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Shia-Sunni Ecumenism, History and Criticism in Brief

The Iraqi Shia scholar Muhammad al-Husayn Kasif al-Ghita (1877- 1953) is considered to be one of the pioneers of Shia-Sunni ecumenism in modern sense. He called for Islamic ecumenism during his speech at the World Islamic Congress on December 1931. Pertaining to the notion of taqrib (Sunni-Shia reconciliation), al-Gita said the following: “It should be clearly underlined that the taqrib is not aimed at eliminating the difference, but its maximum objective is the elimination of circumstances that this difference turns out to be the reason for enmity and hatred. The objective of Islamic taqrib is the exchange of mutual distance and conflict with brotherhood and rapprochement”.

The institutionalization of taqrib materialized in 1948. In Egypt emerged the ‘Committee of the Reconciliation of Islamic Sects’ (lajnat al-taqrib bayna al-madhahib), led by the rector of Al-Azhar Mahmud Shaltut (1893-1963).  It published a magazine named Risalat al-Islam (the Message of Islam), from 1958 until 1964. In 1989, in Teheran emerged ‘World Assembly for the Rapprochement of Islamic Sects’ (al-majma’ al- ‘alami li al-taqrib bayna al-madhahib). In 2007 it held a meeting in Qatar. It has published some books on Shia-Sunni ecumenism.

There has been criticism pertaining to the Islamic ecumenical movements within Muslim society though. One of these criticisms is brought forward by the Iranian American scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr (b. 1933), which can be observed for instance from the subsequent citation: “Most often, however, people search in these ecumenical movements for a common denominator which, in a certain instances, sacrifices divinely ordained qualitative differences for the sake of a purely human and often quantitative egalitarianism”.

Nasr goes on to criticize the ecumenical mentality, most particularly from the perspective of perennial philosophy. Regarding this issue, it is also worth mentioning that Nasr felt the necessity of translating the work on Shiism by al-Tabataba’i into English, to provide the Western audience with the firsthand information on least known stream of Islam, that is Shiism, so as to give an overview of its similarities and differences with the mainstream of Islam, namely Sunnism. Such a necessity is also felt by the Austrian Iranian scholar Hamid Kasiri (b. 1964), so that he published book series on Shia Islam, which was written in German, since he notice that there are only limited publications on Shiism which are available in German.

Taken from:


By: Asfa Widiyanto, State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN) Salatiga, Indonesia


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