In early April this year, through an initiative by Shaikh Shomali (The head of the Islamic Centre of England) and in cooperation with the World Forum For Proximity, a trip to Iran was arranged for a delegation consisting of nine prominent scholars belonging to different Islamic schools of thought including Sunni and Shia.
During this visit we mainly stayed in the three historic cities of Iran: Qom, Mashad and Tehran. We had the opportunity to meet the grand ulama and muftis of these places and benefited a lot from their informative, academic talks full of love, sincerity and benevolence. The visits to the shrines of Hazrat Sayyeda Masoomah in Qom and Imam Ali Redha(a) in Mashad were deeply moving spiritual experiences which shall remain with us forever.
All members of this delegation were highly impressed by the piety and sincerity of grand ulama such as Ayatullah Subhani (Imam Sadiq(a) Institute), Ayatollah Jawadi Aomoli and Shahristani along with some others they met at their respective centres. Their invaluable words on the topic of the unity of the ummah (Islamic Community) and the importance of brotherhood were precious pearls for our knowledge and future direction.
We visited the great library of Ayatollah Mar’ashi Najafi which houses over 40000 manuscripts. The visits to some of the great educational institutes in these three cities including the Holy Defence Museum in Tehran have provided a new momentum and zeal for our thought and practice and we immensely appreciated the great services rendered by the Islamic government of Iran for the last 36 years, especially in the field of education.
The most important thing that we achieved is gaining first-hand knowledge about the rituals pertaining to the Shia school of thought and also the policies of the government of Iran. This first-hand experience has dispelled a great number of misconceptions some of us held about the Shia faith and the government. These misconceptions could have not been removed merely through books and lectures. For example, the authentic views of the Shia ulama of Iran with regard to Ahl al-Sunnah, companions of the Prophet and Ahl al-Bayt of the holy Prophet were found to be quite closer to the established stance of Ahl al-Sunnah, something which may provide a solid foundation for increased unity between the two units of the Ummah.
This visit provided knowledge about the realities that have been misunderstood and misconceived by the majority of Ahl al-Sunnah and it needs tireless effort to unveil the same realities to the majority of ummah. Some of the members of the group belonged to the hard line branch of Ahl al-Sunnah and carried very negative stereotypes about Shias. During their stay they took the chance to ask frank questions based on their own negative sentiments, but surprisingly they found the answers. They also expressed their own positive views and fascinating experiences directly to Sheikh Shomali in the final meeting with him in Qom on the day before departure.
During our stay in Iran, we also visited the famous region known as Turbat e Jaam, near the Afghan border. This area takes its name from a great Sufi Shaykh, Ahmad Jami who passed away centuries ago. One of his descendents and successors, Molvi Sharafuddin Jami, welcomed us and organised a big public programme. This area is home to the majority of Iran’s Ahl al-Sunnah. We visited the grand Hawza established by the Shaykh, the shrine of Shaykh Jami together with some other historic places. The people of this area welcomed our delegation and they expressed their optimism that the visit will play a positive role in improving and strengthening the brotherhood and ties between the two main communities of the ummah.
It was my first visit to Iran and I cannot accommodate all I have experienced in Iran in this short article. I was very impressed by the standard of cleanliness and hygiene everywhere throughout Iran. The other noticeable thing was the use the national language of the country, Farsi, in all branches of learning unlike some Muslim countries which have imposed English to the detriment of their own national language.
The whole journey was fascinating and unforgettable and the memories will stay with me for a long time to come.
Dr Mohammad Khalid is a Research scholar and lecturer of Birmingham University. He is also Head of Education in Jami Masjid Sparkbrook Islamic Centre Birmingham
The group also visited:
– The Library of Masjid Aazam
-The Qur’an Museum – Aastan Quds Razavi – Imam Ali ibn Musa Redha(a) Shrine
-The University and Library of the Proximity Forum
-The house, Hussainiyeh and the mausoleum of the late Imam Khomeini (the Founder of IRI)
-The Noor Computer Research Centre – Qom
By direction of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran – Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, ‘The World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought’ (Majma al-Taqrib Bain al-Madhahib al-Islamiyah) was established in October 1990. It has as its aim the reconciliation of different Islamic groups.