By Dr Aslam Abdullah
7 August 2012
Look at the divisions among Muslims and decide if that makes any sense to you. There are two main divisions: Sunnis and Shias.
Within the Sunnis, the community is divided among Hanafis, Shafais, Malikis, Hanbalis, Zahiris and Ibadis. They are further divided among Atharis, Asharis, Maturidis, Murjiahs, and Mutazalis. Then they are further divided into salafis, Ikhwanis, Tablighis, Wahabis, Barelvis, Deobandis, ahle Hadithi, ahle Quran etc.
Within the Shias are Twelvers, Zaidis, and Ismailis, Alevis, Alawis, and they are subdivided into Jafaris, Usulis, Akhbaris, and Shaykhis. Then, there are Sufis including Bektashi, Chishtis, Naqshbandis, Nimaullahi, Oveyssi, Quadris, Suharwardis, Shazlis, Sanussi, Mehdi and Zikris and many more.
Then there is another division that defines Muslims as liberals, conservatives, ultra-liberals, orthodox, militants, extremists and progressive. At another level the community has groups such as straight and gay and lesbians.
Then there is this ever present division; the haves and have nots, the educated and the uneducated, the ignorant and the enlightened and the violent and non violent. Then, there are groups built around a Shaikh or a Ustad, Shaikh X's group and Shaikh Y's group, or this Masjid's group or that Masjid’s group.
It is so pathetic that one really wonders if religion is really a source of unity and mercy.
Some of these divisions are behavioural, some attitudinal, others doctrinal, ideological, political, social, psychological and even religious. Those who thrive on ideological divisions have given them and others a name and they are so rigid on their definitions of Islam that they view others either a non-Muslim or a Kafir or incomplete Muslim. Some of these ideological differences have reached to a level of intolerance. Each of them has been investing millions to promote its ideologies. Masjids are divided on these lines. Islamic centers and organizations are split and within Masaajid and Islamic centers, people are divided again on every possible issue one can imagine. The worst difference that one can come across is how much reverence you should offer to Prophet Muhammad. Should you say Ya Muhammad while addressing him or Ya Rasulullah or just Muhammad or Rasulullah. Should you say Amen loudly or silently? Should you recite Sura Fatiha when praying behind Imam or not reciting it at all. Based on the positions people take on these issues, their religious identity is determined and their religiosity is defined.
What a mockery we have made of a guidance that we believe is for all people and all time! Yet, we the members of the divided community have the audacity to claim that we are the best of the ummah raised for humanity? Are we insane?
The Quran aptly describes the existing divisions when it says: "[or] among those who have broken the unity of their faith and have become sects, each group delighting in but what they themselves hold [by way of tenets]." (30:32)
Obviously, we have a problem in our understanding of our relations with God and His messenger. Obviously, all of us are making some mistake somewhere in our reading of the Quran and legitimizing the divisions. The Quran is absolutely clear on the ideological clarity of believers when it says: "All human beings were once one single community; [then they began to differ] whereupon God raised up the prophets as heralds of glad tidings and as warners, and through them bestowed revelation from on high, setting forth the truth, so that it might decide between people with regard to all on which they had come to hold divergent views. Yet none other than the selfsame people who had been granted this [revelation] began, out of mutual jealousy, to disagree about its meaning after all evidence of the truth had come unto them. But God guided the believers unto the truth about which, by His leave, they had disagreed: for God guides onto a straight way him that wills [to be guided]." (2:213)
The Quran strongly chastises those who promote differences when it says: “Verily, as for those who have broken the unity of their faith and have become sects - you have nothing to do with them. Behold, their case rests with God: and in time He will make them understand what they were doing." (6:159)
We are often told that our Prophet told us that the differences among the ummah are a mercy. The statement attributed to the Prophet contradicts the Quranic and Prophetic teachings and promotes an idea that the guidance of God is not clear and there is room in it for differences among scholars and people. That God was unable to clarify His message and He left it to scholars and individuals to determine the final truth. Is this not a blasphemy? Why are promoting this? This statement is often used by Muslim scholars to justify the existing differences and the status quo.
Let us look at the statement in details.
Al-Hafiz al-Bayhaqi in his book “al-Madkhal " and al-Zarkashi in his " Tadhkirah fi al-ahadith al-mushtaharah " relate from Imam al-Quasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr al-Siddiq that "the differences among the Companions of Muhammad (s) are a mercy for Allah's servants." Al-Hafiz al-`Iraqi, the teacher of Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani said, that this is a saying of al-Qasim ibn Muhammad.
Al-Hafiz Ibn al-Athir in his introduction to “Jami` al-Usul fi ahadith al-Rasul " attributes the above statement to Imam Malik.
Bayhaqi and Zarkashi also quote Qutada saying that a statement similar to this was made by Umar ibn Abdul Aziz.
Bayhaqi and Zarkashi quote Al-Layth ibn Sa`d who said on the authority of Yahya ibn Sa`id: "the people of knowledge are the people of flexibility ( tawsi`a ). Those who give fatwas never cease to differ, and so this one permits something while that one forbids it, without one finding fault with the other when he knows of his position."
Al-Hafiz al-Sakhawi said in his " Maqasid al-Hasana " after quoting the above: "I have read the following written in my sheikh’s (al-Hafiz ibn Hajar) handwriting: 'The hadith of Layth is a reference to a very famous hadith of the Prophet (s), cited by Ibn al-Hajib in the " Mukhtasar " in the section on qiyas (analogy), which says: "Difference of opinion in my Community is a mercy for people" ( ikhtilafu ummati rahmatun li al-nas )." There is a lot of questioning about its authenticity, and many of the imams of learning have claimed that it has no basis (la asla lahu).
Al-Albani in his criticism on the hadith "Difference of opinion in my Community is a mercy argues that differences can never be a mercy in any case but are always a curse. Al-Albani's point is directed entirely against those who are content to follow a madhhab.
Ibn Hazm in " al-Ihkam fi usul al-ahkam " says: "The saying "Difference of opinion in my Community is a mercy" is the most perverse saying possible, because if differences were mercy, agreement would be anger, and it is impossible for a Muslim to say this, because there can only be either agreement, or difference, and there can only be either mercy, or anger."
Thus on the basis of a statement whose authenticity has been put in question by trusted scholars, we are promoting status quo and differences legitimizing them.
We all believe in the oneness of Allah. We all believe that Prophet Muhammad was given the Quran by Allah through angel Gabriel. We all believe that the words of Quran are from Allah. We all know that the Quran did not address us as Shias or Sunnis, or Salafis or Wahabis or progressive or conservative or orthodox. We all know that the Prophet was neither a Shia nor a Sunni, nor a Hanafi, or Shafai, or Maliki, or Jafari, or Hanbali. We all know that he was not a Deobandi or Barelvi. The Prophet did not follow any of the imams or the leaders. They were the ones who tried to follow the Prophet and the Quran. We all believe that we would be questioned by the Creator of our actions and words on the Day of Judgment. We all believe that the authority of Allah is supreme.
1. Why then we differ? How come we cannot come together to resolve the differences that we have created among ourselves in the Quran and the reading of the Sunnah in the context of the Quran? How come we are unable to sit together to look into serious issues and come up with an understanding that would eliminate the differences? Is Allah's guidance so complicated that we would never be able to find the truth collectively or that we would always differ? How come our noted scholars and renowned Shayukhs describe us as Sunnis or Shafais and not just Muslims.
Where the differences in Allah's words are when He asks us to mend our personal disputes, control our anger, share our resources with people, and show kindness to our neighbours, elders, disabled or helpless? Where is the confusion in the words of Allah and the practice of the Prophet in the recitation of the Quran and the offering of the prayers? Where is the ambiguity in the words of Allah when he asks to be respectful to life and avoid bloodshed? Where the confusion in the message that tells us forgiveness is preferred by Allah?
Through these sectarian divisions and ideological differences, we have turned the guidance of Allah into a human-made religion. We have polluted it and we have changed its essence to suit our cultural, financial, political and so called spiritual interests?
We are guilty of vulgarizing our faith. We are guilty of confusing the seekers of truth with our meaningless differences. We have created a situation where a new comer does not come to Islam even after accepting Shahadah but comes to a sect or an ideology or a sub-sect that claims the right to speak on behalf of Islam.
The problem with us is that we have maligned our own prophet by attributing statements to him that defy the very logic of faith. We are so arrogant that we are imposing our weaknesses on our prophet and spending our time justifying our position in the name of God and Prophet. How loathsome is our attitude and behaviour?
We have mesmerized the people with our own rhetoric that an average person does not get time to reflect on the essence of true faith. He and she are forced to go into a maze prepared by the leaders of sects and ideologies in the name of God. A simple religion has been turned into a complex ideology.
But the only comforting point is that the point of reference, i.e. the Quran is present in its original form and anyone can approach it and verify the claim of any sect on the basis of the guidance of Allah. But the problem is that the Shaikh says that the Quran cannot be understood by people by themselves. This is another lie that is being promoted in the name of God and his Messenger. This is the lie that is delivered in many of our Islamic Centers and Masaajid all over the world. What a moment of shame that in the house of God, we are doing everything possible to belittle His message. Let us at least start identifying ourselves as Muslims and not as Shias, or Sunnis, or Salafis, or Wahabis or progressive or Orthodox. We are Muslims believing in the words of Allah and Sunna of our Prophet.