Yusuf G Kermali
There is no doubt that unity is the most important requirement of the Muslims, and that old rancor is the basic cause of all troubles in the Muslim world. It is also true that the enemy is always ready to exploit these disputes. But it appears that the concept of Muslim unity has been misunderstood.
Muslim unity which has been the subject of discussion among the scholars and the broad-minded sections of the Muslims does not mean that the Muslim sects should ignore their principles of faith and articles of acts for the sake of unity, adopt the common features of all the sects and set aside the peculiarities of all. How can this be done when this is neither logical nor practical? How can the followers of any sect be asked to ignore for the sake of preserving the unity of Islam and the Muslims, any of their beliefs or practical principles which they consider to be a part of the basic structure of Islam? Such a demand would mean to overlook a part of Islam in the name of Islam.
There are other ways of persuading people to stick to a principle or give it up. The most natural of them is to convince others by means of logical arguments. Faith is not a matter of expedience, nor can it be imposed on any people or taken away from them at will.
We are the Shi’ahs and are proud of following the chosen descendants of the Holy Prophet. We do not regard as compromisable any act which has been even slightly commended or condemned by the holy Imams. In this regard we are not willing to fulfill the expectation of anybody, nor do we expect others to give up any of their principles in the name of expediency or for the sake of Muslim unity. All that we expect and wish is the creation of an atmosphere of good will so that we, who have our own jurisprudence, traditions, scholastic theology, philosophy, exegesis and literature, should be able to offer our goods as the best goods, so that the Shi’ahs should no more be isolated and so that the important markets of the Muslim world should not be closed to the fine material of Shi’ah Islamic knowledge.
The adoption of the common Islamic features and the rejection of the peculiarities of all sects are contrary to the compound consensus of opinion among the Muslims and the product of this action will be something absolutely un-Islamic, for the peculiarities of some sect or other must be the basic part of the structure of Islam. Islam, bereft of all peculiarities and distinguishing features, has no existence.
The most prominent among those who advanced the noble idea of Islamic unity have been the late Ayatullah Burujardi among the Shi’ah and Allamah Shaykh Abdul Majid and Allamah Shaykh Mahmud Shalut among the Sunnis. But they never had such a view of Islamic unity in their mind. All that these learned men advocated was that the various Muslim sects in spite of their different theologies should on the basis of the large number of common features existing among them, form a common front against the dangerous enemies of Islam. These learned men never proposed under the name of Islamic unity a religious unity which is not practical.
In fact, there is a technical difference between a united party and a united front. A united party requires that all its members should have a common ideology and a common way of thinking in all matters except their personal affairs, whereas a common front means that various parties and groups, despite their ideological differences should, by means of the common features existing among them, form a common front against their common enemy. The formation of a common front against the common enemy is not inconsistent with defending one’s ideology and inviting other members of the front to follow it. The main idea of the late Ayatullah Burujardi was to pave the ground for the dissemination of the knowledge of the Prophet’s chosen descendants among the Sunni brethren. He believed that this was not possible without creating good will and understanding.
Anyhow, the advocacy of the thesis of Islamic unity does not demand that we should feel shy of telling the facts. What is to be avoided is to do anything that may injure the feelings and sentiments of other parties. As for a scientific discussion, it relates to the domain of logic and reason, not to that of sentiments and feelings. The events of Imam Ali’s [a.s.] life and the policy he pursued, which has now been practically forgotten and is rarely mentioned, provide a good example in this respect.
Imam Ali [a.s.] did not refrain from speaking of his right and claiming it, nor did he hesitate to complain against those who snatched it away from him. His keen interest in Islamic unity did not prevent him from raising his voice frankly. His numerous sermons in Nahjuhl Balaghah are a testimony to this fact. But all his grievances did not impel him to leave the ranks of the Muslims struggling against their opponents. He always gave sincere counsel to the Caliphs and was counted as one of their advisers. But he never accepted any post under the Caliphs. He did not consent to be a military commander, the governor of a province, the Amir of Hajj, nor did he accept any other such appointment for its acceptance would have meant the renunciation of his own well-established claim. In other words, the acceptance of an official post would have been something more than mere cooperation and preservation of Islamic unity.
Imam Ali’s [a.s.] behaviour in this respect was very graceful and a sign of his dedication to the Islamic objectives. While others divided, he united; while others tore apart, he patched up.