The MJC’s Postion on the Shīʿah
Ml Mohammad Taha Karaan
2 September 1999
A considerable amount of confusion has been caused by the publication in Muslim Views of a misleading report of an interview with MJC President, Shaikh Ebrahim Gabriels. In response to this situation the MJC wishes to hereby clarify its position vis-a-vis the Shi‘ah and Shi‘ism.
The MJC and Takfeer
It has consistently been the policy of the MJC not to pass a general verdict of Kufr against the Shi‘ah. The reason for this is the extreme sensitivity associated with Takfeer, or declaring someone a Kaafir. Attaching the label of Kufr is a matter that must be treated with extreme care, wherein one cannot allow oneself to be guided purely by emotion and sentiment. This applies not only to the Shi‘ah, but to every heterodox sect. On the other hand, it also remains the bounden duty of the ‘Ulama to stand in defence of the ‘Aqeedah of the Ummah. Faced thus on the one side with an obligation of such magnitude, and on the other with a matter of such delicate sensitivity, there has to be complete objectivity about the issue.
Deviation and Kufr
Before passing verdicts of Kufr, it first needs to be defined exactly what Kufr is. Every heterodox belief is not necessarily Kufr. The spectrum of deviation in belief is wide, and while the darker shades of deviation surely merit the label of Kufr, it is true that some of its lighter shades do not deserve it. But the fact that such lighter shades of deviation are not going to be labeled as Kufr takes nothing at all away from the fact that it is—and will remain—deviation, and that it deserves to be treated as such.
Definition of Kufr
Kufr has been universally defined as “the denial of that which is undeniably and categorically part of Deen.” Any belief that amounts to the denial of something which is a categorical part of Deen is thus Kufr, and any person known to hold such a belief is a Kaafir. With a definition as dispassionate as this as the criterion, there is neither any need to become irrationally sentimental in matters of Takfeer, nor to become hysterically defensive of heterodox beliefs to the point of announcing that it is the prerogative of Allah alone to declare anyone to be outside the fold of Islam. This statement—that Takfeer is the prerogative of Allah alone—is another example of a slogan that is true in itself, but is employed towards dubious ends. It is the prerogative of Allah to make Salaah and Hajj obligatory, and to declare wine and pork haraam, but the ‘Ulama have a duty to convey this to the people. Similarly it is the prerogative of Allah to delineate the perimeters of what constitutes Eemaan and Kufr respectively, and the duty of the ‘Ulama to convey.
Applying the definition
So when we come to the Shi‘ah, we ask ourselves: Are their idiosyncratic deviations in belief tantamount to the denial of the undeniable? Here we are faced with a problem, because we find disparities between what the Shi‘ah say they believe, and their beliefs as reflected in their classical literature. While the classical literature of the Shi‘ah espouses many a belief that clashes headlong with what is categorically part and parcel of Deen, the Shi‘ah themselves have a tendency of making as if those deviations do not exist.
A prominent example would be the issue of Tahreef al-Qur’aan, or the distortion of the text of the Qur’aan. Classical Shi’i writers had no qualms to unequivocally state their belief that the text of the Qur’aan was distorted by the Sahabah for political reasons. Contemporary Shi‘i writers either ignore the issue or attempt to give a new meaning to the great number of Shi‘i ahadith that form the basis of this belief.
The Shi‘i doctrine of Bada is another example. In the early writings of the Shi‘ah this doctrine ascribes to Allah ignorance of the future. In later years it was rehabilitated into something less obnoxious.
In the Shi‘i concept of elevating the status of their 12 Imams above that of the Ambiya we have a change of circumstances. In the 5th century this belief was condemned by the Shi‘i writer Ibn Babawayh as a manifestation of Ghuluww, or extremism, which is abominable to both the Ahl as-Sunnah and the Shi‘ah. In contemporary Shi‘ism this belief has risen to occupy the position of an undeniable tenet of the Shi‘ah faith, as attested to by an authority no less than Khomeini himself.
Throughout history these and other beliefs of Shi‘ism have been judged by ‘Ulama of the Ahl as-Sunnah to constitute denials of the undeniable, or in other words, Kufr. Of the well-known ‘Ulama who are on record as having passed verdicts of Kufr are Imam Malik, Imam Ahmad, Ibn Hazm, Qadi Iyad, Imam Ghazali and Imam Razi. Takfeer of the Shi‘ah is therefore not an unprecedented phenomenon, unlike what some people would very much want to believe.
With the above precedent as our point of departure it should have been simply a matter of routine to say, “The Shi‘ah are Kaafir.” Yet we refrain from passing such a blanket declaration of Kufr. Our reason for desisting from a generalised Takfeer of the Shi‘ah is the fact that we realise, in honesty and fairness, that while Shi‘ism on the whole contains numerous serious deviations that amount to Kufr, it is also a fact not every Shi‘i, or convert to Shi‘ism, actually holds those beliefs. We have already seen how they have rehabilitated certain aspects of their belief structure in the course of history. We know too, that many converts to Shi‘ism, and even people born into Shi‘ism, have no access to the classical literature of Shi‘ism. Their only idea of that legacy is what they have been taught by Shi‘i ‘ulama eager to hide or rehabilitate the obnoxious aspects of the past. We therefore do not expect them to be aware of the pitfalls of the system of faith into which they buy. Their excuse, in a nutshell, is ignorance coupled with misinformation.
Thus our approach to the issue of Takfeer is two-pronged. In principle we recognise that Shi‘ism contains elements that amount to Kufr beyond a shadow of doubt. But when it comes to declaring persons Kaafir, we require it to be known or proven that the person actually believes in something which amounts to the denial of what is undeniable. If his acceptance of Shi‘ism does not extend to include beliefs of that nature, be it out of real conviction or simply for the sake of convenience, we will not declare him a Kaafir. But that does not mean that we accept the validity of his beliefs. Although he remains broadly within the fold of Islam, he remains a deviate, and deserves to be treated as such.
As deviates who have not yet crossed over into Kufr, we will allow them to pray in our masaajid and to be buried in our maqaabir. However, we will not give them access to platforms which they can use for the propagation of their faith. We will also very strongly discourage Sunni-Shi‘i marriages, since such marriages, if they do not succumb to the pressure of sectarian difference, will serve the cause of propagation.
With everything at our disposal we will resist the propagation of the Shi‘i faith in our society, not only because it is a deviation, but also because experience has shown that wherever in the world Sunnis and Shi‘ah exist side by side there has been endless friction and strife. We thus have a dual obligation, one towards the preservation of our ‘Aqeedah, and the other towards securing the future peace and harmony of our society.
The way the Shi‘ah have gone about abusing the atmosphere of tolerance to propagate their faith amongst the Ahl as-Sunnah bears eloquent testimony to the fact that to the Shi‘ah it is more important to convert Sunnis to Shi‘ism than to perpetuate Sunni-Shi‘i harmony. In fact, it creates the very strong feeling that the Shi‘ah demand tolerance from Sunni societies for no reason other than to be able to propagate their faith in such societies. Therefore, when looking for reasons why the Ahl as-Sunnah remain ill-disposed towards them, the Shi‘ah need only to do some introspection.
1. The MJC recognises Shi‘ism, and specifically Twelver Shi‘ism, as a deviate sect.
2. While the MJC does not pass a general verdict of Kufr on the Shi‘ah, it is aware that Shi‘ism on the whole incorporates elements that amount to Kufr.
3. Any Shi‘i who is known to believe in such deviations is a Kaafir.
4. If a Shi‘i, for whatsoever reason, rejects beliefs that amount to Kufr, he will not be declared a Kaafir, but he will remain a deviate all the same.
5. Talking of mutual tolerance and harmony between the Ahl as-Sunnah and the Shi‘ah is meaningless and misleading for as long as the Shi‘ah remain bent upon the propagation of their faith in Sunni societies.
6. The propagation of Shi‘ism is bound to create endless, and even violent conflict in our society, as it has done elsewhere. The MJC has a duty to prevent that from happening, just as it has a duty to defend the ‘Aqeedah of the Ahl as-Sunnah.