It was actually never until a year or two ago that I had ever heard of mosques being blown up by different sects.
Recently I had a discussion with a group of Muslim friends about topical issues. The conversation quickly took a turn to the sectarian violence in Iraq upon which one brother blurted out: “it’s all the madhabs and sects, they are tearing the ummah apart, we need to go back to the Quran and Sunnah”. It was both what he said and how said it that got to me; that matter-of-fact tone that a return to the Quran and Sunnah would be the answer to all our problems. A dismantling of the sects and madhabs would solve it all. He was right about one thing however: it is tearing apart the ummah; just not in the way he thinks it is.
A madhab translates to a school of thought but a better way of putting it is: to take a specific way, a certain path. The four madhabs in Islam are designed after their imams who are Abu Hanifeh, Malik, Shafi’i and Ahmad. The four mujtahid imams sought to interpret and analyze aspects of the Quran and Sunnah to form the ideal path a Muslim should follow. They created jurisprudence or what is known as fiqh. They sought to understand the Quran and Sunnah better and perfect it as a way of life for all Muslims, not to cause disunity amongst them.
And therein lies the fault: unity or lack thereof. Many Muslims today are under the impression that disagreements necessitate disunity. If I do not agree with you and you do not agree with me then the best solution is for each of us to go our own way, or worse, call each other a Kaffir (a non-believer) and seek the otherÃ¢??s destruction; something which has come to form the latest takfiri culture that the likes of Bin Laden have adopted. Disagreements are good, arguments are good but only if they lead to statesmanship and never disunity; otherwise it’s just theater. We forget that despite their disagreements these imams respected each other immensely. It was never about who was right and who was wrong; following a madhab is not an article of faith. The imams did not invent something totally new in Islam; they merely expanded on what was already there in the Quran and the Sunnah. More importantly they never disagreed on the foundations; the fard, the mandatory.
I use the madhab here only because it exemplifies what it means to disagree on the smallest things although be it strictly within the Sunni sect. The relationship of the Shia and Sunni sects are a bit more complicated but nevertheless rest in the same category. Even these four imams, who together disagreed greatly with the Shia’, never called them disbelievers or deserving of death.
The focus has shifted away from the fard, the obligation, the rule and law of God and has instead laid siege on the Sunnah, the ways of the Prophet pbuh.
Unity is fard! Have people forgotten this? Unity is an obligation upon Muslims. It is one of the most essential fundamentals of the Islamic faith. How can a Shia kill a Sunni or a Sunni kill a Shia in the name of anything other than disunity? It eludes me how they can justify any of it when it is one of the main things Islam sought to overcome. When the very companions of the Prophet pbuh disagreed with each other and came to him for his consensus he would say they were both right. The point being that many if not all their disagreements were based on the smaller things and those are the things that should not get in the way of the larger good. The Prophet pbuh frowned on extremism and warned against it, reminding Muslims whenever disagreements arose not to dwell on the details of worship but to get busy worshipping instead.
What’s more is that all these groups agree on the essentials agree on the fard. They agree on the pillars. They all fast and they all pray. And unity is a fard in Islam. So why ignore it and go to war on these other things that just don’t add up. This isn’t a lets hug each other type thing, this is an obligation; it is GodÃ¢??s law. How can they claim to be fighting in the name of something whose laws they choose to ignore?
When I went to Umrah in 1999, the sort of half-pilgrimage to Mecca, I noticed something I had perhaps forgotten cocooned as most Muslims are in their specific communities. Here at the center of the Islamic world were millions of people with different skin color, languages, ethnicities, madhabs and yes, sects. Yet everyone prayed beside each other like they couldn’t agree more. They read the Quran like nothing could come between them. They broke fast sitting next to one another. Perhaps the cities of Mecca and Medinah have this effect on people but what makes things so different outside the walls of these two cities?
Moreover, to suggest a return to the Quran and Sunnah and an abandonment of nearly everything that emerged since then is to suggest erasing centuries worth of scholarship by the most important individuals in Islamic history. You cannot destroy a humanÃ¢??s being capacity for disagreement, it is essential and itÃ¢??s even comforting.
The key is not to return to a time and place where we can erase all sense of disagreement with each other, the key is to be able to unite and embrace the other despite these disagreements, and in a time and place where sects have gone so far as to bomb each otherÃ¢??s mosques during Friday prayers, I think itÃ¢??s time we remember that.