TEHRAN – For Muslims, the staggering fall from grace can largely be attributed to fragmentation in their ranks, exacerbated by the scourge of sectarianism fanned by divisive forces. The condition of Muslims today, in both the realms of spiritual and temporal, is appallingly poor.
Having ruled the world for eight to nine centuries, bringing people out of barbarism into civilization, abolishing idolatry and advocating monotheism, Muslims have gradually and worryingly slipped into an abyss of despondency and darkness. While the Holy Quran promises that the “honor, power and glory belongs to God and to His apostle and to the believers” (Surah Munafiqun), it also cautions that the “Almighty does not change the condition of a people until they change it themselves” (Surah Ar-Ra’ad).
How can we possibly leap forward as a divided unit, with so many warring groups baying for each other’s blood? How can we progress without clutching hands and pulling in the same direction as emphasized in the Holy Quran in unequivocal and unambiguous terms: “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided” (Surah Aali Imran).
Even hardnosed European evangelists admit that the modern world was built on the scientific breakthroughs made by Muslim scholars at a time when the Europeans were struggling and stumbling. So what led to the decline and degeneration of Muslims?
In the words of Scott Gilmore, a social entrepreneur and writer, the easiest response is to say Muslims did this to themselves. “From the jungles of Sulawesi to the deserts of Libya, Muslims are killing Muslims at a rate that dwarfs the more highly publicized conflict with the West,” he says.
At a time when the contemptible project of sectarianism and takfirism is being promoted by unscrupulous elements to create fissures in the Muslim Ummah, it has become essential for every conscientious Muslim to uphold the banner of unity and be the vocal advocate of truth and justice.
The enemies of Islam succeed not because they have superior ideas or moral high ground but because we are fragmented and vulnerable. Unless Muslims close ranks, bury the hatchet and develop mutual-understanding, they will continue to be afflicted with misery and despair. Holy Quran reminds us: “Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle and those who are (truly) with him are firm and unyielding towards disbelievers, (yet) full of mercy towards one another (Surah Fatah).”
This beautiful element of ‘mercy towards one another’ is what actually defines the essence of Muslim unity and brotherhood.
Takfirism – the phenomenon of declaring ‘others’ as heretics – has gained traction across the world today, engulfing many Muslim societies. It is a grand project spearheaded by forces that fear Muslim unity, because if Muslims band together the enemy wouldn’t have the temerity to bombard Muslim countries and exploit their rich resources.
What makes matters worse is the fact that some of us are willfully playing into the hands of enemies. Zionists, aided by the Western imperialist powers, have occupied Palestine because some Arab countries don’t wish to antagonize their friends in Tel Aviv. For them, petty political interests overshadow the larger interests of Muslim Ummah.
Today, Muslims are being mercilessly killed in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan because our Arab-Muslim leadership is apparently sleeping with the enemy, aiding and abetting the genocide of Muslims. Some Arab countries bay for the blood of fellow Muslims today, like we see in Yemen, where school children are slaughtered in air strikes. All they want is to be in the good books of Zionists and Americans.
Also the selective outrage, selective condemnations, blatant double standards. When innocent civilians are killed in Brussels or Berlin, whole world erupts in anger and fury; but when there is a massacre in Kabul, Quetta or Baghdad, only few odd voices speak out.
Last week, there was carnage in Kabul. A suspected ISIS suicide bomber attacked a school in Shia-neighborhood of western Kabul, killing more than 50 young children, who were preparing for university entrance examination. There was no outrage, no candle light vigils, and no hashtags. This kind of violence has been normalized and routinized because the perpetrators belong to the same Takfiri ideology that serves the agenda of forces that want Muslims to be divided and annihilated.
The fact is they are united and we are divided. This divide-and-conquer strategy works well for our enemies. The need of the hour is unity and rapprochement.
In mid-1980s, Imam Khomeini, the architect of the Islamic revolution, proposed an idea of ‘hafta e wahdat’ (week of unity and solidarity) in the month of Rabiul Awwal so that Muslims, cutting across sects, can come together to honor the memory of their Prophet (pbuh), who championed the cause of Islamic unity and tolerance all his life.
In 1990, a year after Imam Khomeini’s death, The World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought was set up by his successor Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei, which organizes the International Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran every year to mark the birth anniversary of the Holy Prophet (pbuh).
Looking back, many Islamic luminaries have made indefatigable efforts to bridge the chasm between Shias and Sunnis. Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltut, a legendary Islamic scholar who served as the grand Imam of Al-Azhar between 1958 and 1963, issued a famous fatwa (religious edict) in 1959 pertaining to the faith and beliefs of Shias, which continues to be a symbol of hope for those who advocate unity and proximity between the two schools of thought.
Ayatollah Syed Hussain Borojerdi, who was one of the leading Shia religious authorities, also worked untiringly to foster unity among Muslims and established close contact with Dar ul-Taqrib Center in Egypt. Other Islamic scholars who deserve a mention include Muslim Brotherhood founder Sheikh Hassan al-Banna, Egyptian scholar Sheikh Muhammad al-Ghazali, Iranian scholar Allameh Seyed Mohammad Hossein Tabatabaei, Iraqi cleric Ayatollah Syed Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, Pakistani scholar Dr. Allama Mohammad Iqbal, and Afghan ideologue Syed Jamaluddin Asadabadi.
The efforts of Hassan al-Banna deserve a mention. Abd al-Mutaal al-Jabri, a student of Hassan al-Banna, in his book Limatha Yuqitla Hasan (Why Hasan al-Banna was Assassinated), writes about the historic meeting between Hassan al-Banna and Ayatollah Kashani in Mecca in 1948, shortly before the former was assassinated. “If the life of this man (al-Banna) had been longer, it would have been possible to gain many benefits for this land, especially in the agreement between him and Ayatullah Kashani to uproot the discord between Sunnis and Shi’ites. They met each other in Hijaz in 1948. It appears that they conferred with each other and reached a basic understanding but Hasan al-Banna was quickly assassinated,” he writes.
That is what has happened throughout history. Those who have championed the cause of Islamic unity and brotherhood have paid the heavy price, but the idea has lived on.
In contemporary times, Ayatollah Khamenei and Ayatollah Sistani have played an instrumental role in forging Muslim unity and countering the vicious and sinister campaign to divide Muslims.
There is clearly more that unites us than what divides us. In his book Al-Muslimun Man Hum (The Muslims – Who are they?), author Samih Atif Zayn says the most important basis of differences lies in understanding the Holy Book, and both Sunnis and Shias have never disagreed on Holy Quran.
“We must eradicate the sectarian spirit, full of hatred, and bar the road of those who spread rumors and quarrels in religion, until Muslims return to how they were before: one society, cooperative and friendly, rather than divided, separated and hating each other,” he writes, stressing the importance of brotherhood as mentioned in the Holy Quran: “Verily, this brotherhood of yours is a single brotherhood, and I am your Lord and Cherisher” (Surah Al-Anbiya).
So, it is binding on all the believers of Islam to collectively strive towards a common goal, lest they go astray. “Indeed, those who have divided their religion and become sects – you, (O Muhammad), are not (associated) with them in anything. Their affair is only (left) to Allah; He will inform them about what they used to do” (Surah Al-Anam).
The warning is clear for those who stoke the flames of sectarianism or aid the efforts to divide Muslims.