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The Limits of Muslim Unity

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    The Limits of Muslim Unity

    All praise is due to Allah, glorified and exalted, and the may the blessings and peace be upon His noble servant and Messenger Muhammed, the chief and seal of the Prophets, upon his pure family, his noble and righteous companions, and upon his devout followers.
    Allah says in the Qur'an:
    "O you who believe! When you go abroad in the cause of Allah, investigate carefully, and say not to any one who offers you a salutation: "You are not a believer!" Coveting the perishable goods of this life: with Allah are profits and spoils abundant. Even thus were you yourselves before, till Allah conferred on you His favours: Therefore carefully investigate. For Allah is well aware of all that you do." (Surat An-Nisa,4:94)
    Despite this ayat (verse, clear sign) from Allah, it has become a common practice of the Muslim Ummah to pronounce disbelief (kufr) on others who call themselves Muslims. This type of behavior is justified by stating that such individuals or groups who have been labeled kuffar (disbelievers) have committed shirk (associating partners with Allah) or some other reprehensible act that, in their minds, takes someone outside the fold of Islam. Allah also says in the Qur'an:
    "As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, you have no part in them in the least: their affair is with Allah: He will in the end tell them the truth of all that they did." (Surat Al-Anaam, 6:159)
    When asked about ayats such as this, the people described above answer that Muslim unity does not include those groups that have gone astray (leaving the fold of Islam) or practice bid'a (innovations in religion). Thus, their way of thinking is justified through this logic, and they remain disunited from Muslims who differ in their thinking. On the other side of the spectrum are people who believe Muslims should unconditionally unite. All differences should be set aside for the greater good of Islam. So long as we say "la ilaha il-Allah, Muhammadur-Rasulullah" we should not dispute over any "minor" issues. They maintain that, once we are united, the smaller issues will work themselves out eventually. The majority of Muslims fall somewhere in between these two extremes. They generally are confused as to which direction the Ummah should go. Should we all be exactly on the same path with the same line of thinking before we even consider uniting, or should we unite now without any conditions and work out our differences as a united body? In order to come to conclusions, a few aspects of this dilemma must be expounded. First, those who oppose unity with other groups do so on the basis that their particular group (whatever it may be) is the only one on the right path (sunnah). Only those who follow the Qur'an and Sunnah of the Prophet (saaws) shall be granted Jannah. Thus, all other groups should be avoided, especially the most extreme groups who have left the fold of Islam in their ignorance. In their view, the other groups are the "sects" who have broken away from them (the main body of Muslims). Those who wish to unite unconditionally follow the line of thinking that having a khalifah solves a lot of these disagreements. Even the disagreements that are not solved do not prevent Muslims from uniting. After all, the debates and disagreements that are being carried on today existed during the caliphate of Abu Bakr, Umar, etc., throughout the Umayad dynasty, the Abbassid dynasty, and the Ottoman Empire. In fact every Muslim state (khilafah), whether it be the Fatimids, Sasanids, or Uthmaniyya have always had to deal with such disagreements and disputes. Despite this, the Ummah remained united under one khalifa for the most part. Over the centuries political and ideological debates always existed. The Uthmani differed with the Shi'a over the issues of caliphate. Then the mutizilites differed with the uthmani. Later on the ahlul-hadith differed with the ahl-ra'y. Such debates continued and the differences were always there. At some point, the door of ijtihad was closed and four schools of thought were designated. Nevertheless, the other schools of thinking survived and differences continued to exist. The Ummah, however, remained under the rule of the Islamic state. Differences existed, but accusations of kufr and bid'a passed under the bridge with little confrontation. What is clear is that the Ummah must unite. What is not clear is how we should go about this process. Is unity equal to uniformity or is Islam truly a patch quilt of ideologies and schools of thought? Time will tell, insha'Allah. We will not survive with extremism. Clinging to our own ideologies without considering the viewpoints of others will ultimately lead to our failure as an Ummah. Most of the groups who argue against other groups are like the proverbial "pot calling the kettle black." Each group has valid arguments against the other. Hurling accusations and fighting one another will clearly get us nowhere. This was never the way the Prophet (saaws) approached issues, and it was not the practices of his successors, companions, or successors to his companions. The door of dialogue must be opened. The table must be wiped clean, and we must come to some type of agreement before it is too late.