"I gave a lot of thought to the causes of the sorry state of this ummah, during
the years of my captivity in Malta," said Sheikh-ul-Hind Maulana Mahmood-ul-Hasan. It
was 1920, and at 69, he was not only one of the most distinguished scholars of his time,
he also had spent a life time in political activism. His audience was a gathering of
ulema, eager to hear the lessons of a life time of study, struggle, and reflection. His
conclusion: "Our problems are caused by two factors; abandoning the Qur'an and our
in-fighting." He spent the few remaining days of his life addressing these causes.
These reasons are valid even today. They are also related, the second being caused by
the first. The Qur'an had declared us one brotherhood and had warned us against
in-fighting. We have ignored those teachings and the billion-strong ummah has turned into
an ummah fragmented into a billion segments.
A very large number of our internal battles is the result of narrowly defined
self-interests. Islam could have been the force that helped us overcome that.
Unfortunately, instead of letting it fulfill that role, today we have made even religion
provide us with additional and unresolvable points of conflict. We fight over petty issues
of fiqh. We fight over fine points of religious interpretation. We turn minor points of
religious law into big battlegrounds while most important and fundamental teachings of
religion are violated.
We do all this even as this religion has been under attack from all directions.
Thousands of people become apostates every year in Pakistan. Qadianis (who declare Mirza
Ghulam Ahmed of Qadian to be a prophet), and munkareen-e-hadith have been busy attracting
our new generations to their falsehoods. Haram is being declared as halal. Our masses are
ignorant of their religion and easily indulge in customs borrowed from polytheists. On top
of all that is the western culture of hedonism, of shamelessness, of moral anarchy, that
is invading our societies through film, television, radio, and obscene literature.
Corruption of all sorts has permeated all layers of our society. Should not we be
reflecting on this and asking ourselves what would the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa
sallam, expect of us, the heirs of the prophets? In the hereafter shall we be able to give
a sufficient answer by mentioning that we wrote a book on rafa-yadain (the issue of
raising hands during certain movements in obligatory prayer)?
Once I saw Maulana Anwar Shah Kashmiri in a very sad mood. What is the matter, I asked.
"I have wasted my whole life," he said. "You have spent your entire life in
spreading Islamic teachings.
Thousands of your disciples are themselves ulema who are serving the religion. If that
is a waste, what hope can anyone else have?" I insisted. "Look, what has been
the main thrust of all our efforts," he replied. "It has been to show why Hanafi
school is better than others. Imam Abu Hanifa did not need this. His grandeur did not need
our approval. Imam Shafii, Imam Malik, and Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal could not care less about
it. All that one can ever prove in these matters is that a certain position is right but
has the probability of being wrong and the other position is wrong but has the probability
of being right. Moreover, these issues will not be resolved even in the hereafter. For
Allah will not humiliate Imam Shafii, Abu Hanifa, Malik, or Ahmed bin Hanbal by showing
that they were in error." Then he added: "Today when the roots of Islam are
under attack, we have been busy taking care of the leaves."
It is not that debates or disagreements in religious interpretation are themselves
evil. Today many western educated Muslims, with scant understanding of their religion do
think that way. Some even suggest that we should bury all fiqhi schools and create a new
one. This is neither possible nor desirable. Differences of opinion are inevitable
wherever people have both intellect and honesty. Complete consensus on every issue is
possible only when either everyone is dumb, so they cannot think of a different idea, or
they are dishonest so they willingly agree with a position that they consider wrong. After
all religious interpretations are not personal rights that can be sacrificed away.
The problem occurs when we overstate these differences. There were differences of
opinion in fiqh among the Companions, their followers, and great Mujahideen. But they did
not turn these into fights. They disagreed but they maintained respect and love for each
other. The brotherhood remained intact. They had tolerance for the other view.
How can we have tolerance for something we know is wrong? Of course we cannot have any
tolerance for anything clearly established as wrong by Qur'an or Hadith. We can never show
accommodation for apostasy. We can never agree on changing the Shariah's established
definitions of halal and haram. But beyond this there are issues about which Qur'an and
Sunnah are silent or are subject to more than one interpretation. Here the mujahideen
deduce the intent of Qur'an and Sunnah based on their best ability. Here disagreements are
possible. As long as those involved are qualified mujahideen (like the four respected
imams), their differing views have to be respected. We can follow only one opinion, and we
should try and determine the one closest to the intent of the Shariah, but we cannot
declare opposing views as evil. We exaggerate when we deal with people holding valid
opposing views as if they were outside the bounds of Islam.
Overstatement (ghuloo) is the main cause of most fights involving our religious groups.
It also happens with Islamic organizations. Most are doing useful work in the areas they
chose based on their abilities and inclinations. Had they developed a spirit of
cooperation and considered their differences as just a natural division of labor, together
they could have become a formidable force. Unfortunately each one of them considers their
work and methodology as the only methodology for Islamic work. If a person leaves
one of these organizations to join another, he is treated as if he had recanted his faith.
This is ghuloo. It produces the tribalism of jahiliya (the pre-Islamic period of
ignorance) among religious workers.
Pious people are not extinct today. What we sorely need is the reformers who can rise
above their narrow perspectives and heed the universal and unifying call of Islam.
[Adapted from two talks of Mufti Muhammad Shafi, the late grand Mufti of Pakistan,
given in 1963.]