The Principles of Dialogue and the Problem of Sectarianism


SHAFAQNA - The debate on the disagreement between the Sunnis and the Shiites focuses on the Sunni thought as criticized by Shiite religious scholars and the Shiite thought as criticized by Sunni religious scholars. However, are all the issues concerning a certain sect discussed within it, especially concerning the theological issue, in the same way that the theological issue discusses the differences between the Shiite and Sunni sect? Moreover, the theological issue in the Shiite and Sunni framework is based on preserving the axioms that might not be as such if we study them from a scientific point of view.

Therefore, I believe we ought to return to the objective intellectual methodology, in which the Muslim takes an unbiased stand towards all what he is committed to. We all read the Quran; however, if we wanted to study the methodology in all our religious schools and universities, we would find that we are far from abiding by the Quran’s method of reasoning. Moreover, there is another verse that not everyone is aware of, which revealed how the Prophet’s style should have been when conducting a dialogue with the Jews: “And most surely we or you are on a right way or in manifest error.” (34:24). This verse proves that doubt governs the way of research in the issue of thought and dialogue, and says to the one conducting dialogue not to base his thought on the idea that he is right and the other is wrong, even if he was convinced of that; but rather, his thought ought to be based on the fact that they stand on a mutual ground, and the idea of each could range between being right or being wrong. This stand enables them to reach a new point away from previously set terms that might affect commitment to the new idea.

Therefore, I say that the Quranic dialogue style is superior to the style of many well-established scholars; and one that is adopted by many people: my opinion is right, but it could be wrong; while the others’ opinion is wrong, and could be right.” In my opinion, this style is very subjective, since it says that my opinion is 70% right, while the other’s opinion is 30% wrong; however, the Quran differs with this point of view, since it does not mix the personal aspect with the scientific one, and Allah says: 
“And most surely we or you are on a right way or in manifest error.” (34:24).

At this point, the following question could be raised: Could the Prophet (p.) have been doubtful as it was he who brought the truth and accepted it as the truth?

This is not what is actually meant, but rather this was the basis the research was founded on. Moreover, the Holy Quran moves away from the collective atmosphere in which people are inclined to be unbelievers and to commit sinful acts, for Allah says: “Say: I exhort you only to one thing, that rise up for Allah’s sake in twos and singly, then ponder: there is no madness in your fellow-citizen.” (34:46). Thus, they were accusing the Prophet (p.) of being crazy. However, he (p.) did not invoke, as mentioned in the Quran, their accusation because he believed that his voice could not be heard in the presence of noise, but rather he said to them that they ought to rid themselves of that impulsive attitude, in terms of which they could not own their thought and opinion. So, they ought to rise up in twos and singly and they would reach the truth through the thinking; the calm thinking and objective reasoning.

Therefore, I see that we turned into emulators when it comes to theological issues, just as we do in jurisprudential issues; a point I would like to bring up at the level of the methodology.

Another point should be raised in this sense; which is the focusing of the academic curricula in our religious schools and universities on the jurisprudential divisions; the Shiite jurisprudence, the Sunni jurisprudence, the Hanafi, the Maliki, and the Shafi’i jurisprudence… etc. Moreover, we try to lay emphasis on the obstacles and place barriers between one school of jurisprudence and another, at a time when we realize that all jurists, be they Sunnis or Shiites, have adopted this opinion or the other based on their own understanding of a certain Quranic Ayah. Based on that, it is determined if something is obligatory, or recommended…etc.

No one, whether a Sunni or a Shiite, based his researches and understandings on a Sunni or Shiite subjective point of view. Moreover, when we notice what created a crack between the Sunnis and Shiites the most, just as is the case with analogy, we would realize that they adopted it [analogy] based on the Quranic Ayahs or prophetic traditions they presented and considered that they prove its validity. However, those who oppose analogy, base their opposition on the argument that these Ayahs do not point out to analogy and the traditions referred to in order to prove its validity could be revoked upon subjecting their Sanad (Chain of authorities on which the tradition is based) and content to criticism.

Therefore, the issue is as follows: every party bases its claim on the Book and the Sunnah, while actually there is no Shiite singularity in this opposing opinion and there is no Sunni singularity in that approving opinion. Even the Shiites who narrated the traditions of their Imams which say that “if the Sunnah were subjected to analogy, religion would be destroyed,” did not claim that it is a theological issue, but rather they referred to another tradition of the Members of the House, which says: “Allah’s religion could not be reached by the minds.” Moreover, they said that the problem of analogy is that it does not enable us to understand the roots of the benefits and the evil on which rulings are based, for if we were not certain about the benefit, but rather we assume it, we would be drifting away from the right, because assumption is far from being true.

The Shiite jurisprudential rejection of analogy was not based on a theological issue, but rather on a general juristic one that has to do with the validity and invalidity of the assumption if we could not reach certainty. However, both Sunnis and Shiites agree upon the validity of analogy in the texts that state the objectives clearly.

Therefore, when we come to realize what do Sunnis and Shiites disagree on in understanding the Quran or the traditions, especially in terms of documentation and the like, we would notice that there exists an Islamic jurisprudence that could be adopted by someone and rejected by the other, just as is the case within the Sunni or Shiite circle.

So, why do not we suggest an Islamic jurisprudence, away from any Shiite or Sunni singularity, so that each scholar would present his own point of view with the necessary proofs to support it?! One of the Shiite Muslim scholars, Al-Hilli, has adopted this method in his books “Al-Muntaha” and “At-Tazkara”, so he tended to present the issue and bring up the evidence referred to by the Sunnis in the same way of what is brought up by the Shiites. Moreover, he talked about the differences in a combined method without separating between what the Shiites and the Sunnis say.

Therefore, the talk about the comparative jurisprudence, or the jurisprudence of the four schools of thought, or the jurisprudence of the five schools of thought represents a confirmation of the barriers between the two sects. In my opinion, we ought to work to make our future jurisprudence an Islamic one that states the sayings of each without any complication. Therefore, I suggest to our brothers in the Proximity Assembly who thought about establishing a university of the four sects or the five sects to establish one that they call (the Islamic University), because that would confirm that we are Muslims when we disagree or agree upon something, and that our disagreement is within Islam and not outside it. As a result, we would stop accusing each other of being unbelievers, because this act [of accusation] that has imposed itself on the reality could be returned to the fact that we have gone beyond the Quranic conception of unbelief and belief which we are basing on something else. We have come to accuse of unbelief every person who disagrees with us and gets accepted by the other, or made an Ijtihad about something that the other did not approve of, knowing that the criteria of disagreement were based on the Quran and the Sunnah.

An excerpt of the book “On Issues of Disagreement and Unity”


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