Isn’t this what we call nowadays social security or old-age pension?
Once the Emir of the Believers, Caliph Ali, accused a Jew of stealing his shield. They came before the judge and sat together side by side. When the judge asked Ali to prove his claim, he brought him his son, Al-Hasan, the grandson of the Prophet (pbuh) as a witness. The judge refused him as a witness. Caliph Ali asked, ‘How can you refuse the testimony of the youth’s master in Paradise?’ The judge said, ‘In the court of law, we cannot accept the testimony of a son for his father.’ Then the judge asked the Jew to prove his point, too. The Jew said, ‘The shield is mine, and it is in my hand now.’ So, the judge ruled by keeping the shield with the Jew because of lack of proof. The Jew was astonished when he saw that Islamic Law gave the shield to him at the expense of the ruler of the whole Muslim people. So, he proclaimed the integrity of the Islamic Law, admitted that the shield was Ali’s, sincerely uttered the words of faith in Allah and converted to Islam.
Reasons for Disunity
Now that we have talked about unity, it is necessary to talk about its opposite, which is currently controlling the Muslim world. When we define the reasons for disunity, this will be the first step towards unity, just as diagnosing the illness is the first step towards recovery.
If we go back to the beginnings of disunity in the history of Islam, specifically in the Caliphate of Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him), we find that it only started when Muslims forgot about the ethics of diversity, which stops sedition and ordeal stirring up. The same situation lasted during the rule of Caliph Ali (may Allah be pleased with him). When the Umayyads took over the Caliphate, disunity became deeply rooted as a result of persecuting and oppressing the non-Arab adherents to Islam and not giving them their full rights. Consequently, those adherents devoted themselves to knowledge, science and jurisprudence and became experts in most of the religious and universal disciplines of knowledge, and kept away from politics and authority.
Hence, the seeds of division started to grow through some scientific and intellectual differences, and then they turned into political differences.
We can summarise the historical reasons for disunity, the seeds of which were planted during the period of backwardness and deterioration, in the following points.
1. The corrupt rule of some rulers
That was clearly reflected in the concept of shura (consultation), which was neglected, and the system of rule, which was turned into a hereditary and monarchic one. That led to anger and disloyalty against the rulers. In turn, it generated many new corrupt rulers in the distant territories, who fought against each other to get power by seeking help from non-Muslims against their fellow Muslims.
It started after the murder of Caliph Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) when people were divided into many fighting factions. Such a situation encouraged people to rebel against authority and opened the gates for corrupt ideologies and factions.
3. Revival of regional languages, disputes and inclinations
The language of traditions, worship and disciplines of knowledge had been Arabic, but new calls appeared to revive regional languages, making Arabic melt away in many Muslim territories. That was why many people there were ignorant of the teachings of Islam.
There are also intellectual reasons for disunity.
Fanaticism is a blind bias and inclination towards a tribe, people, ethnicity or colour. It works as a destructive axe in the body of Muslim unity. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) defined it as ‘to help your own people to oppress others.’ Sunan Abi Dawoud.
So, helping oppressors is evil and fanatic. However, to love your own people and homeland is not fanaticism. On the contrary, we are ordered to do that in Islam. Ubai bin Ka’ab, one of the Prophet’s companions, asked the Prophet (pbuh), ‘Is it fanaticism (tribalism) when a man loves his own people?’ The Prophet replied, ‘No, but it is fanatic to help your own people to oppress others.’ Sunan Ibn Majah.
When the Prophet (pbuh) wanted to establish the state of Islam, the wind of blind tribal fanaticism was likely to shake it. Immediately and wisely, the Prophet (pbuh) wiped it out at the very beginning. It is narrated that one of the followers of Abdullah bin Abi Saloul, head of the hypocrites in Al-Madinah, wanted to stir up trouble and dispute in the Muslim community. He called on his tribe, Al-Aws, to fight. In response, his opponents called on the tribe of Al-Khazraj to fight, too. Then, the two tribes met to fight each other, reviving a bloody hateful fanaticism, which the Prophet had tried hard to prevent in any form. They pulled out their swords and were about to start when the Prophet (pbuh) came and said angrily, ‘Be conscious of Allah. How come you respond to the call of Ignorance (the pre-Islamic period) though I am still living among you? How come you do so after Allah has guided you, honoured you through Islam, saved you from disbelief and pre-Islamic ignorance and brought your hearts together in harmony and intimacy?’ Tafseer Ibn Kathir.
He also said, ‘Leave it (tribal fanaticism), for it stinks.’ Sahih Muslim.
Once Bilal Al-Habashi (the Abyssinian), a noble black companion, came to the Prophet complaining about the ill-treatment and fanaticism of Abu Thar, also one of the Prophet’s companions, because the latter rebuked him for his black skin and called him, ‘You, son of a black woman!’ So, the Prophet said to Abu Thar, ‘It has become unbearable; this is too much. No white person has any favour over a black one except through righteousness and good deeds.’ Musnad Ahmad.
The Prophet (pbuh) also said, ‘Anyone who calls for fanaticism, fights for it or dies as a fanatic does not belong to us.’ Sunan Abi Dawoud.
That is the Islamic attitude towards all kinds of fanaticism, whether nationalism, tribalism or racism. In this respect, we also have to remember how Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had achieved such integration among all his society members that they did not feel any discrimination in colour, race or language. He associated them with each other as brothers, to the extent that an Ethiopian felt towards a Qurayshi as to his own brother, and the rich felt the same towards the poor. When the seeds of elitism started to grow through belonging to Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) household, the Prophet destroyed it by saying, ‘The family of Muhammad includes every pious person.’ Al-Tabarani in Al-Awsat. He replaced lineage and blood relationship with that of faith and piety. It is related that he (pbuh) said, ‘Salman is one of my household,’ Mu’jam Al-Tabarani although he was Persian.
When the sun eclipsed at the time of the death of Abraham, the Prophet’s son, people thought that it took place because of his death. However, the Prophet corrected their understanding by saying, ‘The sun and the moon are two signs of Allah’s. They do not eclipse for the life or death of anybody.’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
When a woman from the tribe of Makhzoom stole something and was brought before the court for punishment, somebody came to intercede for her, but the Prophet refused and said angrily, ‘By Allah, if my own daughter Fatimah committed the same crime of stealing, I would also cut off her hand.’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
The Prophet tried to eradicate all traces of fanaticism and considered the fighting and hatred caused by fanaticism a kind of disbelief. He said, ‘Don’t turn into disbelievers after my death by killing one another.’ Sunan Al-Tirmithi. His companions followed his steps as well. History books narrate that, at the time of Caliph Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), his governor Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari punished Annabiga Al-Ja’di by whipping him fifty times because he tried to revive tribal fanaticism by inciting his own tribe, just as the Arabs used to do before Islam.
Finally, fanaticism is the bitter enemy of unity, and to achieve unity it is necessary to reject its opponent, namely fanaticism, and to replace it with the brotherhood of faith, following Allah’s words in the Holy Qur’an:
“And hold fast, all together, to the rope of Allah [the Holy Qur’an], do not be divided among yourselves and remember with gratitude Allah’s favour on you: for you were enemies, and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, you have become brothers.” T.Q., 3:103.
2. Scholastic Fanaticism
This was one of the reasons that divided Muslims. What we mean by this term is to follow a doctrinal, intellectual or juristic school of thought and to hold fast to it while considering all other schools of thought wrong. Consequently, juristic and doctrinal schools of thought became a means for division despite their representing a great intellectual heritage, which has enriched Islamic Law with inexhaustible gifts over history.
Unfortunately, every school of thought was considered a religion in itself, and disagreeing with it was considered disbelief and disobedience to Allah. Muslims divided into Sunni and Shiite. The Sunnis also divided into Malikis, Hanafis, Shafi’is and Hanbalis. The Shiites also divided into Imamis, Zaidis, Isma’ilis and so on. Among all, there are many groups and schools that only Allah knows their number and end. One of the manifestations of this hatred of scholastic fanaticism is burning each other’s mosques, stealing property and making accusations of misguidance and disbelief. What extremely shocked me is that I once read the following question in a book of jurisprudence: ‘Is it acceptable for the followers of a certain school of thought to get married to a woman from a different school?’ The answer was, ‘Yes, it is ok, by analogy with permissibility of marriage of a Muslim to a Christian or Jewish woman!’ Another example is what we witnessed in some mosques that a Hanafi Muslim did not accept to be led by a Shafi’i imam in prayer.
These are some of the aspects of detested scholastic fanaticism that divided Muslims and made them into peoples and tribes, fighting and hating one another instead of cooperating and complementing one another. The reason behind all of that is the ignorance of what was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Almighty Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:
“And don’t be like those who have become divided among themselves and have fallen into disputations after receiving clear signs: there is a terrible torment for them.” T.Q., 3:105.
He also says:
“If you differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to God and His Messenger if you do believe in God and the Last Day.” T.Q., 4:59.
May God bless Imam Al-Shafi’i who said, ‘No one is fanatic except an ignoramus, and I have never seen a person of knowledge who is fanatic.’ So, those who consider the school of thought as a religion in itself are the furthest people from the teachings of the great imams of those schools.
Imam Al-Shafi’i also said, ‘Whatever tradition (saying, action or approval by the Prophet) is authentic, it is adopted in my school of thought.’ Imam Abu Hanifah said, ‘If any of my deductions or thoughts contradicts the teachings of Allah’s Messenger, throw mine away.’
They believed that each mujtahid (a scholar who has the qualifications for making juristic or other deductions from the genuine sources of Islamic Law) might be right or wrong and will get a reward even if the deduction was found to be wrong. They learned the ethics of diversity so well that all their differences remained intellectual and cultural. It helped them to complement one another rather than to fight, quarrel with or hate one another.
These are some of the main reasons for intellectual differences. Other reasons like the moral and intellectual ones can be eliminated by love, cooperation and harmony, and by learning the ethics of diversity and dealing with differences.
In this regard, we quote some of Imam Al-Shafi’i’s words. ‘I have sought knowledge for two years and sought to learn good manners and rules of conduct for eighteen years. I wish I had spent the twenty years seeking to learn good manners and ethics of knowledge.’
People concerned with knowledge and calling to Islam must learn the ethics of diversity, of which are the following:
1. Bearing love for all people, especially their brothers and sisters of the same faith, regardless of their different opinions or schools of thought.
2. Keeping the differences within scholastic and cultural limits and not expanding them so that they turn into scholastic fanaticism or factionalism.
3. Avoiding the old historical differences and looking for what helps to bring opinions closer and not the opposite, and for what unites and not separates. Almighty Allah says:
“That was a community that has passed away. They will reap the fruit of what they did, and you of what you do, and you will not be questioned as to what they did.” T.Q., 2:134.
How wise Imam Al-Shafi’i was when he was asked about the battle of Siffeen! He said, ‘Almighty Allah saved me from taking part in that battle, so why don’t I save my tongue from going into it.’
4. Meeting at what we agree upon and giving excuses to one another on what we disagree upon.
5. It is necessary for those who are sincere and deeply interested in the issues of the Muslim world to get rid of all seeds of disunity and fragmentation, whether they are in the shape of books, articles or opinions. Instead, they must water the seeds of harmony and sympathy, forgetting all the pains of the past and looking forward to the future.
The best examples of such ethics are those of the noble imams and founders of the four major schools of thought. For example, Imam Abu Hanifah took some of his knowledge from Imam Ja’far Al-Sadiq, and Imam Al-Shafi’i took some from Imam Malik and Imam Muhammad bin Al-Hasan, who was a student of Imam Abu Hanifah. He loved him very much and described him by saying, ‘I took a great portion of my knowledge from Imam Muhammad bin Al-Hasan.’ Imam Al-Shafi'i was a contemporary of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, and they loved each other. I myself, speaking of Allah’s favours on me, have spent all my life, that is more than half a century now, in calling to Allah, bringing the different schools of Islam closer to one another, working on eliminating the differences and eradicating any wrong or transgression. I have also visited Iran many times and called for the unity of Muslims. Also, after this conference I will be heading for Morocco to attend a conference held by the World Forum for Proximity between the Islamic schools of Islam that belong to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. There, I will lecture on the effects of proximity between the different schools of Islam on the social, economic and political status in the world.
In the past, I visited many Islamic countries where I always found many ears to the call for unity and open hearts to the seeds of love, harmony, brotherhood and cooperation. I always call for putting aside all titles and names, like Sufi, Salafi, Sunni, Shiite and so on. I also confirm the need to go back and commit ourselves to what Allah imposed on us in the Holy Qur’an where He says:
“It is He (Allah) who has named you Muslims, both before and in this (the Qur’an).” T.Q., 22:78.
In confirmation of all these facts, the Abu Nour Islamic Foundation (currently, the Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro Islamic Institution) in Damascus has always been a home that embraces every sincere caller of Islam who does not call for personal desires or ego. Each of us has mistakes, but how mistaken is he who forgets about the 95% of his brother’s good and sheds light on the 5% of his wrong. Almighty Allah says:
“And do not be like those who have become divided among themselves and have fallen into disputations after receiving clear signs: there is a terrible torment for them.” T.Q., 3:105.
In conclusion, Muslim unity is an urgent necessity imposed on us by the present international and political circumstances. It also requires sincere and serious efforts from everyone to eliminate all seeds of disunity and go back to the ways and teachings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who said, ‘I left for you something that, if you commit yourself to it, will never lead you astray; that is the Book of Allah (the Holy Qur’an) and my Sunnah (the Prophet’s way of practising religion including his words, actions and approvals).’ Mustadrak Al-Hakim. We must do so to regain our unity and be as Allah wants us to be. Each one should do that according to his or her position and ability. By so doing, we will be committing ourselves to the Prophet’s saying, ‘After me you will face selfishness and things that you would deny.’ They asked, ‘So what do you order us to do then, O Allah’s Messenger?’ He said, ‘Fulfil and carry out the rights on you and ask Allah what is for you.’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
All praise be to Allah, the Lord of all 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)