Islamic Unity Week: Unity from viewpoint of Sunni scholars
Over the years, many Ulema or religious scholars of the various Sunni schools have emphasized Muslim unity, calling for a united Islamic Ummah, and have warned about the consequences of division and disunity among Muslims. We shall examine their points of view and their warnings on the occasion of the birth anniversary celebrations of Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny), which provides a wonderful opportunity each year to bring Muslims of all denominations closer together, and to take practical steps towards realizing a single united Islamic Ummah. In fact, love of the Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny) is one of the greatest joint assets of the world’s almost two billion Muslims. As we said earlier, in 1979, the Founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Imam Khomeini, proposed the concept of Islamic Unity Week. His proposal was hailed and welcomed by Ulema of all Islamic denominations, and by the Muslim masses throughout the world. Thus, the Islamic Unity Week was designated, and the teachings of Prophet Mohammad and his Sunnah or behaviour and practice, became a solid basis for drawing Muslims of all denominations closer together.
Today, the enemies of Islam, just as in the past, are doing everything they can to divide Muslims – to set them apart or even to initiate conflicts within the Muslim world. The sinister and malicious intentions of non-Muslims is quite evident in all of this, and sadly, the ignorance of some Muslims is playing into the evil hands of the enemies of Islam. The fact that some Muslims are unaware of Islamic history, and do not have a correct understanding of Qur’anic principles and teachings, is fueling the fire of division and conflict within the Muslim world. Thus lack of information about Islamic history and Islamic teachings has led to the “unfriendly attitude” of some Muslim sects towards one another.
The converse of this statement is also equally true. A deep understanding of Islam and Qur’anic teachings, will inevitably lead to closer and friendly ties between Muslims of different denominations, and convergence, brotherhood and unity of the Islamic Ummah. This has been proven time and time again. Religious scholars of all Islamic denominations, with their vast knowledge of Islam, and a deep understanding of Islam, have acted as the “driving engine for Islamic unity”.
There is however, one important exception to this. The so-called Ulema of the Salafi or Wahhabi cult have always emphasized division and differences between Muslims. It must be said that Wahhabism is not a denomination of Islam. Many prominent Sunni religious scholarly have repeatedly affirmed that Wahhabism is artificial, it is bogus and fake, and has been created by the West, especially the British, to divide Muslims. It is not rooted in Islam at all!! Hence, Wahhabism must not be considered as an Islamic denomination or sect under any circumstances. Prominent Shiite and Sunni Ulema, have referred to the 103rd ayah of Surah Aal-e Imran in the Holy Qur’an to bring Muslims closer together, and to negate and counter what the Wahhabi seditionist are trying to do. The Lord Most High says:
“Hold tightly the Rope of Allah, altogether, and do not be divided.”
Many of the ills of the Muslim Ummah could be cured through the medicine of Islamic Unity and Brotherhood. In this regard the Shi’a Ulema of Iran and Iraq, along with the Sunni Ulema of Egypt’s al-Azhar, have taken some commendable steps to narrow the differences. They agreed to work hand-in-hand to bring Muslims closer together, and emphasized Muslim unity and brotherhood. Over half a century ago, the top scholars of the time arrived at a commonly-used definition of a Muslim: “A Muslim is the person who believes in monotheism or the indivisible unity of the One and Only Allah; who holds Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny) as the Seal of Divine Messengers after whom no other prophet will come; who considers the Holy Qur’an as the final heavenly scripture; who regards the Holy Ka’ba in Mecca as the “Qibla” or focal point of the daily ritual prayers; who have faith in the Day of Resurrection, and in all the compulsory duties and tasks that a Muslim has to perform”.
“Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltout”, the Dean of Cairo’s al-Azhar University and Seminary, was a great Sunni Muslim scholar in the 1950s and early 1960s. He was one of the founders of Dar at-Taqreeb al-Madhaheb al-Islamiyyah or Centre for Proximity among Islamic Schools of Jurisprudence. He had close and friendly relations with “Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Hussain Boroujerdi”, the prominent Iranian Shi’a religious scholar and source of emulation. In his famous “Fatwa” or religious edict in 1959, after decades of discussions and debates, heikh Shaltout ruled: “The Ja’fari School of jurisprudence, also known as Twelve-Imam Shi’ite Islam, is an Islamic denomination whose observance is in accordance with Islam and Islamic Sharia law. All Muslims should know this, and refrain from bigotry and bias against particular Islamic denominations and sects”.
Other famous quotes from Sheikh Shaltout include the following quote in relation to the main raison for establishment of the Centre of proximity among Islamic Denominations. He said: “When Egyptian, Iranian, Lebanese, Iraqi and Pakistani religious scholars, and representatives of the Sunni Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafe’i and Maleki Schools of Jurisprudence, and the Shi’a Imami and Zaidi Schools of jurisprudence, sit next to each other and discuss religious matters, they often issue joint statements which are scholarly and jurisprudential in nature. Kindness, brotherhood and cooperation are a very characteristic feature of all these gatherings. It is sad that narrow-minded and bigoted individuals exist, in all sects, who oppose such scholarly gatherings of Ulema of all Islamic denominations. They see their interests in division of Muslims, and they oppose unity of the Islamic Ummah.”
Ostad Sameeh Atef az-Zein is another prominent Sunni religious scholar who in his famous book: “Who are the Muslims?” (al-Muslemoun….Min Hom) has made the following interesting statement: “Division of Muslims into Shi’ites and Sunnis should be removed out as Muslims become better educated and informed about Islam. But sadly this division is still with us and has its roots in the hearts and minds of bigoted and sick individuals. The ruling class of Muslim countries, who are the enemies of Islam in many instances, support the division of Muslims.”
Zein has repeatedly emphasized that differences between Shi’ites and Sunnis are relatively minor, and both groups agree on all major issues relating to Islam and to the Holy Qur’an”.
Ostad Saber Ta’imah, another prominent Sunni religious scholar, has said: “There are no differences between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims on all fundamental and important Islamic principles and issues. Minor differences between Shi’as and Sunnis are similar to the minor differences we find between Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafeie and Maleki Schools of Sunni Jurisprudence. Both Shi’a and Sunni Islam are firmly rooted in the Holy Qur’an and the teachings and Sunnah of Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny).