Renewing the Pledge of Mutual Respect and Cooperation Between Sunni Muslim Scholars, Organizations, and Students of Sacred Knowledge

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.

Signed,

Abdelrahman Helbawi
Abdul Karim Khalil
Abdullah Adhami
Abdurraheem Green
Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf Mangera
Abu Aaliyah Surkheel Sharif
Abu Eesa Niamatullah
Aisha Faleh AlThani
Asma Mirza
Cheikhna B. Bayyah
Dawood Yasin
Ebadur Rahman
Faraz Rabbani
Fuad Nahdi
Gul Mohammad
Haitham al-Haddad
Hamza Yusuf
Hasan al-Banna
Ibrahim Osi-Efa
Jihad Hashim Brown
M. Abdul Latif Finch
M. Afifi al-Akiti
Mehdi Kader
Mokhtar Maghroui
Muhammad Alshareef
Muhammad Ash-Shaybani
Muhammad ibn Adam
Omar Qureshi
S. Abdal-Hakim Jackson
Shamira Chothia Ahmed
Siddique Abdullah
Suhaib Webb
Tahir Anwar
Talal Al-Azem
Tanveer Hussain
Tawfique Chowdhury
Usama Canon
Usama Hasan
Walead Mosaad
Yahya Rhodus
Yasir Qadhi
Zaid Shakir

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4 thoughts on “Renewing the Pledge of Mutual Respect and Cooperation Between Sunni Muslim Scholars, Organizations, and Students of Sacred Knowledge

  1. There is no wisdom behind the sufi vs salafi debate, its divide and conquer and ignoring the bigger picture. Muslims have to learn to accept diversity as part of life and to tolerate differences in order to achieve common goals. Diversity of thought is a necessity and a value we must appreciate.

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  2. “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.”

    So unless I’ve been to the Islamic University of Medina or Al Azhar I’m not qualified to proffer an opinion on matters related to dogma or practice? Isn’t this the kind of elitism that you are so rightly critical of? With all due respect Margari, I simply do not buy this business of the ignorant, unwashed masses being lorded over by “scholars” or “specialist”.

    I have found that most of the controversies in aqeedah, especially, are philosophical in nature, and have more to do with ones ability to think in deep, probing terms, rather than the accumulation of any so-called vast Islamic knowledge. Almost all of the controversies that these “learned men” fight over would have been completely unknown to the companions for the reason that they evolved long after they were dead and gone.

    In fact, I’ve never accepted the whole gate-keeper approach with respect to the right to form ones own opinion. As recorded by Abu Hanifah (if indeed he really said it), “They are men and we are men”.

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  3. Salaam alaikum Abdur Rahman,

    As I stated in my intro, a lot of people had a problem with the wording of this. The point of my post that there was a spirit to this pact whereby the scholars themselves made a choice not to attack scholars who had differing opinions. Unfortunately, many people with lesser intellect and even productive contributions to the community still engage in condemning, slander, and attacking those who differ.

    I simply do not buy this business of the ignorant, unwashed masses being lorded over by “scholars” or “specialist”.
    I want to address this. I think that the context of this is missed. Many of the scholars who signed this agreement are actively engaged in educating the public and making knowledge and texts far more accessible than it was in the medieval ages where literacy was low and books not readily available.

    You seem to recognize a hierarchy in intelligence, but draw the line when it comes to training. How do we gauge whether or not someone has the intellectual capacity to expound on some heavy esoteric text? Should we have folks step up with the IQ scores? How can lay people determine whether someone is b-s-ing us with some lame pontification, what are the standards by which we establish authority to translate and expound upon our foundational texts?

    On a positive note, our tradition is far more flexible in recognizing someone with great talents than Western institutions. Name one 20th century American philosopher who didn’t come our of some institutional of higher learning.

    I would bring your analogy to how we deal with science. As Muslims, we believe that Allah create the universe and just because a physicist can develop a logical argument that seemingly refutes our belief, we can still stand by our faith. Now, if we expect our opinion to be taken seriously at an academic conference or want to be taken seriously by the top physicists debating singularity or unified theory, we will be at a loss. We may understand things by reading Elegant Universe, but we are not equipped with the same type of training, vocabulary, and even authority to express our opinions.

    Of course, religious sciences are different but I do think that most of us are ill equipped to understand deeply philosophical texts without commentary and maybe some guided instruction. I’d finally say this. Anybody has access to Foucault, Derrida, Sartre, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, and Kant. We all can read them and we all have a right to form our own opinion about them. But do you think that someone who thinks deep, but has little training in the discipline of philosophy could have stepped to Richard Rorty and be taken seriously?

    One can offer an opinion and personal insight. In fact, I believe in organic intellectuals. I’ve spent the past few years studying the diffusion of Islamic knowledge in West Africa, and I think we in America have such rudimentary knowledge of the Qur’an, Hadith, Tafsir, ‘Aqeedah, and Arabic in comparison to what is commonly taught there. You have people focused on lofty intellectual endeavors with very little basic Islamic literacy. Getting all deep debating Ibn Arabi and Ibn Rushd and condemning your brother or sister because you believe they are on the wrong side of the Mu’atazilite/Asharite debate, Sufi/Salafi divide, or any of the number of debates that have cause so much fragmentation among the rank and file Muslim. I think as non-specialists, reading some esoteric book that is translated and published by Fons Vitae holds a lot less weight staying up late at night in prayer, simply relfecting on our Lord and His signs, and being kind to His Creation. I think it is important that we be humble in our knowledge and not think that we have superior knowledge than some brother/sister who is embodying that knowledge by living a decent life and avoiding acrimony.

    Like I said, we all have a right to form our opinion and we will be held accountable to what we believe. But I do think that if we try to present our interpretation as authoritative in the public sphere and launch into criticism of others who don’t hold that same opinion, we are embarking into some dangerous territory. It is not about elitism, but about reminding lay Muslims that even religious specialists have rules of engagement that we seemed to forget.

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