Jumuah lecture on Friday 19 November 2021 (13 Rabiul Thani 1443)
Maulana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid
Ottery, Cape Town
We always speak about the unity of the Ummah of Islam, with all its diversity in different understandings of religion, the Holy Quran, the Prophetic Sunnah, in different approaches when it comes to Sharia laws (Islamic jurisprudence).
Not only in differences between Sunni and Shia, but even amongst various schools of thought from within Sunni Islam. This is also evident amongst Shia Islam, particularly in the area of Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh). Diversity of opinion amongst the different jurists or spiritual authorities exist from the very early history and continues to prevail until today.
We also speak about peaceful co-existence with the followers of different religions or faith traditions, not only in Fiqh, but also in our Aqeedah (ideology). There is absolutely no doubt that we differ with them on a major level.
Still, the Islam which we understand in a balanced, focused manner, and more specifically in the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s), we speak about peaceful coexistence, living together, with the unity of the Ummah especially, and respect for the followers of different faith traditions. This is the principled position for which there is absolutely no doubt.
HOW CAN WE ACHIEVE PRACTICAL UNITY WHEN THERE IS DIVERSITY IN RELIGIOUS DECREES?
Today, I wish to draw attention to one very interesting and important aspect to this responsibility of unity of the Ummah and our peaceful coexistence with the followers of other faith traditions and belief systems.
What I am referring to here is the practical aspect of Unity amongst Muslims and the practical aspect of our coexistence in living together with others, in harmony, peace and respecting and understanding each other – even with the followers of other religions.
There is a practical angle to it, in the form of conflicts of opinion on a practical level, which I face quite frequently as a religious leader. This is different to headline slogans we hear all too often, such as “we are all together”, “we are all Muslim” etc. That being said, this is not going to address practical differences in Fiqh, for example.
EXAMPLES OF PRACTICAL RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES REQUIRING PRAGMATIC SOLUTIONS
A Shia man comes to me as a religious leader, saying that he wants to get married to a Sunni lady. Now, this woman was married before, but her husband divorced her according to Sunni Fiqh, since her previous husband and she were both Sunni.
Important to note that in Hanafi fiqh, if the husband says three times “Talaq”, then the marriage is over, regardless of whether he does this while angry, enraged or not intended.
So then, the Talaq (divorce) occurred according to Sunni Hanafi fiqh. Now, this Shia man wants to marry this Sunni woman, but this type of divorce according to Sunni Fiqh does not count as divorce according to the criteria for divorce in Shia Fiqh. Therefore, according to Shia Fiqh principles, she is still married to her previous husband, even though they are divorced according to Sunni Fiqh.
Now, against this background, the question is, can this Shia man marry this Sunni woman or not? This is where the question of practical unity gets put to the test in terms of how one navigates through this situation.
This is only one example to illustrate the point of practical unity in everyday life. In fact, people often ask questions pertaining to the validity of their Nikah if it was performed by an Imam who has a different ideological perspective. Similarly, people also often ask questions pertaining to how inheritance should be distributed if the deceased follows a different Madhab to the heir.
These are the practical aspects of Islamic unity and peaceful coexistence with other religions which gets put to the test constantly.
Let me sketch another example. A judge in an Islamic court needs to adjudicate between two parties in a judicial matter. How will the judge be able to pass a fair judgement if the two parties do not follow the same Madhab as him, or even from a different religion altogether?
The list can go on and on, but I think we all get the point now.
QA’IDATU ILZAAM: PRACTICAL SOLUTION TO PRESERVE PRACTICAL UNITY
At this juncture, I wish to draw your attention to a truly beautiful principle established in the Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) of the Ahlul Bait (a.s). The reason I am specifying the Fiqh of Ahlul Bait (a.s) is because I am not well-versed in Sunni Fiqh and therefore unable to state whether the principle I am about to introduce you to exists in the four Madhab of Ahlus Sunnah.
I want to state this disclaimer upfront to avoid any incorrectly perceived unconscious bias. I will defer for the Sunni Fiqh experts to opine, but I will explain this concept from the perspective of Shia Fiqh, specifically the social consequences of this judicial principle.
The principle I am about to introduce is called “Qa’idatu Ilzaam” (principle of obligation).
Someone came to the 7th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Musa al-Kadhim (a.s) and asked whether a man can marry a woman who was divorced according to Sunni Fiqh (which is not valid when compared to the requirements for divorce in Shia Fiqh). Let us now analyze the response by Imam Musa al-Kadhim (a.s), which became a very wide-reaching principle.
Imam Musa al-Kadhim (a.s) responded, saying that we should oblige Sunni Muslims to what they have obliged for themselves. This means that for them, their principles are valid, and not for us to impose ours on them. This is called Qa’idatu Ilzaam.
Imam Musa al-Kadhim (a.s) therefore responded that it is fine to marry this woman based on this principle, even though this divorce is not valid according to Shia Fiqh. However, she will not be judged in the court of Almighty Allah (SWT) based on Shia Fiqh, as she followed Sunni Fiqh. And according to Sunni Fiqh, she is regarded as divorced.
QA’IDATU ILZAAM: QURANIC PRINCIPLE PRACTICED DURING THE PROPHETIC SEERAH
As you may have noticed, there are loads of technical discussions when it comes to these practical differences, but what I am trying to establish here is the level of thought and beautiful principle underpinning this position of Qa’idatu Ilzaam, and that is respecting people’s opinion, rather than imposing our principles on others.
Yes, we can invite them, and share what our Fiqh position is, but their position has to be respected for as long as they are obliged to their belief system.
Under this same subject of Qa’idatu Ilzaam is a beautiful chapter on conflict resolution! Scholars have gone through extensive detail to find the basis for this beautiful principle of Qa’idatu Ilzaam.
Since it was established as a principle through a Hadith from Imam Musa al-Kadhim (a.s), our religious experts in jurisprudence have concluded that this principle was practiced in the time of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), but gradually evolved (like all other sciences) to be legally established during the time of our 7th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s).
They cite verse 42 of Surah Maa’ida (chapter 5 of the Holy Quran) to support this conclusion:
سَمَّاعُونَ لِلْكَذِبِ أَكَّالُونَ لِلسُّحْتِ ۚ فَإِنْ جَاءُوكَ فَاحْكُمْ بَيْنَهُمْ أَوْ أَعْرِضْ عَنْهُمْ
They are fond of listening to falsehood, of devouring anything forbidden. If they do come to thee, either judge between them, or decline to interfere.
WHY WOULD ALLAH (SWT) SUGGEST THAT RASULULLAH (SAWA) AVOID JUDGING BETWEEN PEOPLE?
This verse is referring to the Jews, and commanding Rasulullah (SAWA) to pass judgement based on the legal principles to which the Jews subscribe to, and not Islamic law.
The above extract ends with the words “decline to interfere” ie. avoid them. Commentators of the Holy Quran have gone into extensive detail to understand what this means. Does this actually mean that Rasulullah (SAWA), as the head of the Islamic State of Madina, can actually say “sorry, it has nothing to do with me, so therefore I cannot pass judgement?”
NOT AT ALL! The reason being that there were different faith communities residing in Madina, and therefore Rasulullah (SAWA), as the head of the Islamic State of Madina could not simply take the position of “leave me, it has nothing to do with me”.
We can therefore conclude that the end of the above extract from verse 42 of Surah Ma’ida does not mean that Rasulullah (SAWA) should look the other way on matters to adjudicate between non-Muslims in the Islamic State of Madina he is the head of.
It is obvious that the head of the state has to deal with issues impacting ALL communities, regardless of their different ideological affiliations.
So then, what this particular reference of “decline to interfere” means is that Rasulullah (SAWA) should pass judgement based on Islamic law if the parties concerned want him to decide based upon Islamic law. Otherwise, he should give them the option to go to their own judicial system applied in their religion, for the resolution of the issue or conflict based upon their religious precedent.
In fact, there are numerous Hadith supporting this idea, in the context of this key message from verse 42 of Surah Maa’ida referenced above: Judge people according to what they believe, and not based on what we believe.
BAGHDAD: HOME OF VASTLY DIFFERENT ISLAMIC PERSONALITIES
The Holy Quran and Hadith supports this principle of Qa’idatu Ilzaam.
Furthermore, there was a great jurist (Faqi), Ayatollah Sayyid Sabziwari, who explained that this principle of Qa’idatu Ilzaam is the foundation of our human society today, where we interact with all types of people from different walks of life, presenting diversity of opinions and systems. Rationality is our foundation, and that demands from us to respect and tolerate each other’s opinions.
Yes, we can disagree, but that does not mean that I do not respect your opinion, nor does it mean that I do not acknowledge your right to differ. What we can therefore categorically establish is that absolutism is not accepted in the Holy Quran or the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s).
We can see this wide-reaching principle of Qa’idatu Ilzaam flourishing in various aspects of engagement in a diverse society, beyond only judicial practice. An example of this is the tradition we see in this month of Rabiul Thani, where many of our Sunni brethren typically go to Iraq for the Urs of Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani.
A good number of South Africans have also embarked on this journey now. While we do not agree with Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani, it is most beautiful to see this acceptance and respect in Iraq.
On the one side of the Tigris River running through Baghdad is the holy shrines in Kadhimain of our 7th and 9th Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Musa al-Kadhim (a.s) and Imam Muhammad ibn Ali al-Jawad (a.s), and on the other side of the same Tigris River is the shrine of Abdul Qadir Jilani. Through this, we see the understanding and tolerance of each other’s beliefs in the same city of Baghdad.
At the same time, the richness of the culture of Ahlul Bait (a.s) stands tall in expressing itself in the form of Ziyarah etc.
OUR MISPLACED PRIORITIES AND SHORT-SIGHTED APPROACH RESULTS IN MORAL DECAY IN OUR COUNTRY
May Almighty Allah (SWT) grant us the Taufeeq to understand these beautiful teachings of the Holy Quran, our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his holy Ahlul Bait (a.s), regarding peaceful coexistence, respecting each other and understanding each other.
Recognizing this diversity instead of making it a basis of conflict, especially when it comes to our personal relationships.
We all know how often we encounter this challenge in our own society, when a young man and lady wish to get married, and they are from two different ideological positions. It becomes a huge controversy and used as a basis to promote hatred and division of families.
We can see the beauty of this principle of Qa’idatu Ilzaam and its application to our relationships with non-Muslims and Muslims who hold a different ideological affiliation to us.
In our society, we see how families fight and fall apart on these issues, but amazingly does not display the same level of sensitivity to the real social ills killing our society, such as crime, abuse and injustice committed against the most vulnerable in society.
The Minister of Police has now stated that there has been a whopping increase in child murders of 31.7%! Similarly, there has been a spike in sexual offences and gender-based violence, despite the feverish campaigns against the abuse of women and children. It continues to take its toll with increased intensity every day! Somehow, we do not give it the right level of prioritized attention.
Neither our religious consciousness nor our inner voice shakes us into stopping this scourge in our society.
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