Historically it is the impact of poets, mystics and philosophers in Muslim cultures that has provided an antidote to sectarianism.Given the pandemic of sectarianism, how do we immunize ourselves against the deadly flu? Especially since we refuse the imposed secularization as vaccination drive that was adopted by the West; that generates serious allergic response and throws away the baby of religion with the bathwater of sectarianism. Historically it is the impact of poets, mystics and philosophers in Muslim cultures that has provided an antidote to sectarianism sponsored by Mullacracy and sectarian politicians. Let us see how deep rooted sectarian consciousness is in history.
For various reasons we have had divergent sectarian interpretations that have been fighting one another and thanks to changing political equations, fortunes of certain sects would change. Earliest civil wars in Islam were fought in the name of sectarianism though we have some reasons to exonerate major actors in them from base motives and can point out, as an explanation, divergence in human perceptions of the truth besides the fateful subjectivity and unresolved contradictions inherited from the past . Shia vs. Sunni vs. Ibadi conflict needs no mentioning. We have rival schools of Ashab-i-Raiy (People of the Opinion) ironically also now classified with conformists or muqallids, and Ahl-e-Hadees now getting increasingly polarized. Initially there was grudging acceptance, at least de facto, of each other. We see fierce battles in history that have only been recently exacerbated between various legalistic and theological schools. Deadly tactics of Qaramitians and counter-tactics from politically dominant Sunnis are also well known. Intolerance expressed in persecution of many scientists, philosophers, theologians and Sufis has also been our legacy that needs to be acknowledged and revisited in the age of pluralism. Even philosophers who are expected to be least likely to endorse any kind of intolerance have not been able to shun State’s or ideology’s compulsions and we find a philosopher like Ghazzali (or more appropriately the theologian in him) despite being the author of a great work on dealing with religious differences issued a fatwa of takfeer for rival philosophers like Ibn Sina. Islam’s greatest sons from Ibn Arabi to Ibn Sina to Ibn Taymiyyah to Iqbal have been subject of takfeeri campaigns. All the legalistic (because conformist or muqallid) and Sufi schools have been thus rejected by some authority from rival school. Whole disciplines of Kalam, Falsafa and some traditional sciences such as astrology have been rejected as kufr by certain ulama. Even poets were not spared. Hafiz was initially refused a burial on Islamic pattern until it was agreed that a fal from his Diwan will decide. Today, we have Berelivees pitched against Deobandis and Salafis and vice versa. Hardly any name from any school one can name – from Sanaullah Amritsari to Qasim Nanatovi to Ahmed Reza Khan Berelvi to Syed Moududi to Ghamidi – who has escaped fatwa of kufr from some respected scholar of rival school. Recently we know how severe differences between religious ideologies/schools ended up in conflicting loyalties in political conflicts in Egypt and Syria. Kashmir problem itself (as a legacy of partition) and its appropriation by its top leadership have something to do with particular interpretation of Islam vs. religious other or of relationship between religion and nationalism. It is no longer possible for getting an Imam for one’s mosque without checking his affiliations with particular school/ideology. For those who want to argue that, today, there is healthy divergence (in theory, at certain point in history, in parts, amongst some groups like five major fiqhi schools one might agree) there is a standing refutation in an extremely important document prepared by Justice Munir Commission in Pakistan after extensive work, review of literature and interview of representatives of various religious groups. (Its pdf can be freely downloaded and check pages 201-235.) Munir Commission asked the heads of all Islamic schools of thought, the definition of a Muslim and no two ulema agreed but all agreed regarding some other sects being non-Muslim.
However, we needn’t despair. We have, traditionally inherited, a great legacy of consolidation and reconciliation of divergent positions. We have, in the very idea of Sunnism, a principle that has been able to accommodate as diverse positions as those of Al-Khashaf and Al-Razi, Ibn Arabi and Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Rushd and Ghazzali, Faizi and Sirhindi, authors of Majma-al-Bahrain and Fatawa-i-Alamgeri– in fact scores of theological, legalistic, philosophical, mystical and other schools. The significance and underlying hermeneutical assumptions underlying Sunni Orthodoxy is missed by such scholars as Rashid Shaz in his otherwise, in many respects, insightful Idraki Zawali Ummat. However Shia position is no less fruitful when it comes to exploring resources for placing different sectarian views in perspective. This is achievable by attention by openness to philosophy and such hermeneutical strategies as tawil which are universalizing ideas. We have thus Mulla Sadra and S. H. Nasr as great minds from Shia background who engage not only with Sunni thinkers without any hiccups but have developed and applied philosophical ideas and perspectives that can be used for reconciling not only various positions within Islam including between Shia and Sunni approaches or Sufi and philosophical approaches or some other seemingly disparate schools. We have, on a more philosophical front, such great scholars as Corbin who have developed resources for marrying faith and philosophy, Persian and Islamic philosophies, Western philosophers like Heidegger and Sufi thinkers and of course Shia and Sunni thinkers. In our tradition there have been many great minds about whom accusations of being Shia or Sunni or crypto-shia and crypto-sunni have been made implying that this very division is transcended or is flawed when characterizing bigger minds. Ultimately we need to appreciate that both Shia and Sunni approaches have patronized genius poets and philosophers and mystics who have all the resources we need for tackling sectarianism and resisting the tags Shia or Sunni. A few examples from the twentieth century we may note. Shariati from the Shia background paying the best tribute to Iqbal from Sunni background saying he is Ali-like (Ali-guna). Iqbal in turn acknowledged some Shia element in him (“Hae ouki tabeeyet main tasihiyu bi zara sa.."). We have Ayatullah Khomeni writing a commentary on Fusoos-al-Hikm, the work of the greatest Sunni Shaykh. We have Nasr the perennialist writing one of the best books on Islam (Ideas and Realities of Islam) and editing a Quran commentary (Study Quran) that hardly gives any indication of his Shia background. Higher the pitch of voice against rival school, narrower is the mind. Islam’s greatest minds including philosophers, Sufis and poets have deconstructed exoteric theological understanding of such a basic category as kufr and Islam (name any great poet from Hafiz to Bedil to Ghalib to Iqbal and see), not to speak of Shia and Sunni or Ahnaf and Ahle Hadees.