23rd Symposium of Shi’a Scholars, Imams and Preachers in the UK, 24 September 2016
The Islamic Centre of England in London hosted the 23rd annual symposium of Shi’a Ulama in the UK. The main theme of this year’s meeting was historical background and the current situation surrounding the takfiri doctrine. Takfiri is a general name given to a sect or a school of thought in Islam that tends to excommunicate other schools of Islam, accusing them of heresy. In this symposium speakers discussed theological roots of the takfir (excommunication) in Islam and its recent militant manifestation.
Dr Mohmmad Ali Shomali, the head of Islamic Centre of England was the keynote speaker of the symposium. In the beginning he emphasised the importance of the month of Muharram and the ten-day mourning for Imam Husayn(a) as a golden opportunity for Islamic centres and scholars as this is the busiest time of the year with the highest number of people attending mosques and centres.
His message to other Imams was to try to educate those outside their community, whether Sunni brothers or non-Muslims about the philosophy and the message of Ashura and Imam Husayn(a). On the topic, he said that takfir or excommunicating others or accusing them for being heretic or non-believer has had a long history in all religions. He pointed out that Islam, unfortunately, is not an exception. Referring to the commentaries on the Qur’anic verse 4:94, Sheikh Shomali pointed out how Prophet Muhammad(s) condemned the takfiri approach of Usama ibn Zayn. He said anyone who utters the declaration of faith (shahadah) is a Muslim unless they deny the unity of God, deny that Muhammad(s) is his messenger or deny an essential part of the faith such as the daily prayer or fasting of Ramadan in a manner that amounts to denying the Prophet’s message.
He expressed his worries that similar tendencies should creep into Shi’a scholars and preachers. He said that according to all major Shi’a scholars and jurists, Sunni brothers are not only our brothers in faith but also a vital part of our very souls.
There were three specialised committees during the symposium:
1) Jurisprudential approach to takfir in Islam.
2) Historical and theological considerations about takfiri thought in Islam.
3) Priorities of tabligh (preaching) in the month of Muharram.
Each discussed the topic in a more focused manner. Later each committee gave a short report of their discussions to the general meeting.