Unity of the Islamic Schools of Thought According to Imam Musa al-Sadr [2 of 2]

By ‘Abd al-Rahim Abadhari – Part 2 of 2

Read Part 1

In March of 1970, Imam Musa al-Sadr attended the annual conference of ‘Collective Discussions on Islam’ in  Egypt, during  which, in  a detailed speech in the presence of scholarly personalities, he emphasized this very point. He presented a codified plan on this topic to the conference forum and it was well received by most of the attendees. It resulted in the surfacing of the permanent members of the Assembly. Moreover, during an interview with the Egyptian newspaper al-Musawwir,  in  his  response to  the  inter- viewer regarding the unity of the schools of thought, he stated:

… this  topic  is possible after accepting the unity  of fiqh; it cannot come about simply through empty dialogue and superficial conversations  of the leaders of the schools of thought.  These schools have been crystallized in the depth of being of their own followers. I hope that this important  goal will materialize with this Assembly, which is composed of the great scholars of the Islamic world. Moreover, considering the opportune  position  that  Egypt occupies in the Islamic world, it can play an effective role in actualizing this goal…[1]

In every opportunity and gathering that he had with jurists and scholars of the Islamic schools of thought,  Imam Musa al-Sadr would bring up the topic  of the unity  between the schools of thought,  and  in particular  the explanation  and  elucidation  of unifying the fiqh. The following year, on April 19, 1971, after having participated in the sixth congress of the ‘Collective Discussions on Islam’ in Egypt, he met with military personnel in the Suez Canal and the battle fronts  of the Egyptian war. While outlining the importance  of  fighting  against  the  Israeli occupiers,  he  emphasized  the topic of unity of the Islamic ummah, and in particular of religious rituals.[2] Likewise, in 1973, on the occasion  of  the  seventh annual  conference of ‘Knowledge of Islamic Thought’ in Algeria, he once again brought up this topic in an interview with the Algerian magazine al-Mujahid.[3]

Of course, what Imam Musa al-Sadr meant with unifying the fiqh was not that the difference of opinions  amongst the jurisprudents  of the schools of thought should end and that all of them should issue one common verdict for each law and issue; on the contrary, he believed that these differences of opinion were actually what allowed fiqh to progress, jurisprudence to become dynamic, and the jurist to excel [in his field]. He used to say that so long as this difference of opinion was on the theoretical level—i.e., in the form of an academic theory—it would always be a source of goodness, blessing, progress, flowering, and growth. However, the moment it changed into a verdict for action or a religious slogan within society, the multitude of the verdicts and slogans would inevitably lead to the dispersal of the followers of each verdict and slogan. Hence, All of these perspectives should  end with one verdict and with one slogan so that they do not result in division, multiple factions, and the dispersal of the Islamic ummah. Imam Musa Sadr Used to give examples of the rituals of the  Hajj, the call for prayers, Islamic holidays, and the crescent moons for the months of Ramadan and Shawwal; he used to say:

…For example, with regard to the sighting of the new crescent moon, we can study a proposal to see if we can determine, through scientific precision, the Eid by relying on new scientific ways and fixing the angle for sighting the crescent on the horizon, so that all Muslims can have their Eid on one day. This will economize many difficulties in terms of holidays and family visitations so that we do not have the issues that arise from having separate days for Eid. Also, we can look into  whether or not there is a form for the call to prayers that is acceptable to everyone…[4]

Imam Musa al-Sadr’s recommendation  of unifying the fiqh was brought up for  the  first  time  in  his letter to  the  Grand  Mufti  of Lebanon, Shaykh Hasan Khalid on the 27th of Rajab, 1389 AH/1969 (on the Eid of Mab’ath). Since then, around 40 years have passed, and today more than ever—while the whole world, and particularly the Islamic one, has become like a small village—the need to put into  practice the concept of the unity  of fiqh is deeply sensed. In a world in which America leads a global hegemony and each day brings a new unfounded  pretence for starting a quarrel with Islam and all too often, one of the Islamic countries becomes the target of its encroachment, transgression, and means of profit—it  is completely irrational and impermissible that in street after street of this small Islamic village, the voices of division and conflict be heard and the movements of disharmony and dissonance be seen. Of course, materializing such an important  ideal is not a simple matter; it requires thought, contemplation,  and the determination  of the great jurisprudents  and the concerned thinkers  of the Islamic world. Imam Musa al-Sadr was aware of this reality and it is for this reason that in another part of the same letter he writes:

In this condition,  it is necessary to attach ourselves to these goals, to study them more closely, to determine our duties, to establish cooperation  of  the  efforts  of  all  the  children  of  this  country—first, amongst themselves and amongst the country officials, and then between them and the Arab countries in order to mobilize the resources of all the Muslims of the world and all those who have a conscience that is awake and well-intentioned wherever they may be. By whole- heartedly participating  in these responsibilities—in  other words, by freely giving to it to the extent we can—it behoves us that in order to actualize  these matters,  we must  jointly  study  its  procedures  and manners of execution so that the cooperation  in its implementation becomes apparent and its challenges easy to deal with.

Relationship with Christian Ministers

In addition  to  unity  between the  Islamic schools of  thought,  Imam Musa al-Sadr also believed in a type of union and dialogue between the divine religions. For this reason, from the onset of his arrival in Lebanon, he began efforts to establish links and dialogue with the country’s Christian religious and political  denominations,  and  with  each day, he increased the depth  and  breadth  of this relationship.  In a short period, he became acquainted  with all of the  Christian  minsters  and  personalities  and  established formal cordial relations with most of them, particularly with bishop Yusuf al-KhurI (Maronite archbishop) in March 1960.[5]

However, Imam Musa al-Sadr never sufficed himself to just these relation- ships; he continued his relations with the rest of the Christian masses. In fact, he commissioned some prominent Christians as associates in his social works and charitable activities. In the summer of 1961, one of the famous Christians by the name of Raflah Mansad endowed one-third of the shares of his ice-factory to the charitable society, Mu’assisah Birr wa Ihsan (Institute  of Goodness and Benevolence)—an institute  managed by Imam Musa al-Sadr with the aim of tending to the dispossessed in southern  Lebanon. Moreover, he made two Christian physicians official members of the same institute.[6]

Defence of Oppressed Christians

In July 1962, in the city of Sur, a Muslim ice-cream seller ill-treated his Christian  neighbour,  who was also an ice-cream seller. The Muslim began to  spread the  word that  based on  the  teachings of Islam, Christian  ice- cream was najis (ritually impure) and  Muslims should  not  buy and  consume it. This propagation was effective and the Christian  neighbour  suffered loss as a result. While this was transpiring,  a fellow Christian  complained to Imam Musa al-Sadr and sought his intervention.  When informed about  the incident,  Imam  Musa  Sadr appeased the Christian  and  sent a message to the Muslim shop-keeper to abstain from  such unworthy  acts. The Muslim, however, did  not  heed his advice. A few days later, Imam Musa al-Sadr issued a clear fatwa (verdict) acknowledging the ritual purity of the Ahl al-Kitab (People of the Book—i.e., Christians, Jews, etc.). Moreover, he personally went to the ice-cream store of the Christian, along with a few other people, and in another act of conciliation, purchased some ice-cream from him to consume. With this act, he defended the rights of a Christian citizen who had been the target of ill-treatment.

This incident became the focus of attention for a few days, and was covered by many of  the  leading Lebanese newspapers such  as al-Nahar, al-Hayah,  and  Lisan al-Hal.[7]   It also  led  to  the  strengthening  of  Muslim-Christian relations under the leadership of Imam Musa al-Sadr. In fact, in the very same year, with the invitation of the archbishop Grégoire Haddad and other prominent members, Imam  Musa  Sadr became a member  of  the ‘Central Council of the Social Movement.’[8] Subsequently, he was invited by Christian leaders to a number of Christian religious centres—such as churches and monasteries—in order to speak on various topics, particularly on “the coexistence of religions.”

Coexistence with Christians

On this issue, he took great strides and has said:

… I am for the establishment of one united Islamic front that can allow us, from a position of strength, to extend our hands of cooperation towards our fellow Christians and that can make way for the co- existence of Muslims and Christians. Israel insists on projecting this as a futile attempt in the world. They think that it is impossible to create an independent Palestine wherein Jews, Muslims, and Christians all live next to each other…[9]

He was of the belief that the coexistence of Muslims and Christians was an important asset that must be utilized in order to solve many social problems and issues.[10]  In this regard, he strove and made advances to such an extent that he was accepted by the Christian societies as an ethical role model. Imam Musa al-Sadr used to say on this topic:

… One  of the Christian  institutes  in  Lebanon by the name of ‘al- Mukhallid Monastery’—their seminary in which they train  clergy— invited me to speak … a while after my speech, the head of the monastery said to the Director General of Propagation of Lebanon, who was also a Christian: ‘that spiritual talk that Sayyid Musa gave us in the monastery in a matter of one hour  was more than  the spiritual talks  that  we give them  [seminary  students]  in  a  matter  of  six months.’ This has nothing to do with me, but it has to do with the pure religion of Islam …”[11]

One of the other important Christian  gatherings that he would attend regularly and where he would speak to the Christian  youth, university students,  and  academics was in  the  grand,  historical  church—St.  Maroon Church—in the city of Tripoli.  Another city which is the centre of Maronite Christians is Bsharri. In this city, thousands of youth and Christians from all walks of life would gather, with indescribable excitement and enthusiasm, to listen to the talk of Imam Musa al-Sadr.[12]   These youth were so enamoured by him that most of them would bring their marriage vows to him and he would solemnize their marriages.[13]

Establishing Annual Conferences

In yet another essential step forward, Imam Musa al-Sadr embarked on establishing  a scholarly conference entitled  ‘Broad Dialogue between Islam and Christianity’ in May, 1965, with the assistance of various Muslim and Christian  intellectuals. This conference, which was held in the Lebanese Symposium, was attended by well-known Muslim and Christian personalities such as Nasri  Sulhab, George Khadar, Francois Dubarahlatur,  Yusuf AbU Halqah, Hasan Sa’b, Yuwakil Mubarak, and Subhi SaliH each of whom addressed the audience. In this gathering, Imam Musa al-Sadr gave a detailed talk on “Twentieth Century Islam and Culture,” which the participants found quite innovative.[14]

The interactive round-table sessions of this conference as well as the speeches, presentations, and views of Muslim and Christian thinkers continued till June with the aim of determining the techniques for deepening and expanding interfaith dialogue. The first part of these talks concluded with the issuance of a joint-manifesto, in which the following essential points were emphasized:

  1. Striving towards worshipping one God through  common  religious practices;
  2.  Efforts in preserving ethical and human values;
  3. The exceptional role of Lebanon in  expanding the culture  of dialogue between Islam and Christianity;
  4. The important  role of interfaith dialogue in order to strengthen and unify Lebanon;
  5. The establishment of a higher-education institute  to conduct  comparative studies of the divine religions; and
  6. The necessity of cooperation between all Muslim  and  Christian thinkers in order to deepen the culture of dialogue.

In subsequent years, this conference continued its activities under various conference titles such as ‘Justice in Islam and Christianity.” It included the participation   of various academic, cultural,  and  political  personalities—both Muslim and Christian.

The Flag-Bearer of Coexistence

In his effort to strengthen the ties with well-known Christian personalities, Imam Musa al-Sadr—as a Shia Imam and scholar—did not suffice him- self only to having official sessions with them; rather, during the days of Eid and various other occasions, he would pay them visits in their homes, attend their funerals, and participate in their joyous and sad ceremonies. It reached a point where Christians would respect and honour him in the same way they did their own leaders. In fact, at times, they would rely on him more than their own leaders.

In an interview with Monday Morning on August 22, 1977, Imam Musa al-Sadr sketched out his position among the Christians in the following manner:

… And I don’t think that anyone in Lebanon has raised the flag of the coexistence of religions and the unity of the country and has kept it raised as I have. I became a code for national unity more than I could be my own self. From the point of view of the conspirators, I should have been done away with. In addition  to the political, cultural, and social relations that I had with all the heads of the various religious denominations,   I had  attained  such  a level of  trust  that three years ago, I had delivered the sermon of the Easter fast (a particular  Christian  occasion) for the Christian  faithful  in the KabarshiyIn Church; this perhaps was unmatched  in history. In order for you to understand  the extent of this claim, let me explain: What I did would  be  similar  to  a  Christian   religious  leader  delivering  the khutbah (sermon) of the Friday prayers to Muslims gathered for the prayer. Hence, I became the peaceful code for national unity and the brotherhood of monotheistic religions as well as the flag-bearer of the coexistence of the various groups in Lebanon. Due to this, they began a propaganda war against me as a means of character assassination, and probed into all of my political works and associations…[15]

One of the Christian denominational leaders, by the name of Minister Yawakim Mubarak, writes his views about Imam Musa al-Sadr in an article in the Beirut al-Nahar newspaper in the following manner:

… Of course, no one can deny that Sayyid Musa al-Sadr is a Shia who began his activities in order to fight for the rights of the Shias in this country. However, these current activities [of his] encompass a much greater vision and one must not forget that the Shias in Islam have always been a group of intellectuals and the promoters  of justice; in this way, they have devoted their lives and offered many sacrifices. It is for this reason also that the well-being of Lebanon lies with them. In the same way that in the past periods of history, the Maronite and Druze movement was believed to be important,  and they saw aspects of seeking freedom and humanity  in these movements, now as well, they should support  the movement of Musa al-Sadr, particularly since this movement is connected and in collaboration  with the Palestinian cause…[16]

Professor Ilyas al-Diri, a prominent Christian commentator in Lebanon, regarding this aspect of the personality of Imam Musa al-Sadr has this to say:

… May God preserve Imam Musa al-Sadr for a hundred  and one years; may He make him live as long as possible so that a roaring bell and resonating cry remain on earth and a conscience that vexes the dead who are drowned in their sleep when creation refuses to close its eyes and cries out in distress. May God preserve him [as a hope] for the dispossessed ones of his own people and the rest of the dispossessed in Lebanon throughout history… In this Lebanon, how many are the number of dispossessed and oppressed and how many in need of a hand to remove the oppression and to eliminate deprivation? Many indeed! How many of them are in dire need of a voice like the voice of this man and a heart like his heart … Perhaps, it is for the first time that the movement of one religious man is free from the taint of sectarianism and empty of any sign of partisanship. The reason for this is that the movement of this Imam and leader of the Shias has earned the respect, praise, and consensus of the Maronites, the Sunnis, and the Orthodox  … in short, this is Imam Musa al-Sadr and this is his position—one which is based on clear and certain realities and sources whether in the view of the innocent  faithful  masses or the leading intellectuals, whether in the eyes of his own people or the greater Lebanese nation.[17]


[1] The entire text of this interview was printed in the Lebanese newspaper al-Anwar on March 7, 1970.

[2] al-Mahrur Newspaper, Beirut, April 20, 1971.

[3] al-Mujahid Magazine, no. 687, Rajab 13, 1393/1973.

[4] From the letter to Shaykh Hasan Khalid.

[5] RK: Imam Musa al-Sadr, The Hope of the Deprived, p. 278.

[6] Guftar-e Mah Yearbook, Year 2, p. 39.

[7] Sajin al-Sahra,  p. 426.

[8] Ibid. p. 432.

[9] Narrated by Imam Musa al-Sadr in ‘AiI Hujjati Karmani, Lebanon,  p. 86.

[10] Hawarat Sahfiyyah II: al-wahdah wa al-tahrir, the Imam Musa al-Sadr Center for Study and Dialogue, Beirut, p. 26.

[11] Simaye Islam Yearbook, p. 90.

[12] ‘Izzat  Shi’ah, p. 142, as narrated by Hujjat al-Islam, Sayyid Abu Dhar ‘AmulI.

[13] Imam Musa al-Sadr: The Hope of the Deprived, p. 281.

[14] The entire text of this speech can be located in Abjadiyyat al-HawAr: Anthology of Imam Musa al-Sadr’s speeches, compiled by Husayn Sharaf al-Din, p. 43.

[15] Tarjuman Magazine, p. 42.

[16] “The Helpers of Imam,” Imam Musa al-Sadr Special Edition, vol. I, Savak News report on December 14, 1974.

[17] Surush Magazine, no. 161, p. 33. The entire text of this article was published in the Today’s column of the widely circulated Lebanese al-Nihar newspaper on April 1, 1975—three  years prior to his disappearance.

About Ali Imran 238 Articles
An internet marketer by profession, I am the author of Iqra Online. I am currently pursuing a MA in Islamic Studies from The Islamic College of London, and as well as continuing my studies in a seminary in Qom, Iran.