Sunni-Shia Muslim scholars reject Takfiri conspriacy against Muslim unity: Sheikh Mahmud Shaltut’s fatwa – by Sheila Musaji

Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltut, Grand Imam of Al Zhar University, Cairo

Source: Adapted from The American Muslim

Note: For Urdu version of Sheikh Shaltut’s fatwa, see this post:

Over the years, we have published a great deal of information about ugly Sunni-Shia sectarianism and the need for unity on The American Msuslim (TAM).  We have published Fatwa’s by individual scholars, and by large groups of scholars, and appeals by community leaders, all stressing unity.

This issue has been discussed for a long time.  For example, in 1959 Shaikh Mahmood Shaltoot, head of Al Azhar University wrote a Fatwa on the permissibility of following the Shia Madhabs.

Summary: 1) Islam does not require a Muslim to follow a particular Madh’hab (school of thought). Rather, we say: every Muslim has the right to follow one of the schools of thought which has been correctly narrated and its verdicts have been compiled in its books. And, everyone who is following such Madhahib [schools of thought] can transfer to another school, and there shall be no crime on him for doing so. 2) The Ja’fari school of thought, which is also known as “al-Shia al- Imamiyyah al-Ithna Ashariyyah” (i.e., The Twelver Imami Shi’ites) is a school of thought that is religiously correct to follow in worship as are other Sunni schools of thought.

Sheik Shaltoot also noted in his introduction that: “Some people who follow pseudo-scholars in Hijaz may beg to differ; that notwithstanding, what you see below is the view held by the overwhelming majority of Sunni scholars, and not just those at al-Azhar. Let it be known to those who strive to divide us, that their efforts are but in vain.”   The sad thing is that those people who seek to divide us can still be found today, more than 50 years after he wrote this.  They are a small minority, but they do a great deal of damage.  Although the overwhelming majority of scholars – both Shia and Sunni – agree that both Sunni and Shia madhabs (schools of jurisprudence) are valid, there are those few who insist on creating fitna.

It is possible to find individual scholars who hold divisive and exclusionary sectarian views, but you have to look hard to find them. An example of such minority opinions that go against the overwhelming majority opinion, but that still manage to be taken seriously by some individuals is a 2006 fatwa by Abdul Rahman al-Barak, a Takfiri Wahhabi (Salafist) cleric in Saudi Arabia who urged Sunnis worldwide to oppose reconciliation with Shiites. He said in a fatwa“By and large, rejectionists (Shiites) are the most evil sect of the nation and they have all the ingredients of the infidels. The general ruling is that they are infidels, apostates and hypocrites. They are more dangerous than Jews and Christians.” 

Just how marginal are such divisive and exclusionary “fatwas”?  Let’s look at the clear, majority opinion. 

In 2005, an important statement was issued by the Amman Conference.  This statement said that there are “eight schools of Islamic law”.  This statement was signed initially by 170, and ultimately by 552 respected Islamic Scholars from 84 countries, including 42 from the Forum of Muslim Ulama in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.  And, as Yahya Birt noted “It should be noted that it was not only representatives of the eight schools — Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi`i, Hanbali, Ja`fari, Zahiri, Ibadi and Zaydi — who endorsed this declaration, but, according to one eyewitness account, it was even more inclusive than that: It was significant that in addition to Iraqi and Iranian mainstream Shi’a scholars, representatives of the smaller Shi’a currents—the Isma’ili followers of the Aga Khan and the Bohra Isma’ilis, as well as the Shi’a Zaydis of north Yemen, signed off on this document.” (See list of signatories here.  Summary:

In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.  Peace and Blessings be upon our master Muhammad and his Family

Statement issued by the International Islamic Conference held in Amman, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, under the title: ‘True Islam and its Role in Modern Society’ 27-29 I Jumada 1426 H./4-6 Tammuz (July) 2005 C.E.

In accordance with the fatwas issued by the Honourable and Respectable Grand Imam Shaykh al-Azhar, the Grand Ayatollah Al-Sayyid Ali Al-Sistani, the Honourable and Respectable Grand Mufti of Egypt, the Honourable and Respectable Shi’i clerics (both Ja’fari and Zaydi), the Honourable and Respectable Grand Mufti of the Sultanate of Oman, the Islamic Fiqh Academy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Grand Council for Religious Affairs of Turkey, the Honourable and Respectable Grand Mufti of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Respectable Members of its National Fatwa Committee, and the Honourable and Respectable Shaykh Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi; And in accordance with what was mentioned in the speech of His Hashemite Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan during the opening session of our conference; And in accordance with our own knowledge in sincerity to Allah the Bounteous; And in accordance with what was presented in this our conference by way of research papers and studies, and by way of the discussions that transpired in it; We, the undersigned, hereby express our approval and affirmation of what appears below:

1) Whosoever is an adherent of one of the four Sunni Schools of Jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali), the Ja’fari (Shi’i) School of Jurisprudence, the Zaydi School of Jurisprudence, the Ibadi School of Jurisprudence, or the Thahiri School of Jurisprudence is a Muslim. Declaring that person an apostate is impossible. Verily his (or her) blood, honour, and property are sacrosanct. Moreover, in accordance with what appeared in the fatwa of the Honourable and Respectable Shaykh al-Azhar, it is not possible to declare whosoever subscribes to the Ash’ari creed or whoever practices true Sufism an apostate. Likewise, it is not possible to declare whosoever subscribes to true Salafi thought an apostate. Equally, it is not possible to declare as apostates any group of Muslims who believes in Allah the Mighty and Sublime and His Messenger (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) and the pillars of faith, and respects the pillars of Islam and does not deny any necessary article of religion.

2) There exists more in common between the various Schools of Jurisprudence than there is difference. The adherents to the eight Schools of Jurisprudence are in agreement as regards the basic Islamic principles. All believe in Allah the Mighty and Sublime, the One and the Unique; that the Noble Qur’an is the Revealed Word of Allah; and that our master Muhammad, may Blessings and Peace be upon him, is a Prophet and Messenger unto all mankind. All are in agreement about the five pillars of Islam: the two testaments of faith (shahadatayn), the ritual prayer (salat), almsgiving (zakat), fasting the month of Ramadan (sawm), and the Hajj to the Sacred House of Allah. All are also in agreement about the foundations of belief: belief in Allah, His Angels, His Scriptures, His Messengers, and in the Day of Judgement, in Divine providence – good and evil. Disagreement between the ulama’ is only with respect to the ancillary branches of religion (furu’) and not the principles and fundamentals (usul). Disagreement with respect to the ancillary branches of religion (furu’) is a mercy. Long ago it was said that variance in opinion among ulama’ “is a good affair”.

3) Acknowledgement of the Schools of Jurisprudence within Islam means adhering to a fundamental methodology in the issuance of fatwas. No one may issue a fatwa without the requisite personal qualifications which each School of Jurisprudence defines. No one may issue a fatwa without adhering to the methodology of the Schools of Jurisprudence. No one may claim to do absolute Ijtihad and create a new School of Jurisprudence or to issue unacceptable fatwas that take Muslims out of the principles and certainties of the Shari’ah and what has been established in respect of its Schools of Jurisprudence.

4) The essence of the Amman Message, which was issued on the Blessed Night of Power in the year 1425 H. and which was read aloud in Masjid al-Hashimiyyin, is adherence to the Schools of Jurisprudence and their fundamental methodology. Acknowledging the Schools of Jurisprudence and affirming discussion and engagement between them ensures fairness, moderation, mutual forgiveness, compassion, and engaging in dialogue with others.

5) We call for casting aside disagreement between Muslims and unifying their words and stances; reaffirming their mutual respect for each other; fortifying mutual affinity among their peoples and states; strengthening the ties of brotherhood which unite them in the mutual love of Allah. And we call upon Muslims to not permit discord and outside interference between them.

You would think that that would have put this matter to rest.  However, it didn’t. Right here in the U.S., ugly sectarianism continued to raise its’ ugly head.  Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid published a call for dialogue in 2005, and he convened The 1st National Shia-Sunni Dialogue in America was held on December 25, 2006 in Chicago.  This meeting issued a Communiqué of the Shia-Sunni Dialogue to Save Lives which included a resolution and recommendations for local action to counter anti-Shia and anti-Sunni prejudice and to remove hateful publications (primarily from overseas) from local Mosques.

In 2007, not just prejudice, but actual sectarian violence reached the U.S. when attacks were carried out by Takfiri Salafists and Takfiri Deobandis against at least a dozen Shia Muslim-owned businesses and mosques in Detroit.  The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) immediately condemned this and again called on leaders of the Muslim community to speak out and not only condemn such violence, but also educate their communities.  American Muslim Leaders in California signed a ‘Code of Honor’ to Promote Intrafaith Harmonya clear public declaration that division between Sunnis and Shias will not be accepted or tolerated by American Muslims  . Many more Muslim and Shia scholars signed on in Detroit, and many more at the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention.   At the ISNA Convention, this Code of Honor was read to the approximately 8,000 participants in one of the general sessions.

Here is that Muslim Code of Honor


Reports of sectarian tension overseas, particularly in the aftermath of the American invasion of Iraq, have prompted the Muslim American leadership to speak out against communal divisions and all sectarian violence. Such expressions of sectarianism, if unchecked, may add fuel to the fire, engulfing the Community in historical grievances that magnify theological differences and minimize the common `Pillars of Faith’ on which all Muslims agree, irrespective of their school of thought (madhhab).

As Muslim Americans who live and struggle for a dignified existence for Islam and Muslims in a spirit of peaceful coexistence and respect for all, we believe that the practical challenges of the future supersede the ideological differences of the past. Moreover, in recognition of our communal duty to promote goodness and peace, we remain eager to offer any help we can and to join hands with all those who wish well for the Family of Believers (Ummah) in stopping the senseless, inhumane violence in Iraq and elsewhere in the world.

In our view, we must begin by preventing such tragic sectarianism from spilling over into our Muslim communities in the United States. As a first step toward this goal, we agree to live in peace and respect each other in accordance with a `Muslim code of Honor.’ We remain committed to this Muslim Code of Honor not only during times of agreement and ease but, more importantly, when faced with contentious issues and in times of mutual disagreement.

Muslim Code of Honor

Muslims should respect one another and the people, places and events that any Muslim group or individual holds in esteem, even when they disagree about the relative importance of such people and events. Such disagreements, moreover, should only be expressed in a respectful manner, avoiding inflammatory language and insulting verbiage.

As to differences in the performance of worshop (`ibadat), we agree to respect the rules in effect and the authority of the leadership that endorses them in the particular mosque or religious institution where they are the norm.

We agree that steps should be taken to protect the general Muslim population in America from the distribution of divisive, inflammatory or irrelevant literature, primarily from overseas, in order to maintain the integrity and protect the future of Islam in America and curb the spread of harmful and misleading propaganda.

Tariq Ramadan is one of many scholars and leaders who have issued appeals and written and spoken out against sectarianism.  He wrote An Appeal to the Conscience of Muslims in which he said:

Islam’s extraordinary diversity must be accepted and celebrated. Islam is one, but its interpretations are many. The existence of literalist, traditionalist, reformist, mystic, rationalist and other currents is a fact, a reality that must be treated positively and qualitatively, for each of them has its own legitimacy and should (must!) contribute a multifaceted debate among Muslims. Unfortunately, some of today’s Muslim religious scholars, and the leaders of various trends, are caught up in an ideological confrontation, and often a clash of egos, that create divisions and transform them into dangerous populists who claim for themselves the title of sole and authentic representatives of Islam. Within Sunnis, as within Shiites; between Sunnis and Shiites; scholars and schools of thought lash out at one another, forgetting the fundamental teachings and the principles that unite them and instead splitting along doctrinal or political lines that remain secondary at best. The consequences of these divisions are serious. Populism pushes people to vent their emotions blindly in the guise of legitimacy. The attitude — or the absence of it — of such scholars perpetuates among Muslims nationalist, sectarian and often racist postures based on their particular school of thought, their nationality or their culture. Instead of calling upon individual egos to control themselves, and upon minds to understand and celebrate diversity, leaders and scholars play, in their rhetoric or in their silence, upon people’s emotions and sense of belonging with catastrophic consequences. The Great Powers, West and East, easily exploit these divisions and internal conflicts such as the danger-fraught fracture between Sunnis and Shiites.

Instead, it is imperative that voices from the two traditions collaborate on the fundamental principles that unite all Muslims. Whenever considerations of belonging threaten to replace principles, religious scholars, intellectuals and leaders must return to shared principles, must find common ground between these considerations, in full respect of legitimate diversity.

Third, scholars and intellectuals must have the courage to expose themselves further. Instead of encouraging popular feelings, or use those feelings to further their own religious identity (Sunnis, Shiites, reformists, Sufis, etc.) or their political ideology, they must face the issue squarely, dare to be self-critical, commit themselves to dialogue and — more often than not — tell Muslims what they may not like to hear about their own failings, their lack of coherence, their propensity to play the victim, failure to understand and to accept responsibility. Far from the feverish rhetoric of the populists, they must put their credibility on the line to awaken consciences in an attempt to counter emotionalism and mass blindness. The educated elites, students, intellectuals and professionals also have a major responsibility. The way they follow their leaders, as does their status as intermediaries, makes their active and critical presence imperative: Holding the scholars and the leaders accountable, simplifying and participating in grassroots dynamics is an absolute imperative. The passivity of the educated elites, looking down upon inflamed and uncontrolled populations far below them, is a grievous fault. …

Again, you would think that after all of this, we would no longer see anti-Sunni, or anti-Shia materials, at least in North America.  The majority of our religious scholars nationally and internationally have spoken out clearly.  Our national organizations have signed on to intra-faith codes of honor.  Our community leaders have said that sectarianism and division between Sunnis and Shias will not be accepted or tolerated by American Muslims.

What does this mean in practice, when the facts on the ground continue to include open displays of just such sectarianism and division that for the most part go unchallenged?

I was notified this week that I should check out the website of a Takfiri Salafist Mosque called Masjid Tawheed wa Sunah in Durham, NC which is selling a disgusting anti-Shia book to raise money for a new mosque.  Here is the photo of the book from their webites main page:


I looked this mosque up on Salatomatic which is an excellent resource for getting at least basic information about mosques across the country,  and this is what it has llisted about this Mosque:  [blockqute]Denomination: Sunni (Salafi)
Demographics: Predominantly African-American
Prayers: All prayers including formal jum’a
Language of services: English
Imam: Abu Qaylah Rasheed Barbee
Director/President: Unknown
Phone:  (919) 767-1044
Website: Click here to visit website
Email: Click here to send email
The Pluralism Project at Harvard Divinity School also had some very limited information about this mosque.  All it has for HISTORY is: “The Masjid was founded in 2002 by a group who had worshiped at Masjid Ibad Ar-Rahman before philosophical differences regarding the “Muslim Brotherhood” precipitated a schism between the two groups.”

In the U.S., we have freedom of speech, which means that even bigots have the right say hateful things.  However, freedom of speech does not include freedom from condemnation of that speech, and that principle applies equally to Muslim bigots as to Islamophobic bigots.  At the very least, Muslims need to watch for such materials in their own communities, and speak out loudly and clearly against such bigotry.  Individuals or organizations promoting such materials need to be called out, and certainly should not be supported.

The American Muslim community has enough real issues to address that require Sunni and Shia working together as fellow Muslims to resolve.  We don’t need this divisiveness here.

“Hold fast to the hope of God, 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 God; then He will inform them of what they used to do.Quran, 6:159

It is important that both Sunni and Shia clerics and people remain united and have the courage to accept and respect each other despite sect-based differences, which will always remain there and which should be understood and tolerated. Both Sunni and Shia should beware of Takfiri Salafists and Takfiri Deobandis who want to create disunity and sectarian violence in Muslim Ummah. Such preachers of hate and violence should be outrightly rejected and discouraged.


1st National Shia-Sunni Dialogue in America on December 25th in Chicago, Abdul Malik Mujahid
A Call for Shia Sunni Dialog: Why and How, Abdul Malik Mujahid
A Plea for Unity, Sheila Musaji
Al-Azhar Fatwa on permissibility of following the Shia Madhabs by Shaikh Mahmood Shaltoot in 1959
Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of Iran’s Expediency Council call for Sunni Shia Unity
Al Sadr Calls for Sunni Shia Unity 2004
American Muslim Leaders Sign ‘Code of Honor’ to Promote Intrafaith Harmony
American Muslims Transcend Sectarianism, Hasan Zillur Rahim
Amman Conference Forbids Takfir
Amman Conference Statement of the International Islamic Conference – Eight Schools of Islamic Law
Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s Approach to Shia-Sunni Dialogue, Yoginder Sikand
An Appeal to the Conscience of Muslims, Tariq Ramadan
Are All Shi’a Really Going to Hell?, Dr. Robert Dickson Crane
Branches of the Same Tree: Overcoming Sectarian Divides Among Muslims, Rose Aslan
Communiqué of the Shia-Sunni Dialogue to Save Lives
Comparison Chart of Sunni and Shia Islam
Creating A Sunni/Shia Divide, Conn Hallinan
Ahmed Deedat on Sunni Shiah Unity
Destruction of Al-Askari Shia Shrine a Great Sacriledge
Detroit Muslim Leaders to Sign Sunni-Shia Code of Honor
Dialogue Between Shias and Sunnis, Muhammad Zakir Khan Azmi
Freedom of Religion in Christian, Buddhist, Sunni, and Shi’a Jurisprudence: The Role of ‘Ilm al ‘Adl, Dr. Robert D. Crane
The Great Middle East Power Games, Soumaya Ghannoushi
Historical Sunni Shia Relations’a-Sunni_relations
The Importance of Shia-Sunni Dialogue, Maulana Waris Mazhari (tr. Yoginder Sikand)
Interview with Maulana Wahiduddin Khan on Intra-Muslim Sectarian Dialogue, Yoginder Sikand
Interview with Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, VP of the All-India Muslim Personal law Board, Yoginder Sikand
Intra-Muslim Dialogue: How To Combat the Menace of Sectarianism, Maulana Waris Mazhari (tr. Yoginder Sikand)
Syed Ali Khamenei’s Fatwa for Sunni Shia Unity
Imam Khomeini on Sunni Shiah Unity
Let Us Understand Each Other, Abdul Hadi Abdul Hameed Saleh
MPAC Calls on US Muslim Leaders to Emphasize Unity After Anti-Shia Attacks in Detroit
The Next Sunni-Shia War, Yahya Birt
Muslims United at Hajj – Sunni-Shiah Dialogue in Chicago, Abdul Malik Mujahid
New Rand study suggests exploiting Sunni, Shia and Arab, non-Arab divides to promote US policy, Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Our Real Enemy, Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa
Politics, Not Faith Behind Shia-sunni Divide in Iraq, Parvez Ahmed
RAND Corporations Ungracious Strategy For a Civil Democratic Islam: Muslims Searching For Partners, Javeed Akhter
RESOLUTION of the Shia-Sunni Dialogue To Save Lives
Maulana Kalbe Sadiq’s Theology of Islamic Ecumenism, Yoginder Sikand
Saudi Wahhabism in the Service of Western Imperialism: The Politics of a Fatwa, Yaqub Shah
Saudi cleric, Abdul Rahman al-Barak, issues religious edict declaring Shiites to be infidels
Sectarian Strife in the “House of Islam”, Yoginder Sikand
Shia resources collected by Abdul Haq Godlas

SHIA Organizations:
Aga Khan Foundation
Institute of Ismaili Studies, U.K.
List of Shia Organizations
Shiah Search Engine
Universal Muslim Association of America

Shia-Sunni Dialogue: Maulana Kalbe Sadiq’s Theology of Islamic Ecumenism, Yoginder Sikand
Shia-Sunni Unity, Dr. Shahid Athar
Shia-Sunni Unity for World Peace, Tanveer Jafri
Sistaining Democracy, Ibrahim Mansour
The Split Within Islam Must End, Abdullah al Rahim
Sunni and Shi’a – Allied Forces, Samia van Hattum
Sunni & Shia: I’m “Sushi”, Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa
Sunnis and Shias: The Battle the U.S. Wants to Provoke, Naomi Klein 2004,3604,1186445,00.html
Sunni misconceptions about Shias, Shahid Athar
Sunni or Shia, Fault Line Runs Between Haves and Have Nots,2763,934264,00.html
Sunni Shia Unity, Sheila Musaji
Sunni-Shiah Unity, Dr. Shahid Athar
Sunni Shia Violence Must Stop, Sheila Musaji
Tension between Sunnis, Shiites emerging in USA
Time to start mending the torn fabric of the Muslim Ummah: The Shia-Sunni Divide, Javeed Akhter
Ugly Sectarianism is Getting Out of Control, Yasin T. Aljibouri
Unity and Diversity: Islam, Muslims and the Challenge of Pluralism, Dr. Jeremy Henzell-Thomas
Unity between Shi‘as and Sunnis
U.S. Muslims Strive For Sectarian Peace
U.S. Muslims Tackle Sectarian Divisions
VIDEO:  CAIR Rep. Ibrahim Hooper discusses Sunni-Shia strife in Detroit
VIDEO: The Difference Between Sunni and Shia, Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad
Video: Prominent Sunni Sccholar Tahir ul Qadri answers the critics who oppose him on working with Shias
Why I see no moral difference between Islamophobia and intra-Muslim hatred, Shelina Zahra Janmohamed



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