At the 27th conference of Islamic Unity, former Iranian president and current head of the Expediency Council Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani spoke against many of the ideological differences separating Muslims and warned about the dangers facing the Middle East.
While Rafsanjani acknowledged the theological and historical differences, he has been campaigning for a softer foreign policy, as sectarian tension in the Middle East is at a historical high given the Syrian civil war. Most notably, his speech contrasted with that of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who, while preaching unity, also warned about the dangers of “takfiri” Sunni jihadist groups.
“Who was the first caliph or wasn’t is a historical issue that doesn’t have any benefit for us and is without any results,” Rafsanjani said on a issue that is divisive theologically for Sunnis and Shiites. Shiites believe that Ali ibn Abi Taleb was supposed to be the first caliph after the passing of the Prophet Muhammad. Sunnis believe he was chosen as the fourth caliph.
On technical issues and how the faith is practiced, Rafsanjani said, “There is no rational logic for how they do ablutions and how they pray to be turned into a dispute, and there is no document in the Quran or the traditions for us to have differences with each other.”
“Unfortunately, the situation in the Islamic world is in a dangerous condition and exactly against unity … and the message of the Prophet,” he continued.
Rafsanjani said that it is natural for there be differences, but that there needs to be an “easier way to address differences and prevent disputes and quarrels.” He suggested that governments support clerics settling disputes through presenting their ideas over shared media.
On the Arab Spring, which Iran calls the “Islamic Awakening,” Rafsanjani said that two years ago he was hopeful, but now the movement has turned into “domestic quarrels, and people have turned on one another.”
According to the transcript provided by his website, Rafsanjani did not mention any specific circumstances or countries other than a case in Afghanistan in which an 8-year-old girl was convinced by her brother to strap a bomb vest to herself. In the last several years he has campaigned for a soften foreign policy and has deviated from the positions of the hard-liners, especially on Syria and relations with the United States.
In September 2013, Rafsanjani contrasted with official Iranian government positions by saying that Syrians were bombed with chemical weapons by their own government. In August 2013, he suggested that peace with a “peaceful enemy,” meaning the United States, was possible. He was immediately attacked by hard-line media for both statements.
Even before the June 2013 election of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, Rafsanjani was one of the few figures with the ability to warn publicly that Iran was headed toward a possible confrontation with the West and criticize that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had taken over a large segment of government projects.
Image by Arash Karami