We are truly fortunate to live in a country where Muslims from around the world are in constant contact with one another. We get to see and appreciate how different Muslim cultures do things. For those of us who have been residing in the West for over a hundred years, the finer cultural aspects of the Muslim East have been eroded. The similarities and differences are truly amazing sometimes. While the similarities pose no challenges, the differences can be things over which serious arguments can occur, sometimes causing us to question the faith of our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters, and causing rifts between ethnicities and ideologies. Consider the following scenarios:
Scenario A: A group of Muslim women have gathered together for a social event at school. Some believe that since it is just a gathering of sisters, we can have a female imaam (I would say imaama, but that is the word for turban; apparently there is no feminine form for imaam, which quite tells you something!) who recites the Fathihah out loud; and then there are those who believe that we can pray together, just not in concert and without an imaam. To speak up and say you would not pray behind a woman imaam generally results in someone saying that following some madhHabi fiqh that dictates this is actually causing disunity, and all madhHabs should be abolished.
Scenario B: The inevitable debate over whether we begin and end Ramadhan or celebrate Eid al Adha based on the moon sighting of North America, or based on whenever Saudi Arabia decides these dates. This is an endless farcical debacle every year, where masjids across the nation will begin Ramadhan a day early and then, midway through the month, they will tell the congregation that the first fast should actually be counted as nafl. In the process, those who decided to follow the moon sighting are held up as being the ones to create a divide and being holier than thou. And those who went with Saudi Arabia are regarded as terrible heretics, also out to create a divide, on top of allegations that they are deliberately seeking to destroy the sanctity of the Islamic calendar. Clearly, this is something that Allah would only know! The party with the majority of followers will cry out for unity, hoping that such a plea will put the whole sorry debate to sleep, once and for all.
I can come up with a hundred such scenarios, but they would all have basically the same concept. The key theme is always the concept of unity. We seem to believe that everyone doing the same thing in the same way at the same time achieves unity. But is that really unity? If I succumb to pressure and follow a way of living the deen in a way that I don’t believe in, where is the unity? I will be resentful, full of contempt for what is ultimately a dictatorial way of behavior, and, holding the minority view, eventually will probably just isolate myself from the community altogether. Does that sound like unity? Is unity achieved when everyone follows the same path? Or is unity something else? And if the folks attempting to change basic known accepted practices hold unity so dear, should they not be the ones to sacrifice their principles for the apparently greater principle of unity?
Unity, to me, is when I can hold my point of view to be correct. And then turn around at look at my Muslim brother or sister doing the same thing in a different manner, hold that method to be incorrect for me, but perhaps valid interpretation for that person. Unity is me and you going the ten steps beyond merely tolerating somebody else’s way of living the deen, and actually accepting it as something that is between that person and his Creator. Live and let live is more in keeping with the dearly held value of unity.
Unity is the acceptance and appreciation of diversity, not the process of forcing one core belief on an Ummah of thinking citizens. There is a great article I want to share with you that is in the same theme of this topic (which has been gnawing at me for literally years). With examples from the hadith, this article so beautifully illustrates the manner in which we can achieve unity, no matter how diverse our Ummah is. May Allah bless the writer who compiled this wonderful work: When Friends Hurt Each Other,