A few months ago, I wrote about the Muslim 500, an annual review of the most influential Muslims around the world. The Royal Islamic Strategic Centre (RISC) has also published a number of other periodicals that can be downloaded for free. Although its textual resources serve as useful guides on Islam for novices and scholars alike, the RISC’s most important contribution goes back to its foundation in Amman, Jordan, based on a few key principles known as the Three Points of the Amman Message. Among other goals, RISC is using its resources and political clout to promote a “moderate” brand of Islam around the world.
The RISC-supported Amman Message seeks to “protect, preserve and propagate traditional, orthodox, ‘moderate’ Islam” as defined by the 2006 international Islamic Consensus:
1) The definition of a Muslim is a person who follows one of the 8 Mathhabs, or legal schools, of Sunni, Shia, and Ibadhi Islam.
2) Takfir, or a declaration of apostasy, is forbidden between Muslims.
3) There are specific preconditions for the issuing of a fatwa, or Islamic legal ruling.
Funded through the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, RISC pursued this consensus in response to rising sectarian violence in the aftermath of US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. With so few distinct theological differences between Sunni and Shia, both in number and in importance when viewing the faith as a whole, the RISC wanted to emphasize the unity of the religion and its followers.
It has been nearly a decade since the process began to formulate the Amman Message, and it remains unclear to me just how divided Muslims are on the whole. What is more evident, though, is that those who seek confrontation and speak out strongly about the superiority of their own interpretation are overly represented in public discourse. The numbers of those displaying their religious egotism are far from small; however, the average Muslim seems not to embrace similar beliefs. If that were the case, there would be full-blown civil wars on almost 20% of the earth’s surface. And if a global sectarian war was within the realm of possibilities (as some Islamophobic media personalities have suggested), it would have already happened by now, as the internet serves as an ideal communication network.
The last year or so has been a time of uncertainty for most of the world. Economically, people are struggling; politically, great philosophical differences have become emboldened amid rising tensions; and religious factions and sectarianism unfortunately remain strong, especially among the world’s Muslims. It would serve Muslims–and all other groups–quite well to revisit the simple themes of harmony and love that are highlighted by the Amman Message. In an explanation of the Amman Message, RISC cites a particularly poignant verse from the Qur’an that seeks to remind the followers of Islam:
And let not the hatred of others make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is closer to piety; (5:8)
What do you think of the Amman Message? Is it just another conference of scholars getting together to feel good about themselves and the unity of Islam, or is it something that’s been more substantive and influential? What do you think are the primary driving forces behind sectarian arrogance and hatred?