When this first came out September 2007, I was so excited about the possibility that we could move beyond polemics where so called sufis attacked so called salafis and vice versa. I also hoped that we would move beyond nasty name calling and disrespect those who have worked tirelessly to develop the American Muslim community. There have been men and women responsible for not only inviting tens of thousands into the Deen, but helping many become better human beings, and thus Muslims. These scholars come from various persuasions and in the past they have often been very heated disputes over theology, political views, practice, legal understandings, etc. Often these scholars are referenced, but many people who claim to respect, and some claim to even follow, these scholars resort to name calling and attacking whole communities for being in the wrong geographic area or on the wrong rung of the socio-economic ladder, or for having a particular orientation.
In light of the growing tensions between Black and indigenous Muslims versus immigrant Muslims, once again resurfacing polemics involving the salafi/sufi divide, Usama Canon reminds us all to remember the importance of pact of non-aggression that a number of Muslim leaders signed. By signing this agreement, they said no to bolstering their stances by dogging out their brothers and sisters. After it was published, a number of bloggers and organizations expressed their support, others had reservations about the implications that this would short circuit open discussion. Often, people had a problem with the working. Whether or not you agree with the wording, I think it is important to think about the spirit of this pact. It is essential that we step up our etiquette towards our brothers and sisters. If we Muslims are supposed to be careful about what we say, it is absolutely imperative that we as Muslim bloggers be cautious about what we write. What we post and your comments are here for posterity. There are fodder for those who wish to capitalize on our weakness or use some quote out of context to prove a point. But more important than dawah or the American Muslims’ public image, what we say, read, and write has a bearing on our own souls.
Here’s a step in the right direction, and I hope that we begin to articulate a higher standard of ethics in our conduct towards each other:
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.
Abdul Karim Khalil
Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf Mangera
Abu Aaliyah Surkheel Sharif
Abu Eesa Niamatullah
Aisha Faleh AlThani
Cheikhna B. Bayyah
Jihad Hashim Brown
M. Abdul Latif Finch
M. Afifi al-Akiti
Muhammad ibn Adam
S. Abdal-Hakim Jackson
Shamira Chothia Ahmed