Monday, October 28, 2019

The History of Efforts Towards Islam Ecumenism Essay Example for Free

The History of Efforts Towards Islam Ecumenism Essay The discord between the Shia and Sunni has a long and bloody history. The split between these sects was a product of a political conflict which was exaggerated, if not baseless. It allowed the proliferation of wrongful assumptions which have been exploited and taken out of context. For example, the Shiites believe that Sunnis are enemies of the Ahl-e Bayt,the family of the prophet (Mazhari). On the other hand, the Sunnis believe that the Shiites regard the present day Quran has been tampered with (Mazhari) and that they abuse the companions of the prophet. While is true that there are Shiites who openly abuse the companions of the prophets, there number is relatively small. Also, Sunni scholars quote arguments from a long forgotten Shia groups which were known to uphold un-Islamic views (Mazhari). The issues could’ve been easily resolved through a dialog between the leaders of these two sects and yet, over the centuries, no serious efforts were made to address these differences. The situation has worsened and the conflict between Shia-Sunni extremist forces has become so severe that many ordinary Muslims have expressed anger and consternation against suicide bombers and terrorist acts. In a paper (Rahim) written after the November 18, 2005 bombing of mosques in Eastern Iraq, an imam was quoted speaking these words: I have said this before and I say it again, the imam said, his voice trembling with anger. The suicide bombers and their planners are murderers, not martyrs. They are the real enemies of Islam. We must confront and defeat them, wherever they may lurk. The quarrel between Sunnism and Shiism is more than just a debate on what is â€Å"true Islam†. In several countries such as Iran and Iraq, it has become a jihad, a holy war destroying the lives and futures of the very population they are part of. At present, there is now a resounding call for intrafaith harmony – a dialogue between the Shiites and Sunnis so as to allow better understanding between these two sects and ensure respect and peaceful coexistence. The beginning of efforts to resolve Sunni-Shia antagonism While the idea of Islam ecumenism is a new one, there were already efforts to resolve the Sunni-Shiite conflict in the past, though these were not widespread. A highlight in Islamic history is the victory of the Shah Ismail in Tabriz in 1501. With the ascension of the Safavids to power, Shiism became the official sect in a largely Sunni country. For Iran, this was the first time that Shiite leaders could organize without repression from their Sunni counterparts. Because of this move, Shiite leaders developed into an educated class and have accepted the â€Å"use of reason in the process of evaluating the traditions and in jurisprudence† (R. Brunner 28). The Shiite clergy began to consider their political interests when confronting with representatives of both Shiism and Sunnism. The first attempt at formal dialogue between Sunni and Shiite leaders happened in fourth and fifth decades in the 18th century, following the defeat of the Safavids to Afghan invaders (R. Brunner 28). In the meeting convened by Nadir Shah and culminated on December 1743 (R. Brunner 31), it was reported that a considerable number of scholars from both sects were present. Some of the topics discussed involved the legitimacy of the rule of the first caliphs, and the issues surrounding the prophet’s companions and temporary marriage. The meeting produced a written accord which obliged the Shiite scholars from performing activities which the Sunnis may find offensive. Unfortunately, scholars from both sects were not yet mentally ready to maintain peace and the accord failed to fulfill its function after Nadir Shah’s death in 1747. Repeated clashes and outbreaks of violence between the Sunnis and Shiites soon commenced. While the first official agreement for Islam ecumenism was a failure, this was not an indication that there is no hope for peace between the warring sects. The re-emergence of pan-Islamic tendencies happened in the later part of the 19th century, after the spreading European colonialism (R. Brunner 34). During this time, activists of Islamic descent called on the Muslim community to unite and forge against a common enemy. In order to overcome the dominance of European culture and assert the uniqueness of the Islamic world, activists such as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh called on â€Å"Muslims†¦to reflect on the virtues of unity and cooperation†¦the most powerful pillars of Muhammadan denomination† (R. Brunner 35). Unfortunately at this time, ecumenical dialogue was still non-existent, and there was no mention of rapprochement between the Sunnis and Shiites. As a matter of fact, there was no mention â€Å"of the two denominations by name [since activists preferred to] stress their common opposition to British politics† (R. Brunner 35). One scholar who is notable for making leading the first efforts towards dialogue and Islam ecumenism is the Sunni Muhammad Rashid Rida (R. Brunner 40). He called for the revival of â€Å"true Islam† through the adaptation of Islamic law to modern needs and its reinterpretation for Islamic jurisprudence. Unlike al-Afghani and Abduh, Rida recognized that the mutual aversion and distance between the two sects were a mistake. He called for a unified language and the creation of an Islamic society in Mecca which consisted of both Shiites and Sunnis. The recognition of the Azhar University as highest Islamic institution in Egypt also helped spread the move towards Islam ecumenism. It served both a a Sunni and Shiite authority in Egypt when it created the Council Supreme ulama which was â€Å"commissioned by law to oversee the religious standards of all other Egyptian ulama and [use] disciplinary means to enforce their decisions† (R. Brunner 48). With the success of the Azhar in Egypt came the call for the revision of the educational system in Iran. Alim Asad Allah Mamaqani and Muhsin Shahara believed that by adapting the reforms made by Azhar in training young theologians Najaf can also â€Å"master the prevailing chaos† (R. Brunner 49) in the country. If there was one scholar who created the greatest impact to Islam ecumenism, then it would be Muhammad Rashid Rida. From his philosophy came a need for greater understanding of Islam and a move towards modernization. As a matter of fact, a secret society headed by Mirza Mohammad Baqer Bawanati was setup to promote â€Å"rapprochement among Islam, Christianity and Judaism† (R. Brunner 38). As early as 1986, leaders of different religions in the world were already meeting with the Pope John Paul II, with the Catholic pope being the spokesman and central figure in these gatherings (Veith). These meetings hosted by the Pope showed the world that peace among religions is not impossible, and that peace between the Shia and Sunni sects of Islam is still within reach. Main Institutions and Personalities and their Contribution to Islamic Ecumenism It was in the Safavid Empire when openings for dialogue took place. It was when Ismail Safavi made a religious edict to make Shiism as official state religion amidst a dominantly Sunni population. By force and violence, Sunnis were compelled to convert until the Sunnis turned from majority to minority by the end of the 18th century. Although there was an element of repression involved, the discourse on Sunni and Shiite theology was pursued with the intention of converting Sunnis by giving little concessions here and there (Brunner, 2004). A major contributor to Islamic unity in history is Sharaf al-din. He is a Shiite whose correspondence with Shaykh Salim al-Bishri, who is the chief of al-Azhar Mosque which was eventually published in a book Murajaat provided the foundations of Muslim Unity. Sharaf al-din also published works for uniting the Ummah where he tackled the various issues that prevent Shi’is and Sunnis from uniting. Perhaps one of his major moves in the direction of unity is on coordinating the 12th of Rabi al-Awal to commemorate Muhammad’s birthday rather than the 17th so that it can be celebrated together with Sunni Muslims (Brunner, 2004). The Taqrib Movement from 1947 to 1960 which literally means â€Å"to bring together† is also instrumental in paving the way towards the institutionalization of the ecumenical dialogue. This coincided with the effort from different countries to form an International Muslim Brotherhood. Eventually pan Islamic associations and other scholars joined the effort culminating into the Muslim World Congress in 1949 (Brunner, 2004). A pivotal moment in Islamic solidarity happened during the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini. For one, he was able to neutralize the historical enmity between the Sunnis and Shi’ites by focusing on a single enemy which was the United States. Khomeini also bridged the division between Shiites and Sunnis by permitting Twelvers to pray behind Sunni imams while at the same time forbidding the criticism against the Caliphs who ruled before ‘Ali (Khan). There are other prominent figures in the ecumenical movement such as Muhammad Jawad Mughniyya who advocated for Arab and Muslim unity and supported the Islamic revolution. Together with Khomeini, they were able to merge religious and political emancipation in a single movement (Mallat, 2003). Notable also is the contribution of Shaykh Ma? mud Shaltut (1893-1963) in the history and contribution of Al-Azhar. He can be credited as a major influence to Al-Azhar’s openness, liberalism and ecumenical spirit. He is one of the first to teach Shi’a teaching in a Sunni institution teaching the Twelver of Shia Islam alongside four Sunni madhhabs (traditions of jurisprudence) (Brunner, 2004). Perhaps one the most influential institution that is paving the way for greater ecumenical dialogue and Islamic unity is Cairo’s Al-Azhar University. Considered as the most credible center of Sunni Scholarship, it is now propagating a reconciliatory stance that is aimed at mutual respect and understanding. The Al-Azhar Verdict (fatwa) on the Shia is considered to be a landmark position. To wit: 1) Islam does not require a Muslim to follow a particular Madh’hab (school of thought). Rather, we say: every Muslim has the right to follow one of the schools of thought which has been correctly narrated and its verdicts have been compiled in its books. And, everyone who is following such Madhahib [schools of thought] can transfer to another school, and there shall be no crime on him for doing so. 2) The Ja’fari school of thought, which is also known as â€Å"al-Shia al- Imamiyyah al-Ithna Ashariyyah† (i. e. , The Twelver Imami Shi’ites) is a school of thought that is religiously correct to follow in worship as are other Sunni schools of thought. (Al-Azhar) This position that recognizes the validity of Shia doctrine is a radical position that can really ease the historical tensions between the two denominations. The International Islamic Conference in Ammam (Landau) also issued the same position convening 200 Islamic scholars who all unanimously voted to recognize all 8 schools of Islam as having their own validity. Moreover they prohibited all Muslims from different denominations to call each other heretics or apostates while exposing what they see as ignorant edicts issues falsely in the name of Islam. On December 2005, the Amman Conference Statement was adopted by the Organization of Islamic Conference Summit in Mecca providing a clear legitimacy and thrust towards Muslim Solidarity. Eventually six other international Islamic scholarly assemblies adopted this position making a clear and distinct position for Muslim pluralism (Statement of the International Islamic Conference in Amman). Abdul Malik Mujahid is a modern day figure in Islamic ecumenism who is calling on all the Muslim world to unite and giving concrete and workable steps towards unity. He argues the principle of â€Å"no compulsion in matters of faith† (Quran 2:256) as well as he gives persuasive points in history as well as in actual practice (Mujahid).

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