THEOLOGICAL SHIFT Faisal Hashmi (FEb. 24, 2007)


FAISAL HASHMI discusses a subtle change in Islamic theological stance that has the potential to unite the Muslim world by minimising sectarian squabbles.

Slowly, but steadily, a silent theological shift is occurring in the Muslim world regarding fatwas , jihad, takfir  and the legitimacy of different Muslim sects and sub-sects. The realisation is dawning on the high-profile ulema and Islamic jurists that the Ummah  can’t be both divided and united simultaneously.

One of the major faultlines passing through the Islamic world is the hairsplitting on fiqh  details and the differences arising out of that endless hairsplitting. The result is that the Ummah is not one unit but an aggregation of mutually warring sects and sub-sects.

The theological strife within the world of Islam has always bothered Muslims in general and scholars, social workers, ulema and political activists in particular. There are any number of causes of internal dissension, but sectarian theological reasons still remain important. That is why many think that plugging this hole is more important than anything else.

The first step towards the theological unification was taken nearly 19 months ago by 170 eminent ulema and Muslim intellectuals from 40 countries at an international Islamic conference in Amman, the Jordanian capital. Ulema from both Sunni and Shia sects unanimously agreed to issue a "final statement" at the end of what they chose to call the "Amman Initiative".

Among the ulema gathered at the Hotel Meridien in Amman for the conference were: Sheikh Dr. Ali Jumaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt; Dr Ahmad at-Tayyib, president of Al-Azhar University; the Grand Muftis of Jordan, Oman and Istanbul. The ulema unanimously condemned the branding of Shi’a Muslims as apostate. Takfir  (the branding of a Muslim as kafir ) was unanimously rejected as un-Islamic. The conference, "True Islam and its Role in Society" was called by King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Such extremist practices were rejected through a fatwa duly signed by the ulema present at the conference as well as some of those who were not able to come to Amman. Those notables included Sheikh al-Azhar Imam Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi and the Grand Ayatollah Al Sayyid Ali al-Sistani. One of the more prominent victims of takfir  (a practice not found during the Prophet’s [PBUH] time as well as that of the four Rightly Guided caliphs) was President Anwar Sadat, of Egypt who was assassinated after being declared a kafir .

The conference declared that in Islam nobody has the authority to excommunicate someone who has made the declaration of faith and does not reject the five pillars of Islam. They also pledged to accept eight different schools of jurisprudence, recognising different Sunni, Shia and Ibadi sects as legitimate. Alongside Iraqi and Iranian mainstream Shi’a scholars ulema of smaller Shi’a sub-sects like Ismailites of Agha Khan sect as well as Bohra Ismailites and Zaydis of north Yemen signed the document.

This consensus (in Islamic legal terms, ijma ) among major ulema provides a sound ideological basis for unity of diverse Muslim sects. However, this is only the first step. Muslims worldwide have to work hard to forge unity on a political and social level as well. That means we have a lot of work ahead to realise this ever-elusive goal.g


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