This paper was prepared for a conference organized by the Cultural Attaché, Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Malaysia together with U. M. University of Kuala Lumpur, 16-17 Dec. 2008.
From the early days of human existence on earth, there have always been different ideas, opinions and ways of understanding between individuals. Doubtless, such is the demand of his nature as created by Allah, the Creator of everything, the Almighty. His nature also demands differences of attributes and character, such as bravery, justice and generosity, or jealousy and bigotry. We see such differences most clearly in facial features, skin colour and language. All these differences show that mankind is thoroughly surrounded by variations and differences. According to the teachings of the noble Qur’an it is considered a sign of the power of the Almighty; if He wanted it otherwise, He could have done so.
It is clear that differences of ideas and opinions are useful for human life and society because they lead to progress in knowledge, technology and management of life. Differences in facial features, skin colour and languages are also useful because they help in recognizing each other. But differences of faith and religious beliefs sometimes become problematic for society. Historical experience shows that it has been the root of many conflicts and clashes between the followers of different religions or even between the followers of the same religion with different viewpoints.
According to the noble Qur’an, in the first stage of life on earth, human beings followed one religion. Then Allah subhanahu wataala appointed different prophets with different missions andShari‘ah. Therefore their followers began to dispute with each other. We read in Surat-al-Baqarah, verse 213:
Mankind was a single Ummah (community); then Allah sent the prophets as bearers of good news and as warners, and He sent down with them the Book with the truth that it may judge between the people concerning that about which they differed…
We also read in Surat-al-Ma’edah, verse 48:
…For each [community] among you, We had appointed a code [of law] and a path; and had Allah wished, He would have made you one community, but for He should test you in respect to what He has given you…
In Surat-al-Hud, verse 118 we read the following:
Had your Lord wished, He would have made mankind one community, but they continue to differ.
According to these verses multiplicity of prophets and their missions has been in accord with the Will of Allah (swt) and there should not be any reason for dispute and conflict among their followers. Moreover, usually the followers of one prophet and religion are faced with conflicts and harshness. Schism has occurred among the followers of a religion from early days of the establishment of religions. There have been many sects or schools of thought in the old and new religions including Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
There are many schisms in Christianity; conflicts and wars between its different sects have been widespread. One of the social and religious problems of Western countries in the middle ages was the emergence of different sects that led to new understandings and comments in religious faiths and texts. The Pope periodically excommunicated leaders of such thoughts and sects. Numerous wars and massacres were caused by religious differences in Europe. ‘Freedom of faith’ in constitutions of these countries that appeared later reflects the intelligentsia’s lost patience with such a situation.
At the time much effort was exerted to remove the problem and bring the followers of different sects together. ‘Ecumenical approaches’ or efforts for unity in Christendom started in the middle ages. Several attempts were made to overcome the schism between churches, the most important of which resulted in the Council of Ferrara Florence in 1438-39 and led to a short-lived reunion between the churches of the East and West. Some unsuccessful attempts were also made to reunite Rome and the Lutherans who were excommunicated by the Pope. These kinds of attempts continued till the 19th Century (Einar Molland, Christendom, 1961, London).
More successful attempts occurred later. Pope John Paul II (1978-2005 CE) in a ceremony in St. Peters accepted for the first time mistakes made by Christianity about the Inquisition, religious conflicts and crusades and repented on behalf of the church. He also asked God’s forgiveness for the second time in Jerusalem for mistakes of his church (Le Soir, a famous newspaper of France, 18 March, 2000).
It is interesting to note that in recent years the Vatican put an end to the excommunication of Protestant Church (Lutherans) after 470 years. According to the French News Agency a memorandum of understanding was signed on October 31, 1999, in Augsburg (Germany), between Cardinal Edward Kacidi, representative of Pope John Paul II and Christian Kraus, Chief Guide of the World Federation of the Lutherans (WFL).
However, nowadays despite all the religious differences and schisms in Christendom, few hear about any conflict or clash between its sects in any part of the word.
The case of the Islamic Ummah in this regard is regrettable. Very soon after the demise of the Prophet Muhammad (saws) the first differences appeared between his followers over the issue of Caliphate. Some of his Sahabah (companions) believed that his successor should be appointed by a shura (council), while others were of the opinion that the prophet had already introduced and appointed Ali bin Abi Talib (as) as his successor in Ghadir-e-Khum and on many other occasions as well. This was the main difference that divided the early Muslim community into two groups — Shi‘ah and Sunni. Shi‘ahs which means party of, were followers of Imam Ali (as) and Sunnis which means followers of the Prophet’s tradition represented the other group. The Shi‘ah held to their opinion of appointed succession till the twelfth Imam of Ahl-ul-Bait (the progeny of the prophet), while Caliphate in Sunni school of thought was exposed to changes by election or appointment in different eras of Islamic history.
We will skip the details of historical and ideological factors and circumstances for the emergence of other sects in both groups. Those interested in studying these can refer to the sources that have been compiled for this purpose. One of the best sources for different sects and groups is a book titled Al-Milal wa al-Nihal compiled by Abulfat’h Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Shahristani (479-548 AH/1086-1153 CE).
Briefly, since the first decades of Islamic history many schisms in both groups appeared, the most important of which were Hanafite, Shafe‘ite, Hanbalite and Malekite among the Sunnis and twelver Imamite in the Shi‘ah. Most other sects disappeared later on though there are some Zaidis, Alawis and Khawarij in some corners of the Islamic world; they are considered the followers of one of the five mentioned groups.
When we study the history of the mentioned groups, we find many disputes and conflicts between them during the past centuries. Prejudice has always been one of the most important factors for such conflict. The role of colonialism should not be neglected as a powerful agent in this regard, especially British colonialism after the collapse of the Ottoman authority over most lands of the Muslim world. During these eras differences and conflicts shifted and expanded to Sunni and Shi‘ah.
To get an idea about the religious seditions in different eras of Islamic history, I would like to draw attention to the following chronological facts:
• 350 AH: The Abbasid army’s revolt against Shi‘ahs in many Islamic territories.
• 363 AH: Massacre of Shi‘ah following their holding religious ceremonies.
• 403 AH: Government of Egypt issued an order in an official declaration that Alawis should be cursed.
• 439 AH: Assault on the residence of Sheikh Al-Tousi in Baghdad.
• 448-9 AH: Setting his library on fire in Baghdad.
• 412 AH: Official declaration of Al-Qader, from Abbasid reign, about excommunication of Mo‘tazelah.
• 468 AH: Setting al-Ghazali’s works on fire in an official ceremony in Cordoba.
• 507 AH: A Hanafite Judge stated that if he had authority of passing Shari‘ah law, he would have fixed Jizyah (tax received from non-Muslims) on Shafe‘ites.
• 554 AH: Clashes between Hanafites and Shafe‘ites which led to a huge burning in Isfahan market.
• 926 AH: Massacre of nearly 40,000 Shi‘ahs by Sultan Salim of Ottoman reign.
• 1216 AH: Invasion of Wahhabis from Nejd into Karbala in Iraq, massacre of Shi‘ahs over there and demolishing of Imam Husain’s Shrine.
• 1219 AH: Invasion of Wahhabis into Halab in Syria and their preventing its inhabitants and those from Egypt from going to Hajj pilgrimage.
This is only a sample of problems and crises of religious differences in the Islamic Ummah. There are many other regrettable incidents in the history of conflicts between Islamic sects and followers of different schools of thought. There has been some fatawa according to which a person, who changes his faith, should be killed! It is narrated that the followers of Hanafite, Shafe‘ite and Hanba-lite were prohibited to enter Andalus (Spain during the Islamic reign) because its inhabitant were followers of the Maleki school of thought, and when a Mu‘tazelite entered the country, he was killed.
Unlike Chris-tianity, there was unfortunately no attempt to bring the different Islamic sects closer to each other during this long period. The first attempt which did last long was the establishment of Dar-at-Taqrib in Egypt in the 1940s. It was an auspicious cooperation between Ayatullah Borujerdi of Iran and Shaikh Mahmud Shaltut of Egypt. The motto of this attempt was the following verse of the noble Qur’an:
Indeed this (Ummah) community of yours is one community, and I am your Lord, so worship me ( 21: 92).
Unfortunately the political situation at the time, the conspiracy of the colonialists and the spread of malicious propaganda undermined such efforts. After a long hiatus, these efforts were resumed by the Islamic republic of Iran but the Islamic world did not respond with the required degree of enthusiasm. Despite all these negative aspects, there were many distinguished personalities and ulama of the Islamic world that have contributed much to bringing the Islamic schools of thought closer to each other. Besides the above-mentioned personalities, the names of Shaikh Hasan Al-Banna of Egypt, Seyed Sharaf-ul-ddin Al-Musawi of Lebanon, Shaikh Mohammad Husain Kashef-ul-Gheta of Iraq, Allamah Muhammad Iqbal Lahori of Pakistan, Seyed Jamal-ul-din Asadabadi of Iran and many others especially in the present era Imam Khomeini, Imam Khamenei and Ayatullah Sistani are notable.
We know that the Muslim Ummah all over the globe worships only one God, Allah (swt), obeys Prophet Muhammad (sa), accepts one Book, the noble Qur’an, prays towards one Qiblah, believes in Salat (prayer), Saum (fast), Hajj (pilgrimage), Zakat (alms) and so on which form the structure of the Islamic Shari‘ah. Naturally, there are slight differences in some details but they should not lead to sedition or conflict.
The noble Qur’an after an emphatic order regarding directing others to do what is good and leave what is bad, says:
Do not be like those who became divided and differed after manifest signs had come to them. For such there will be a great punishment (3:105).
In another verse we read the following:
And obey Allah and His Messenger and do not dispute, then you will become weak and your power will be dissipated (8:46).
The following verse in this connection is very important:
Hold fast, all together, to Allah’s cord, and do not be divided; and remember Allah’s blessing upon you when you were enemies, then He brought your hearts together, so you became brothers with His blessing, and you were on the brink of a pit of fire, then He saved you from it (3:103).
As you see in this verse, Muslims are considered as brothers. This fact has been emphasized in the following verse:
The faithful indeed are brothers. Therefore make peace between your brothers and be conscious of Allah’s divine presence, so that you may receive [His] mercy (49:10)
Despite all these verses and facts, we are still faced with some so-called ulama and thinkers who were or are creating differences in the Islamic Ummah! They surely do not have any reasonable justification. Doubtless, they are responsible before Allah, the Prophet and the Muslim Ummah for their mistakes.
Maybe you are aware of the recent viewpoint of Sheikh Qardawi against Shi‘ah. He has repeatedly said that Shi‘ah is propagating his faith in Muslim community. I would like to ask who has published thousands of books and pamphlets in million pages, containing numerous lies and groundless accusations against Shi‘ah since the recent three decades? Who has sophisticated and inverted facts and considered Shi‘ahs as kuffar? Let us be honest and fear Allah, the Almighty, and the Day of Judgment.
The author studied different Islamic sciences such as Arabic literature, jurisprudence, theology, philosophy, Qur’an commentary, history and divine religious studies, especially Judaism and Christianity in the Islamic Seminary (Hawzah-e Ilmiyyah) of Qum.