In a welcome development Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei, the most revered Shia religious scholar has held the practice of maligning and insulting Ummul Momineen Hazrat Ayesha and Companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) as prohibited (haram). This practice called tabarra, is infused of political rivalries of early Islamic period and has been a great cause of Shia-Sunni discontent.
The Supreme Leader of Islamic Republic of Iran Imam Khamenei, who is equally respected by Sunnis as a distinguished scholar and authority of Jafri School of Fiqh, declared in a religious edict (fatwa): “Insulting the symbols of the Sunni brothers, including the Prophet Muhammad’s wife [Ayesha] is forbidden. This includes the women of all prophets and especially the holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the leader of all Prophets.”
The fatwa, neglected by western media and criticised by opponents of Muslim unity, is widely welcomed by Sunni Ulama. The fatwa is in response of a query by religious scholars and intelligentsia of al-Ahsa city, in KSA.
The Fatwa came only a few weeks after one ‘Sheikh’ Yasser al-Habib, a self-styled champion of Shia cause, in a Ramadan related function in London spew venom against Ummul Momineen Hazrat Ayesha R.A., her father, the most trusted friend and companion of the Prophet and first Caliph of Islam Hazrat Abū Bakr Siddiq and the second Caliph Hazrat Umar R.A. Al-Habib is a former Military Officer of Kuwait and presently living as self-exiled political refugee in U.K. He has been infamous for his bed mouth utterances against Sunnis. Al-Habib’s uncivilised comments, widely reported by western media, led to political commotions in Kuwait, which is home to a sizable Shia minority as the Cabinet decided to strip him of his citizenship. Imam Khamenei’s Fatwa has eased the tensions and has been taken as a good gesture by Sunni scholars all over the Islamic world.
Kuwait government warmly welcomed the Fatwa of Shia cleric. The official News Agency KUNA reported on October 4 that the “Government has praised Muslim scholars to address discord and sectarian extremism, while commending Iran’s spiritual leader Ali Khamenei’s religious decree (fatwa) in which he forbid offending Sayyeda Aisha, wife of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), or any Muslim icon.”
“The Cabinet, in its meeting chaired by the Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, said it was confident that Muslims were aware of all attempts to create discord amongst them.”
“The Cabinet, in this context, discussed all efforts to confront plans of sectarian discord and to show how Islam was a “civilized” religion, Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Roudhan Al-Roudhan said in a statement after the meeting,” the report said.
Egypt’s highest ranking religious scholar Al-Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyib, the chancellor of Al-Azhar University welcomed the fatwa. In a written statement the Sheikhul Azhar said, “Ayatollah Khamenei’s fatwa (religious edict) was prudent and timely and would help ram the door shut to ‘fitna’ (creating divisions among Muslims). I received the blessed fatwa with appreciation,” he said.
“Khamenei’s fatwa stems from true knowledge and a deep appreciation for the danger posed by the advocators of divisiveness to the unity of Muslims,” and “The fact that the edict was issued by a leading Muslim scholar and a Shiite figurehead serving as Iran’s supreme leader, only adds to its importance.”
The Press TV quoted him as saying, “Such insults have always been a source of controversy and disputes between Shia and Sunni Muslims and prevented them from forging a robust unity against common enemies.”
Head Imam of Beit-ul-Moqaddas Mosque, Sheikh Maher Hamoud, called the fatwa an opportunity for enhancing unity among Muslims.
Prominent Islamic scholar and Ameer Jamaat-e-Islami Hind Maulana Syed Jalaluddin Umari held the fatwa as ‘highly appreciable’ and said “it must be welcomed and respected.” He further said, “It is hoped that this will help ease Shia-Sunni dissensions and open the avenues of unity.” The head of the vast cadre-based Islamic organisation stressed “the need to spread the message in a big way.”
Lebanon religious scholar Malek Al-Shoara welcomed the fatwa and said, “Muslims have to maintain unity and endeavour to resolve all differences among themselves.”
The leader of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, Hammam Saeed described the Fatwa as a significant step to prevent “religious fitna” and maintain unity among Muslims, Al Jazeera reported. Resistant Workers Party in Lebanon also appreciated the fatwa and said “this fatwa has illustrated the fathomless relations among all Islamic sects”.
In addition, participants at the Fourth International Conference of Proximity amongst Islamic Schools of Thought, which was in progress when the Fatwa issued on October 3, 2010, hailed the fatwa, according to the Khabar Online website.
A number of Arabic language newspapers, such as Al-Hayat, Al-Watan, Al-Shorouq, and Al-Rai Al-Aam, have also expressed appreciation for the fatwa issued.
Kuwait’s Al-Siyasa wrote, “Issuing the fatwa was a good progress…” Pointing to some groups’ attempts for causing division among Muslims, the website said, “Since a majority of Iranians are Shiites, this will serve as a guide for ameliorating tension.”
The website noted that the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khamenei to denounce the use of abusive language against the wives and companions of Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) is a step in the right direction. “The statement of Ayatollah Khamenei represents the true position of Islam. It is in line with previous fatwas issued by Muslim scholars decades ago to avert a crisis instigated by some stupid people,” it said.
“We hope all Shiite leaders will adopt this position, while their Sunni counterparts will prevent verbal attacks against other sects.” The website stressed that the family and companions of Prophet belong to all Muslims, so any attack on them is an attack on Muslims.
Ayatollah Khamenei recently pointed that the Western powers are trying to widen differences between Sunnis and Shias in order to divert attention from the crisis in Palestine. It is hoped that the Fatwa will help contain western efforts to spew disharmony in Muslims, especially in Middle East regions of Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. The leader of Iran was also reported saying that, ‘the enemies of Islam want to create discord among Muslims. So, unity is the most important need of the Islamic world in the 21st century.”
Mohamed Megahed al-Zayat, vice-director of the National Centre for Middle East Studies taking note of political dimension of the fatwa said: “This fatwa has many political objectives,” he added, such as telling Palestinian resistance faction Hamas, Iran’s Sunni ally, that “Iran’s policies are not based on sectarian lines.” However al-Zayat doubts the desired effect of the far reaching edict in near future. He said: “It’s not a general fatwa for everybody – it’s not aimed at the Iranians themselves,” he said. “It targets the Arabs.” Al-Zayat justifies his argument by noting that Iranian media paid little attention to the fatwa. He thinks, “It will not help ease tensions with the Islamic Republic’s Sunni-Arab neighbours.”
Abdel Moaty Bayoumi, professor of theology and philosophy at Al-Azhar University said: “The fatwa in general is good. I see it as a positive step.” Bayoumi however felt that Khamenei’s fatwa would fail to amount to anything unless it was accompanied by policies aimed at “getting rid of the sectarian views embodied in Iranian policies in places like Iraq and Lebanon.”
Medhat Hamad, a professor of oriental studies in Cairo and Iran expert, views the fatwa as an indication of a “serious transformation” of thinking within the Iranian religious establishment. “For the first time, Iran’s supreme leader has gone in front of the public to issue a fatwa aimed at easing Sunni-Shia tensions,” Hamad said. He believes the fatwa will have a positive effect on the Shia community due to Khamenei’s unrivalled influence.
A frequent visitor of the region, M. Ahmad Kazmi, Editor, Media Star, discussing probable effect of the fatwa in Iraq says that during Saddam regime, there was little space for political rivalries as today. The society was almost homogenous. Shia-Sunni inter-sectarian marriages were common. Even today, ground realities are not as grim as reported by media. Shias and Sunnis share each other’s sorrows and pleasures. However seeds of some trust deficiency have been sown in between different groups through persistent propaganda after 2003 US-led invasion. This phenomenon is being misused to protect and promote vested interests.
Mr. Kazmi feels this fatwa of Rehbar-e-Muazzam Syed Ali Khamenei may be a serious blow to the ill intentioned efforts to divide Muslim world on sectarian basis and strengthen interests of the powers who are historically against Muslims.
Replying to a question, Mr. Kazmi said, “This fatwa is not addressed to the people of a particular region. The religious edicts have universal character. Imam Sahib is a highly respected religious luminary and equally revered in this subcontinent. Therefore, it may be hoped that this will have its desired effect in the whole world including India and Pakistan. He hoped no Shia will take it lightly.”
Though no official reaction of Egypt is available, several sources reported that general public has taken it in a great way. Professor Medhat Hamad, in his reaction pointed out that the differences between Egypt and Iran are “deeply ingrained,” since the two states have long held opposing views on core regional issues. It may be noted that these differences are mainly due to American intervention in the region. Hamad said “Egypt is a major ally of the United States, while Iran is an enemy,” he said. “What’s more, Egypt backs (U.S. sponsored) Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace’ process, while Iran supports resistance against the Israeli (illegal and unethical) occupation of (Arab Land).”
However since the understanding between Turkey and Iran has growing effect on the Muslim world, Egypt does not seem averse to improve its relation with Iran but cautiously. The Hosni Mubarak regime has recently signed an agreement last week to resume direct flights between Cairo and Tehran for the first time in three decades. Though this evokes a wave of optimism in Egyptian people, President Hosni Mubarak, a close ally of America in the Arab world, has chosen to invoke sectarian politics by accusing ‘Shia Muslims’ in the Gulf of being more loyal to Tehran than to their home countries.
King Abdullah II of Jordan, another U.S. ally, has also warned of a “Shia Crescent” that has a shadow across the entire region. President Mubarak has accused Iran of supporting “extremist” forces in the region. In a recent interview with Egypt’s Armed Forces magazine, Mubarak said that Iran “could become part of the solution to Middle East crises, rather than being one of the causes of those problems.”
It has always been painful for the believers if someone insults Hazrat Ayesha R.A. and ignores that Allah has warned against hurting the wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him). Allah titled them the “Mother of the Believers” in the Qur’ān. His wives were considered so precious that Allah instructed the believers to talk to them from behind a screen and He also forbade anyone from marrying them after the Prophet’s death.
“When you ask his wives for something, ask them from behind a screen. That is purer for your hearts and for their hearts. It is not for you to cause injury to the Messenger of Allah, or ever marry his wives after him. To do that would be something dreadful in the sight of Allah.” (Qur’ān, 33:53)
When the hypocrites of Madina spread rumours insulting Hazrat Ayesha R.A., Allah revealed 20 verses (Surah An-Nur) in her defence. Such is her honour. The Prophet had acknowledged her attributes and that she was therefore most beloved to him among his all wives (Bukhari and Muslim). The Prophet sought permission from his other wives to spend his last days in the house of Ayesha R.A., and when he breathed his last, his head was in her lap.
Hazrat Ayesha R.A. was a distinguished scholar of Islam. Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari R.A. said: “We the Companions of Allah’s Messenger never had difficulty in understanding a Hadith except that when we asked Ayesha we found she had some knowledge about it.” Masruq said: “We swear by Allah, we have seen senior Companions of Allah’s Messenger asking Ayesha about inheritance laws.” (Ibn Al-Jawzi, Sifah Al-Safwah, vol. 1, p. 319).
This is unfortunate that the political rivalry of early period has found its way as a routine religious practice which is certainly forbidden as Imam Khamenei declared in this Fatwa. We can only hope that his advice will be translated into practice by Shia Zakirs, who address Majalis at different occasions.
[The writer is General Secretary of Forum for Civil Rights. firstname.lastname@example.org]