Amid official Shiaphobia, Iranian cleric’s Message of Reconciliation fell on deaf ears

August 25, 2013

Amid official Shiaphobia, Iranian cleric’s Message of Reconciliation fell on deaf ears

by Abdar Rahman Koya*

“Were it not for the unseen gatekeepers of Malaysia’s Muslim community, Mohsen Kadivar’s visit could have been used more productively, especially in throwing some sanity into the present sectarian climate. Alas, when even a couple of dogs could set off fury from the top echelons of our Islamic bureaucracy, this would be asking for too much.”- A R Koya

Mohsen KadivarA well-known Iranian cleric has expressed surprise at the stand taken by Malaysian religious bureaucrats on Shiism, and reminded them about a famous fatwa in 1959 by the late Mahmud Shaltut from Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, a fatwa which explicitly recognises Shiism as Islam’s fifth school of law.

“Are Malaysian Muslim leaders aware of this fatwa?” asked a disappointed Professor Mohsen Kadivar, an Iranian philosopher trained in the seminaries of the Iranian University of Qom and now a Visiting Professor at the prestigious Duke University in the United States, upon learning that authorities were uneasy with his presence.

“It is the choice of Muslims, not the rule of governments,” he said, mincing no words when addressing a forum in Penang on August 23, jointly organised by the think tank Penang Institute and the vocal Islamic Youth Group, Islamic Renaissance Front, headed by Dr. Farouk Musa.

Organisers had earlier been pressured by Islamic officials in the state to halt the talk. A s a compromise, the event was moved from Wawasan Open University to a hotel in Georgetown, effectively making it a closed-door session.

The decision followed an earlier closed-door session meant for the academic community in the International Islamic University, but which varsity officials in Gombak cancelled at the eleventh hour.

This reception given to Kadivar was understandable. He could not have come to Malaysia at a worse time, when government-controlled media and mosques, backed by little-known religious preachers, have been spearheading a divisive anti-Shia campaign themed “dangers of Shiism.”

The 54-year-old scholar is a strong advocate of Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, andMohsen Kadivar2 was jailed during the Shah’s tyranny. He refused to let post-Revolution officials rest on their laurels, and as a result, he is now in self-exile in the US after his views – more about religion than about domestic politics – infuriated clerics in Iran.

Yet Kadivar’s message is centred on taqrib, or “reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites,” and betrays the kind of cold treatment he received from the so-called intellectual circles in Malaysia. For instance, he agrees that extremists on both sides have complicated efforts to bring both divisions closer, and called on their ulama to reign in their followers, including those among Shiites who still resort to abusing some Companions of Prophet Muhammad.

“It is not right to curse any Companions of the Prophet. The (Shiite) imams prohibit their followers from cursing Companions of the Prophet, who all Muslims should respect,” said Kadivar, who, after mentioning figures of Sunni Islam such as Abu Bakr al-Siddiq and Umar ibn al-Khattab, added the invocation radiyallahu anhum, or “Allah be pleased with them.” Shiites generally believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, the fourth caliph of Islam, who was also the Prophet’s son-in-law, is the rightful heir to the Muslim leadership following the Prophet’s death, saying this was due to the personal training that Ali had received privately, being part of the Prophet’s family -Ahl al-Bayt.

But Kadivar added that the other three earlier figures – Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman bin Affan – were also part of the Prophet’s family, the first two his fathers-in-law and the third his son-in-law.”I should respect the fathers-in-law of Muhammad, and I should respect the sons-in-law of Muhammad,” he said, while adding that criticising their actions should be done respectfully due to their close association with the Prophet’s struggle. You are not allowed to curse, but you can criticise respectfully.”

According to Kadivar, much of this sectarian attitude was due to ignorance, and he cited the results of a survey last year by Washington-based Pew Research Center which found that tolerance of Shiites in Sunni-majority countries is in tandem with the size of Shiite presence in their populations. For example, there are more Sunnis in Iraq and Lebanon who agree that Shiites are fellow Muslims, compared with some Gulf countries, where Shiites are negligible minorities.

Kadivar also sought to dispel a cacophony of myths being paraded by anti-Shia soothsayers, including such claims that Shiites follow a different Qur’an from Sunnis, or glorify the figure of Ali more than that of the Prophet.

“There is no such different Qur’an among Shiites. If you hear such a thing, it is completely false,” he said, saying those who claim some omissions in the Qur’an in its present form were minorities from both Sunnis and Shiites unrecognised by their mainstream scholars. He rubbished accusations that Shiites prioritise Ali over Muhammad, and quoted a hadith from Usul al-Kafi, an authoritative Shiite compilation, which quotes Ali as saying, “I am the servant of the servants of Muhammad.

Kadivar pointed out that a more careful study of both schools would show that both agree on 90% of the Islamic corpus of teachings. In fact, he opined that one would find more differences among Sunni schools of Islamic law.

“The differences between Hanafis and Hanbalis, or between Malikis and Shafi’is, are more than the differences between Sunnis and Shiites,” said Kadivar. He explained that one main difference lies in the third source of Sunni and Shiite teachings, after the Qur’an and Hadith.For Sunnis, the sayings and understanding of the Companions form this third source, while for Shiites, the traditions of the Prophet’s household and the imams are referred to.

No easy task

Kadivar conceded that the present climate is fraught with difficulties, and countering the sectarian elements would not be easy. He said while Shiite scholars have no difficulty in holding discussions with traditional Sunni ulama, such is not the case when it comes to Wahhabis.

“With Wahhabis, all Muslims have problems. They do not believe in debate, dialogue or research. They generalise everything and read texts out of their contexts,” he said. He maintained that the Muslim world was still reeling from oppressive systems, and said real dialogue between Sunnis and Shiites can only take place in an environment of intellectual freedom so all sides can clarify their points.

Religion and state equidistance

And this is also why Kadivar, when asked by a member of the audience, considered favourably the separation of government from religious matters and institutions, without advocating crass secularism.

He said secularism itself was not bad, depending on its variants. Kadivar himself prefers the Indian model, where religions are treated equally, rather than the French or American models, where religion is either banished from public domain or rendered irrelevant.

He further explained that in the longer term, a religion such as Islam would benefit from such a detachment, citing the Turkish experience as an example over that of his own country, Iran, where the government’s involvement in religious affairs has resulted in less religiosity among the Muslim populace.For example, by not financing religious institutions, Kadivar argued that the religious leadership would be more independent and not subservient to the regime in power.

This he said was demonstrated in Iran prior to the Islamic Revolution, where the ulama had displayed strong leadership in defence of the masses, who were being persecuted by the Shah’s dictatorship. Similarly, he compared present-day Turkey and Iran, one ruled by a ‘secular’ system and the other by a religious system, and concluded that voluntary religiosity among Muslims could be felt more in Turkey.

Were it not for the unseen gatekeepers of Malaysia’s Muslim community, Mohsen Kadivar’s visit could have been used more productively, especially in throwing some sanity into the present sectarian climate. Alas, when even a couple of dogs could set off fury from the top echelons of our Islamic bureaucracy, this would be asking for too much.

*Abdar Rahman Koya is Managing Editor of Islamic Book Trust, Kuala Lumpur,

11 thoughts on “Amid official Shiaphobia, Iranian cleric’s Message of Reconciliation fell on deaf ears

  1. A House of Islam divided will remain weak. Reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias is not possible at this point in time. Even intra-faith dialogue hosted jointly by UMNO and PAS is difficult to start since one is trying out Islam the other, leaving Malaysian Muslims in a state of confusion. That is what happens when politics gets in the way.–Din Merican

  2. Difficult to comprehend this Schism, or these kinds of Schismatic ‘ divisions ‘ in the Islamic world, not merely mired in confusion, but human sanity gone completely upside-down in terrible turmoil bordering in insanity – as for example in Iraq, the Sunni-Shia’ divide has led them not to recognize anymore their kith and kin, nor even their own family members, their wives and children…..they merely detonate the bombs and cause untold mayhem and Miseries….. whom are they annihilating if not they are themselves getting annihilated ? If that is how they understand their own religion, then the whole Muslim world should feel sorry for themselves for misunderstanding their own Faith called ” Islam “, for insanely holding on to the various schisms, in the divide between Sunni & Shia’, the Malikis and the Hambalis, the Shafie’is and the Hanafis right up to the Wahabbies….not to mention the Talibans who are killing their own Afghan people.

    If they are divided on these Schisms, then many of us who are down to earth Muslims feel disappointed and dejected by these ” Ingenious ” leaders & Scholars of Islam who are Distorting and Deviating from their own Religion, causing widespread malicious falsehoods over humanity.

    Just the little faith that I have, I have to urge the Muslims who are causing the irreparable damage in this World, to STOP these Schismatic way of thinking, but go for the universal One and Only mode of understanding of the Religion, viz ; From the outer-most Syariah, go deeper into Haqiqat and the Ma’arifat, by the acclaimed and the tested Philosophical mode of the T’sauf ( or Tasawoof) . It will not be difficult to learn or realize that the T’sauf is actually The Liberating Philosophical Islam because it FREES the Mind from the Shackles of Rigidities, caused by the Literal Islam ( as described by Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa ), which is The Syariah on the superficial or face-value level……through the Philosophical Islam, or T’sauf , it enables us to descend to the Core…..symbolized by the ‘ Dot ‘ at the centre of the Circle, the ultimate point of ” Infinite Density ” lying hidden in the Heart of The Qura’n……
    So please do not distort The Holy Book by all the manufactured ‘ Schisms ‘……most of us feel disillusioned….

  3. Kadivar sounds like a kind of “moderate” Shia follower who has serious problems even amongst the Shia clerics in Iran which can be looked upon as the seat of the world Shia group. Kadivar himself also admitted that the Shia has internal problems with their own extremists. If we allow Shia preaching in Malaysia probably those Shia extremists and their influence may find opportunity to spread their wings here creating greater problems amongst the Muslims.

  4. I have asked many Muslim scholars from Turkey, Iran, Saudi, Lebanon, Syria, Indonesia and of course Malaysia, about the Islamic sects and became more confused the more each of them tried to enlightened me.

    Even the Christians are so divided. The Catholics have two major sects, the Protestants have many more. Between Catholics and Protestants, there is the Anglican Church.

    The Buddhists have three major ones; stemmed from India, Thailand, Tibetans, Japan and Taiwan. There is no official state religion in PRC.

    The Taoists have too many as well as Hindus.

    Every sect seems wanting to be holier than another within their own religion.

    Obviously Satan is succeeding trying to split this planet preparing for the AC to reign. Remember, the savior comes after and not before AC. So satan is having a limited fun time distorting every markets knowing that man has one desire he can grant when they worship him and that is POWER !

  5. Well…..Syariah too is causing all sorts of problems for wanting to Impose it everywhere in the world, when the Literal syariah, that rambles along the outermost Circumference ( of the ‘ Circle ‘ , symbolising the Universe which is denoted by circle ) , going in a never-ending cycle at the Circumference, is not going anywhere in terms of contribution of pure knowledge in the depth of Islam. Sans Knowledge, they want to Enforce by way of Militant Political Islam , turning to Radicalism , some to the Extreme who are branded as ” terrorists “…. Why ? its lack of Knowledge.
    Problems there are bound to be, even in our own close-nit families….that’s is the nature of human existence……..but, in order to stay positive, the only way is to TREAT the various Schisms, like the teachings of the Shia-ites , as an Antithesis , from which we rationalize or synthesise, that we may come to pure Knowledge.
    In the area of ” Faith ” it is Incorrect to legislate and turn it to a ” Crime ” and it becomes a ” Punishment ” to be imprisoned or incarcerated…..
    Personally, I do get some good positive knowledge from the Teachings of Christianity, or those of Guru Nanak, Confuci & Lao Tzu, BUT , they all Fortify my own Faith more & more….. ( no one punishes anyone in the ” Seeking ” of Knowledge, that’s is the point )

  6. While you guys hee and haw, jaw and craw, but all this will have no effect on the powers that be.

    After years of ‘existence’ on this planet, you guys have not learnt the core of Human misdeeds and failiings – the Mother/Father of all Sins: PRIDE, which is the cause of so much suffering and evil. Dogmatic Exclusivity, Sectarism, Tribalism and The Other is a manifestation of unerring pride. It is what is being Taught, not what is thought – that is the Way of this World. Satan is within each and everyone of Us. But so is God. The Triadic structure so beloved by Freudians..

    Christianity has had it’s share of doctrinal and dogmatic troubles including the the upheavals of heresy in the early Church, the Great Schism over the filoque clause, the horrific Great Inquisition during Medieval times and The Hundred Years War in Europe between the Catholics and Protestants. Most of them were Political or Socio Economic in Nature, and was not related whatsoever with differences in the Core. But Christianity is on the whole entering a phase of Ecumenism, Accommodation and Realization. Of course, there are still many Kooks out there. That may be frightening to many non-Christians..

    Islam has similarly being unable to rein in the inherent Tribalism and unfortunately has the propensity to encourage Martyrdom for the wrong reasons – where Logic and Reason are subservient to a Strange Vengeful God, Who is Not Immanent i.e, Externalized. Unless and until, the Immanence manifests in Human behavior, Peace Be Unto Him, will be just a slogan. Even Charity has to be enforced as a Pillar..

    Finally i quote this from the 17th Century Archbishop of Split (Spalato):
    “In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, inomnibus caritas.”
    which means: ‘In Necessary things – Unity; In Doubtful things – Liberty; in All things – Charity.’

    This debate and schism in Islam, Christianity and all World Religions will not go away, until you guys REVIVE the Core.

  7. Uncle Din
    Islamic Sunni /Syiah sects brutal and deadly conflict is a new destructive WMD created by the Neocons. and Zionist. The UMNO Baru is the latest importer of WMD to divide the Malaysian Muslims .

  8. Does not the Qur’an say that there is no compulsion in religion? So why are Muslims in Malaysia forced to accept one sect and not another? Confused youths might choose to join non-Muslim group that enjoys full freedom of religion. Instead of attraction Islam has been turned into repulsion. It is very sad really.

  9. In Malaysia we are taught to hate others, Christians, Jews and even Muslims because of their Mazhabs. Yet these are the same people that day in day out berate us to read the Holy Quran. The Holy Quran commanded us to :”Say, We believe in God and what was sent down to us and sent down to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and his sons, and what was given to Moses and Jesus, and what was given to the Prophets by their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we submit to Him” Surah Al-Baqarah ayat 136
    How often do we hear this surah being recited in the prayers led by the Imams and yet we chose not to follow.

  10. The most pertinent, and the most relevant Verse you have quoted there, orang Malaya – it proves the Authenticity of The Revelation, because it is All-Embracing. Imagine a Revelation that came through an ” Arab ” Prophet, but claiming in many parts about the Lord saying repeatedly to The Children of Israel ” Have you forgotten that you are My favoured race…..that you are My chosen people from the progeny of Prophet Noah, who proclaimed The Nation of Israel ? ” In no other Book, HOW CAN an Arabic Revelation, proclaiming the Prophecy relating to another race, IF the Revelation is not ‘ Authentic ‘ ?

    To this day, the progeny of ” The Lost Children of Israel ” of Isaac, Joseph, Jacob,Ismael and their Tribes, and some of their Descendants have been traced to have settled in parts of Arabia, from Mecca to Medinah ?

    Thank you for bringing up that Verse, orang Malaya…..

  11. PS.
    But I gathered from the Book, ‘ Judaism ‘ that was created as Off-shoot by JUDAH, the great, great Grandson of Abraham in the Southern Kingdom of Israel, IS CONFINED TO ONLY the Jews as a race, so then, its not about ” Religion ” or Faith, but about Supremacy of ” Race “……by which Muslims regard it as a Distortion/Deviation from the Original Revelation in The Torah…..

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