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 The Matter of Global Muslim Unity


from the Viewpoint of






(Mas’aleye Taqreeb va Vahdat-e Eslami


az Didgah-e Nahj-ol-Balaghe)




By: Taras G. Che ienko




In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate




All peace and blessings of Allah be upon our Prophet Muhammad, His infallible progeny and pure and sincere companions!




Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to begin my speech with a little example of my own recent experience in one of the Mosques of Prague, where I have encountered with a preacher who was surprised by the way I recited my ritual prayers. ‘Excuse me, brother, are you a Shiite”, he asked, rather astonished to find the one here. ‘I am proud to be the one’, I replied, observing his reaction. ‘But by God, please, tell me, how could it be so: you recite the verses of the Holy Quraan and abuse the Pure Companions, may Allah be pleased with them?’ Now it was my tu  to surprise. ‘Who told you that we, shias, do so?’ , I asked. ‘Well, but if you don’t, then you are not a shia!’. ‘By God, what kind of shia books have you read to make such a conclusion? Do you agree with me that to make a pure judgment you have to look in the source?’. ‘Yes, of course’, he nodded. ‘Then, let’s study deeper the writings of our Holy Imaams (A), whom we shias believe to be infallible, to prove the correct and fully authentic shia position in this matter’. Yes, there are still a lot of prejudices and misconceptions about the Shias, Shiism and the question of global Muslim Unity (taqreeb). Lets study the truth without any subjectivity, basing our statements exclusively on authoritative sources, namely – Quraan, Ahadeeth, and Nahj-ul-Balaghah, the book of extreme importance for all Shias all around the Globe.




In order to emphasize the genuine meaning of taqreeb (enclosing) of Muslim schools (madhhabs) we have to pay particular attention to the genesis of Islamic madhhabs.




As a matter of fact, it is of no exaggeration that the origin of Muslim diversity into various sects begins with the era of our Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, since he has predicted such a diversity in his noble hadith, where he points out that the Islamic religion is predestined to divide into seventy-two sects, similarly like the Judaism and Christianity have been divided into seventy and seventy-one sect respectively. It means that the Holy Revelation of any kind from the Islamic viewpoint is not immune from misinterpretation, despite the commonly accepted fact that the Truth in its purity is one and is known to Allah – SubhanaHu wa Taala – Himself and the Infallible ones (peace be upon them all). But does it have anything in common with the division on the schools of law (madhhabs), or something totally different is meant by this Holy Hadith? In other words, is the difference lies on mere sectarian surface or the matter is totally different, paradoxically more simple and more complicated in the same time?




Since that period the misconception and misinterpretation of the term “the sect of Salvation” (Al-firqah al-najiyah) begins. The indisputable fact that there is a plurality in the Muslim thought through all ages has been misinterpreted by some in a way, that various madhhabs are exactly what is meant by the above-quoted noble hadith, accepted by both Shia and Sunni schools, stressing that al-firqah al-najiyah is a particular madhhab when the rest of them are not on the path of truth (the straight path, al-sirat al-mustaqeem). Thus, almost every school emerging under the auspices of Islamic teaching along the human history, claimed its unique right to possess the truth calling the others to be going astray.




But is it really so?




To answer the question correctly we have to look into the invaluable heritage of our Imaams (peace be upon them all) that has reached us in a written form of authoritative hadeeths. Some of them had been collected in a books of common authority among the Shias, such as Bihaar-ul-anwaar by Allamah Majlisi and Usool-ul-Kaafi by Allamah Kulaini. The others had been rendered in a form of a direct speech by Sharif Al-Razi in his famous collection entitled Nahj-ul-Balaghah (The Peak of Eloquence). Reading and studying them with due diligence we come to the correct understanding of the Shiite position regarding the meaning of Al-Firqah Al-Najiyah. We clearly understand that the Shia position does not pretend to monopolize the Truth, moreover, global Muslim unity (and first of all – Shia-Sunni Unity) is one of the basic pillars of our Shia creed.




To prove the last statement we have to observe simply the fact that belief in Imamat is a distinctive co erstone of Shiism – so, it seems quite sufficient to observe the moral conduct and policy of our Imams – upon whom be peace – in regard to the Muslim Unity and non-sectarian beliefs to make clear the Shiite position in general. In other words, it would be enough to prove that our Holy Imams themselves did not pretend to create any sect of Islam separate from the others, and, moreover, did not claim that the Truth of Islam belongs only to their direct disciples (along with the fact that loving Ahli-Beyt (A) is waajib – necessary – for every Muslim, and there is no either shia or sunni denomination to claim otherwise).




Simply, the pure shiism as taught by our Imaams – peace be upon them – is deeper understanding of Islam in its spiritual aspect as inherited from the Holy Prophet (S) through his direct descendants, but in no way it is a Muslim exclusionism claiming to possess an exclusive right of salvation. Everywhere in the writings of our Imaams we find the clue that al-firqah al-najiyah is not a particular madhhab, but the particular community of true and sincere believers, without any regard to the school of law (fiqh) to which they belong. Therefore, struggle for integrity of Muslim Ummah and its solidity is obligatory for every Muslim, especially that one who is guided by the example of our fourteen infallibles (peace and blessings of Allah Almighty be upon them).




Had it been otherwise, Imam Ali (A) would have fought for power using any means, keeping in mind his right for chalifate, but in reality in the commentary for the fifth sermon (khutbah) of ‘Nahj – ul – Balaghah’ we read the following passages:




“He (Imam Ali (A)) reiterated the same ideas in different words thus: “If had I attempted to pluck the unripe fruit of Caliphate then by this the orchard would have been desolated and I too would have achieved nothing, like these people who cultivate on other’s land but can neither guard it, nor water it at proper time, nor reap any crop from it. The position of these people is that if I ask them to vacate it so that the owner should cultivate it himself and protect it, they say how greedy I am, while if I keep quiet they think I am afraid of death. They should tell me on what occasion did I ever feel afraid, or flew from battle-field for life, whereas every small or big encounter is proof of my bravery and a witness to my daring and courage. He who plays with swords and strikes against hillocks is not afraid of death. I am so familiar with death that even an infant is not so familiar with the breast of its mother. Hark! The reason for my silence is the knowledge that the Prophet has put in my bosom. If I divulge it you would get perplexed and bewildered. Let some days pass and you would know the reason of my inaction, and perceive with your own eyes what sorts of people would appear on this scene under the name of Islam, and what destruction they would bring about. My silence is because this would happen, otherwise it is not silence without reason.”




What has to be observed with a kind of particular attention is the reference to ‘unripe fruit of Califate’. It means that despite Imam Ali (A)’s knowledge about his right for supreme power, he had to wait until the people’s minds ‘ripe’ enough to accept this doctrine. What indication is more clear to show his care of the whole Ummah, Muslim community in general? He had to wait to bring all minds of believers close to achieve common unity and not to create a divisive sectarian movement of his close supporters which could endanger the whole mission of Islam and undermine the Muslim Call (Daawah) from within!




The other clear evidence could be found in the very beginning of sermon 3 known as shaqshaqiyyah, when Amir-ul-Mumimeen states:


“Then I began to think whether I should assault or endure calmly the blinding darkness of tribulations wherein the grown up are made feeble and the young grow old and the true believer acts under strain till he meets Alláh (on his death). I found that endurance thereon was wiser. So I adopted patience although there was pricking in the eye and suffocation (of mortification) in the throat.”




Yes, there are no doubts that his patience in regard to the matter of Califate had caused the people of Iraq to advance “towards (him) from every side like the mane of the hyena so much so that Hasan and Husayn were getting crushed and both the ends of (his) shoulder garment were to .” “They collected around (him) like the herd of sheep and goats”, inspired by his piousness and endurance – and that is clearly one more proof that unity and solidarity are the true spirit of the Message of the Holy Quran, not diversity and calamity on behalf of religion or – moreover – any particular madhhab.




What is even more important and worth paying particular attention is the matter of chronology. Here we find out – some of us probably not without surprise – that the matter of taqreeb in the Muslim history had aroused long time before the particular madhhabs – or schools of Muslim law – formed (though predicted by the Prophet of Islam). In other words, simply speaking, the matter of muslims’ unity or disunity lies far beyond the matter of madhhab and fiqh in general. It proves, in its tu , that the ‘saved community’ (‘al-firqah al-najiyah’) following the straight path of the Prophet is neither particular madhhab nor any sect of Islam. Has it been otherwise, the sectarian preference must have had appeared in Imaam’s speeches included in Nahj-ul-Balagha, and, on the other hand, all kind of polemics with the Muslim masses should have been omitted from the collection of Sharif Al-Razi, since the described events had taken place long time before the contemporary sectarian division had appeared. I.e., had the matter been a matter of madhhab, all the muslim community contemporary to the first imam (or the fourth pious Caliph) should be considered to be on the right path, the way of Prophetic Sunnah (tradition) and Jamaah (majority). Obviously, no khanafites or khanbalites or malikites or any other streams of the Islamic law existed at the time – so, the logical conclusion would be that they all were either on the side of Truth (for whom that kind of thorough preaching is scarcely necessary) or on the side of Infidelity and Hypocrisy, against which not the preaching but open jihad is obligatory. But the strict dichotomy of that kind is not observed through the text of Nahj-ul-Balaghah, so it would be just to conclude that the other kind of division existed in the very beginning of the Islamic history, and that division is more complicated then the mere sectarianism based upon the schools of law. Certainly, the question of the ‘saved community’ arises here in much more complicacy, as it had been predicted by the Prophetic Hadith.




For the proof of this statement let’s refer to the original source:


Imam – peace be upon him – says:


‘Through us you got guidance in the darkness and secured high position, and through us you got out of the gloomy night. The ears which do not listen to the cries may become deaf. How can one who remained deaf to the loud cries (of the Qur’án and the Prophet) listen to (my) feeble voice. The heart that has ever palpitated (with fear of Alláh) may get peace.




          I always apprehended from you consequences of treachery and I had seen you through in the garb of the deceitful. The curtain of religion had kept me hidden from you but the truth of my intentions disclosed you to me. I stood for you on the path of truth among misleading tracks where you met each other but there was no leader and you dug but got no water.




          Today I am making these dumb things speak to you (i.e. my suggestive ideas and deep musings etc.) which are full of descriptive power. The opinion of the person who abandons me may get astray. I have never doubted in the truth since it has been shown to me. Músá (Moses) did not entertain fear for his own self. Rather he apprehended mastery of the ignorant and away of deviation. Today we stand on the cross-roads of truth and untruth. The one who is sure of getting water feels no thirst.’ (Nahj-ul-Balaghah, sermon 4).




Two important questions should be asked to make the matter crystal clear for every reader.


1. Should there be a strict dichotomy in that time, i.e., the simple division on believers and non-believers, would that be necessary for the Imam to address to the infidels, and summoning them to follow the path of Quran and Sunnah, which were presumably not accepted by them at all? The answer is: certainly not!




2. Should the audience gathered to behold the speech of Imam consist of Muslim believers, would it be necessary for Imam to remind them about the moral values, keeping in mind that simple fact that no sectarian division (division on madhhabs) existed in the time and the whole mass of muslims was presumably – a priori – on the right path? In other words, there were no 72 sects yet, but only one – so, should we understand the prophetic hadith in a sectarian way, that only Muslim sect to which they all belong (the first generation of companions (sahabah) and their followers (tabiin)) should automatically be considered as al-firqah al-najiyah, and so there was no need in additional reminding of the Quranic values. Following that primitive sectarian logic we conclude that the paradise was guaranteed for the first Muslim generation, since any sectarian divisions had not appeared yet. Do we accept this logic today? The answer is: of course, NOT: not just the Nahj-ul-Balaghah and ahadeeth of highest authority, but the history of early Islam itself is a clear witness that it is not so. Divisions, intrigues and calamities among the early companions clearly indicate that the Paradise is not guaranteed to everyone. And that is despite the fact that no particular school of law (fiqh) existed at the time of early Islam. So, we could consider the fact that there is NO sectarian division among Muslim brethren – in the meaning of enmity and exclusive right for obtaining salvation – totally proved, basing upon the evidence of Nahj-ul-Balaghah, the history of Islam and authoritative hadeeths.




For example, let’s refer to the following saying of our Imam Ali (A), the author of Nahj-ul-Balaghah, quoted in the hadith:




From Imam Ali – peace be upon him: There are eight gates to the Paradise: the one from which the prophets and pious ones are entering, the one for martyrs and chaste ones, five gates for our shias and those who love us, and another gate through which enter those ones who proclaim the testimony that there is no god, but Allah, and whose heart is clean of any kind of enmity towards us, Ahl-ul-Beyt (A).




(Inna li-l-jannah thamaniyah abwaab: babun yadkhulu minhu-n-nabiyyuna wa-s-siddiquna, wa babun yadkhulu minhu-sh-shuhada wa-s-salihuna, wa khansa abwaabin yadkhulu minha shiatuna wa muhibbuna… wa babun yadkhulu minhu sairu-l-muslimin mimman shahida an la ilaha illa-Llahu, wa lam yakun fi qalbihi miqdaru dharratin min mughdina, Ahli-l-Beyt (A)).


(Al-Khisaal, 408/6)




What the wonderful hadeeth of taqreeb is this! Even in the time of the early history of Islam, Imam Ali (A) says that there are “five gates for our shias and those who love us”, thus not making an exclusivity for salvation even for his own shias (disciples), since there is no Muslim of a healthy mind – whether Shii or Sunni – who would deny the necessity of loving Imam Ali (A) and Ahl-ul-Beyt (A) – people of Prophetic family. Moreover, the quoted above hadith even enlarges the way of salvation (i.e., the way of Truth) upon those ‘whose heart is clean of any kind of enmity towards… Ahl-ul-Beyt (A)’, thus making even expressing someone’s love towards Ahl-ul-Beyt (A) not the exclusive condition for obtaining salvation, mere absence of enmity seems to be enough. Therefore, this hadith, declaring (in general) the Shiite position regarding the matter, leaves no ground for sectarian speculations.




And regarding those people who have gone astray, Imam says in his sermon 17:


“Among all the people the most detested before Alláh are two persons. One is he who is devoted to his self. So he is deviated from the true path and loves speaking about (foul) innovations and inviting towards wrong path. He is therefore a nuisance for those who are enamoured of him, is himself misled from the guidance of those preceding him, misleads those who follow him in his life or after his death, carries the weight of others’ sins and is entangled in his own misdeeds.




          The other man is he who has picked up ignorance. He moves among the ignorant, is senseless in the thick of mischief and is blind to the advantages of peace. Those resembling like men have named him scholar but he is not so. He goes out early mo ing to collect things whose deficiency is better than plenty, till when he has quenched his thirst from polluted water and acquired meaningless things.




          He sits among the people as a judge responsible for solving whatever is confusing to the others. If an ambiguous problem is presented before him he manages shabby argument about it of his own accord and passes judgment on its basis. In this way he is entangled in the confusion of doubts as in the spider’s web, not knowing whether he was right or wrong. If he is right he fears lest he erred, while if he is wrong he hopes he is right. He is ignorant, wandering astray in ignorance and riding on carriages aimlessly moving in darkness. He did not try to find reality of knowledge. He scatters the traditions as the wind scatters the dry leaves.




          By Alláh, he is not capable of solving the problems that come to him nor is fit for the position assigned to him. Whatever he does not know he does not regard it worth knowing. He does not realize that what is beyond his reach is within the reach of others. If anything is not clear to him he keeps quiet over it because he knows his own ignorance. Lost lives are crying against his unjust verdicts, and properties (that have been wrongly disposed of) are grumbling against him.




          I complain to Alláh about persons who live ignorant and die misguided. For them nothing is more worthless than Qur’án if it is recited as it should be recited, nor anything more valuable than the Qur’án if its verses are removed from their places, nor anything more vicious than virtue nor more virtuous than vice.”




In this regard it is worth mentioning the outstanding efforts by Sheikh Hassan Al-Saffar, one of the leaders of Saudi Arabian Shiite community, for preventing the inter-sectarian conflicts in his own country. In particular, in his interview given to Al-Rasid company on 17 July, 2007, he stated that the Sunni community is even more active in Saudi Arabia in bringing the madhhabs together then his own shia one. He said:




“There are indeed some misconceptions regarding the Shias growing up from both political conflicts and inter-tribal diversities, but: there is no Muslim on the face of Earth who would openly demonstrate his enmity towards Ahl-ul-Beyt, and even if the one is found, he would immediately be condemned by the Sunnis themselves, even before the Shias would do so”.




And from the quotations brought forward above, we clearly conclude, that his words are not merely a politically motivated statement, but the official Shia position, fully in compliance with the spirit of Quran, authoritative Ahadeeth and Nahj-ul-Balaghah.




As for the last source, in the letter 31, which consists of Imam Ali (A)’s last testament given to his son Hasan (A), we read the following passage of taqreeb:




“Do good to your brother when he is bent upon doing harm to you. When he ignores or declines to recognize the kinship, befriend him, go to his help and try to maintain relations. If he is miserly with you and refuses to help you, be generous with him and support him financially. If he is cruel with you, be kind and considerate with him. If he harms you accept his excuses. Behave with him as if he is a master and you are a slave, and he is a benefactor and you are a beneficiary.”, where, clearly, by the term ‘brother’ every Muslim is meant. First of all, because these statements could in no way relay to his infallible brothers (peace be upon them), and, in second, this is in compliance with the Quranic verse, which proclaims: ‘Innama-l-moominoona ikhwah’ (“Verily, the (sincere) believers are brethren to each other”).




In his various letters to Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyaan, Imam investigates in details the case of Caliph Uthman’s murder. Denying any accusations brought forward against him by the enemies of Islam, he logically points to the mere fact, the he was that person who provided the water to the besieged house of Uthman, being completely loyal to him and using all his efforts to protect his life and honor.




And at last but not the least we quote a passage from Imam (A)’s letter to Maalik Al-Ashtar, accepted as a masterpiece of Islamic political thought by the majority of ancient and contemporary Muslim thinkers. He (peace be upon him) wrote:




“Maalik! You must create in your mind kindness, compassion and love for your subjects. Do not behave towards them as if you are a voracious and ravenous beast and as if your success lies in devouring them.


Remember, Maalik, that amongst your subjects there are two kinds of people: those who have the same religion as you have; they are brothers to you, and those who have religions other than that of yours, they are human beings like you. Men of either category suffer from the same weaknesses and disabilities that human beings are inclined to, they commit sins, indulge in vices either intentionally or foolishly and unintentionally without realizing the enormity of their deeds. Let your mercy and compassion come to their rescue and help in the same way and to the same extent that you expect Allah to show mercy and forgiveness to you.”


(Nahj-ul-Balaghah, letter 53)




What is particularly interesting is that Imam (A) refers to the people as two categories: brethren in faith and brethren as human beings, thus stating that not only Muslims should remain united, but the whole mankind must avoid diversity. Not merely inter-sectarian, but inter-religious conflicts of all kinds are strictly condemned. Domination of the principle of freedom of faith is proclaimed. Once more, like in many other sermons and letters, Imam (A) propagates obedience to Allah Almighty and the Holy Quran, for instance in the quoted above letter he (A) says:




“I order you, Maalik, always to keep the fear of Allah in your mind, to give priority to His worship and to give preference to obeying His Commands over every other thing in life, to carefully and faithfully follow the commandments and interdictions as are given by the Holy Book and the traditions of the Holy Prophet (s) because the success of a man to attain happiness in this world and in the next depends upon these qualities, and a failure to achieve these attributes brings about total failure in both the worlds.”




And today we would like to proclaim wholeheartedly the verse of the Holy Quran which refers (without a trace of exaggeration) to every human being on Earth:




Wa a’tasimu bi habli-Llahi jamian, wa la tafarraqu!




And hold strong together to the Rope of Allah, and do not divide among yourselves!




May peace and blessings of Almighty Allah be upon all of you! Amin.




Prague, Czech Republic,


January 17, 2010