In the first high-profile meeting between top Sunni and Shiâ€™a scholars, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of Iranâ€™s influential Expediency Council, called on Wednesday, February 14, on Muslims all the world over to act in unison and take into their strides differences to face challenges ahead.
â€œWe must try our best to remain united,â€ Qaradawi, the president of the International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS), said in a debate with Rafsanjani on Al-Jazeera satellite channel.
â€œIslam is above ethnicity and raceâ€¦.If we reach out to Christians and hold inter-faith dialogues, how on earth we donâ€™t do the same to unite Muslims,â€ wondered Qaradawi.
Qaradawi said it is high time Shiâ€™a and Sunni translated their â€œgood intentionsâ€ into concrete steps.
Rafsanjani, a former president of Iran from 1989 to 1997, warned that â€œthe enemyâ€ was trying to pit Muslims against one another and throw a spanner in the good work of Sunni and Shiâ€™a scholars to cement their unity.
â€œThe US Greater Middle East Project has proved fiasco,â€ he said. â€œTheir problems have accumulated in the region and they are now thinking that Muslim disunity is the answer.â€
He said the Lebanese victory over Israel last summer has provoked the adversaries to sow division among Muslim countries as they fear a strong Muslim front if all Muslim countries have acted in unison.
â€œMuslims have a plethora of problems in Somalia, Sudan, Iraq and elsewhere but unity can resolve them all,â€ said Rafsanjani, one of the most trusted advisers of supreme Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic republic of Iran.
â€œWe have been facing a wave of seditions owning to the situation in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and elsewhere.â€
â€œQur`an forbids Muslim infighting and God has ordered us to cement our unity and Muslims scholars have a major responsibility in this respect.â€
Rafsanjani blasted â€œignorantâ€ Sunnis and Shiâ€™a, who stoke ethnic tensions.
â€œThe acts of extremists from both sides should not be allowed to disunite Sunnis and Shiâ€™a. Zionism and Israel are the main danger.â€
â€œThe Muslim nation with up to one billion Muslims and some 60 Muslim heavyweight countries with energy sources and great potentials must join forces to defend the unity of Muslims.â€
Sheikh Qaradawi said sticking points like insulting the Prophetâ€™s (s) Companions (ra) by Shiâ€™a and Shiâ€™a proselytizing in Sunni countries are a stumbling bloc to Shiâ€™a-Sunni unity
â€œAs I mentioned in past conferences, I cannot shake hands with a Shiâ€™a if I say â€˜may Allah be pleased with Abu Bakr, Omar and Aishaâ€™ (ra) while he says â€˜may Allah curse them.â€™â€
â€œAll Sunnis love the Companions,â€ he stressed. â€œWho does not love Ali Ibn Abi Taleb (kw), or Al-Hassan (ra) and Al-Hussein (ra)?â€
â€œInsulting the Companions,â€ added Qaradawi, â€œis as if we say that Prophet Muhammad (s) was not a role model.â€
â€œThose who insult the Companions must stop once and for all,â€ he averred.
But Qaradawi said that Sunnis should not blame todayâ€™s Shiâ€™a for the mistakes of some of their ancestors and veteran authorities.
â€œIf Shiâ€™a decades and decades ago have erred, we cannot blame the young generations for their mistakes,â€ he said.
But Rafsanjani said most of Shiâ€™a do revere the Prophetâ€™s (s) Companions.
â€œIn Iran we start our sermons with praise to the Prophet (s) and his companions,â€ he said.
â€œWe have tackled this thorny issue frequently and both sides, Sunnis and Shiâ€™a, should issue a fatwa banning insulting the Companions.â€
Qaradawi further said that Shiâ€™a must stop proselytizing Sunnis in Sunni-dominant countries like Egypt, Sudan and Tunisia.
â€œIf you go to a Sunni Muslim country like Egypt and Tunisia and tried to promulgate your doctrine, you might win a handful but will surely instigate an entire population against you,â€ he said.
Qaradawi said Shiâ€™a minorities should have full rights in predominantly Sunni countries and vice versa.
â€œIn Iran, which has a sizable Sunni minority of up to 15 million people, the government has rejected some requests by Sunnis to establish mosques,â€ he said. â€œMore and more, Sunnis are not represented in the government.â€
But Rafsanjani again refused to accuse Shiâ€™a of proselytizing Sunnis â€œif they are doing charity and working for well-being of all Muslims.â€
â€œAll Muslims can work for the common good,â€ he said.
Qaradawi, however, begged to differ.
â€œWorking for the common good is one thing, and proselytizing is another,â€ he said. â€œWe all work for the common good.â€
Qaradawi further said differences with Shiâ€™a in such issues should not be used a pretext by some Sunnis to support any aggression by the West on Tehran.
â€œIf Iran was attacked by the United States, we would rally behind it, no doubt about that,â€ he said.
â€œWe cannot tolerate an aggression on any Muslim countryâ€¦I said it before for many times that we will support Iran definitely,â€ he said, adding that Iran has the right to have a peaceful nuclear technology.
Both scholars saw eye-to-eye on the importance of maintaining Iraqi unity.
â€œIraq must remain united and all religious and ethnic factions should live under one flat and one,â€ said Rafsanjani.
â€œWe donâ€™t want Shiâ€™a, who were oppressed in the past (under Saddam), to behave this way â€˜We are back to take revenge.â€™â€
On Iranâ€™s reported security and intelligence role in Iraq, Rafsanjani said Iran does not want to interfere in Iraqâ€™s affairs.
â€œWe help Muslims everywhere. Havenâ€™t we aided Sunni Bosnians? Havenâ€™t we aided the Palestinians? When we defend Iraq and aide our neighbor, we actually defend Islam.â€
But Qaradawi reiterated that Iran â€œhas the keys in Iraq.â€
â€œIran does have an influence in Iraq,â€ he said. â€œIran can say stop this and thatâ€¦it can turn off such a civil war in Iraq. This situation plays well into the hands of the Americans.â€
Earlier in January, Qaradawi urged Khamenei and top Iranian scholars to do something and stop the systematic killing of Iraqi Sunnis. â€œOtherwise,â€ he said, â€œSunnis worldwide would accuse them of complicity.â€
Qaradawi further said that the massacres and bloodshed in Iraq, the death squads and militias, the forced evacuation of Iraqis from their homes, the mosques annexed by Shiâ€™a by force must come to an end â€œto bridge the Sunni-Shiâ€™a divide,â€
Almost 34,000 Iraqi civilians died last year as the sectarian violence reached new heights, above all in Baghdad.
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said earlier this month around 12% of Iraqis have fled their homes as a result of the sectarian violence that engulfed the country following the US-led invasion in 2003.
â€œBy the same token, we denounced in the strongest possible terms Sunni violent groups who commit atrocities in Iraq and issues relevant fatwas,â€ he said.
Iraq imposed draconian new security rules on its war-torn capital Wednesday.
The first measure announced was the closure of Iraqâ€™s borders with Iran and Syria.
In addition, weapons permits will be suspended in Baghdad for all but Iraqi and US-led security forces and registered private security firms, and a nightly curfew will be extended.
Security forces will be able to block or search public or private property and restrict travel by individuals or vehicles.
Iraqis living in housing belonging to displaced persons will have two weeks to move.