Unity Through Schools of Thought

A Lecture Presented at the International Islamic Unity Conference, August 8, 1996

Bismillah. Alhamdulillah.  Was-salaat was-salaam alaa Rasul-illah wa alihi wa sahbihi wa man walaa. In our gathering today, we are showing, of course, the reality and not the Hollywood myth about our Islamic faith.  At this rich and very wonderful and blessed time of the year, we Muslims always reverently and with love, call to mind the birthday of our blessed Prophet sallallahu `alayhi was-sallam – the one who is dearer to us than our selves, our fathers, our families, and all mankind.

Nothing could be further from the monstrous stereotypes now being put about Muslims than this experience of celebrating the birthday of a man whose traits and perfections have brought him such incomparable love down the ages.

And yet nowadays – and this is the catch – we are forced to acknowledge that among his alleged followers today and in very strident violation of his own ethic, there exists a tiny minority whose aim in life seems to be to strive to conform precisely to that miserable stereotype that so many would have of us. Every faith, obviously, and this is sad and inevitable, has a lunatic fringe and Islam is not immune from this sobering and universal law.

Now, the Muslims who are capturing the headlines of today’s newspapers are of course not the saints and the charity workers, the builders of hospitals, and the upholders of decent family life.  They are our lunatic fringe: the followers of a sect, a heresy whose shadow is now spreading over the entire world.

Probably all of us have had some kind of experience of them:  their arrogance, their ignorance, and  their often quite reptilian aggressiveness are sadly quite unforgettable. Everywhere we turn now in our Muslim Communities, there they seem to be.  Like some kind of spiritual HIV virus, they are spreading through the body of our Ummah.  One or two of them are quite enough to cloud and poison the most pleasant gathering of believers.

The Unity of the Ummah, which is the glorious theme of today’s conference, seems quite literally to be in peril. Now these people, and of course it is totally unnecessary to mention any of their names, are divided themselves into countless sects, and sub-sects, and subdivisions.  Their delight in insulting and attacking each other seems second only to the exquisite joy they seem to feel in insulting traditional Muslims and their scholars. But they agree upon one thing and this is in fact the definition of who they are: they set themselves up as superior to the great ulama of the past. They claim that the four schools, the madhhahib, which has been the mechanism and the guarantor for the unity and coherence of traditional Islam for so long, contain gross errors of content and of methodology. Theirs is the outrageous claim that the original vision of Islam never enjoined the Muslims to create or to follow such schools of fiqh. In their literature, they make the accusation that to follow a madhhab is some kind of alternative to following the Sunna of the blessed Prophet sallallahu alayhi wa sallam. And as such, many of them further claim, it is a form of setting up a human authority as a rival to the authority of God Himself, it is a kind of shirk. And in fact it is quite possible to read, and I have seen it myself in their pamphlets which they distribute in such vast numbers, that to follow one of the four madhhabs is a form of shirk.

Now, if one has to think hard and to make a list of the most illogical and crazy heresies that have appeared in the long and varied history of Islam, this surely would be right at the very top.  It is a terrifying sign of the ignorance that grips the Muslims today that anyone, even amongst the least educated and intelligent people, could ever think such thoughts.  And yet it is, and also,  it is a no less terrifying proof,  I think of, of the lack of awe and respect which we have in our hearts towards the great scholars of our Ummah, particularly those of the golden ages of Islamic scholarship.  How odd that any of us could believe that the ulama who have faithfully followed the four madhhabs, and basically this means of course rounded out 99% of the ulama of Islam, should have been guilty of following and calling to a rival, some kind of alternative to the Sunna of the blessed Prophet, alayhi as-salaat was-salaam.  It would be hard to find a more drastic and disgraceful example of what can happen when the heart is polluted According to this view, really the standard lists of the great ulama of Islam: Imam al-Ghazali, as-Suyuti, an-Nawawi,  Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, and so on – really the entire constellation of Islamic scholars, whose heart commission it was to explain and classify and present to us Islamic legal and doctrinal heritage, were drastically misguided.

Page 1 of 5 | Next page