A significant milestone was laid in the contemporary history of the Muslim world at the recent International Islamic Conference, held in Amman, Jordan from July 4 to 6, 2005. It brought forth a united resolve, rarely seen before, to tackle firmly the challenges threatening the Ummah’s own internal stability, and even integrity, as well as undermining its historic role of constructive interface with other cultures and traditions, especially, though not exclusively, Christians and Jews whom Islam honourably refers to as the fellow People of the Book, ahl al-kitab.
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Hosted by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, with an inaugural address by His Hashemite Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, the Conference brought together more than 170 religious leaders and scholars from 40 countries, from the main Shia schools – Ithna Ashari, Ismaili and Zaidi; the four Sunni schools – Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii and Hanbali; as well as the Ibadi and the Zahiri. The Organisation of Islamic Conference – OIC – was represented by its Secretary-General. The Institute of Ismaili Studies and the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, Aga Khan University, sent, as their delegates, Dr. Farhad Daftary, Professor Abdou Filali-Ansary and Shams Vellani.
Reflecting, thus, the historic plurality that the Muslim Ummah accommodates within the fundamental unity of Islam, the Conference in Jordan achieved a level of participation not matched in similar gatherings in the past. But the Conference was also a substantive departure in that it went beyond broad recommendations. Instead, it succeeded in forging an unprecedented consensus among these schools on the mutual acceptance of the legitimacy of various Muslim denominations held until now in differing levels of suspicion or hostility. The Conference, thus, marked a real break-through, and a turning point, in the recognition of pluralism as a fact of Muslim history and heritage to be cherished as a blessing.
In advance of the Conference, messages and declarations had been invited from the leading Muslim authorities – Shia, Sunni and Ibadi – in support of the Conference goals. These included a message from His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, the full text of which follows this report.
Among the other leading Muslim authorities and dignitaries, who had presented fatwas, were: Grand Imam Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, Shaykh al-Azhar; Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali-Sistani, Najaf, Iraq; several Grand Ayatollahs from Najaf, Iraq; Ayatollah Muhammad Ali Taskhiri, Iran; Dr. Ali Jummua, the Grand Mufti of Egypt; High Council of Religious Affairs, Turkey; the Institute of Islamic Fiqh, Saudi Arabia; Sheikh Ahmad Ibn Hamad Al-Khalili, Grand Mufti of the Sultanate of Oman; Sheikh Ibrahim Ibn Muhammad Al-Wazir, Zaidi leader, Yemen; Sheikh Ahmad Kaftarou (late), former Grand Mufti of Syria; Sheikh Said Abdelhafid Al-Hajani, Grand Mufti of Jordan; Sayyid Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon; Dr. Youssouf Aballah Al-Qardawi, Qatar
Presented at the Conference, and endorsed by its final declaration, these messages affirmed the principle that whoever is an adherent of one of the eight schools of Muslim jurisprudence – madhabib - is a Muslim who cannot be declared or treated as an apostate or infidel, and whose life, honour and property are inviolable.
Resolving that only those qualified within their respective schools of jurisprudence have the authority to issue fatwas, the Conference condemned forthright the practice among extremists of issuing so-called authoritative religious opinions encouraging violence against Muslims whom they accuse as infidels, and upholding and extolling acts of terrorism, whether directed against Muslims or non-Muslims, as not only illegitimate but an affront to all that Islam stands for (see also Sunday Telegraph, 24 July, 2005).
Message to The International Islamic Conference, Amman, Jordan – 4th – 6th July, 2005 MESSAGE
I am happy that we have been invited to participate in the International Islamic Conference being held in Amman, from the 4th to the 6th of July, 2005, under the auspices of the Hashemite Kingdom. In light of the purpose of the Conference, I find it appropriate to reiterate, in my message of greetings, the statement that I made in a keynote address at a gathering of eminent Muslim scholars from 48 countries who attended the Seerat Conference in Karachi on Friday, 12th March, 1976, nearly 30 years ago, which I had the honour to preside at the invitation of the then Minister for Religious Affairs, Government of Pakistan.
In my presidential address, I appealed to our ulama not to delay the search for the answers to the issues of a rapidly evolving modernity which Muslims of the world face because we have the knowledge that Islam is Allah’s final message to mankind, the Holy Quran His final Book, and Muhammad, may peace be upon him, His last and final Prophet.
These are the fundamental principles of faith enshrined in the Shahada and the Tawhid therein, which bind the Ummah in an eternal bond of unity. With other Muslims, they are continuously reaffirmed by the Shia Ismaili Muslims of whom I am the 49th hereditary Imam in direct lineal descent from the first Shia Imam, Hazrat Ali ibn Abi Talib through his marriage to Bibi Fatimat-az-Zahra, our beloved Prophet's daughter.
I applaud Jordan, under the leadership of His Majesty King Abdullah, for the foresight in hosting and organising this International Islamic Conference for the purpose of fostering unity in the Ummah and promoting the good reputation of our faith of Islam. Let this Conference be part of a continuous process of dialogue in the true spirit of Muslim brotherhood so that the entire wealth of our pluralist heritage bears fruit for the Muslim world, and indeed the whole of humanity; for ours is the heritage which premiates human dignity, transcending bounds of creed, ethnicity, language, gender or nationality.
Our historic adherence is to the Jafari Madhhab and other Madhahib of close affinity, and it continues, under the leadership of the hereditary Ismaili Imam of the time. This adherence is in harmony also with our acceptance of Sufi principles of personal search and balance between the zahir and the spirit or the intellect which the zahir signifies.
I agree with our distinguished hosts and conference participants that there is a need today to define which Madhahib will apply to the Ummah. This clarity is critical for modem life in Islam as is evident in areas such as law, access to Islamic banking, or in dealing with the challenges of the rapid generation of new knowledge such as in bio-medical and other scientific fields.
In keeping with our historic tradition of ever abiding commitment to Muslim unity, we reaffirm our respect for the historical interpretation of Islam by our brother Muslims as an equally earnest endeavour to practise the faith in Allah and emulate the example of our Holy Prophet, may peace be upon him, which illuminates Muslim lives and which, Inshallah, will elevate all Muslim souls.
Once again, I congratulate His Majesty and the Hashemite Kingdom for this timely initiative, and I pray for the successful deliberations of the Conference in the spirit of Islamic brotherhood.
With fraternal greetings,
His Highness the Aga Khan
49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslim
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