Sunni Shīʿī Rapproachement


Ml Mohammad Taha Karaan

1 March 1999

The idea of bringing the Ahl as-Sunnah and the Shi‘ah closer to one another has enjoyed much popularity in South Africa in the past two decades since the success of the Iranian revolution in 1979. Actually, the idea of bridging the gorge that separate the Ahl as-Sunnah from the Shi‘ah is much older than the revolution. The banner of Taqrib (which literally means “to bring close”) has been raised at various stages in history by individuals, organisations, and even governments. In this study the various endeavours towards the realisation of this goal of Taqrib are identified, and an attempt is made to explore the reasons why not one of those endeavours has ever met with success.


1.1. Baghdad in the 5th/11th century

The earliest attemps to achieve harmony between the Ahl as-Sunnah and the Shi‘ah seem to have been made in Baghdad during the 5th century after the Hijrah (the 11th century CE). The western quarter of Karkh in Baghdad was almost exclusively populated by the Shi‘ah, and ever since the Shi‘i Buyid dynasty from Daylam came into political ascendancy in 334/946 and reduced the ‘Abbasid khalifah to a titular head of state, the Shi‘i population of Baghdad felt encouraged to make their presence felt. In 351/962 graffiti cursing the Sahabah appeared on the walls of Baghdad. In 352/963 overt encouragement from the Buyid ruler Mu‘izz ad-Dawlah allowed them to organize, for the first time in the history of Baghdad, if not the whole Muslim world, mourning processions on the 10th of Muharram.1 Processions like these would almost invariably lead to confrontation between the Ahl as-Sunnah and the Shi‘ah, since the emotional frenzy of such processions would propel the Shi‘ah to publicly curse and execrate those amongst the Sahabah whom they considered the enemies of the Ahl al-Bayt. The Ahl as-Sunnah, infuriated by such vile treatment of the memory of the Sahabah, would respond physically. The like of these processions can be seen up to the present day in Pakistan, with consequences that do not differ much from the results of the Baghdad processions of the Middle Ages.

The next century witnessed no change. The Shi‘ah continued to vent their hatred of the Sahabah by publicly uttering curses upon them—something the Sunni refused to tolerate. However, there was one noteworthy development. The violence that ensued from such provocations would sometimes be followed with agreements to maintain the peace. Ibn Kathir writes on the events of the year 439/1047:

Violence occured between the Rawafid (the Shi‘ah) and the Ahl as-Sunnah, in which many lives were lost.2

Three years later, in 442/1050,

the Rawafid and the Ahl as-Sunnah made peace in Baghdad, and all of them visited the graves of ‘Ali and Husayn. In Karkh they (the Shi‘ah) invoked Allah’s pleasure and mercy upon the Sahabah, and made salahin the masajid of the Ahl as-Sunnah. There was a spirit of friendliness and amicability between the two groups.3

However, one cannot blame historians like adh-Dhahabi and Ibn Kathir for suspecting taqiyyah on the part of the Shi‘ah, because not long thereafter they reverted to their old habit of execrating the Sahabah. The very next year, in 443/1051, the Shi‘ah in Baghdad erected structures upon which they wrote:

Muhammad and ‘Ali are the best of humanity. Whoever accepts has shown gratefulness. Whoever rejects is an unbeliever.4

Once again violence ensued. In 488/1095 Ibn Kathir records another endeavour to establish harmony between the two groups.5 Yet once again, when Baghdad was occupied and the khalifah imprisoned by the Shi‘i Arsalan al-Basasiri a mere two years later, it was the Shi‘ah of Karkh who aided him and fought in his ranks.6

In none of these early attempts to effect harmony between the Ahl as-Sunnah and the Shi‘ah in Baghdad do we find mention of the names of any of the eminent ‘ulama of either group, which creates the impression that the parties to the agreements were of the common people. This considerably diminishes the value of such incidents as endeavours towards Taqrib. Furthermore, they do not seem to have been agreements to resolve theological or historical differences. The most that can be said is that they were agreements by common people to live together in harmony, and not to provoke one another.

Upon further reflection, even if agreements like these could be read as efforts to bring the Ahl as-Sunnah and the Shi‘ah closer to one another, their success was bound to be sabotaged by one decisive factor: fickleness on the part of the Shi‘ah. In each of the three cases mentioned above the brittle peace was shattered by the Shi‘ah themselves reverting to exactly what they had pledged not to do. It is then only logical for us to assume, as did adh-Dhahabi and Ibn Kathir, that the promises they gave were given in taqiyyah.

1.2. Abu Ja‘far at-Tusi (385/995 – 460/1068)

Certain writers7 speak of the Shi‘i scholar Abu Ja‘far Muhammad ibn al-Hasan at-Tusi (died 460/1068) as “the first person to have attempted to bring the Shi‘ah intellectually and psychologically closer to the major body of the Muslims.” The only basis for this supposition is the fact that in his hadith collections Tahdhib al-Ahkam and al-Istibsar (two of the four canonical hadith compilations of the Shi‘ah) at-Tusi is found to narrate material in the isnads of which Sunni narrators appear.

Yet, however praiseworthy or open minded this enterprise may seem, scrutiny reveals it to be the result not of any noble intentions, but rather  of a chronic lack of consistency and exactness. His Shi‘i critics8 complain that in his theoretical works like his book al-‘Uddah in usul al-fiqh he stipulates it as a condition of acceptance that the narrator must be an Imami Shi‘i, but when it comes to the practical application of that theory, he is found to be extremely inconsistent. A number of Shi‘i scholars, like Muhammad Taqi al-Majlisi,9 Hashim al-Bahrani10 and Yusuf al-Bahrani11 have levelled accusations of negligence and carelessness against at-Tusi. The claim that Abu Ja‘far at-Tusi was the forerunner in the field of Taqrib is therefore a baseless one.

1.3. Abu ‘Ali at-Tabarsi (? – 548/1153)

Another opinion12 points to the Shi‘i mufassir Abu ‘Ali al-Fadl ibn al-Hasan at-Tabarsi (died 548/1153) as the pioneer of Taqrib. The reason adduced for this view is that in his tafsir, Majma‘ al-Bayan, he quotes Sunni authorities like Hasan al-Basri, Qatadah, ad-Dahhak and as-Suddi, profusely, and he is careful to avoid any display of extremist tendencies Shi‘i tafsirs (like those of ‘Ali ibn Ibrahim al-Qummi or al-‘Ayyashi). It is this feature of his tafsir that led to its publication in Cairo under the auspices of the Dar at-Taqrib.

Majma‘ al-Bayan, in this respect, is not unique amongst the tafsirs of the Shi‘ah. A hundred years earlier Abu Ja‘far at-Tusi wrote a tafsir on similar lines, called at-Tibyan. At-Tabarsi was strongly influenced by this work. Accordingly, he writes in the introduction to Majma‘ al-Bayan:

It  (at-Tibyan) is the book from which the light of truth is drawn, upon which the freshness of veracity appears. It is the model whose light I will follow, and upon whose footsteps I will tread.13

Even in a tafsir as recent as at-Tabataba’i’s Tafsir al-Mizan we find evidence of this connection between at-Tibyan and Majma‘ al-Bayan. At-Tabataba’i’s reference to at-Tibyan is very minimal. A contemporary study of al-Mizan ascribes it to the fact that the author has referred extensively to Majma‘ al-Bayan, which has to a large incorporated at-Tusi’s tafsir, and even surpasses it in linguistic discussion.14

Since Majma‘ al-Bayan is then for all practical purposes nothing more than a replica of at-Tusi’s tafsir, whatever applies to at-Tibyan is applicable to Majma‘ al-Bayan too. About at-Tibyan Sayyid Radiyy ad-Din Ibn Tawus (died 656/1258) states as early as in the seventh century, in his book Sa‘d as-Su‘ud:

I will mention what my grandfather has stated in at-Tibyan, which taqiyyah forced him to confine himself to…15

There is none better than Ibn Tawus to inform us about the true nature of at-Tibyan. Apart from being of the leading Shi‘i ‘ulama of his day, he was also the grandson of the author, as is evident from the above quotation. At-Tusi was the father of his mother’s mother.16 Mirza Husayn an-Nuri (died 1320/1902) can therefore rightfully remark:

He (Ibn Tawus) is better acquainted with what he says, for reasons that are fully clear to all who are aware of his position.17

Furthermore, a closer look at at-Tusi’s Tibyan or at-Tabarsi’s Majma‘ al-Bayan will soon reveal the reason for saying that these two books were written on the basis of taqiyyah. Mirza Husayn an-Nuri sums up the situation as follows:

It is clear to him who looks attentively into the book at-Tibyan that the author’s style of writing in it is very much one of cajoling and going along with the opponents. You see him confining himself to the interpretations of Hasan (al-Basri), Qatadah, ad-Dahhak, as-Suddi, Ibn Jurayj, al-Jubba’i, az-Zajjaj and Ibn Zayd, while he mentions nothing at all from any of the Shi‘i mufassirun. He fails to quote narrations from any of the Imams ‘alayhim as-salam, except in a few places where they are most probably quoted by the opponents as well.18

It is indeed a cause for concern when a Shi‘i known to hold the view that the mere narration of a Sunni is unacceptable (narration here meaning the transmission of the opinion of another) even though he may be narrating from one of the infallible Imams, —when such a Shi‘i writes a tafsir, fills it with the opinions (opinions, mind you, and not narrations) of Sunni authorities, and practically ignores what his own Imams have to say on the interpretation of the Qur’an. Even if we wanted to believe that he merely intended to accommodate the views of others, and not to deceive, this assumption is immediately overruled by the fact that he practically excludes the legacy of his own Imams in tafsir.

Thus, since the available evidence indicates that these two books were written on the basis of taqiyyah, we are compelled to dismiss the opinion that regards Majma‘ al-Bayan of Abu ‘Ali at-Tabarsi as a pioneering effort in the field of Taqrib.

Even if it is argued that Majma‘ al-Bayan, unlike its model, does include narrations from the Imams of the Shi‘ah, that would make very slight difference to the situation, since what is quoted therein from the Imams is far outweighed by what is quoted from Sunni sources. The author of Lu’lu’at al-Bahrayn describes this imbalance as follows:

(Majma‘ al-Bayan) is a good tafsir, inclusive of all subjects, such as language, syntax, etymology, meaning and revelation, except that most of the narrated material in it is from the mufassirun of the ‘Ammah (the Ahl as-Sunnah). He doesn’t quote the tafsir of the Ahl al-Bayt ‘alayhim as-salam, except in  a few cases from the tafsirs of al-‘Ayyashi and ‘Ali ibn Ibrahim al-Qummi.19


The twentieth century witnessed a decided change in Sunni-Shi‘i relations. The focus of this new development was the Middle East. Most of the countries in this region fell under direct Ottoman rule at the beginning of the century, and all of them gained independence in the wake of the abolishment of the Khilafah.

In regions where Sunnis and Shi‘is co-existed, but did not form part of the Ottoman Empire, like the Indian subcontinent, the situation remained to a large extent unaffected. It is worth noting that despite the largely Sunni character of the Moghul Empire, the Shi‘ah in India wielded tremendous influence, and even ruled a number of Indian principalities, like Awadh (Oudh) with its capital at Lucknow, and the principality of Rampur. In south India the Shi‘i legacy of the kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda also persisted.

In Iran, the only country with a Shi‘i majority, we see a unique case of contradiction. The ‘ulama’ of Iran were heavily involved in Taqrib ventures elsewhere, and the government supported some of these ventures financially. At home however, the conditions of the Sunni minority remained much the same. No attempt was made to woo them like their brothers in the Arab world were being wooed. On the whole, they remained the oppressed, downtrodden community they had been ever since Safawid times.

Taqrib efforts in the twentieth century came in the form of groups working collectively, or of single persons advocating rapprochement individually. In the ensuing pages we first look at collective efforts.

2.1. Collective endeavours

In the beginning of 1935 a person called Abu ‘Abdillah az-Zanjani came to Cairo. He held talks with Shaykh Muhammad al-Khadir Husayn and Shaykh Muhibb ad-Din al-Khatib on the subject of mutual co-operation between the Shi‘ah and the Ahl as-Sunnah, and gave them the good news that there existed in Iran an enlightened group who were realising the mistakes of the past, especially with regard to their traditional attitude towards the Sahabah. He went back to Iran, ostensibly to start working towards his stated aim of Sunni-Shi‘i co-operation, but never returned. It later came to light that he was in fact sent by the Iranian government for other reasons.20

Sometime later Iran sent another Zanjani to Cairo with a similar purpose. This person, ‘Abd al-Karim az-Zanjani was much more straightforward about the mechanics of how to achieve Sunni-Shi‘i unity. He believed that unity is only achievable if the Ahl as-Sunnah embrace the beliefs of the Shi‘ah. His venture was therefore short-lived, and he too, like his predecessor and namesake, returned to Iran.21

The ventures of the two Zanjanis were thus unsuccessful. There were other efforts that lasted longer than theirs, and it is to four of those ventures that we now turn.

2.1.1. Jama‘at al-Ukhuwwah al-Islamiyyah

This group was founded by an Isma‘ili Shi‘i from India named Muhammad Hasan A‘zami. He came to Cairo in 1937 where he established the headquarters of his group at Qubbat al-Ghuri. Eminent thinkers like Shaykh Tantawi Jawhari, Mustafa ‘Abd ar-Raziq and ‘Abd ar-Rahman ‘Azzam were supposedly members of the Jama‘ah. Membership, the founder claimed, was restricted to “followers of the true madhahib who do not contradict the categorical text of the Qur’an, the authentic Sunnah, or the consensus of the Ummah.” He returned to Karachi in Pakistan in 1948.

Although the Jama‘ah was supposed to include some of Egypt’s leading thinkers amongst its members, none of its publications came from the pen of any of them. The two solitary publications were both written by A‘zami himself. One, a book called al-Haqa’iq al-Khafiyyah ‘anish-Shi‘ah al-Fatimiyyah wal-Ithna ‘Ashariyyah, was more of an Isma‘ili propaganda than anything else. The other, Haqa’iq ‘an Pakistan, dealt with the newly established state of Pakistan. Besides these two books the group assisted in the editing and publication of a number of Isma‘ili works like Ta’wil ad-Da‘a’im and Iftitah ad-Da‘wah, both by Qadi Nu‘man, the chief judge of the Fatimid ruler al-Mu’izz li-Dinillah.

What further counts against the credibility of this group as a serious effort of reconciliation is the fact that besides its founder no one else seems to have known anything about it. In Egypt Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ‘Isa, editor of the journal published by the Dar at-Taqrib, denied any knowledge of the existence of such a group, while in Pakistan, the other supposed home of the organisation, no trace could be found of it.22

2.1.2. Dar al-Insaf

This group was found in Lebanon in 1366/1946. Its founder members, Hashim ad-Daftardar and Muhammad az-Zu‘bi, stated their objective as being “to reach an understanding of the various sects of Islām in the manner of the Dar at-Taqrib in Egypt.” Its only publication, a book entitled al-Islam bayna as-Sunnah wash-Shi‘ah, was written on the faulty premise that the Rawafid are an extinct sect who used to hate and curse the Sahabah, and that the Shi‘ah of today love and respect them all, Abu Bakr and ‘Umar included. This shows once again that the Sunni parties to this venture were simply ignorant of Shi‘ism, not having made a study of it from its original sources, and that the Shi‘i participants (if there were any) made good use of taqiyyah.23

2.1.3. Dar Ahl al-Bayt

After the activities of the Dar at-Taqrib in Cairo (which comes up for discussion in the next issue) came to a stillstand, there came to Cairo a person by the name of Talib ar-Rifa‘i al-Husayni who soon started styling himself “the imam of the Shi‘ah in Egypt”. His organisation, the Dar Ahl al-Bayt cannot be strictly classified as a Taqrib endeavour. Its efforts centred around an issue which is very often used by Shi‘i missionaries in the accomplishment of their task: the Family of Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam. Knowing fully well the potency of this issue with the Egyptian public, Talib ar-Rifa‘i chose this name for his organisation. Its activities included the publication of Shi‘i literature, the commemoration of Shi‘i festivals, and on the whole, the subtle propagation of Shi‘ism. As incentives he founded a welfare branch that extends material aid to the poor, as well as a free dispensary.

Considering the fact that Egypt did not have any Shi‘ah before the founding of the Dar at-Taqrib, one is inclined to believe that Talib ar-Rifa‘i came to Egypt to consolidate the success of the Dar at-Taqrib in its true mission, which is the conversion Sunnis to Shi‘ism, and not rapprochement between the Ahl as-Sunnah and the Shi‘ah.24

2.1.4. The Dar at-Taqrib in Cairo

Amongst all collective endeavours for taqrib, none reaches the prominence as well as importance of the Dar at-Taqrib in Cairo. It might even be said that the Dar at-Taqrib served as the inspiration for other taqrib ventures. The Dar al-Insaf in Beirut clearly stated that it aimed to follow the line set by the Dar at-Taqrib, while the Dar Ahl al-Bayt of Talib ar-Rifa‘i could very well be regarded as the continuation of the work started by the Dar at-Taqrib. No study of the taqrib phenomenon could therefore ever be complete without an in-depth examination of the Dar at-Taqrib in Cairo. For all practical purposes the Dar at-Taqrib may be considered the only serious taqrib effort during the first half of this century, since all the other efforts were much too short lived, in addition to the fact that the scholars who participated in them did not enjoy the same esteem as those who took part in the Dar at-Taqrib.

3. Beginning

The history of the Dar at-Taqrib goes back to the 1940’s, when a Shi‘i scholar from Iran by the name of Muhammad Taqi al-Qummi sent out an invitation to the ‘ulama to participate in this attempt to bring the Shi‘ah and the Ahl as-Sunnah closer to one another. A number of Sunni ‘ulama from Egypt and Zaydi ‘ulama from Yemen responded to his invitation. One of the early participants, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Latif Muhammad as-Subki,  a member of the Hay’at Kibar al-‘Ulama (Council of Senior ‘Ulama) in Egypt, relates the beginning of the Dar at-Taqrib in the following manner:

The one who worked for the establishment of this group was a Shi‘i shaykh who has been living in Egypt for some time. A group of respected ‘ulama of Egypt responded to his invitation. It wouldn’t have been becoming of any Muslim to ignore a call for renewing Muslim unity which the Qur’an itself calls for…

I was attracted by this call. I was honoured by being made a member amongst those great men. So what has our group achieved after about four years? In the beginning it held meetings consecutively, sometimes for the purpose of meeting one another and electing a head, a representative and a secretary; sometimes to receive a guest from the East who was visiting the headquarters; and sometimes to listen to letters being read out from various quarters, amongst them letters from Najaf, the centre of the Shi‘ah, in which the writers requested for an address to be delivered at the ceremonies being held to commemorate Imam Husayn. In that same session it was suggested to us that the group must approach al-Azhar with a demand that Shi‘i fiqh be taught side by side with the madhahib of the Ahl as-Sunnah. This suggestion was quickly suppressed because it was premature, as some members had murmured.

Thereafter the meetings stopped, and the group’s activities became confined to the publication of a journal by the Dar at-Taqrib called Risalat al-Islam.25

The Dar at-Taqrib spent lavishly. Shaykh ‘Abd al-Latif as-Subki writes:

It made me doubt—and every other innocent member has to doubt with me—that the Dar at-Taqrib was spending freely without us knowing where the money was coming from, and without any of us being asked to contribute membership fees to pay for an elegant headquarters expensively fitted and furnished. It spent on its journal, paying the people in charge of it, the writers of articles as well as maintaining a high level of quality in the appearance of the journal. These, and other, expenses required a very generous source of income, so from where did it come, and at whose expense?25

It would later come to light that al-Qummi was not alone in this venture. He had the full support and backing of the leading Shi‘i ‘ulama of Qum and Najaf. The contemporary Lebanese Shi‘i scholar, Ahmad Mughniyah, writes that “neither al-Qummi nor anyone else could have conducted an operation of this kind on his own, independent of the maraji‘ (leading Shi‘i mujtahids) and without their agreement.”26

There thus seem to be grounds for the assumption that al-Qummi’s coming to Egypt and founding the Dar at-Taqrib was premeditated and planned by the Shi‘i ‘ulama of Najaf in Iraq and Qum in Iran. Having previously seen how Shi‘i missionaries used to come to Egypt for the ostensible purpose of taqrib, it is not at all far fetched to see al-Qummi’s establishment of the Dar at-Taqrib and his invitation to the ‘ulama of Egypt to join it as yet another link in the same chain.

The founding of the Dar at-Taqrib was therefore a unilateral venture by the Shi‘ah, which the Ahl as-Sunnah were in due course invited to join. Seeing as the venture was supported entirely by funds from the Shi‘i side, without the Sunni participants ever being asked for any kind of contribution, the possibility must not be dismissed that the Dar at-Taqrib was essentially working for the advantage of Shi‘ism.

4. Slogan

Al-Qummi initially made it clear that the Dar at-Taqrib was striving to bring the Shi‘ah and the Ahl as-Sunnah closer to one another without prevailing on any of the two to abandon its madhhab. He writes:

Our call is that the people of Islam unite upon the fundamentals of Islam, those fundamentals without which nobody can be a Muslim, and that they look at issues beyond that without any wish or desire to split or overpower, but rather as people who search for truth and correct knowledge. If they are then able to reach consensus, through fairness and clear proof, upon an issue which they once disagreed upon, then so be it. Otherwise, let each of them retain his own view without imposing it upon others. Let them think good of one another, because differences on issues other than the fundamentals of religion do not affect Iman, and do not cast anyone out of the fold of Islam.27

The sentiments expressed here are the essence of any taqrib effort. It is generally suggested that there is enough common ground between the Ahl as-Sunnah and the Shi‘ah to achieve the kind of working solution described here. That, however, is an oversimplification of a problem that has roots much deeper than what the credulous onlooker may see, or may want to see.

This line of thought presupposes that the Ahl as-Sunnah and the Shi‘ah share a common set of fundamentals, represented in belief in Allah, the Ambiya, revelation, the hereafter, etc.. It overlooks the fact that the Shi‘ah have beliefs which to them are on exactly the same plane of importance as the abovementioned fundamentals. The reference, of course, is to their belief of Imamah, the rejector of which is exactly the same as one who rejects Nubuwwah. It is at this kind of juncture that the entire taqrib operation becomes a unilateral process instead of a bilateral one, with Sunnis expected to make room for the Shi‘ah, without the Shi‘i having to budge one inch.

With the passage of time the Dar at-Taqrib came to display a bit more of its true colours. In the third year of publication the journal Risalat al-Islam carried an article by one of the leading Shi‘i ‘ulama of Iran, Muhammad Salih al-Ha’iri, under the caption “A Practical Method of Taqrib”. In it the author demands that the Ahl as-Sunnah start referring to the eight hadith sources of the Shi‘ah, that a chair be established at al-Azhar for the teaching of Shi‘i fiqh along with Shi‘i ‘aqa’id, and that the Ahl as-Sunnah admit and accept the doctrine of Imamah.28

The publication of an article of this nature was not at all strange, since Muhammad Taqi al-Qummi had himself the previous year written an article in which he openly asked the following question: “So what will it be for them (the Ahl as-Sunnah) to accept that which is beyond the fiqh (of the Shi‘ah) just like they have accepted the fiqh (of the Shi‘ah)? After all, what difference is there between the usul (primary issues) of knowledge and the furu‘ (secondary issues) of knowledge?”29

By posing this question al-Qummi revealed the idea that lay at the crux of the Dar at-Taqrib. It was there not to bring about rapprochement between the Ahl as-Sunnah, but to draw the Ahl as-Sunnah into the web of Shi‘ism.

5. Publications

Another area in which the true intentions of the Dar at-Taqrib became apparent was that of its publications. The publications of the Dar at-Taqrib were almost all, without exception, classical Shi‘i works. It started with the compendium of Najm ad-Din al-Hilli (died 676AH) on Shi‘i fiqh, called al-Mukhtasar an-Nafi‘. This work was published by the Ministry of Awqaf on the recommendation of the Dar at-Taqrib. Other works published were the following:

  1. Tadhkirat al-Fuqaha
    by Ibn Mutahhar al-Hilli (died 726AH)
  2. Wasa’il ash-Shi‘ah
    by al-Hurr al-Amili (died 1104AH)
  3. Mustadrak al-Wasa’il
    by Mirza Husayn an-Nuri at-Tabarsi, the author of the infamous book Fasl al-Khitab in which he attempts to prove that the Qur’an was interpolated
  4. al-Hajj ‘alal-Madhahib al-Khamsah
    (hajj according to the five madhahib)
  5. Tafsir Majma‘ al-Bayan
    by Abu ‘Ali at-Tabarsi (died 548)
  6. Hadith ath-Thaqalayn
    by Muhammad Qawam ad-Din al-Qummi, a contemporary scholar

As a further measure of conferring legitimacy on his publications, al-Qummi got Egyptian scholars to write the forewords or do the editing of these books. Some of them, like Dr. Hamid Hifni Dawud, a lecturer in linguistics at ‘Ayn Shams University, or Dr. Muhammad ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Khafaji, a litterateur who wrote the foreword to a Shi‘i hadith work like Wasa’il ash-Shi‘ah and at-Tabarsi’s Mustadrak al-Wasa’il, were in no way qualified to express an opinion about the books they were writing forewords to.

In light of the mounting evidence about the real role the Dar at-Taqrib had come to play in Egypt, many of those who joined the group in full sincerity came to regret their involvement, and started to withdraw. Some of them left in silence and others announced their withdrawal.

Dr. Muhammad al-Bahi, for example, was a man who welcomed the establishment of the Dar at-Taqrib at its inception. He is described in Risalat al-Islam as “an ‘alim, a researcher, one of those who are free in thought and believe in the idea of taqrib.”30 However, after a period of involvement he loses hope in the Dar at-Taqrib and expresses his thoughts about it in the following words:

A movement was established in Cairo for the purpose of bringing the Shi‘ah and the Ahl as-Sunnah closer to one another. But instead of concentrating its efforts on calling towards that which the Qur’an calls for…it is concentrating all its energy on bringing alive the fiqh, usul, tafsir etc. of the Shi‘ah, and publishing articles which call for not discriminating between Muslims.31

Shaykh ‘Abd al-Latif as-Subki, after four years of involvement with the Dar at-Taqrib, realises al-Qummi’s true aims, and withdraws. He publishes the reasons for his withdrawal in the Majallat al-Azhar. Shaykh Taha Muhammad as-Sakit and Shaykh Muhammad ‘Arafah, another member of the Council of Senior ‘Ulama, both sever their ties with the Dar at-Taqrib. Soon the Dar at-Taqrib dwindled into a mere skeleton of what it once had been, with only a few persons left who were kept behind by their dependence on the income provided by the Dar at-Taqrib. The only sign of activity that remained was the publication of Risalat al-Islam. And in time that too, became part of the past.

6. Assessment

Ultimately it turned out that the reason for which the Dar at-Taqrib was founded, and the philosophy upon which it was built, became the cause of its failure and downfall. Had there been a serious and earnest desire from the Shi‘i side to reconsider its own history and heritage, this venture might have been a stepping stone to Sunni-Shi‘i co-operation and rapprochement. However, in each and every venture undertaken by it, the Dar at-Taqrib showed that it had no objective other than to further the cause of Shi‘ism in established Sunni societies. Not a single iota of the Shi‘i view of history or theology was ever brought under scrutiny. Not one of the beliefs cherished by traditional Shi‘ism was ever challenged.

Admittedly, there definitely was movement in operations of the Dar at-Taqrib. However, whatever motion there was took place exclusively in one direction: It was the Ahl as-Sunnah who had to be brought closer to the Shi‘ah, while Shi‘ism remained where it was. This was the downfall of the Dar at-Taqrib: Its assumption that Shi‘ism is Truth, while what the Ahl as-Sunnah possessed was merely a corrupted form of True Islam.

If Taqrib, or rapprochement means the mutual act of coming together, it goes without saying that any endeavour of rapprochement that is founded upon the preconceived notion of one party as the sole claimant to Truth is bound to come to nought. There can be no clearer demonstration of this observation than the case  Dar at-Taqrib in Cairo.


While this article is largely drawn from the book Mas’alat at-Taqrib bayna Ahl as-Sunnah wash-Shi‘ah by Dr. Nasir al-Qafari, other sources have also been consulted.

1. Ibn Kathir: al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah part 11 vol. 6 p.259 (Dar ar-Rayyan, Cairo 1988)

2. ibid. vol.12 p.56 (Maktab al-Ma‘arif, Beirut 1980)

3. ibid., Ibn al-Jawzi: al-Muntazam vol.8 p.145, adh-Dhahabi: al-‘Ibar vol.3 p.199

4. Ibn al-Jawzi: al-Muntazam vol. 8 p. 149, Ibn Kathir: al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah vol.12 p.62

5. Ibn al-Jawzi: al-Muntazam vol.9 p.89,  Ibn Kathir: al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah vol.12 p.149

6. al-Khatib al-Baghdadi: Tarikh Baghdad vol.9 pp.401-402

7. Abu Zahrah: al-Imam as-Sadiq p. 453

8. Rasa’il Abil Ma‘ali, cited  in al-Imam as-Sadiq p.451.

9. ibid. p. 449

10. Tanbihat al-Adib fi Rijal at-Tahdhib, cited by Yusuf al-Bahrani in  Lu’lu’at al-Bahrayn p. 65

11. Yusuf al-Bahrani: Lu’lu’at al-Bahrayn pp. 297-298

12. Mahmud Basyuni Fawdah: at-Tabarsi mufassiran p. 10.

13. Majma‘ al-Bayan vol.1 p.10

14.‘Ali al-Awsi: at-Tabataba“i wa-Manhajuhu fi Tafsirihi al-Mizan pp. 65-66 (Munazzamat al-I‘lam al-Islami, Teheran 1985)

15. Sa‘d as-Su‘ud cited in Mirza Husayn an-Nuri at-Tabarsi: Fasl al-Khitab p. 17

16. Lu’lu’at al-Bahrayn p.237

17. Fasl al-Khitab p.17

18. ibid.

19. Lu’lu’at al-Bahrayn p.347 [It is also not wholly inconceivable, if one takes into consideration the development of tafsir amongst the Shi‘ah, that at-Tabarsi’s reason for including so much Sunni material into his tafsir was the lack of Shi‘i material of a similar standard. In the Sunni and Mu‘tazili traditions tafsir was by that time (the 6th century AH) a well established discipline with various specialised fields, while the tafsirs of al-Qummi and al-‘Ayyashi (which along with at-Tusi’s Tibyan forms the bulk of at-Tabarsi’s Shi‘i source material) were basically narrations from the Imams, and therefore represent only a single branch of the discipline of tafsir. Moreover, narrations impugning the integrity of the Qur’an abound in these two sources, which places a serious question mark over their own reliability as sources for the interpretation of the Qur’an. In any event, this issue merits further research.]

20.  Muhibb ad-Din al-Khatib, Nash’at at-Tashayyu‘ wa-Tatawwuruhu pp. 4-6, and Majallat al-Fath: vol. 17 p. 709

21.  ibid. See also ‘Abd al-Karim az-Zanjani, al-Wahdat al-Islamiyyah (at-Taqrib baynal-Muslimin) p. 59

22.  Dr. Nasir al-Qafari, Mas’alat at-Taqrib bayna Ahl as-Sunnah wash-Shi‘ah vol. 2 pp. 171-172

23.  ibid. p. 173

24.  ibid. pp. 177-178

25.  Majallat al-Azhar vol.  24 pp. 285-286

26.  Ahmad Mughniyah, al-Khumayni Aqwaluhu wa-Af‘aluhu p. 27

27.  al-Wahdat al-Islamiyyah, aw at-Taqrib baynal-Madhahib pp. 64-65

28.  Risalat al-Islam, vol. 3 p. 403

29.  Risalat al-Islam, vol. 2 p. 169

30.  Risalat al-Islam, vol. 8 p. 107

31.  Muhammad al-Bahi, al-Fikr al-Islami wal-Mujtama‘at al-Mu‘asirah p. 439