By Professor Maqsood Jafri
I feel shocked when somebody asks me; what is your sect? I simply say; I am a Muslim. The fact of the matter is that when you say that you are a Muslim, the Muslims don’t believe you. They don’t understand what you say. The reason is that they are divided into sects. They boast and brag about their sectarianism. When general Zia-ul-Haq was the president of Pakistan, on his orders a form was distributed to all government servants. They were asked to fill out the form and mention their sect. I had criticized this government policy which further fanned sectarianism and extremism in Pakistan. Dr. Allama Iqbal throughout his life had been condemning sectarianism and crusading for unity. He had been preaching rationality, tolerance, moderation and modernity in the light of analogy and rational Inquiry.
There is a big difference between the approach of philosophers and priests. The differences between two philosophers are academic. These differences are not personal. Aristotle differed with Plato on many intellectual points. Bergson did not agree with Hegel on many issues. Similarly the rationalists, the idealists, the empiricists, the positive logicians, the intuitionists and the Marxists differ on many academic issues but they have never issued the edicts and decrees of infidelity and heresy against each other. They respected each other and learnt a lot from each other’s writings. Their method of approach is scientific and objective.
But, unfortunately the clerics are hardliners and extremists. On ideological and doctrinal differences the priests are always ready to tear each other into pieces. They issue decrees of killing of the people who do not agree with them. In the name of religion the believers of different cults and creeds had been mercilessly shedding the blood of humans. Recently in Ireland the Catholics and the Protestants killed each other. They belong to the same faith but on minor differences they also acted like diehard Christians. In Nigeria the Christians and the Muslims had fatal fights. Such things are abominable and must be condemned. Islam strongly condemns sectarianism. In the Holy Quran, sectarianism has been regarded as heresy.
The Islamic concept of Monotheism teaches the lesson of Oneness of God and oneness of human kind. So for as the Muslims are concerned, the Quran in Sura Al-e-Imran says, “ And hold fast, all together, by the Rope which Allah( stretches out for you), and be not divided among your selves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favour on you; for you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His grace, you became brethren; and you were on the brink of the pit of fire, and He saved you from it. Thus Allah makes His signs clear to you: that you may be guided” (3:103). These verses clearly depict the truth that unity is the favour and grace from God and division and dissensions are the curses of God. The believers who are united are mentioned as guided ones and the people who are divided are mentioned as misguided folks.
It means that Muslims are misguided because of their sectarianism. Five times in their daily regular prayers they beseech God; “Show us the Straight Path”. But how can they see the straight with the coloured glasses of sectarianism? The Holy Quran in Sura Al- Hugarat (The Inner Apartments) says; “The believers are but a single brotherhood: so make peace and reconciliation between your two (contending) brothers; and fear Allah, that you may receive mercy” (49:10). How the Holy Quran is specific in telling the Muslims to make peace and reconciliation if they want to have God’s mercy. Are the Muslims of today under the canopy of God’s mercy? What is happening with them in Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya? They are mercilessly being killed. Who is responsible for this plight? It is no one else but the Muslims themselves.
They lag behind in science and technology. They have no rational and scientific culture. Their seminaries, mosques and Islamic centres are imparting sectarian and non-productive education. The enlightened Muslim thinkers have no place in Muslim society. They are either killed or branded as infidels. The Muslim monarchs deliberately kept the masses ignorant and backward. In this modern age of science and democracy the Muslim masses must revolt against the tyrant rulers and establish an egalitarian society based on democracy and social justice. The traditional and conventional methods of imparting Islamic teachings should be converted into modern methods in which Islam should be presented as a rational, democratic, scientific, progressive and peaceful complete code of life. It wouldn’t be untrue to say that even today 99% literature written about Islam is conventional and sectarian. Islam teaches brotherhood and stresses on the need of cordiality.
There is a saying of the Holy Prophet recorded is Mishqat Sharif which reads as such: “The Muslims are like a body; if one limb aches, the whole body aches”. In another Hadith the Prophet has said; “The Muslims are like the teeth of a comb”. It means that they are equal, harmonious and united. From the similitude of comb we must learn a lesson. There are so many other sayings of the Holy Prophet recorded in the Bukhari, Tirmize, Sahih Muslim and Al Kafi, about unity of the Muslims. Unfortunately the Muslims just after the departure of the Holy Prophet were divided into two main sects, groups or parties; The Sunnis and The Shias. Actually they were two political groups which later on turned into religious sects and even today exist. The Sunnis sided with Hazrat Abu Bakar, considering him the genuine and legal Caliph of the Muslims. While the Shias believed in the Caliphate of Hazrat Ali as the true and genuine successor of the Holy Prophet. This difference concerns the political thought of Islam. Presently it is more important to seek and find the Islamic political principles to establish the Muslim Caliphate to end the monarchic Muslim states. In the light of public consensus on the Quranic merits of the leadership we will have to chalk out the political program on universal bases. Besides political differences there are four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, the Maliki, the Shafai, the Hanbali and the Hanafi. The Shia school of Jurisprudence is known as the Jafaria.
These schools of thought had been quarrelling with each other on minor juristic issues. The principal of Jama Al-Azhar of Egypt Mahmood Shaltoot had issued a decree of accepting all these five Muslim jurisprudences. He was of the opinion that a Muslim should take benefit of any decree of any Imam which suites his/her purpose and facilitates him/her. By issuing this decree Mahmood Shaltoot actually wanted to unite Muslims. It was, of course, a positive approach towards Muslim unity. We are Muslims. Our God is one, our Prophet is one, our Quran is one and our Kaaba is one. Then why are we divided? The simple reason of our division is that we are clung to religious personalities and are carrying the standards of slogans. We should adhere to the Islamic Principles. We will have to restudy our history in the light of logic and facts. We will have to interpret the Quran according to the needs of time. We must abandon the sectarian approach and promote the Islamic principles of unity.
Professor Maqsood Jafri is an eminent speaker and scholar on comparative religions and a political activist.