Engineer Muhammad Ali Mirza and Sectarianism
The scourge of sectarianism is eating away the unity of muslim-fraternity from the inside. In such times, any person or scholar who works tirelessly for overcoming differences and creating unity deserves not only attention but also appreciation. Faizan Farooq has dedicated this article to one such young scholar, Engineer Muhammed Ali Mirza. The importance of his work has also been highlighted in detail.
Religion is an objective-doctrine but since the concepts it concerns itself with are non-quantitative in nature it is bound to be tainted by subjective interpretations when approached by humans. Subjective influence on religion is so ubiquitous that almost all world-religions evolved and diversified into sects due to difference in perception and understanding. Every scholar approaches religion under the wide spectrum of politico-economic and sociological influences and as such is bound to decipher it in a way different than others. Be it the Hinayana-Mahayana or Digambara-Svetambara division of Buddhism and Jainism respectively or the Catholic-Protestant bisecting of Christianity (not to speak of dozens of other sects which developed further with time), all major religions have yielded more than one interpretation to its followers.
Islam is no exception. But while other religions were mainly divided over differences in theology or metaphysics, Islam’s early division, the Shia-Sunni split, happened over the question of succession of the Prophet in political-terms/state-affairs. The theology remained intact. But as time progressed, regional, philosophical and political influences created more sects and Sufi, Deobandi, Barelvi, Salafi etc. schools of thought came into being.
The worrying trend, however, in our opinion, is not the diverse interpretations of religion but the resultant water-tight sectorization of it which seems to be obliterating the very essence of the pan-Islamic nature of our religion. A particularly gloomy characteristic of this ‘universalizing’ of sectarian-Islam where every Muslim is necessarily required to be belonging to some sect or the other is the abysmal sectarian-hatred, distrust and dividing, ripping apart the very fabric of the Ummah coming to the fore. An uncritical acceptance of sectarian-doctrines is often demanded from its credulous followers while the literary-works of the founders of these sects remain shrouded in mystery. Also, as sects are created by targeting a particular tenet of the religion, sectarian-minded people often live with a false generalization of people adhering to other-opposing sects like Ahle-Hadith’s harboring the notion that other sects of Islam don’t emphasize on Tawhid much, Shia believing that non-Shia aren’t much attached to the Ahlul-Bayt or Barelvis thinking that non-Barelvis don’t love the Prophet enough etc.
This sectarian-hatred mingled with politics has proved to be even more catastrophic. The assassination attempts on world-renowned scholars like Mufti Taqi Usmani, Javed Ahmed Ghamidi or the target-killings of people like Amjad Sabri and Sarfraz Naeemi illustrate the dangers of juxtaposing sectarianism with politics. Not to mention the dozens of suicide-bombings which killed scores of Shia-Muslims (and non-Muslims as well) in Afghanistan & Pakistan. What has been accomplished by these acts?
There is no denying the fact that Muslim-world currently is undergoing its worst phase. Some of our problems are because of our enemies, others are our own making. The Muslim world is facing the dual-battle, firstly, the onslaught of ‘outer’ political adversaries who seem to be pounding the lands of Islam as they did with Communist-countries in the last century. And second, these internal divisions and strife annulling the very concept of the Ummah. We may think sitting in the comforts of our cozy-homes that sectarianism is not that ‘big an issue’ but we cannot ignore Muslims butchering each other in Syria while ignoring the greater aggressor in the Middle-East, Israel.
Engineer Mohammed Ali Mirza in such distressing times is akin to a fresh breeze of rejuvenation whose understanding of Islam has propelled the youth of the Indian-subcontinent, an area otherwise entangled with the curse of sectarianism, to develop a non-sectarian approach towards Islam. He has influenced Muslims from all Makatab-e-Fikr cutting across the shallow differences hitherto deemed everlasting. People who earlier loathed other sects have, due to his Jihad, begun to develop a flair for absorbing wisdom coming from all schools of thought. A positive impact can be seen in people who follow him with regards to their dealing with members of other sects and even people from other religions.
But such a comprehensive approach is not restricted to Engineer Mirza only. All genuinely great thinkers of Islam in the past as well have displayed the same inclusivity and magnanimity. Great Muslim political revivalist, Ruhullah Khomeini, suggested the works of a Sunni-philosopher Ibne-Arabi to the last head of erstwhile Soviet-Union Michael Gorbachev much to the anger and denouncement of ultra-orthodox clergy which persists even today. Sunni scholar, Late Dr, Israr Ahmed in turn showed praises on Imam Khomeini and Iranian Revolution despite his cardinal differences with the Shia-theology. Founder of Jamat-e-Islami Syed Maududi tried his level best to free Muslims from their sectarian prejudices. Allama Iqbal, one the most intelligent 20th-century Muslim thinker interacted with and sought guidance from great men aligned to all schools of thought like Barelvi, Ahle-Hadith, and Shia most notably among which are Peer Mehr Ali Shah, Syed Maududi, and Muhammed Ali Jinnah.
It is heartening to see rational Muslim youth today expressing disdain with sectarianism and is fighting the same at their own level. This abhorrence for sectarianism is permeating throughout all the ‘sects’ that are their followers and many wise Ulema as well have taken note of this feeling, most notably among which are the widely admired Maulana Tariq Jameel and Syed Jawad Naqvi. It is also important that people be at guard to prevent religion from being turned into a profession. It ought to be an undiluted zeal for learning which draws people towards religion and not some material-profit motives, something which Late Dr. Israr and now Ali Mirza has been repeatedly emphasizing. As the great Jewish adage notes, “Mere knowledge of religion with no practical skills will lead to sin and corruption”. How true and apt.
The challenge for men like Mohammed Ali Mirza is to strike a balance between fighting this widespread sectarianism without resorting to shallow tactics of the liberals many of who use sectarianism as a critique against Islam itself. So far, he has succeeded in doing this by showing people that the doctrines of one particular sect can be used to refute the position of another sect on a certain topic but that won’t give the sect uncritical precedence over others in all the matters. The approach is simple. Take from all sects what is worthwhile. And eschew the rest.
Ali Mirza has also shown a remarkably honest capacity of defending men across all barriers of sects from Takfiri clergymen. When the members of his own sect failed to defend him as the sectarians had planned to gobble Late Junaid Jamsheed under the false cloak of blasphemy, Muhammed Ali Mirza stood like a rock in his defense proving from the Quran and Hadith his innocence. He defended Late Abdul Sattar Edhi and his philanthropic work, post his death when some horribly tasteless remarks were made against him by a Pakistani cleric. More recently, he defended former actor Hamza Ali Abbasi on the same pattern as well. Even to his intellectual-adversaries whose position he thoroughly criticizes like Imam ibn Taymiyyah, Ahmed Raza Khan, Ashraf Ali Thanvi, Ibne Arabi etc, he displays utmost respect and courtesy. Such a catholic approach is need of the hour where we promote healthy criticism without resorting to personal or abusive remarks. Fredrick Nietzsche’s dictum ‘When you fight a monster, you become a monster’ needs not to be correct.
A quick point towards the end – that many people cite the Hadith which states that this Ummah will split into 73 sects in defense of their adherence to sectarianism. This Hadith, they say, proves that sects are unavoidable. The problem with the argument is that the Hadith is merely a prophecy, not an exhortation. Prophet simply predicted an eschatological event as per which the Ummah will split into 73 sects; he didn’t mean we should actively participate in doing so for that would go against an explicit command of the Quran which clearly forbids sectarianism (see Quran 6:159).
This article might give some of our readers the impression that we are promoting a blind-imitation (Taqlid) of Engineer Ali Mirza but that definitely isn’t the case. For that would be a betrayal of his position as well as my own intellectual pursuits. Tomorrow, I might very well disagree with him as well. But the work he has done and is doing in fighting dogmas and sectarianism definitely deserves applause. Scholars like him deserve to be cherished. Maybe today people aren’t realizing the importance of what he is doing but his legacy would go down in history a long way. Future generations would understand his worth. Let us understand that sectarian inclinations bear an inverse relationship to an intellectually vibrant society. Let religion be a personal discovery, not indoctrination. More importantly, let religion be a force of unity, not discord.
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