My Humble Effort In The Path Of Islamic Unity
In 1959, I attempted to begin a campaign in this direction. I visited Egypt and met the late President Jamal Abdul Nassar. I discussed with him and separately with the late Shaykh Al-Azhar, Shaykh Mahmud Shaltut (on the first day of July), the matter of reconciliation between the Sunnite and the Shi'ite schools. I spoke to each of the two leaders about the necessity of solving this problem and about the way through which it can be solved.
This problem, I said, had started during the Umayyad era and continued through the Abbasid and the Turkish era. We still suffer a great deal through this problem, which continues to separate Muslims and spread suspicion among them and make them reciprocate false accusations.
The Shi'ite Imami Ja'fari (the followers of the Imam Ja'far Al-Sadiq) are not seeking a privilege or superiority. They want the Muslim world to know that the teachings of Imam Ja'far Al-Sadiq and the rest of the members of the House of the Holy Prophet are not less valuable and sound than the teachings of the four imams. The teachings which the Shi'ite Imami Ja'fari follow deserve and command the respect of all Muslims. Those who follow these teachings are sound Muslims and true believers like the followers of the four schools. I said that a declaration by Shaykh Al-Azhar in this direction will be a sound step in the way of Islamic unity. Shaykh Al-Azhar asked me: "Would it not be sufficient for solving this problem to teach the Ja'fari Madhhab (school of thought) at Al-Azhar?" I replied in the negative and mentioned to him two reasons:
1. Teaching of the Ja'fari Madhhab does not indicate that Al-Azhar and its shaykh believe in the soundness of such a Madhhab. Al-Azhar can decide to teach the Marxist theory. This would not indicate that you believe in the soundness of that theory.
2. Teaching of the Ja'fari Madhhab at Al-Azhar may make a few hundred students of Al-Azhar aware of this Madhhab. This is not our goal. Our goal is to inform millions of Muslims of the soundness of the teachings of the members of the House of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. This would not be accomplished except by issuing a verdict of equality between the Ja'fari Madhhab and the four Madhhabs. Such a declaration should be published and announced through all Islamic media. This may inform millions of Muslims at once about this truth which has been ignored for hundreds of years.
The grand Shaykh responded to this suggestion immediately. On the following day his son-in-law and secretary, Mr. Ahmad Nassar, visited me and brought the good tidings; the Grand Shaykh had responded to my suggestion and issued a verdict about the subject. I went with him to the Grand Shaykh, thanking him for his historical achievement. The Shaykh read to me the text of the verdict before publishing it.
On the seventh of July, 1959, the Middle East radio station and the Egyptian and the Lebanese press published the text of the verdict of the Grand Shaykh.
Shaykh Al-Azhar issued his verdict in a form of an answer to a question that was directed to him as follows:
"Some people view that in order to have religiously sound devotions and transactions, it is imperative to follow one of the four known Islamic schools: Hanafi, Shafi'i, Hanbali, or Maliki. This excludes the two Shi'ite schools: Imami (Ja'fari) and Zaydi. Shaykh Shaltut in answering this question stated the following:"
"It is permissible for a "non-mujtahid" (the one who is not qualified to give his own opinion in Islamic law) to follow the opinion of the "the 'Ulama" (the Muslim scholars), whose knowledge and piety are known, provided such an opinion reaches its followers in a correct and nearly certain way, directly or indirectly.
"We should not be concerned with a view expressed in some books which claims that the four schools are the only ones to follow, and that it is not permissible for a Muslim to move from one school to another.
"The word Shi'a (Shi'ite) by which the followers of Ali (son of Abu Talib) are known, is derived from the word "mushayya'ah" which means to follow . . . There are groups related to Ali, and they are the well guided ones. Of these Shi'a is the group which is known by the name of Ja'fari or Imami Ithna-Ashari. This well known school follows principles that are taken from the Book of God and the teachings of His Messenger which reached them through their Imams in both fundamental belief and Islamic law.
"The difference between the Ja'fari and Sunni schools is not greater than the difference among the Sunni schools themselves. They (the Ja'faris) believe in the fundamental principles of Islam as they are stated in the Glorious Qur'an and the teachings of the Prophet. They also believe in all the rules whose inclusion in the religion of Islam is self-evident and whose recognition is required for being a Muslim and the denial of which excludes the person from Islam. The Madhhab of these Ja'fari Shi'ites in the Islamic laws is completely recorded and well-known. It has its own books, conveyers (who reported the statements of the Prophet and the Imams), and the supporting evidence of what they convey. The authors of these books and those from whom these authors had received the (hadiths) are well-known, and their scholarly and jurisprudential ranks are respected among Muslim scholars.''
From this explanation, it becomes evident that:
1. Islam does not command any of its followers to follow a particular Islamic school. On the contrary, it establishes for every Muslim the right to follow, at the beginning, any one of the correctly conveyed Madhhabs, whose verdicts are recorded in their respective books. It is permissible also for anyone that follows one of these schools to shift to another, any other school, and he is not sinning by doing that.
2. The Ja'fari school which is known as the Madhhab of the Ithna-Ashari, Imami Shi'a is a sound school. It is permissible to worship God according to its teachings like the rest of the Sunni schools.
3. Muslims ought to know this and get rid of their undue bigotry to particular schools. The religion of God and His law do not follow, nor are they bound to, a particular school. All the founders of these schools are Mujtahids (qualified to give verdict) reward-deserving from God, and acceptable to Him. It is permissible for the non-mujtahid to follow them and to accord with their teachings, whether in devotion or transactions.
This recognition should have taken place during the second century after the Hijra when the four Islamic schools were at the state of formation. The School of Imam Ja'far is the School of the House of the Prophet Muhammad who declared it to be inseparable from the Qur'an, and that the adherence to the Qur'anic teaching and their teaching represents security against straying. This is the School of Imam Ali who was declared by the Prophet to be the gate of the city of knowledge.
The fact is that the Umayyad and Abbasid policies viewed that recognizing the School of the House of the Prophet is dangerous to them.
However, the Declaration of Shaykh Al-Azhar is a positive step and in the right direction. It is true that it came very late but it is an indication that some of the contemporary Islamic scholars have a new and sound way of thinking. Should this step be followed by other positive steps, the Muslim World may regain its brotherhood and unity.
Adapted from the book: "The Shi'ites Under Attack" by: "Imam Muhammad Jawad Chirri"
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