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Islam and Sectarianism ( 10 Jun 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Let Us Shun Sectarianism In The Light Of Quranic Teachings

By Aftab Ahmad, New Age Islam

June 11, 2015

Sectarianism is the most deadly affliction the Muslim community is plagued by in the modern period. A lot of blood of the Muslims is being shed by the Muslims themselves in the name of sectarian beliefs. Almost the entire Islamic world has become divided into sects and sub sects, each believing in its truth and in the falsehood of all the other sects.

Apart from two major sects --- Sunni and Shia – there are dozens of other sects and sub sects and interpretational schools that have divided the Ummah into hundred pieces and the Ummah is bleeding badly from the wounds of this ever spreading menace.

However, the holy Quran stresses on the unity of humanity on the whole on the basis that all human beings are the creatures of God and so the Quran warns men against causing inflictions on human being only on the basis of truth or falsehood of people’s sectarian beliefs.  It also warns Muslims against creating sects within Islam. The holy Quran tells the prophet (pbuh) not to be associated with the beliefs of those who nurture sectarian beliefs and discard such people or ideas. The Quran says:

“Indeed, those who have divided their religion and become sects (Shia) - you, [O Muhammad], are not [associated] with them in anything. Their affair is only [left] to Allah; then He will inform them about what they used to do.”(Al An ‘am: 159)

In the verses quoted above, the Quran uses the word Shia to mean a sect. The word has a deep connotation as the members of one of the two major sects among the Muslims call themselves Shia. Therefore, the Quran says that those cutting themselves from the Muslim community as a sect and professing their separate identity as a sect are not considered on the right path. However, this verse does not address only the sect that calls itself Shia but etymologically it means all those sects that have cut themselves from the mainstream Muslim community to form their own separate identity.

In another verse, Quran also deals with sectarianism but here it says that sectarian divide among Muslims may also be a form of God’s wrath on Muslims or a section of Muslims for their wrongdoings and not following God’s injunctions. It may also mean that the sectarian divide will result from the misleading interpretations of the Quranic verses and therefore cause bloodshed among Muslims. This will also be a form of God’s wrath for misinterpreting holy verses to suit the political and sectarian ambitions of unscrupulous groups.

God sends down his wrath on people for their sins and wrongdoings from the heavens (in the form of hailstorms, storms, stones, lightning etc) and from under the earth (like earth quakes, floods, diseases, droughts etc). So, God says that one of the forms of its wrath on people is also sectarian divided due to which people will fight against each other in the name of sects. The Quran says:

Say, "He is the [one] Able to send upon you affliction from above you or from beneath your feet or to confuse you [so you become] sects and make you taste the violence of one another." Look how We diversify the signs that they might understand.  (Al An’am: 65)

Thus, the sectarian divide among the Muslims prevalent in the Islamic world is due to the wrong interpretation of the Quran inviting the wrath of God. Thus, the militant groups professing sectarian ideology fall into the category of those whom the Quran outcasts as wrongdoers.

There are many militant and terrorist groups in the Islamic world like Taliban, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Al Nusrah etc that are sectarian groups that declare other Muslims groups as atheists or infidels.

From the point of view of the Quran, these groups are not flag bearers of Islamic caliphate but those who cause bloodshed and strife among Muslims along sectarian lines.

Al Baghdadi’s ISIS is also one of the Sunni militant sectarian groups that is against all other Muslims who do not believe in their sectarian ideology. ISIS has been causing a lot of bloodshed in the Muslim population killing mostly Sunni Muslims along with Christians, Yazidis, Kurds and Shias.

Therefore, the bloodshed in the Muslim world on sectarian lines in which some powerful sectarian militant outfits are killing the Muslims of other sectarian denominations who are weak and in minority is not the manifestation of the emergence of a genuine and just caliphate but a manifestation of God’s wrath because of the wrongdoings of Muslims and violations of God’s injunctions.

Differences in non-fundamental beliefs in any religion are common and in every religion there are sects and sub-sects but these differences do not result in ‘Takfiri’ ideology and all the sects live in harmony while maintaining their non-fundamental beliefs. For example, among Hindus, there are many sects believing in one particular deity whiling not discarding the other deities completely. There are sects worshipping and revering Kali while the other sect believes and worships the Durga. Another sect worships Ganesha while yet another one worships and reveres Laxmi. While the entire Hindu community worships and reveres Rama and Sita, there are some Hindus who even worship and revere Ravana, the villain the story of Rama. But on the whole all come into the category of Hindus.

No Hindu group issues fatwa for the destruction of the temples of all the other deities other than their own because it thinks that all the others are false.

No militant Hindu group says or example, that only the worshippers of their deity are real Hindus and the followers of all other deities are atheists and should be annihilated. All the sects live in peace while worshipping their respective deities and showing respect to other deities too.

All Hindu groups accept other deities too while worshipping their own, occasionally worship other deities too. Indeed, few Hindus would pass by a worship place of other religions, a mosque or a church or a Gurdwara without looking in that direction and bowing their heads in obeisance, showing respect.

Christians too have many sects but they have learnt to live in peace and harmony leaving the personal beliefs of its followers at their discretion. They freely allow other religions to advance in their lands. Most mosques in Europe, for instance, are functioning in former churches with prior arrangement.

However, in Muslim lands intolerance of other religions are growing. Some like Saudi Arabia simply do not allow other religious group to have their worship houses. 

The world is making progress; scientific understanding has influenced most of the religious communities of the world, among Muslim societies, sectarian differences are only on the rise with the advance of time.

Muslims have turned the entire Islamic world into a tribal society of the seventh century where warfare and bloodshed was understood to be the only solution of all the problems. Killing children, enslaving and raping women, selling them in the slave markets for as low as a pack of cigarettes are Islamic acts according to well-known sectarian militant outfits. Little do they realise that they are religious outcasts in the eyes of the Quran which they use to justify their un-Islamic ideals. Forming sects among Islam and killing Muslims after declaring them Kafirs has been severely denounced by the Quran itself.

It is time Muslims understood these warnings of the Quran and shunned sectarianism to move towards real unity in the midst of a multitude of diverse ideas and interpretations. It is simply not possible to have an entire community of 1.6 billion think alike on all issues. But it is possible to have acceptance of differences, and happy coexistence, as is the case with civilised communities the world over. Let us leave the seventh-century Arab tribalism that Islam came to annihilate. 

Aftab Ahmad is a columnist for New Age Islam.  He has been studying the Holy Quran for some time.