By : Saqib Akber
The Islamic revolution of Iran succeeded in February 1979 under the able leadership of Syed Rohullah Khomeini. It was a unique revolution of its kind in the modern age, creating across-the-board ripples in the world
which was in the grip of capitalist and socialist systems then. Economic or any other material consideration was not the basis of this revolution rather it was an uprising against tyranny and imperialism as well as against those trampling moral and human values and was led by spiritual leaders with Imam Khomeini, the founder of the revolution, being at the forefront.
As this revolution believed in the universality of religion and it was also advocating this cause, so the idea of Islamic unity was present in the essence of this revolution. The Quran and the Sunnah preach and place great emphasis on unity and solidarity of Muslims. The Holy Book terms Muslims as being brothers and stops them from creating dissension and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) commands a believer not to harm any other believer with his tongue and hands. The Prophet (pbuh) has said that Muslim Ummah is like one body.
Looking at these teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah, a true Islamic revolution and its leadership must be the upholder of Muslim unity and Kalima-e-Tawhid (Word of Oneness). It is for this reason that Imam Khomeini, right for the beginning, urged Muslims to maintain unity and solidarity. When the constitution of Iran was devised after the victory of Islamic revolution, the concept of unity and single brotherhood was included in it as being the base of its overall state policies. In this regard, the Article 11 of Chapter 1 (General Principles) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran says:
In accordance with the verse of the Qur'an ("This your community is a single community, and I am your Lord, so worship Me" [21:92]), all Muslims form a single nation, and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has the duty of formulating its general policies with a view to cultivating the friendship and unity of all Muslim peoples, and it must constantly strive to bring about the political, economic, and cultural unity of the Islamic world.
Imam Khomeini had in the very beginning announced his poicy in the following words:
Our agenda is the agenda of Islam and that is forging unity among Muslims and Muslim states, creating brotherhood among all the the schools of Muslim thought and bringing about harmony among all the Islamic governments.
On the other side, those forces who suffered defeat as a result of the victory of Iran’s Islamic revolution, knew it well that if its message was allowed to spread across the world without any hindrance, then Muslim and other oppressed nations would rise up against cruel and oppressive regimes. Therefore, they began hatching conspiracies against this revolution and their most dangerous scheme was to incite Shia-Sunni tensions and especially make the Sunni population hostile to this revolution as a result of this split. Hence, Imam Khomeini was keeping an eye on their intrigues and several instances can be quoted when he drew the attention of Ahle Sunnat brothers towards this matter.
At one such occasion, he says:
“The Ahle Sunnat brothers living in different Muslim countries must know that the rulers affiliated with the big satanic powers are not well-wishers of Islam and Muslims. It is vital that Muslims distance themselves from such rulers and do not listen to their propaganda aimed at creating enmity and differences within Islamic communmity.”
The enemies are not only using sectarian cards to divide Muslims, they are also hatching schemes on ethnic and geographical lines in order to cause disagreements and hostilities among Muslims. Imam Khomeini, who was also carefully observing this, says in this regard:
“The big powers and those associated with them are plotting to create fissures among Muslims living in Islamic lands, while Allah the Exalted has created brotherhood and friendship among them by saying that the believers are but brethern. They want to separate them rather make them enemies of each other on the basis of their respective nations –Turk, Kurd, Arab and Fars (Iran) – and it is totally against the teachings of Islam and Quran.”
The enemies, at times in the past, used Shia-Sunni card to create dissensions and no doubt they are using the same card even today. And sometimes they instigated Hanafi-Hanbali and Jafari-Shafi’i divisions to serve their purposes. Drawing attention towards the existence of these differences, Imam Khomeini says:
“There are different sects among Muslims – Shia, Sunni, Hanafi, Hanbali, Ahle Hadith – and talking about the differences that exist among them was not the right approach from the day one. These issues must not come under discussion in a society where everyone wants to serve Islam and devote himself for the cause of Islam. We all are brothers and stand with each other. The only difference is that your ulamas gave a Fatwa (religious decree) regarding a particular issue and you followed them thus becoming Hanafis. Another group acted according to the Fatwa of Shafi’i ulama while some other people performed in accordance with the Fatwa of Imam Jafar Sadiq and became known as Shias and there is no point to create controversy on the basis of it. We must not foster dissensions and disagreements as we all are brothers. Shias and Sunnis must avoid creating divisions and discords as only those are benefitted on account of these rifts who are neither Shias nor Sunnis nor they act according to the tenents of any other sect and what they only want is annihilation of all Muslims.”
Not only Imam Khomeini, other leaders of the Islamic revolution always laid greater stress on the Muslim unity and brotherhood. Mohammad Hossein Tabataba'i, a prominent alim of theological sciences and also famous for his exegesis of the Holy Quran known as Tafsir al-Mizan, says in this regard:
“We must always make mention of the fact that differences between Shias and Sunnis only exist on secondary issues and there is no disagreement between the two major Muslim sects as far as the fundamentals of Islam are concerned. There are no differences even in the obligatory commandments – Namaz (prayer), Rozah (fasting), Hajj, Jihad (holy war) etc – to be followed by Muslims and there is only one Quran and one Kabah. It is heatening to note that Muslims have gradually started to realize this very fact. In order to achieve proximity and final unity among Muslims, Shia ulama put forward the idea of the Taghrib-e-Madhahib-e-Islami (proximity amongst Islamic Schools of Thought). Sheikh of Al-Azhar had also expressed its support to this idea making it known to the world that Shias and Sunnis were in complete religious harmony with each other and there were no major differences between them.”
Murtaza Mutahhari, a great Muslim scholar and proud disciple of Imam Khomeini and Tabataba'i, also used to preach the same message. He says in this respect:
“This discord among Muslims is the root cause of all their suffering as well as their downfall, and certainly what Muslims most importantly need is unity and cohesion. The biggest problem facing Islamic world today is related to these age-old disagreements and the enemy has always benefitted from them.”
The leadership of Iran not only gave instructions but also took far-reaching practical steps in connection with achieving unity among Muslims and among these measures some are give below:
1. Hafta-e-Wahdat (Week of Unity)
There are varied traditions among Muslims regarding the birthday of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), but based on more famous Sunni traditions, the Sunnis mark the day on 12th of Rabi-ul-Awwal, whereas for Shias it is celebrated on 17th of Rabi-ul-Awwal. The leadership of Islamic Republic of Iran declared 12-17 Rabi-ul-Awwal as the Week of Unity urging all the Muslims to conduct Milad functions throughout the whole week. Consquently, the Week of Unity is now being celebrated jointly by Shias and Sunnis in several countries including Pakistan. On the occasion various functions are held in connection with the birthday of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and both Shias and Sunnis participate in them.
2. World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought
The World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought is an international forum that was established in 1990 by order of Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran. Its aim is to bring nearness among the followers of different Muslim sects so that they can get acquainted with one another and as a result can attain religious brotherhood and fraternity according to the established Islamic principles and commonalities. Talking about the basics of proximity, it says:
a) The Holy Qur’an and Prophetic traditions are the basic sources of Islamic law and all Muslim sects are unanimous on it. These two take precedence over all other sources of references.
b) The principles and pillars that form the criterion for being a Muslim include believing in the oneness of God the Almighty, belief in the Prophethood and that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) is the seal of prophets and believing that the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) is one of the main sources of the religion. Similarly, believing that the Quran and its concepts are the first and foremost source of Islam and also having belief in the Day of Judgment and not denying the necessaties of religion besides submitting to the pillars of Islam such as prayers, Zakat, fasting, Hajj, Jihad etc.
This forum consists of a Supreme Council and its members comprise of eminent ulamas, intellectuals and leaders belonging to different schools of thought and taken from the Islamic world including Pakistan. Its session is held every year where decisions are taken about various practical issues. Its members are mandated with setting the path and activities of the forum and oversee it.
This world forum recognizes Hanafi, Shafi'i, Maliki, Hanbali, Ja'fari, Zaidi and Ahle Hadith sects. Bohra community, a sect within the Ismaili branch, is also represented in this forum. Also, representatives from Ibadi and some other sects participate in the meetings of this forum. On the whole, efforts have been made that all recognized schools of Islamic thought paly active role in the affairs of this forum.
The forum is persisting with holding Islamic unity conferences in Iran and beyond its confines. It has also done a lot of academic work aimed at paving the way for creating harmony and brotherhood among Muslims and in this regard the work of publishing common Ahadith (sayings of the Prophet) and Riwayat (traditions) is especially noteworthy and worth utilizing.
3. Making use of Islamic worships for the cause of creating unity
In Imam Khomeini’s opinion, devotional and polictical teachings of Islam can’t be separated from one another and he used to say that Nimaz-e-Jamaat (praying in congregation), specially Friday and Eid prayers, are symbols of Islamic solidarity. He termed Hajj as yearly global Islamic conference. He says:
“During the tremendous Hajj congregation, Muslims must learn about the general problems facing the world of Islam and find solutions of these problems…The big and main problem of Muslims is lack of unity.”
He further says in this regard:
“It is incumbent on Islamic nations to discuss, during the Holy Hajj gathering, the basic issues of Islam in particular those facing Muslim states. They must mull over what is happening to Muslims at the hands of imperilistic powers and their agents. Citizens of every country must inform other Muslims during this Holy pilgrimage about the problems and difficulities that they are facing in their own countries.”
4. The concept of forming federation of Muslim states
America has become a big power today because fifty states agreed to become a federation after maintaining their distinctiveness at a limited scale. Similarly, Europe, after fighting two world wars, have constituted a single parliament. The European Union is playing its role as a single entity in various situations. Imam Khomeini also urged Muslims to form a federal govenmnt at the world level. He says in this connection:
“All the Muslim nations must come together under the banner of Islam and fight the enemies of Islam and defend those who are deprived in a collective manner. In presence of the republics, Muslims must move towards forming an independent government of their own. Muslims will make the arrogant global powers to stand where they belong to in case this concept takes a practical shape.
At one occasion, Imam Khomeini says:
“I hope that the Muslim nations, who because of the negative propaganda of enemies are not at friendly terms with one another besides acting against each other, will become conscious of and get united under the banner of monotheism to form a grand Islamic government, which will prevail throughout the world.
5. Fatwas promoting inter-sect harmony
Imam Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenei consistently gave fatwas (religious edicts), which could promote love, harmony and nearness among Muslims. In this context I will make a mention of a fatwa by Ayatollah Kahmeini. The fatwa was issued in response of a query by religious scholars and intelligentsia of Saudi Arabia’s al-Ahsa city. The historic ruling against insulting revered Sunni figures reverberated throughout the world and was widely welcomed by distinguished Sunni and Shia ulamas. Ayatollah Khameini issued the following religious edict:
"It is Haram (forbidden) in Islam to disparage symbols of Sunni brothers as well as to accuse the wife of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and sully her honour. It is forbidden with respect to wives of all the prophets and especially the Lord of the prophets, our great Prophet (pbuh)."