For Muslims worldwide, the staggering fall from grace can to a large extent be attributed to division in their ranks, aggravated by the plague of sectarianism fanned by hostile, divisive, antipathetic forces.
For centuries, they ruled over the world, founded civilized societies, put an end to barbarism, abolished idolatry and advocated monotheism. In recent times, however, they have sadly slipped into an abyss of despondency and darkness.
While the Holy Quran promises that the “honor, power and glory belongs to God and His apostle and the believers” (Surah Munafiqun), it also cautions that the “Almighty does not change the condition of a people until they change it themselves” (Surah Ar-Ra’ad).
Can a community leap forward with fragmented groups within baying for each other’s blood? Can it progress without holding firm and pulling in the same direction, as emphasized in the Holy Quran in unequivocal terms: “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not be divided” (Surah Aali Imran).
Even self-righteous European evangelists acknowledge that the modern world was founded on major scientific breakthroughs made by Muslim scientists and scholars at a time when Europeans were lurking in the dark. So what triggered this decline? The answer is disintegration in the community.
At a time when the diabolic projects of sectarianism and Takfirism are being aggressively marketed to dismember the community, it has become all the more critical to upholding the banner of unity, brotherhood, amity and tolerance.
The enemy succeeds not because it holds the moral high ground but because Muslims are divided into camps. Unless they close their ranks, overcome trivial ideological differences and develop respect and mutual understanding, they will continue to be afflicted with misery and despair.
Holy Quran puts it succinctly: “Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle and those who are (truly) with him are firm and unyielding towards disbelievers, (yet) full of mercy towards one another (Surah Fatah).” This element of ‘mercy toward one another’ is what defines the essence of unity and brotherhood in Islam.
Takfirism – declaring ‘others’ as ‘apostates’ – has spread like a plague across the world today. It is an obnoxious project promoted by forces inimical to Muslim unity because if Muslims unite, the enemy wouldn’t have the temerity to bombard Muslim countries and exploit their rich resources.
Today, Muslims are being brutally killed in Palestine, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc because some Arab regimes are brazenly sleeping with the enemy. Their so-called normalization with the Zionist regime has emboldened it to carry out horrendous war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Then comes selective outcry, selective condemnations, and double standards. When civilians are killed in New York or Paris, the whole world erupts in anger, but when there is a massacre in Kabul, Sana’a, or Baghdad, very few voices speak out.
Just a few weeks ago, there was deadly carnage in Kabul. A suicide bomber targeted an educational center in the predominantly Shia neighborhood of Dasht e Barchi, killing more than 50 children. There was no outrage, no hashtags, no candlelight vigils, and no protest rallies.
This violence has been normalized because the perpetrators are driven by the same Takfiri ideology that serves the agenda of anti-Islam, anti-Muslim forces. What enables this is the fact that they are united and Muslims are divided. This divide-and-conquer strategy works well for the enemies.
Imam Khomeini, the architect of the Islamic Revolution, realized the need for Muslim unity back in the 1980s when he proposed the idea of ‘Hafta e Wahdat’ (Week of Unity) in the month of Rabiul Awwal to honor the memory of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
In 1990, a year after Imam Khomeini passed away, The World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought was established by his worthy successor, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei, which organizes an annual unity conference every year, coinciding with the birth anniversary of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
Post-1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran is perhaps the only Muslim country that has vigorously championed the cause of Islamic unity and brotherhood. This is when many other Muslim countries have brazenly become facilitators and enablers of America’s neo-imperialism.
Why does the Islamic Republic of Iran refuse to swear allegiance to the United States? Why is the Islamic Republic of Iran willing to face crippling economic sanctions than surrender to the ‘Big Satan’? The answer lies in the pages of history.
The idea of the Islamic Republic, as envisaged by its founder, was based on the principles of truth and justice that were exemplified by a group of righteous men and women in the desert plains of Karbala almost fourteen centuries ago.
As witnessed in Karbala, right prevails over might, truth prevails over falsehood. Humiliation is not acceptable to those who belong to this school of thought.
For the record, Iran has not invaded or attacked any country in its history, but it has been attacked. On the contrary, the history of American imperialism is replete with stories of military invasions, brutal massacres, and socio-cultural aggression across the world.
Iran is the only country that has had a consistent stance on America’s hegemonic policies since the 1979 revolution. While the US and its allies have adopted many different extreme measures to coerce Iran into toeing its line, Tehran has refused to submit.
Iran, unlike many Muslim-Arab countries, has also emerged as a flagbearer of Islamic unity, and a lone challenger to Americans and Zionists in the region.
Looking back, many legendary Muslim figures have made indefatigable efforts to bring the Shias and Sunnis closer.
Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltut, who served as the grand Imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University between 1958 and 1963, issued a famous fatwa in 1959 about the faith and beliefs of Shias, which continues to be a symbol of hope for those who advocate unity and proximity between the two schools of thought.
Ayatollah Sayyid Hussain Borojerdi, a leading Shia religious authority of his time, also worked untiringly to foster unity and brotherhood among Muslims and maintained close contact with Dar ul-Taqrib Center in Egypt.
Other Islamic scholars who deserve mention include Muslim Brotherhood founder Sheikh Hassan al-Banna, Egyptian scholar Sheikh Muhammad al-Ghazali, Iranian scholar Allameh Sayyid Mohammad Hossein Tabatabaei, Iraqi cleric Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, Pakistani philosopher Dr. Allama Mohammad Iqbal, and Afghan ideologue Sayyid Jamaluddin Asadabadi.
Abd al-Mutaal al-Jabri, a student of Hassan al-Banna, in his book Limatha Yuqitla Hasan (Why Hasan al-Banna was Assassinated), writes about the historic meeting between al-Banna and Ayatollah Kashani in Mecca in 1948, shortly before the former was assassinated.
“If the life of this man (al-Banna) had been longer, it would have been possible to gain many benefits for this land, especially in the agreement between him and Ayatollah Kashani to uproot discord between Sunnis and Shi’ites. They met each other in Hijaz in 1948. It appears that they conferred with each other and reached a basic understanding but Hasan al-Banna was quickly assassinated,” he writes.
Those who have championed the cause of Islamic unity and brotherhood have always paid a heavy price, but the idea has lived on.
In contemporary times, Ayatollah Khamenei and Ayatollah Sistani have played a pivotal role in espousing the cause of Islamic unity. Both of them have time and again issued statements calling for unity between Shias and Sunnis and denouncing attempts to sow seeds of discord between them.
There is clearly more that unites Muslims than what divides them. In his book Al-Muslimun Man Hum (The Muslims – Who are they?), author Samih Atif Zayn says the key basis of differences lies in understanding the Holy Book, and both Sunnis and Shias have never disagreed on that.
“We must eradicate the sectarian spirit, full of hatred, and bar the road of those who spread rumors and quarrels in religion until Muslims return to how they were before: one society, cooperative and friendly, rather than divided, separated and hating each other,” he writes, stressing the importance of brotherhood as mentioned in the Holy Quran: “Verily, this brotherhood of yours is a single brotherhood, and I am your Lord and Cherisher” (Surah Al-Anbiya).
So, it is binding on all conscientious Muslims to collectively strive towards a common goal, and thwart plots that seek to create fissures between them.
“Indeed, those who have divided their religion and become sects – you, (O Muhammad), are not (associated) with them in anything. Their affair is only (left) to Allah; He will inform them about what they used to do.” (Surah Al-Anam).
Syed Zafar Mehdi is a Tehran-based journalist, political commentator and author. He has reported extensively from India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir and Middle East for leading publications worldwide.