By Saqib Akbar
If the heart of a believer is not grief-stricken by the downfall and division of the Muslim Ummah, then what kind of a believer he is? But what are the causes of this deteriorating condition? It is not possible to find a remedy for the current grave problems that the Ummah is facing without thoroughly examining these causes. I have been studying this subject for a long time. I have reflected and exchanged views on it. In the following lines, I will be presenting basic points in this regard hoping that the discerning people will also put forward their perspectives so discussions in this regard keep going on:

1. The commonalities of the teachings of all the Prophets form the basis of Divine religion. These are the universal teachings of the revealed religion and there can never ever be any change in it. This universe did not come into being by chance. It has an Owner who is The Powerful and All Knowing, worthy of praise and faultless and error-free. After the end of the material life of man, the life will continue in some other form and a human being will definitely see the outcome of his intentions and actions. God has sent Prophets and Apostles for the guidance of mankind and He Himself created man with a distinct nature granting him the consciousness for judging good or bad. All humans are servants of God. They should live in human society in such a way that their presence should not be a cause of evil and mischief for others rather it should be a source of virtue and goodness. Being the bearer of the Divine spirit, man is the noblest of all creatures. He has been sent to act on his own so that he can be held responsible for any wrongdoing. By making him the master of his own actions, the way to achieve the highest rank of humanity can remain open for him and this highest rank in nothing but the closeness and pleasure of the Almighty.

Who believer can deny that the aforesaid commonalities in the teachings of the prophets are the essence of religion. This is the basis of religion and every matter of faith returns back to these points.

Neglecting this very foundation resulted in the decline and chaos of Muslims. If we keep in mind the universal teachings of the religion, then the rest of the matters will automatically adopt a secondary position. Forging unity among Muslims will become easy by giving everything and every ideology the right status that it actually deserves.
2. With the passage of time, various Muslim groups and their leaders have adopted certain cultural phenomena considering them as actual religion. They do not have positive opinion about those who do not follow these trends. This can be explained by giving the example of Milad-un-Nabi which different groups of Muslims celebrate in their own ways. Every group not only insists that their way of observing the birthday of the Prophet (pbuh) is correct, but also scorns others’ methods in this regard. Same is the case with the rites relating to the remembrance of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet (PBUH). Even more than this, now different groups wear different coloured caps, different turbans, different gowns and shalwars. All these things are gradually causing further disintegration of the already fragmented Ummah. Let us stop and mourn on the present status of the Ummah. Let us shed tears on this degeneration. Let us grieve on this declining state of human wisdom and intellect.

3. There are lessons for mankind in whatever has happened in the history. When a reader is reading a history book, he starts to feel as if he is attached with the characters of history just like the viewers sense their affinity and connection with the main characters in films and plays. It is possible that a reader while reading history desires might this not had happened like this or might it had occurred like that. But history cannot be changed even if a man intensely wishes so, as it belongs to the past era. One can change one’s today and tomorrow and can take lessons from the past, but cannot alter the times of yore. Unfortunately, different groups of Muslims have camped at different bends and crossroads of history. They have been staying there for centuries wishing to change history. We should know that we can have our own opinion about any event or phase of history or about its characters and we can also learn lessons from these past occurrences, but we cannot change them. To prove my point, we can turn to the disagreement on the issue of Khilafat in early Islamic era. There is no doubt that Hazrat Ali had objected the election of Hazrat Abu Bakr and neglecting of the family of Prophet (PBUH) in this connection. But it is also a fact that he did not rise up against the three Khulafa and whenever they asked for any advice or sought help in any collective issue from him, Hazrat Ali did not hesitate to offer his services. After centuries, history has moved much forward and today Muslims are divided geographically in more than fifty countries. A very large number of Muslims are living in non-Muslim countries as well. Superpowers are busy looting their resources and Muslim Ummah as a whole is in a distressed state. Has not the time come to learn lessons from the tragic events and happenings of the past and be united to make a better today and tomorrow?

4. Lack of awareness and correct information about others is one reason of the prevailing differences within us. Generally whatever a preacher or speaker of any sect says about other sects, people accept it as being the ideology and belief of that sect. They do not try to carry out research themselves and know the basic facts about any other sect. It is likely that whatever a speaker or preacher says about any other group is completely or partly incorrect. One of the solutions relating to this problem is that if anybody wants to know the belief of a particular sect in a specific issue, then he needs to consult the responsible ulamas of that sect. There are also people around us who belong to that sect. They can also be consulted. Many misconceptions can be rectified by adopting the said course of action. For example, a group of people say Shias believe that the Quran has been tampered. In Pakistan as Shias and Sunnis live together and if a Sunni after listening to an orator starts to feel uncertain about the belief of Shais regarding the Quran, he can go to a mosque or Imambargah belonging to Shias where he can find the holy books in large numbers. He can easily check whether there is any truth about the tampering of the Quran as said by the Khateeb. He will come to know that there isn’t any difference between his Quran and that of the Shia Quran. Now he can estimate that the orator must not have said this with a positive thinking rather he would have some ulterior motives behind his claim. Shias have written many exegeses of the holy Quran. There are many countries across the world where Shias are in majority and the holy books printed in these countries are the same as printed in other countries. Shia reciters and Huffaz (those who memorize the Quran by heart) also recite the same Quran.

5. Although several groups among Muslims including sectarian Takfiri terrorist outfits raise the slogan of establishing Khilafat across the world, but they lack the sagacity to comprehend why nations make progress and what the reasons of their downfall are. If our conduct does not change, then it is impossible for Muslims to come out of the ongoing terrible mess.

6. Madrassahs (Muslim religious educational institutions) across the world of Islam are facing three basic problems. Till these issues are not tackled, not only the backwardness and wretched state of the Ummah can’t be redressed, but also the scourge of sectarianism will continue to grow resulting in further divisions within Muslims. These five problems are:

• Usually madrasahs are ignorant or unconcerned of the progress made in contemporary sciences and of the collective change occurring as a result of it. Different fields of knowledge of the day have developed specific societies and minds. Human societies are facing many new challenges due to the modern-day sciences. Religious people can play their role in solving the problems that have arisen due to the contemporary sciences only if they show deep insight about the emerging challenges.

• Generally madrassahs in Pakistan are divided on the basis of sects and so identity, livelihood and status of those people who are related to these religious institutions depend on sectarian differences. Consequently, they are playing their role, intentionally or unintentionally, in widening the gap of sectarianism. Graduates of the same institutions are responsible for establishing mosques on sectarian lines. Later, these mosques are becoming cause, to some extent, of further divisions within the Ummah.

• The bifurcation of education into worldly and religious education is also a product of these madrassahs. It is a possibility that the division of education on the basis of its usefulness and uselessness may have a real meaning. But splitting knowledge on worldly and religious lines does not make any sense. It doesn’t seem correct in any respect to put the worldly seal on every those sciences which are really beneficial to mankind and society.

7. Opposing sectarianism doesn’t mean opposing dissenting views. On the contrary, not respecting others’ perspectives is also a cause of sectarianism. It is not possible in any free society that all people have same opinion about any issue. As far as religion is concerned, despite a consensus on the Quran and Sunnah as a whole, the difference in its comprehension has always been there and will remain so in future as well. Ulamas of the same sect also don’t have unanimous opinion in each and every issue. If we disagree with someone on any issue considering it our right, then we must give this right to others too. He can also differ with our point of view and it is his right too. Until we ponder over this subject, we cannot imprison the genie of sectarianism in its bottle.

However, it shall not be forgotten that to hold opposing views and their expression has got its own etiquettes. Firstly, it is not necessary to express every difference of opinion or state it in front of everyone. Secondly, insulting others or their sacred places and personalities can’t be termed as dissenting views and thirdly, expression of opinion in such a way that negatively affects the smooth progress of a society has to be changed. Legislation is required for this purpose.

8. If someone’s behaviour or ideology is very much disliked or unacceptable to us so much so that it falls beyond the limits prescribed by Islam as per our interpretations, still, in order to enforce the approved sentence we need to observe certain rules and regulations. It cannot be accepted in any case to act on its own in such situations. It is also not allowed to form groups to attack and kill those who disagree with your views or who belong to different denominations. The worst and horrifying form that the sectarianism has adopted here is due to the fact that a particular group in not ready to let live those whose views and beliefs are different from it.

The Prophet (PBUH), whom we follow, showed highest level of tolerance towards people belonging to other faiths. The Prophet (pbuh) not only gave complete right to them to live according to their own beliefs but also always defended them in face of any attack. By concluding a pact known as the "Covenant of Medina"(Mithaq-i-Medina), the Prophet (pbuh) made the Jews and idol-worshippers belonging to Aws and Khazraj tribes as his allies so that Medina could be defended collectively in case of any foreign invasion.

It is irony that some groups and people don’t hesitate to kill others after declaring them as infidels because of their views and beliefs and claim to be the followers of the same Prophet (PBUH).

9. The religion of Islam is the way of perfection and evolution for all humans and it also gives guarantee to mankind for achieving success and eminence collectively as well as individually. Until and unless its followers pay attention towards their human responsibilities at global level, they will not come out of the present state of decline and poverty and consequently rest of the human race will remain deprived of the real benefits of the religion of Islam. Muslim world must recognize their universal and divine obligations. The believers of the last Prophet (pbuh) have the responsibility of spreading the teachings of Islam throughout the world. This Ummah, which has faith in the hereafter and believe that besides this materialistic world there is also a spiritual world as well, has to play its role to refine and perfect the materialistic civilization. If this Ummah is itself divided somewhere on the basis of nations, at some places on the pretexts of differences on secondary issues, somewhere because of material benefits and family dominance and somewhere on the basis of language, colour and lineage, then how can it fulfill its universal responsibilities. Lofty wishes and desires create great man and great nations. By nourishing afresh the universal wishes and worldly desires and by enlightening our souls with The Light of God (Noor-e-Ilahi), we can come out of the present darkness and gloom.

O Lord of all the worlds! Give us the wisdom and understanding and choose us for performing this task.

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