So it is our inner evil that instigates conflict and splits the community of the faithful into factions? We must reform ourselves in order to bring about unity.
On the outside, we are confronted by imperialist powers, on the inside, by our rebellious ego. So by what ways can we secure the unity of the world of Islam? What are the obstacles? These are questions we must clarify.
We must bear in mind that from disbelievers, we will receive no gain. More fundamentally, unity is not a quality that the material world could cultivate.
Only God, the creator of hearts, holds the keys to rapport. Addressing his Noble Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny), God says, “Had you spent all that is in the earth, you could not have united their hearts, but God united them together.” (8:63)
Materiality is unable to bring hearts together; materiality is incompatible with the soul. Should the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran convert the entire Alborz Mountains to gem and distribute it among the people in order to please and unify them, it would only be the beginning of conflict. Material resources can never serve as a unifying element.
In an Islamic state, injustice to our private rights is sufferable. We must, however, prevent at all costs any harm to the state itself. In a letter addressed to Abu Musa, the Master of the Faithful (peace be upon him) writes, “There is not a man – heed this – more anxious to preserve the integrity and union of the community of Muhammad (may God’s peace and blessings be upon him and his household) than I.” Imam Ali asserted the truth – that his rights had been violated – with reasoning but was nevertheless careful to prevent faction within the community of Muslims.
“But they fragmented their religion among themselves, each party exulting in what it had.” (23:53)
Imam Ali strove to prevent such a conclusion. “Verily, you are brothers in faith. Nothing can separate you but the wickedness of your intention, and the evil of your hearts.” For identifying the cause of disunity, we must introspect, and on introspection we will realize that the cause of disunity is our evil-naturedness, which consumes our hearts: “the fire…which overspreads the hearts.” (104:6-7)
Our religion is one; our book is one; our Qiblah is one; our prophet is one; the heaven and hell we strive for are the same. So it is our inner evil that instigates conflict and splits the community of the faithful into factions. We must reform ourselves in order to bring about unity: neither submission to the West nor invoking the East could unite us. (And most certainly it would be useless to work with a regime that slaughters several hundred Hajj pilgrims without second thoughts.) It is only through heeding the directions of Islam that we can secure unity.
Imam Ali says, “Beware of subjecting God’s religion to vagaries. Indeed, unity in regard to a just cause you dislike is better than disunity in an unjust cause you like.”Obviously for group work to succeed, one must humble oneself. This may be unpleasant, but it is necessary. Coming together in a group may be disagreeable, but its collective reward is worthwhile.
“Conform to the great majority, for indeed God’s hand is with the community.” “Great majority” doesn’t mean merely a big city; rather, it refers to manifestations of brotherhood in the Islamic community, such as the elections.
We must adhere to the Islamic community, “for indeed God’s hand is with the community.” Just as the sheep that stray away from the flock are prey to wolves, so those who distance themselves from the community of Muslims for preserving their status are prey to satanic deceptions. It is folly to think that solitary action could produce any good: “Verily God (immaculate is He) does not grant any good to anyone, from nations past or nations to come, through disunity.”
Imam Ali informs us of this truth not as a historian who has studied the annals of history but as God’s viceroy with knowledge of Divine Norms. He tells us that this truth holds not only for nations past but also for nations that are yet to come. “God does not grant any good” means that He has ordained that a disunited nation should not receive any good. If we desire to secure any good, even personal good, we have no choice other than unity.
And it is no excuse to claim that elements of unity are lacking. Elements of unity are aplenty. Elements of unity are essential, whereas those of disunity are accidental. The principle that preserves the individual and the society alike exists within us, and it is so firm that it withstands any attempt at bending it. It is neither alterable nor bendable.
In describing the “upright” book (the Qur’an), God says, “[He] did not let any crookedness be in it.” (18:1)
Only a book thus “upright” can serve to guide mankind to the right path. The human being’s spiritual nature (Fitra) is likewise upright and a source of guidance. As such, these two are unalterable elements of unity. So where conflict in words and deeds arises, we should know that it is in violation of our spiritual nature and on account of our evil intentions.
By traversing this inner path of unity, we will succeed in resolving many theological and jurisprudential problems. There are naturally certain differences among various groups. The Asharites (asha’irah) have differences among themselves, and so do the Mutazilites (mu’tazilah) and the Adliites (‘adliyyah). Just as there are external differences that define the boundaries of a group, so there are also internal differences within a group. But such differences are a potential source of blessing. (Although it should be pointed out that the laudable difference is that which is prior to knowledge.)
These differences are like the imbalance between the two trays of a balance, both of which work together to yield just apportionment. When the weight of a weighed item differs from that of the weights, the two trays do not meet; one is higher and the other lower; they disagree but the purpose of each one is right and towards the establishment of a balance. Thus, disparity before the final leveling-out is sacred. The differences that God – immaculate is He – has embedded in human nature are of this sort. Such differences are inevitable.
But it is those differences that remain after one gains knowledge that are nothing but the fruits of egotism: “And none differed in [the Book] except those who had been given it, after the manifest proofs had come to them, out of a desire to violate [the rights of] one another.” (2:213)
“But they did not differ except after knowledge had come to them, out of a desire to violate [the rights of] one another.” (45:17)
God warns us that this desire to violate the rights of others harms, first and foremost, ourselves: “O mankind! Your violations are only to your own detriment.” (10:23)
We beseech God that He purify our soul and restore it to its pristine state and grant us firm faith: with a pure soul and a firm faith, we can achieve unity in all spheres.
A former student of Ayatollah Burujardi, Allama Tabatabai, and Imam Khomeini, Ayatollah Jawadi Amoli has published numerous scholarly works, including a commentary on the Holy Qur’an. He lives and teaches in the holy city of Qom.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is an excerpt from a longer piece by the author that appeared in Al-Taqrib journal, published by the World Forum for the Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought. Download the full article here: Elements of Unity by Ayatollah Jawadi Amoli