I endorse the Sunni Muslim Unity Pledge for mutual understanding, respect and co-operation. But I have a lot of reservations.
Here is the text of the pledge.
Pledge of Mutual Respect and Cooperation Between Sunni Muslim Scholars, Organizations, and Students of Sacred Knowledge
‘Hold fast to the Rope of Allah, all together, and be not divided. (Qur’an, 3:103)
Surely, those who have made divisions in their religion and turned into factions, you have nothing to do with them. Their case rests with Allah; then He will inform them of what they used to do. (Qur’an, 6:159)
In light of the Divine Word, we recognize that the historical nature of Sunni Islam is a broad one that proceeds from a shared respect for the Qur’an and Sunnah, a shared dependence on the interpretations and derivations of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them), and a shared respect for the writings of a vast array of scholars who have been identified by their support for and affiliation with the Sunni Muslims and have been accepted as the luminaries of Sunni Islam – as broadly defined.
Likewise, detailed discussions in matters of theology are the specific domain of trained specialists, and proceed on the basis of well-defined principles and methodologies, which are beyond the knowledge of the generality of Muslims.
Our forebears in faith, with all the dedication, brilliance and sincerity clearly manifested in their works, have debated and discussed abstruse and complex issues of creed and practice, and have failed in most instances to convince their opponents of the veracity and accuracy of their positions.
The average Muslim is only responsible for knowing the basics of creed as they relate to a simple belief in Allah, His Angels, Scriptures, the Prophets and Messengers, the Last Day, and the Divine Decree.
Recognizing that the specter of sectarianism threatens to further weaken and debilitate our struggling Muslim community at this critical time in human affairs, and recognizing that Allah, Exalted is He, has given the Muslim community in the West a unique historical opportunity to advance the cause of peace, cooperation, and goodwill amongst the people of the world, we the undersigned respectfully:
– Urge Muslims to categorically cease all attacks on individual Muslims and organizations whose varying positions can be substantiated based on the broad scholarly tradition of the Sunni Muslims. We especially urge the immediate cessation of all implicit or explicit charges of disbelief;
– Urge Muslim scholars and students of sacred knowledge to take the lead in working to end ad hominem attacks on other scholars and students; to cease unproductive, overly polemical writings and oral discourse; and to work to stimulate greater understanding and cooperation between Muslims, at both the level of the leadership and the general community;
-Urge Muslims in the West, especially our youth, to leave off unproductive and divisive discussions of involved theological issues that are the proper domain of trained specialists, and we especially discourage participation in those internet chat rooms, campus discussion groups, and other forums that only serve to create ill-will among many Muslims, while fostering a divisive, sectarian spirit;
-Urge all teachers to instruct their students, especially those attending intensive programs, to respect the diverse nature of our communities and to refrain from aggressive challenges to local scholars, especially those known for their learning and piety;
– Urge our brothers and sisters in faith to concentrate on enriching their lives by deepening their practice of Islam through properly learning the basics of the faith, adopting a consistent regimen of Qur’anic recitation, endeavoring to remember and invoke Allah in the morning and evening, learning the basics of jurisprudence, attempting to engage in voluntary fasting as much as possible, studying the Prophetic biography on a consistent basis, studying the etiquettes that guide our interactions with our fellow Muslims, and the performance of other beneficial religious acts, to the extent practical for their circumstances;
– Finally, we urge the Believers to attempt to undertake individual and collective actions that will help to counter the growing campaign of anti-Islamic misinformation and propaganda that attempts to portray our religion as a violence-prone relic of the past unsuitable for modern society, and by so doing justify indiscriminate wars against Muslim peoples, occupation of Muslim lands, and usurpation of their resources.
Saying this, we do not deny the reality of legitimate differences and approaches, nor the passionate advocacy of specific positions based on those differences. Such issues should be rightfully discussed observing established rules of debate. However, we urge the above measures to help prevent those differences from destroying the historical unity and integrity of the Muslim community, and creating irreparable divisions between our hearts. Further, we do not deny the urgency, especially in light of the situation in Iraq, of efforts to foster greater cooperation between diverse Muslim communities. Hence, this document should not be seen as negating any statements, or declarations designed to foster greater peace and harmony between diverse Muslim communities. However, we feel, as Sunni Muslims, a pressing need to first set our own affairs in order.
In conclusion, having called our brothers and sisters to act on these points, we, the undersigned, pledge to be the first to actively implement them in response to the Divine Word:
Do you enjoin righteousness on the people and refuse to follow it yourselves and all along you are reciting the scripture!? Will you not reflect? (Qur’an (2:44)
We ask Allah for the ability to do that which He loves. And Allah alone is the Grantor of Success.
The pledge itself was developed in the West, but I cannot say enough about the need for mutual understanding between not just Muslims but all religious scholars in India where I see innumerable animosities based on matters of religious understanding , and among the Muslims in terms of Fiqh(Jurisprudence), on the application of Sufi thought and doctrine, and on matters of ijtihad(reasoning on matters of theology).
I cannot stress enough the need for opening out the scripture and theological texts to the larger public domain for them to available and accessible to one and all. When great scholars like Al-Ghazzali worked they had in mind the benefit of all mankind. My experience and practice and knowledge , for now remains painfully and ignorantly rooted only in Islam, so I speak from here in the hope and earnest prayer that God increases me in his knowledge. For He. surely, is the supreme guide and holder of wisdom.
I would like to go further and say that matters of sacred knowledge (God and his messengers know best) need to be debated in the open, so that our inner worlds are not that far from the outer. And this should not just be for the Muslim ummah but for the whole of God’s creation.
Traditional knowledges are inter-connected; medicine or anatomy was not separate from matters of the spirit. Today these connections need to be re-established or we will see a devastating impact on the academies wherein knowledge will only serve to disassociate us from our spiritual lives. This is already happening with the technologising of our lives and life-styles, and is a trend that needs to be corrected in the sciences and within philosophical spheres of learning.
This is the reason why I feel that matters of all religious learning need to be debated openly among diverse scholars and in conjunction with historians, scientists and theorists and political thinkers. I’m sure that in that process we will be not just doing justice to but also bearing and carrying forward the immense and invigorating repositories of knowledge that theological learning, the sciences of the spirit and ways of life such as the religious method have to offer.
There are however some problems I have with the pledge itself. I do not endorse the divide between scholar and lay-man and will never endorse the divide between a religious scholar and a practitioner of religion (May God be the witness to my words and deeds).While I embrace this call whole-heartedly because I see in it a spirit for togetherness and bridging long standing gaps between Islamic sects and the potential for some real debates on matters of Islamic history and the ahadeeth, I feel that the internet is in fact a great place to start talking about these matters. What better democratic, non-patriarchal and classless platform than this to advance thought, and to communicate with diverse view-points? While there is a risk of profanity and distortion there is also the possibility of synergizing.
I am a believer in real experience as the best teacher in all values, but as a Muslim woman from a country where Muslims are an often persecuted minority, I cannot say how much being on the internet has strengthened my sense of being a part of a global shared pool of thinking, cultural values and practices. It is pitiable that I do not have the same sort of atmosphere in a physical sense but we all have our lives to lead. Our cultural mileu may be different but the best thing about this medium is that it allows people to talk to each other. And Alhamdulillah(Praise be to God), that may yet be the best tool we have.
In conversation with my people back home there always is the rift which the staunchest traditionalists call ‘maghribi taleem ka assar’ or the influence of Western learning, which to them reflects a lack in certainty. Urdu learning on the other hand is to them perfectly capable of granting an individual with the knowledge of certainty and moral rectitude that a Muslim needs. These differences between theology and modern life are too wide right now and it is about time that they be bridged.
As I write this I write with a great satisfaction that I have been given the means to articulate anger and angst that has been simmering in me for a long time . Jazak Allah! It is the holy month of Ramzaan and may my words bespeak the pain of a troubled heart and mind. But I’m immensely happy that I have had the opportunity to articulate these feelings and that this blessed pledge has brought them forth.
In the past week we have all been witness to the most stirring events of a generation. We have seen monks taking to the streets in order to correct a political situation. I have no words to express my exhuberance at these replenisingly, rescusiatingly wonderful sights. We all must in our own capacity stand with the brave people of Burma in their struggle for self-rule, and as we speak for unity in theological thinking, discourse and action we do not stand in isolation from the larger worlds of religions, each with their separate world -view. May God show us all the way.Aameen.