Recently, a top cleric in Saudi Arabia branded Iranians as non-Muslims, referring to them as "sons of the Magi." Such takfir (excommunication) is neither a unique feature of the Saudi clerics nor is it restricted towards Shia Muslims. Throughout Muslim history, scholars have held similar opinions.
In a video, the leading Imam offered the following prayer in Mecca:
"O Allah, grant victory, dignity and empowerment to our brothers mujahideen (Jihadists) ... O Lords of the Worlds grant them victory over the godless Rafidah (Shia Muslims). Grant them victory over the treacherous Jews, and over the spiteful Christians, and over the untrusted hypocrites"
Ahmadis have been officially termed as non-Muslim and face immense persecution in Pakistan. Ismailis and Bohras are viewed no differently. Such minority Muslim denominations often experience social discrimination even in the West. For instance, recently in Birmingham, Ahmadis were blocked from representation on an interfaith council as Muslims.
Progressive Muslims do not fare any better. Conservative scholars with immense popularity and following in the West have threatened them with charges of kufr (apostasy). This was made clear to Muslim feminists when they challenged rape jokes of a popular Islamic teacher in 2014. Grossly oversimplifying the position of Muslim reformers, one conservative scholar clearly branded their hermeneutic as "a manifestation of kufr."
Likewise, LGBT Muslims are told that while "practicing homosexuality" is a major sin, justifying and defending LGBT rights through articles is kufr. The taboo is so strong that both Sunnis and Shias have branded each other with charges of homosexuality.
Excommunicating people for holding different beliefs is not new to Islam. Some scholars in the past have been guilty of such spiritual abuse on petty issues. Professor Kecia Ali notes the opinion of Haskafi, a 17th century jurist, in her book Sexual Ethics and Islam, as follows:
"If a man has four free [wives] and a thousand concubines and wants to buy another [concubine] and [another] man reproaches him for that, it will be as if [the latter] had committed unbelief."
Fortunately, in his book Freedom of Expression in Islam, Dr. Hashim Kamali alluded to the 19th century jurist Ibn Abidin, who asserted that those who made charges of disbelief were mainly writers of a lesser caliber. Ironically, Ibn Abidin made such charges on Shia Muslims.
In contemporary times, some Muslim scholars have tried to limit such abuse by bridging the gap between Sunni and Shia Muslims. However, in doing so they end up erecting barriers against Jews and Christians. For instance, the late Pakistani scholar Muhammad Ishaq stated that if Sunni and Shias forge unity, Jews and Christians would be crushed.
It is therefore imperative that Muslims in the West adopt various strategies to salvage their faith from the clutches of hateful exclusivists. They can emphasize Qur'anic verse 4:94 that teaches not to call someone an unbeliever who offers a greeting of peace. Likewise, they can emphasize the Prophet's warning against calling someone an unbeliever who recites the Muslim testimonial of faith.
Actions speak louder than words. This means that Muslims will have to include Shias, Ismailis, Bohras, Ahmadis, progressives, LGBT Muslims, their intersections and other denominations in their religious spaces.
Likewise, Muslim student bodies can ensure that Islam Awareness Weeks include a diverse array of Muslim speakers. Earlier this year, commenting on one Muslim student group, a Shia student mentioned:
"Where is the Shia, Ahmadi, Ismaili representation etc. It's more of a Sunni students association. So I guess the point is that they are not even inclusive when it comes to other sects. That just gives a hint about their attitudes towards LGBT inclusiveness. They have double standards when it comes to acceptance of minorities. The least they could do is show tolerance by not inviting hateful speakers."
The main targets of extremists are fellow Muslims. This makes it even more pressing for Muslims in the West to put an end to exclusivism and excommunication. One way to do this is to embrace people on the basis of human dignity. This includes Jews, Christians, Hindus, atheists, minority Muslims and above all, ex-Muslims.
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