There are great debates about Sunni and Shia in the internet.
In the past, we have heard of the debates with groups known as Mu’tazilah, Qadariah, Jabariah and so forth. These debates, however, do not exist anymore. But the debates between Sunni and Shia continue endlessly, and often mindlessly.
Why is it so?
The reason is because those groups known as Mu’tazilah, Qadariah and the likes have changed their clothes. They are no longer called with those names, although their types are pretty much alive in the new reincarnations. Their names have changed, but the basis for their arguments has remained the same.
In essence, the Mu’tazilites, the Qadarites, and their types, are rationalists. What this means is that they put rational thinking first, and Divine proof second. These groups would go the Quran and start to interpret it the way they fancy. They rarely pay attention to what the Prophet, his Companions, and the generation of successors (tabi’en), say or practice. Consequently, their opinions, outlooks, and practices have deviated from the opinions, outlooks and practices of the Prophet and his Companions.
The opinions, outlooks and practices of the Prophet and his Companions are known as their Sunnah. By resorting to their own rational thinking, these groups have therefore deviated from the Sunnah of the Prophet and his Companions. This, in essence, is what differentiates the group known as Ahl al-Sunnah Wal Jamaah or Sunni and other groups.
The great debates of the olden days that led to the labeling of various groupings such as Sunni, Shia, Mu’tazilah, Qadariah, Jabariah, etc., stem from this fact. A group who held on the Sunnah of the Prophet and his Companions was known as Sunni, while those who chose to resort to their rational thinking were known by various names given to them, depending on the main themes of their outlooks.
The Sunnis have won those debates. Those who have lost such as the Mu’tazilites and the Qadarites have faded from the scene. The Shias did not lose completely, but they continued to be in the periphery, forming a minority sectarian group among the Muslims.
Though they have lost the debates, the rationalists did not vanish from the Ummah. From time to time, they pop up into the scene but are known by different names. In the contemporary world, they are known as the secularists, pluralists, liberalists, anti-hadith and the like. Like their predecessors such as the Mu’tazilites and the Qadarites, these are the groups who put the rational thinking first, Divine proof second.
Who are the Rationalists? To illustrate what and who they are, let’s take the Secularists as an example.
The Secularists are those who believe in secularism. Secular means of this world. Secularism means the separation between “of this world” and “of the Hereafter.” In short, secularism means the separation between the State and the Religion.
As an ideology, secularism means that Religion is a private matter that has no place in public affairs. To the Secularists, Religion has no place in political, economic or legal affairs. Its place is only in worshipping rituals or some cultural matters such as solemnization of marriage ceremony.
This ideology originates from the Christians World, as a reaction to abuses in the name of Religion. But the origin of Christianity and Islam is poles apart.
Christianity owes its origin from a hijacked troubled movement, the movement of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came to rescue the Jews from their corrupt practices and to return to the true teaching of Moses. As he said, “I come not to abolish the Law (Torah), but to fulfill it.” But the leaders of the Jews rejected him.
He was also hailed as the Messiah by his followers. The Messiah means the deliverer. The same title was also given to King David, their great king and a prophet, who gave the then wandering Israelites a powerful state. The similarity in the title indicates that Jesus’ movement was also political. The Romans who were occupying their land, known then as Judea, must have feared him.
In the end, the Jewish leaders, in collusion with the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, crucified him. Jesus’ movement was then hijacked by Paul of Tarsus, the leading persecutor of his movement. On his way to persecute the followers of Jesus, who went hiding in Damascus, Paul changed his approach from being the persecutor to being the pretender. He penetrated into their rank and changed the whole color of the movement.
Jesus’ original movement, known then as the Nazarene, meaning the Maintainer, that is to maintain the original teaching of Moses, was then changed to a different ideology. While Jesus focused his movement to the teaching of Moses, Paul focused his teaching on the person of Jesus the Christ. It was to Paul that Christianity owes its name, that is, the belief in the Christ.
The religion that Paul hijacked and distorted broke out from the Jewish faith. It was a faith without a state or political power. It was confined to a sectarian faith until Constantine took it as an official religion of the Roman Empire about 300 years later. Due to its origin, Christianity was never a complete religion, because its founder met untimely death (or was raised to Heaven) before he could make it a reality. Furthermore, it was soon hijacked and distorted by its persecutor turned pretender, St. Paul.
An incomplete and distorted religion such as Christianity was not fit to run the country. It did not have the answer to various political, economic, legal or scientific matters. For that kind of religion to rule supreme, something must give.
This is what happened to Europe. When the kings were under the control of the popes, cardinals and archbishops, progress stalled. Amplified further by the progress of Islam, they were thrown into Dark Ages.
But Islam did not originate that way. Its founder managed to establish a complete way of life and a sovereign state before he died. His Companions further expanded this state and built an empire along this complete way of life which saw no separation between the so-called state and religion. There was no such thing as secular or religious, for what is religious can be “secular” or invalid if applied wrongly, and what is secular is also religious.
But like any other thing that would rise and fall, Islam too met its decline. Islamic civilization was at the lowest of the low at the time the Western Christian World took off religion from their public life.
Seeing that the West grew stronger and dominated the world when they stripped off Religion from their public lives and confined it to a private faith and rituals, the fools among the Muslims thought that Religion is the culprit, the cause for their decline. The Muslims too wanted their lives to be secularized, to separate Islam from their public lives. The cry for secularism among the Muslims rose to its peak when Kamal Ataturk demolished the Ottoman Dynasty and abolished “Religion” from public appearances.
In those days, if you talk about Islam being the Deen, the way of life, people will laugh at you and mock you as outdated. Sharia is the Law of the primitive people, they said. No progress can be made if we continue to adorn Islam in public life, they argued.
None of their arguments, one may notice, is founded on Divine proofs. All are based on their rational thinking, that is, whatever their minds deem to be right at that time. They are not Mu’tazilites but Secularists, but the basis of their argument is the same. Like the Mu’tazilites a thousand years ago, the Secularists of the modern world are the Rationalists who based their outlooks, and subsequently their practices, not on Divine proofs, but on rational thinking.
But nowadays, it is no longer fashionable to be a secularist. More and more Islamic nation want to go back to Islam.
A few days ago, after about one year of successful uprising, the Egyptians elected the member of Muslim Brotherhood to be their new President. A few years back, the Palestinians elected a member of Hamas for their Prime Minister. Before the United States invaded Afghanistan a decade ago, the country was run by an Islamist Taliban. Even the hardcore secular nation like Turkey has been gradually controlled by those inclined to Islam. And yes, the Shia majority nation of Iran has been an Islamic State for more than three decades already.
There have been various issues and problems with the return of the Religion in public affairs. Sudan has yet to rise to its Islamic promise when the country was taken over by the Islamists. The short reign of Taliban in Afghanistan did not bring much awaited expectations. But Turkey has really been making good progress with their modern and moderate Islamic approach, given that it had been totally secularized by Kamal Ataturk. And yes, the Shiite Islamic State of Iran is still standing strong after more than 30 years, in spite of strong opposition from various countries to bring her down.
The rationalistic ideology of secularism, like its distant ancestors such as Mu’tazilah and Qadariah, is currently dying. Rational thinking has its place in Islam. It is among the most important thing that mankind is endowed with, which separate them and make mankind superior against other creatures. But rational thinking should be subservient to Divine Proof, not the other way around.
From time to time, the groups who rely more on their rational thinking rather than the Divine Proof would come and go, but the orthodox way of the Sunnah would remain.
Shias too, in large measure, employ rational thinking above Divine Proof. The unorthodox way of the Shia, interestingly, also remains. Shia and Shiism refuse to go away in spite of the fact that rational thinking takes precedent over Sunnah.
There is something interesting about them. We shall cover it in the concluding remarks about Shia and Shiism series.