On 27th February at Al-Mahdi Institute, the Centre for Intra-Muslim Studies held a roundtable discussion on the topic “The Succession to the Prophet (pbuh) in light of Ahl al-Sunnah and Shi’a perspectives”. The meeting was attended by a great number of scholars and learned community members from both Shia and Sunni schools of thought. The meeting opened with the recitation of Quran by Br. Hafiz M. Idrees.
Shaykh Komail Rajani (University of Exeter), presented his paper on the topic representing a Shia point of view. Shaykh Mohammad Sajjad, the khatib of Paigham Islam Mosque discussed the topic from an Ahl al-Sunnah perspective. The first session of presentations was followed by a lengthy question and answer session that provoked a great deal of honest, open and challenging discussion amongst participants.
Summary and points of differences
– According to the stance of the Shia school of thought, Imam Ali was appointed as the successor by the Prophet to lead the Ummah after him.
-The conventional approach of Shi’a scholars to justify this position is to argue that numerous texts from the Quran and Sunnah, either directly or indirectly, indicate Imam Ali’s succesorship.
-These evidences are found extensively in Sunni sources, however it was acknowledged that as individual evidence the meaning and implication of each of these texts has been challenged. Accordingly a non-conventional Shi’a approach was introduced that argued for a holistic approach to the evidence. This approach argues that reading all the relevant texts alongside agreed historical information, cumulatively, identifies that Imam Ali was intended as successor to the Prophet.
– Ahl al-Sunnah believe that the Prophet never appointed anyone explicitly as his successor and left the matter to the community, and the best among them should be appointed as the leader of the Ummah.
– It was acknowledged that Sunni historical accounts of Saqifa have been understood in ways that can challenge this mainstream position of Ahl-al Sunnah. Shia scholars of thought agreed that the appointment at saqifa was not an election nor was it democratic; some members of the Ahl al-Sunnah also accepted this.
Points of agreement
From amongst the discussions a number of issues emerged that offer genuine ground for unity despite the differences between the two positions of Ahl al-Sunnah and al-Shia.
– Despite his differences of opinion, Imam Ali ultimately accepted the situation as it unfolded after the passing of the Prophet, offering his cooperation, support and help to the Caliphs.
– This offer of Imam Ali was for the broader sake of religion and the general interests of the Ummah. Imam Ali’s perseverance for the sake of unity was identified as arguably one of his greatest virtues. The need to adopt this spirit in the modern era was agreed upon by all.
– Imam Ali is accepted as imam and khalifah al-Rashid by Ahl al-Sunnah, offering further basis for unity and harmony despite the diversity within the Ummah.
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