(A modified version of a reaction to the presentation “Intra-Religious Dialogue: How a Faith Tradition Can Rediscover Its Unity” by Felix Körner, SJ, PhD, Pakighinabi Conversation Series, Ateneo de Davao University, Davao City, Philippines, August 30, 2017. Fr. Körner, a German Jesuit priest, holds two doctorates in Islamic Studies and Catholic Dogmatics. Affiliated to the Rome-based Pontifical Gregorian University, and a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue’s “Commission for Relations with Muslims,” the lead discussant lectures on the Catholic faith, intra-Christian dialogue, and Muslim-Christian relations.)
At the outset, let me greet all of you – including the awake, the sleepy and the sleeping ones – with the greetings of peace: Salamun ‘alaykum! I am Mansoor Limba, your brother in faith and/or humanity…
Considering the very short time allotted, I shall concisely describe what I observe to be the trend of every faith tradition, and then I will cite Qur’anic passages that somehow give a hint on this trend. I will proceed on attempting to make a conceptual clarification of the word ‘unity’. Thereafter, I will cite three cases of efforts toward Islamic proximity (taqrib). Then I will make my concluding remarks.
Trend of Every Faith Tradition
I hope that all of you have no qualms in agreeing with me that true to all faith traditions, during the early period of each faith tradition, the doctrines and practices were simple and uncomplicated, while the original guide or guides were present, guiding the community of believers.
At a later period, the doctrines and practices would tend to become complicated, with the coming of new circumstances, followers, and questions. You can add to that the fact that during the same time, the original guide or guides were no more present.
The early period may be described in every faith tradition as an ideal period on account of the absence of differences. On the other hand, the later period may be described as a period challenge or challenges due to the then emerging differences and conflicts.
Making a hint on both periods, some Qur’anic passages, such as those below, can be cited:
“Indeed this community of yours is one community, and I am your Lord. So worship Me.” (21:92)
“The faithful are indeed brothers.” (49:10)
“Hold fast, all together, to Allah’s cord, and do not be divided.” (3:103)
“And do not be like those who were divided [into sects] and started discord.” (3:105)
“O you who have faith! Obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those vested with authority among you. And if you dispute concerning anything, refer it to Allah and the Apostle, if you have faith in Allah and the Last Day. That is better and more favorable in outcome.” (4:59)
Conceptual Clarification of ‘Unity’
The title of this Conversation is “Intra-Religious Dialogue: How a Faith Tradition Can Rediscover Its Unity.” As you may agree, a key term here is ‘unity,’ which requires conceptual clarification; otherwise, we will commit the same mistake of the anecdotal four blind men – in the poetry of Hafiz – who claim to know what elephant is, whereas in reality, each of them only touched an elephant’s body part.
When we talk about Islamic unity, we actually mean any of the following conceptions: (1) homogenization, (2) heterogeneity, and (3) proximity.
In homogenization, the way to attain the unity of the Muslim ummah (community) is to homogenize all Muslim schools of thought; to unify the Islamic school of thought. The outcome of this approach to unity is takfir or to declare other Muslims as unbelievers (kafir) and, therefore, as apostates (murtaddin) – “whose blood is ought to be shed”.
Another way to Islamic unity is ‘heterogeneity’ in which we assume that all these Muslim schools of thought are absolutely correct. The outcome of this approach is, in my view, something that borders on hypocrisy (nifaq).
The third way to achieve unity among the Muslims, which in my opinion, is the viable and reasonable one, is proximity or taqrib. Under this conception of unity, there is the attempt at exploring common grounds as guided by mutual recognition and respect among the various Muslim schools of thought.
Efforts Toward Proximity (taqrib)
And in recent years there have been many efforts along this line. One case was the long correspondence between a Sunni and a Shi‘ah scholar, namely, Shaykh Salim Bisri, the Rector (Mufti) of Al-Azhar University, Egypt, and Sayyid ‘Abd al-Husayn Sharafuddin al-Musawi of Lebanon. The outcome of this effort was the publication of their series of correspondence in book form under the title Al-Muraja‘at (“The Correspondence”). The good news is that its English rendition is available online for free.
Subsequent to this correspondence was the interaction between two equally prominent Sunni and Shi‘ah Muslim scholars at the time, namely, Shaykh Mahmud Shaltut, the Mufti of Al-Azhar University, Egypt, and Sayyid Husayn Burujirdi of Iran. The two outcomes of this effort by these two religious giants in the then Muslim world were Shaykh Shaltut’s fatwa (religious edict) recognizing Shi‘ah Ithna Ash‘ari jurisprudence as a valid Islamic jurisprudence, and the creation of World Forum for the Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought (Dar al-Taqrib bayn al-Madhahib al-Islamiyyah).
A third and relatively recent case is the Amman Message, which fortunately was mentioned by Fr. Felix in his presentation. The ‘Amman Message’ started as a detailed statement released on the eve of the 27th of Ramadan 1425 AH / 9th November 2004 by H.M. King Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It significantly contains three (3) questions posed to 24 of the most senior Muslim scholars from around the world (including Shaykh al-Azhar of Egypt, Ayatullah Sistani of Iran and Shaykh Qaradawi of Qatar): (1) Who is a Muslim? (2) Is it permissible to declare someone an apostate (takfir)? (3) Who has the right to undertake issuing fatwas (legal rulings)?
Three important points are highlighted in the document: (1) Whosoever is an adherent to one of the four Sunni schools (madhahib) of Muslim jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi‘i, and Hanbali), the two Shi‘ah schools of Muslim jurisprudence (Ja‘fari and Zaydi), the Ibadi school of Muslim jurisprudence and the Thahiri school of Muslim jurisprudence, is a Muslim. (2) There exists more in common between the various schools of Muslim jurisprudence than there is difference between them. (3) Acknowledgement of the schools of Muslim jurisprudence (madhahib) within Islam means adhering to a fundamental methodology in the issuance of fatwas.
In conclusion, rather than takfir, taqrib is the way to rediscover Muslim unity, and a simple step viable to you and I at this point in time is the endorsement of the Amman Message (http://ammanmessage.com). In doing so, you will only spend a minute indicating your name, email, position, and word of endorsement (http://ammanmessage.com/invitation-to-endorse-the-amman-mes…).
In case a minute is still too long for you, just Like and Share Amman Message’s official Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Official.Amman.Message). Doing so is just as fast as saying, “Yes to TAQRIB, No to TAKFIR!”