Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel has rightly described the Arab initiative, planned at Riyadh, towards the end of March, as revolutionary. During the last 14 centuries, never has the Hijaz or holy land recognised a kafir enemy state in order to marginalise another Muslim country.
The Arab proposal led by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia offers to recognise Israel provided it vacates territories captured since 1967 and finds a just solution for the Palestinian refugees. As is well known, the establishment of Israel in the Arabian peninsula has been an Islamic anathema. The obvious provocation to this revolutionary about-turn by the West Asian Sunnis is to marginalise the rising Shia power represented by Iran. The apprehension that the oil rich Shias of eastern Iraq might align themselves with Teheran could be the additional reason.
The reasons may be interesting but the results are all important. Their manifold ramifications need a serious study. Never since the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD have the Sunnis taken such a drastic step. For Caliph Yazid it was essential to exterminate Imam Husain who was clearly a legitimate claimant to the Caliphate. Muaviya succeeded the fourth Caliph, Hazrat Ali, on the promise that after him the young son of Ali would get the opportunity. As it happened, it was Muaviya'sson Yazid instead of Husain, who became the sixth Caliph. Thus was precipitated the Shia-Sunni schism.
The followers of Hazrat Ali began to be called Shia. With the unfolding of time, their concentration extended from, what is now, eastern Iraq to Iran. Incidentally, there have never been canonical differences between the two sects. Those who believe that the Caliph should be from the bloodline of Prophet Muhammad became known as Shia. Whereas those who believed that any member of the Quraish tribe could hold the position as a representative of the Prophet, are known as Sunni. This small difference of opinion has been sufficient for the two sects to quarrel with each other. So much so that the ulema in
Pakistan have, from time to time, expressed a desire to declare Shias as non-Muslim a la the Ahmadiyas.
The explanation of a small difference leading to a large quarrel lies in the elemental urge of Sunnis for unity. In order to sustain the faith that Muhammad was the last Prophet who delivered the final message, there should be no contrariety. Which is why the gates of ijtehad or reinterpretation, not to speak of reform, were closed a thousand years ago. In this context, the word revolutionary, used by Mr Olmert, is not strong enough to describe the latest lead taken by King Abdullah. The proposal is not merely reinterpretation or reform. It is a recognition of a kafir enemy in order to clip the wings of the brother Islamic state of Iran.
Ever since Mr Ahmadinejad was elected President of Iran, he has been repeating that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth. The mildest thing he has said was that the Jewish state should be uprooted from where it is and replanted in Europe. For the Hijaz to concede sovereign legitimacy to Israel is to inaugurate a new irreversible enmity between the Sunnis and the Shias.
Even a greater corollary of the Riyadh meet would be an implicit acceptance that there is more than one god, say Jehovah, the Jewish divine. Lord Jesus has already been accepted as a Prophet. From Prophet to the son of god is not a big distance. With such a generous acceptance, the entire outlook of Islam would change. So should the prospects of the world order. The ummah would cease to be an inveterate aggressor which was a corollary of a monopoly divine. One god meant a single entry to heaven. But with this change in outlook, the claim that Islam is a religion of peace would become credible.
Till now Islam has been a comprehensive ideology based on the premise that there is no God other than Allah. The deductive logic emanating from this premise has proceeded so impeccably that it is difficult to think of another piece of reasoning quite so perfect. If there be no other God, there cannot be an alternative path for salvation. Hence, all human beings should ideally be Muslim. Apart from conversion, a high birth rate is useful for adding momins to the world population. In order to achieve an ongoing unity of action, controversial thinking should be precluded. Hence the belief in the final message of the last Prophet.
The Riyadh meeting has contemplated the possibility of deviating from the inexorable logic of Islam. That a kafir has the right to worship another God would be the beginning of the end of kufr. If a kafir ceases to be a kafir, the wall around imaan could begin to crumble. Would that enable the Muslim woman to empower herself and the youth to enlighten itself? The history of the other Judaic faiths is interesting in this context. Judaism has remained pristine but shrunk in size over the last centuries. Christianity is still the world'slargest religion but it has scattered into dozens of denominations; the process began with the 16th century reformation. The last of the Judaic disciplines, namely, Marxism virtually expired with its demise in Europe some sixteen years ago. Islam, on the other hand, remains canonically pristine and, at the same time, continues expanding and attracting more and more followers. Would not the Riyadh meeting disturb this secret of success that was gifted by Prophet Muhammad 14 centuries ago?