Posted 30 December 2007 - 11:07 PM
Intelligent Discussion Without Provocation
One fundamental principle of holding Muslim-Muslim dialogue and bridging the gap between sects is to avoid blatant provocations between parties. In order to establish constructive dialogue and argue gently, each party, when addressing the other, should avoid provocative words that might aggravate the other and implant hatred and enmity. Instead, each party must choose words that might bring about harmony not divergence; love, not hatred; and unity, not dissension.
Thus nicknames that either party does not like should be avoided. For example, Shiites should not be labeled as "Ar-Rafidah," nor Sunnis as "An-Nasibah." Rather, each sect should address the other with the name it likes, in accordance with Allah's saying [neither defame one another, nor insult one another by nicknames] (Al-Hujurat 49:11). Islamic morality states that Muslims should address their fellow Muslims by the names they most love. Arabs used to call others by their kunyah (the title of "Abu [father of] so-and-so" or "Umm [mother of] so and so") as a form of politeness and respect.
It is also helpful for each party to avoid sensitive issues such as, for example, Sunnis abusing members of the family of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) or Shiites abusing his Companions. True, it is very rare, if not impossible, to find a Sunni offering the slightest insult to any member of the Prophet's family. On the contrary, Sunnis bear great love and respect for each member of the Prophet's family. In the sight of Sunnis, the Prophet's family has respect and dignity that make it beloved not only to Sunnis, but to everyone. Then how could a Sunni not like `Ali, the Commander of the Faithful? How could a Sunni not like Fatimah, the Prophet's most beloved daughter? And how could a Sunni not like Al-Hasan and Al-Hussayn, the grandsons of the Prophet and masters of youth in Paradise?
The trouble remains with Shiites who go on insulting the Prophet's Companions, especially those great ones with whom Allah's Messenger was pleased until he died, such as the Rightly Guided Caliphs Abu Bakr, `Umar, and `Uthman; and the 10 to whom Allah promised Paradise, such as Talhah and Az-Zubayr. All those mentioned are among the early Muslims who had the virtue of believing in the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) when others disbelieved him. This is why Allah praises them highly in His Book.
Other Companions insulted by Shiites are `A'ishah, whose innocence is proved by Allah Himself in the Qur'an, and others who had the virtue of living with Allah's Messenger even though they do not hold the same rank as those mentioned earlier. Allah Almighty states, [Those who spent and fought before the Conquest (of Makkah) are not upon a level (with the rest of you). Such are greater in rank than those who spent and fought afterwards. Unto each has Allah promised good. And Allah is Informed of what ye do](Al-Hadid 57:10).
This insult of the Companions is actually the most sensitive point between us and our Shiite brothers and sisters. How can we agree and have a mutual understanding when we say "Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him" and they say "Abu Bakr, may Allah curse him"? Indeed, there is a world of difference between invoking Allah's pleasure upon someone and cursing him or her!
On my part, I talked to some wise Shiite scholars and told them that this issue was the first obstacle in bridging the gap between us. I further stated that it was a must for intellectuals among them to remove this barrier or at least to limit its effects. If this matter is left to the whims of the masses, it can completely destroy this Ummah, and thus wise and knowledgeable people will miss all chance for unity.
I must here testify that some wise scholars, such as Ayatollah Muhammad `Ali At-Taskhiri, Ayatollah Wa`iz Zadah, and others, have completely approved of my opinion. They have also stressed that a tendency to avoid insulting the Prophet's family and Companions is gradually spreading among Shiites. Thus the new school curricula in Iran have begun to include books that praise Abu Bakr and `Umar by highlighting some of their remarkable historical stances.
Additionally, I told these scholars that governmental education institutions had to adopt this matter. Also parents should pay special attention to t his principle when raising their children, for Shiite folklore often contains false tales and exaggerated ideas that cannot withstand academic criticism. Yet the masses hold these tales and ideas as facts and beliefs that control their behaviors.
In fact, this serious issue of cursing the Prophet's Companions needs to be considered honestly and frankly, so as to explain it or at least to take a positive, wise attitude to it. Below are a few points that I would like to show my Shiite brothers and sisters. By doing so, I intend only to unify this Muslim Ummah, serve this religion, and thus attain Allah's pleasure.
First, all the differences and the dissensions that the Prophet's Companions had are just history now, even though such differences are exaggerated by those who hold grudges against Islam. Allah is the only One Who will hold the Prophet's Companions to account and reward them according to their intentions and deeds. So it is more appropriate for us to leave the whole matter with Allah, instead of judging them or their deeds. Allah, Exalted be He, states: [Those are people who have passed away. They shall receive the reward of what they earned, and you of what you earn. And you will not be asked of what they used to do] (Al-Baqarah 2:134).
This is why the Caliph `Umar ibn `Abdul-`Aziz, often called the fifth rightly guided caliph, used to say the following when asked about the dissensions:
This is blood that Allah kept us from being involved in by our hands, so we do not have to be engaged in them by our tongues.
One rule of religious tolerance between those of different beliefs is that Allah â€” not we â€” is the only One entitled to hold to account disbelievers and those who stray from His path. And the next life, not this one, will be the time of Judgment, as Allah states: [Lo! Those who believe (this Revelation), and those who are Jews, and the Sabaeans and the Christians and the Magi and the idolaters, Allah will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection. Lo! Allah is Witness over all things](Al-Hajj 21:17). If this is the case with those of different beliefs, then how should it be with those of the same belief who hold different views?
It is more appropriate for us to say that those Companions who disagreed will be judged according to their intentions.
Even if we assume that those Companions were wrong, yet their companionship of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and their struggle with him are enough to intercede for them with Allah on the Day of Judgment. Take for example the story of Hatib ibn Abi Balta`ah, one of the Prophet's Companions who witnessed the Battle of Badr. Shortly before the conquest of Makkah, he was found spying on the Muslims for the Quraish. `Umar considered this an act of hypocrisy and asked the Prophet's permission to kill Hatib. However, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to `Umar, "Do not do that, `Umar! Do you know, Allah may have looked at all those fighting in Badr and said to them, 'Do whatever you like, for I have forgiven you.'"
In his tafseer of the Qur'an entitled Al-Jami` li Ahkam Al-Qur'an, Imam Al-Qurtubi wrote:
It is not permissible to ascribe fault to any of the Prophet's Companions, as they sought only Allah's pleasure through all their deeds. All of the Prophet's Companions are our leaders. It is an act of worship to refrain from judging them and to tell about them only that which is praiseworthy. In doing so, we consider the following:
They were the Prophet's Companions; the Prophet prohibited abusing them; and Allah forgave their sins and said He was pleased with them. In addition, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was quoted as stating, "Talhah is a martyr walking on earth." If Talhah's engaging in the war was seen as disobedience to Allah, then he would not have been judged as a martyr. The conclusion would also be the same if his engagement was seen as a wrong deed or negligence of his duties to Islam. That is because martyrdom means being killed in Allah's cause. So the differences between the Prophet's Companions should be understood in the way we have shown.
It is well-known that `Ali said thAli was at the murderer of Safiyyah's son (Az-Zubayr ) would be in Hellfire. `also frequently reported to have heard the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) say "Give the murderer of Ibn Safiyyah the bad tidings that he will reside in Hellfire." Accordingly, Talhah and Az-Zubayr are not disobedient or sinful; otherwise, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) would not have told that Talhah is a martyr and that the murderer of Az-Zubayr would be admitted to Hellfire.
Similarly, no fault can be found with the Companions who refused to engage in this war and chose to remain neutral. Rather, they behaved according to what Allah showed them as true. There is no excuse for cursing them, accusing them of disobedience, or ignoring their virtue and struggle in Allah's cause, whatever course of action they took. May Allah be pleased with them all.
When one scholar was asked about the bloodshed caused by the Prophet's Companions' dissensions, he quoted Allah's saying [Those are people who have passed away. They shall receive the reward of what they earned, and you of what you earn. And you will not be asked of what they used to do] (Al-Baqarah 2:134). Another scholar answered the same question saying, "This is blood that Allah kept us from being involved in by our hands, so we do not have to be engaged in it by our tongues," meaning to beware of sinning by misjudging them.
Al-Qurtubi quoted Ibn Furak as saying:
Some of our fellows [in the Shafi`i School] said, "The dissensions and disputes that took place between the Prophet's Companions are the same as what the brothers of Yusuf [Joseph] had with Prophet Yusuf. That is to say, as the conflict of Yusuf's brothers does not take them out of prophethood (with regard to Joseph) and devotion to Allah (with regard to his brother), so too the conflicts between Prophet's Companions."
Al-Qurtubi added quoting Al-Muhasibi:
As far as bloodshed caused by dissensions of the Companions is concerned, it is difficult to judge it because of the different opinions the Prophet's Companions showed. When Al-Hasan Al-Basri was asked about the fighting of the Prophet's Companions, he said, "The Prophet's Companions witnessed this fighting when we were not there; they had knowledge while we do not; when they agree, we are to follow; and when they differ, we are to stop." So we should say as Al-Hasan said. We admit that the Prophet's Companions were more knowledgeable about that matter than we are. So we are to follow what they have agreed upon and stop at what they differed over. It is not our right to innovate an opinion about the matter. We admit also that each Companion took the opinion that he thought would attain Allah's pleasure, as they all were of sound religion. And we ask Allah to grant us success.
Also, it is more appropriate for us to be preoccupied with the present rather than the past. Indeed, our present is full of difficulties that hinder the efforts of reformers and that need work and effort.
Once I witnessed a man arguing with our great Sheikh Muhammad Al-Ghazali about the disputes between the Companions by raising an insignificant question of who was more entitled to the caliphate, Abu Bakr or `Ali? To this Al-Ghazali replied:
Abu Bakr and `Ali passed away, and so did the caliphate, the rightly guided caliphs, and the Umayyad, `Abbasid, and Ottoman caliphates. The Islamic caliphate no longer exists in Muslim countries. What is more, we have become controlled by foreign countries. So how long will we continue to make these meaningless comparisons?
Second, according to Islam, it is shameful to curse people. One trait of the Muslim character is not to curse or swear. The Qur'an even forbade Muslims to curse idols worshiped by polytheists lest this act should lead the polytheists to curse Allah in defense of their idols. This is shown in Allah's statement [Revile not those unto whom they pray beside Allah lest they wrongfully revile Allah out of ignorance](Al-An`am 6:108).
In addition, the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) has many hadiths that forbid cursing others. In the book entitled Sahih Al-Jami` As-Saghir, we can find a few hadiths that forbid cursing, specifically hadiths 7309 through 7322. Following are some of them:
Do not curse my Companions. By the One in Whose hand my soul rests, even if one of you comes to spend (in charity) gold as great as Mount Uhud, he will not attain a little part of the rank of any of them, or even less than that.
Do not curse the dead because they have attained that which they had forwarded (i.e., their deeds, good or bad).
Do not curse time, as Allah is the (One Who manages) time.
Do not swear at ####s, as they help awake for prayer.
Do not curse wind, as it is a blessing from Allah.
Do not curse fever, as it wipes out the son of Adam's sins.
The most wonderful of such hadiths is "Do not curse Satan. Instead, seek refuge with Allah from His evil." Even the accursed Satan we are ordered not to curse. Rather, we should seek refuge with Allah from his evil. That is because cursing Satan is a passive action while seeking refuge from his evil is a positive one.
There is a saying in the West "Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle." Cursing the darkness cannot change the reality; it is better to take an action that might bring you light even if this action is so small as to light a candle.
Further, it is not a sin to avoid cursing, nor is it a religious duty to curse evil people and disbelievers such that Muslims are legally blamed if they do not do so. One scholar explains this:
If a person comes to lead a long life and then never curses Pharaoh, Abu Jahl, or Satan throughout his life, Allah will not hold him to account for his avoidance of cursing such people. However, if he curses a person who does not deserve to be cursed, indeed Allah will ask him on the Day of Judgment why he cursed him.
Thus, Imam Al-Ghazali said
Cursing is not a trait of the believing character. So it is not permissible to invoke curses on anyone except the one who dies while disbelieving in Allah. Another exception is to invoke general curses on certain categories without giving specific names of persons. It is even better to be preoccupied with supplicating Allah; otherwise, be silent, as the silent mouth is melodious.
Makki ibn Ibrahim stated
One day, we were sitting with Ibn `Awn. Then attendants mentioned Bilal ibn Abi Burdah (the governor) and went on invoking curses upon him. Ibn `Awn was the only one who kept silent. At this they wondered at his silence and said, "Ibn `Awn, we curse him only for the wrongdoing he has done to you." Ibn `Awn replied, "On the Day of Judgment, two words are to come out of my record of deeds, namely 'there is no deity but Allah' and 'may Allah curse so and so.' On my part, it is more beloved to me to have 'there is no deity but Allah' in my record than to have 'may Allah curse so and so.'"
And Ibn `Umar said
The most hateful person in Allah's sight is he who is used to slandering others and invoking curses on them.
After all, it is not appropriate for a Muslim to invoke curses on the Prophet's Companions, especially because of their relation with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). It is they who had the virtue of accompanying Allah's Messenger. They were the closest people to him and the ones who most adhered to his Sunnah. They were the ones who had the honor of receiving his teachings and witnessing the revelation of the Qur'an and the early history of Islam. Thus, it is no wonder that they were the most knowledgeable of the Prophet's message. In fact, those who curse the student closest to the teacher are held as if they curse the teacher.
This is why the Tabi`un (the Companions' righteous successors) come immediately after the Prophet's Companions in virtue. That is because the Successors studied under and received knowledge from them. After the generation of the Successors passed away, the light of prophethood faded. And the farther we go from the Prophet's age, the fainter the light of prophethood will become.
Moreover, the Qur'an includes many surahs that praise the Prophet's Companions highly, such as At-Tawbah, Al-Anfal, Al-Fath, Al-Hadid, and Al-Hashr. In another surah, Allah praises those who will follow the Prophet's Companions in righteousness:
[And the first to lead the way, of the Muhajirun and the Ansar, and those who followed them in righteousness â€” Allah is well pleased with them and they are well-pleased with Him and He has prepared for them Gardens underneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever. That is the supreme success] (At-Tawbah 9:100).
In addition, the Sunnah contains so many authentic hadiths that reach the degree of tawatur (a hadith narrated by more than one credible source simultaneousely), in which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) praises his Companions generally and specifically. Apart from the Qur'an and Sunnah, history testifies to the virtue of the Prophet's Companions. They kept the Qur'an from distortion and change, and transmitted it to us. They also transmitted to us what Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) stated, acted, and approved. At their hands, the Muslim state expanded and Islam spread far and wide. If it were not for them, we might not be Muslims. It is they who taught Islam to other nations after they had learned it from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
Advice to the Two Parties
I would like to advise Sunnis and Shiites to spread statements that will bring them together rather than make them diverge, and that will implant love rather than grudge and hatred. Indeed, grudge and hatred are tools that destroy religion.
Take, for example, what the Indian scholar Sheikh Rahmatullah cited in his valuable book Izhar Al-Haqq (Declaring the Truth), in which he refuted the claims of Christianizers:
I am going to narrate five statements from members of the family of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him):
1. In the well-known book Nahj Al-Balaghah (The Path of Eloquence) â€” a reliable book for Shiites ascribed to Imam `Ali â€” `Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) says, "How honorable is so and so! He (1) amended what is broken; (2) governed justly; (3) established the Sunnah; (4) ended innovation in religion; (5) passed away with a pure character (6) with so few errors; (7) attained what is good in this life; (8) avoided what which is evil; (9) was obedient to Allah; and (10) feared Allah as He should be feared. After his death, people went astray in different ways so that the one going astray cannot be guided nor can the guided one have certitude."
According to the majority of interpreters, including Al-Bahrani, Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) is the one referred to with "so and so" above, and he is the one intended by these characteristics. According to others, `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) is the one referred to. `Ali mentions here ten characteristics of Abu Bakr or `Umar, which proves that both figures actually possessed them. `Ali proved these characteristics for Abu Bakr or `Umar after their death. So there is no doubt about the legitimacy of the caliphate of either.
2. In his book Kashf Al-Ghummah (Revealing Distress), `Ali ibn `Isa Al-Ardabili Al-Ithna `Ashri, who is one of the most reliable characters of the Imamiyyah sect, says, "Once, Imam Ja`far (peace and blessings be upon him) was asked about the legal ruling with regard to ornamenting one's sword. Imam Ja`far replied, 'It is permissible to have it, as Abu Bakr As-Siddiq [As-Siddiq means the very truthful person], used to do so. Hereupon, the questioner wondered, 'Are you saying the very truthful!' No sooner had Ja`far heard the wondering of the man than he leapt up from his place and said, 'Yes, he is As-Siddiq (repeating that thrice). And whoever says otherwise, Allah will not accept his saying neither in this life nor in the Hereafter.'"
Imam Ja`far's statement proves that Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) is actually the very truthful one, and whoever denies this fact is held as a liar in this life and the Hereafter.
3. According to the interpreters of Nahj Al-Balaghah, `Ali was reported to have written about Abu Bakr and `Umar (may Allah be pleased with them), "Indeed, they are of a great standing in Islam and their death was a great calamity. May Allah have mercy on them and reward them according to the best of their deeds."
4. The author of Al-Fusul, who is a great scholar of the Imamiyyah, narrated in his book that one day Imam Muhammad Al-Baqir saw a group of people speaking in an improper way about Abu Bakr, `Umar, and `Uthman. At that, Imam Al-Baqir said to them, "Tell me, are you from among those immigrants who were expelled from their homes and deprived of their property and who left all their belongings seeking Allah's pleasure and favor, and supporting Him and His Messenger?" The people replied in the negative. Then Imam Al-Baqir asked them, "Are you from among those who were in Madinah and embraced Islam before those immigrants and loved whoever immigrated to their land?" The people replied again in the negative. Imam Al-Baqir said, "As far as you are concerned, you do not belong to either of the parties mentioned, and I witness that you do not belong to the third party about whom Allah states [And those who came (into the faith) after them say: Our Lord forgive us and our brethren who were before us in the faith, and place not in our hearts any rancor toward those who believe. Our Lord! Thou art full of Kindness, Most Merciful] (Al-Hashr 59:10).
Accordingly, whoever speaks improperly about Abu Bakr, `Umar, or `Uthman (may Allah be pleased with them all) does not belong to any of the three parties whom Allah praised in His Book, as stated by Imam Al-Baqir (may Allah be pleased with him).
5. Imam Al-Hasan Al-`Askari (may Allah be pleased with him) said in the tafseer of the Qur'an attributed to him, "Allah revealed to Adam that He would confer on those who loved Muhammad, his family, and his Companions so great a mercy that if it is distributed among all creations from Adam to the end of this world including disbelievers, then it would be enough to lead all of those to faith by which they would deserve Paradise. Put differently, whoever hates Muhammad's family or any of his Companions, Allah will give him a punishment so great that if it is distributed among all creations of Allah, it will be enough to annihilate them all."
By these words, Al-`Askari shows that love is to be equally paid to both Muhammad's family and his Companions, not just to one group. He adds that hating even one of Muhammad's family or Companions is enough to lead one to total destruction. We ask Allah to keep us from thinking of the Prophet's family or Companions in an ill way and to make us hold them in great love and respect until death. It is because there are many Qur'anic verses and authentic hadiths in this regard that the sincere scholars have agreed that it is obligatory to hold the Prophet's Companions in high esteem and respect.
Be Frank but Wisely
Another fundamental principle of Muslim-Muslim dialogue is to have a frank exchange of views about existing problems, unsettled issues, and real hinders, and to overcome them wisely through the cooperation that Allah orders Muslims to have with each other.
It is not wiser to conceal something, to be silent about a controversial issue, or to defer making a decision about it. Similarly, it will not provide a solution or even bring differing parties together if we remain fearful of bringing these issues to the table.
So, when I visited some Shiite brothers in Iran, I said to them
It is paramountly important to consider the issues of stabilization and priority when dealing with each other. Some may think of propagating Shiite thought in purely Sunni countries, such as Egypt and Sudan. In my opinion, the harm of such an action would exceed its benefit, as it may lead to more dissensions in a community that used to be Sunni and give rise to hatred and enmity against Shiites. Second, the gain of Shiites will be only a few new followers, whom the Shiites do not need. Then which is heavier in the balance of public interest: moving an entire community against the Shiite school or gaining a few more followers?
I remember that once I discussed this issue in the presence of Sheikh At-Taskhiri, who said to me
By Allah, you are right. To prove this, here is a real experience we underwent before: We had such good relationships with the Revolution in Sudan that we opened a regional office there. What happened was that the head of our office came to distribute some hundreds of copies of a book entitled Thumma Ihtadayt (Then I Was Guided). This book was written by a Sunni who converted to Shiism. The result was that our brothers in Khartoum had to close the office and its head was expelled.
I am saying that Shiites should avoid propagating the Shiite school in entirely Sunni countries. Similarly, Sunnis should not propagate the Sunni thought in entirely Shiite countries. This way, good relations between the two parties will be kept, and thus there will be no room for dissension.
Once, I spoke frankly with brothers in Iran about the importance of considering the rights of the Sunni minority that lives with the Shiite majority and vice versa. I said to them
Because Egypt has a Coptic minority, each government should include at least two or three Coptic ministers.
However, Iran has a great minority of Sunnis, including Arabs, Kurds, and Balusch However, this minority is not represented at all in the government, and it is even governed by Shiite governors. I was told that this minority is represented in the Shura Council. I replied, "It is represented by a small percentage. Moreover, the Shura Council is different from the Cabinet."
I also said to them, "Sunnis in Iran are about two million or more. For years, they have sought to get the permission of authorities to establish a Masjid for them where they could gather for the Jumu`ah Prayer along with Arab and Muslim ambassadors. Unfortunately, the authorities did not respond to their request."
Upon this, a sheikh said to me, "Why don't Sunnis pray with Shiites in their Masjids?" I replied, "According to Shiites, the Jumu`ah Prayer is not obligatory since the (Twelfth) Imam is absent, which is not the case with Sunnis. So, the Jumu`ah prayer is established in only one Masjid, namely the Masjid of the university in Tehran."
This is not to mention that each sect has the right to pray in the Masjid that meets its needs, and no sect has the right to impose its beliefs and thoughts on another.
In Egypt, for example, Al-Jam`iyyah Ash-Shar`iyyah is a religious association founded by Sheikh Mahmoud Khattab As-Subki. This association is noted for its Masjids that used to be established on a special model: Generally these Masjids have no minarets and their pulpits have only three steps. Additionally, prayers in these Masjids are longer than their likes in other Masjids. However, no Egyptians, be they scholars or others, have denied the right of this association to establish such Masjids and perform prayer in them in the way its members are pleased with.
The situation in Iraq â€” especially after the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the Baathist regime â€” requires the repair of the relation between Shiites and Sunnis through frank exchange of views and fair distribution of ministries between the two parties. Indeed, Sunnis in Iraq are complaining that their Shiite brothers want to inherit the whole estate leaving nothing but morsels for Sunnis. Shiites even took over Masjids in Sunni districts, such as Saddam Al-Kabir Masjid, which is established where there is not a single Shiite.
Shiites argue that Saddam was a Sunni and used to be partial to Sunnis. This argument is not true and Shiite intellectuals know this well. In fact, Saddam was neither Shiite nor Sunni. His relation to Islamists, including Shiites and Sunnis, civilians and soldiers, was a bloody one. Accordingly, it is unfair to consider Saddam a Sunni and thus punish all Sunnis for his wrongdoing. That is because Saddam used to oppress all Iraqi people including Arabs, Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis.