"Religious Wars"

By Khalid Baig

Maulana Yusuf Islahi, a prominent scholar and author from India, narrates the following incident. Once, somewhere in southern India, argument developed between Hindus and Muslims over a procession of Muharram floats (Tazias), a practice rather common in the subcontinent to mark the mourning over the martyrdom of Sayyidna Husain, Radi-Allahu anhu. Young Hindus were adamant not to let it pass through a certain intersection while Muslim youth were as determined to go through. To avert the impending clash, older people from the two groups got together and tried to workout a compromise. After much haggling, a suggestion was made that the floats could be allowed provided they met some height restriction. However a thoughtful Hindu elder asked: "How can we ask them to limit the size of the float. They would have to use the size as prescribed in the Qur’an."

This incident is not typical of the Hindu-Muslim clashes that take place routinely in India. The Maulana used it to highlight the pathetic work Muslims have done in introducing Islam to their fellow beings. But it also highlights another important fact: Many of our religious wars are based on ignorance.

This is even truer in case of our internal wars, those between Wahhabis and non-Wahhabis, Barelvis and Deobandis, Salafis and non-Salafis, Hanafis and Shafiis, etc. etc. We fight over issues that are peripheral as if they were central, or issues over which Shar'iah itself allows a diversity of opinions as if there can be no two ways about it. Or sometimes we have a legitimate concern but we present it in ways that are wrong and damaging. In all those cases we do harm while being sure that we are doing good.

Consider the differences between the four schools of fiqh. As a rule these differences occur on issues that are open to ijtihad; either the Qur’an and Sunnah provided no clear cut and direct prescription or they include injunctions that on the surface are contradictory. The leaders of the four schools of fiqh were qualified mujtahids who used their tremendous knowledge and understanding to resolve the apparent conflict or provide the missing answer. While the answers they come up with will be different, there is no answer that can be called a munkar (evil), as long as it comes from a qualified mujtahid. Shar'iah does not permit us to wage a war against other interpretations because we can wage a war against evil only.

Certainly, these are not petty issues. The attention that scholars have given to them and the academic arguments that have been developed around them are a testimony to the fact that the minutest details of our religious observances have to be guarded carefully so that ---unlike all other religions ---both their form and substance can be preserved until the end of time. Yet the same scholars have also shown us how not to over-emphasize them.

When Imam Shafii offered fajr salat in the masjid next to Imam Abu Hanifa’s grave, he omitted the qunut and the raising of hands at every movement, out of respect for the great Imam. Imam Tahtavi writes about the visit of Qadi Abu Asim, a Hanafi scholar to Imam Qaffal, a Shafii scholar. Imam Qaffal asked his guest to lead the prayers and asked his muezzin to call the iqamah the Hanafi way. Qadi Abu Asim, on the other hand, followed the Shafii way in leading the salat.

Such accommodation is possible when either practice is acceptable in both schools but they differ on which one is preferable. Many of the issues that divide us fall in this category. But even when such accommodation is not possible, we have to keep the differences in their proper place and never let them eclipse the common ground. Our "religious wars" are a result of ignorance or not following the religious teachings, and not a result of following them. Here are some of the often-ignored Shar'iah teachings in this matter.