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Islam and Sectarianism ( 20 Aug 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Islam VS Sectarianism, Intolerance and Extremism


By Dr. Manzoor Ahmad Yetoo

August 17, 2014

Islam rejects sectarianism intolerance and extremism, which was the cause of decline of previous believers and corruption of scriptures. Allah says: “Their doom is because Allah has revealed the Book with the truth; surely those who seek causes of dispute in the Book (The Qur’an) are in extreme schism (divergence).”(Qur’an; 2:176). Initially the people followed the teachings of their Apostles and scriptures but later followers innovated and corrupted the original message creating sects. Allah says: “Mankind was one nation having one religion. Later when people invented other religions, Allah appointed Prophets as bearers of good news and warnings; and revealed to them the Book with the True Guidance to settle the matters of dispute between mankind. But the very people, to whom it was given, started disputes after the clear arguments had come to them, because of rivalry between one another.

Allah has guided the believers by His will to the truth in those matters in which they had differences. Allah guides whom He pleases towards the Right Way.”(Qur’an; 2:213). “Be not like those who became divided into sects and who started to argue against each other after clear revelations had come to them. Those responsible for division and arguments will be sternly punished” (Qur’an; 3:105) “In fact, your religion is one religion, and I am your only Lord: so fear Me Alone. Yet people have divided themselves into factions and each faction rejoices in its own doctrines – well! Leave them in their heedlessness for an appointed time. Do they think that, in giving them wealth and children, We are eager for their welfare? By no means! They do not understand the reality of the matter.”(Qur’an; 23:52-56) “Those who divide their religion into sects and become separate groups, each group rejoicing in its own circle. When an affliction befalls the people, they turn in prayer to their Lord in repentance. But when He let them taste a blessing from Him, lo! Some of them begin to ascribe other powers a share in their Sustainers divinity, showing no gratitude for What We has given them. Enjoy yourselves; soon you will find out your folly.”(Qur’an; 30:32-34). “Surely those who divide the religion into sects and identify themselves as a sect, O Muhammad, you have nothing to do with them. Their case will be called to account by Allah Himself, He will inform them as to what they did.”(Qur’an; 6:159); “If two parties among the believers fall into mutual fighting, make peace between them. Then if one of them transgresses against the other, fight the one who has transgressed until he returns to the commands of Allah. Then, if he returns, make peace between them with justice and be fair; for Allah loves those who are fair and just. The believers are brothers to one another, therefore, make reconciliation between your brothers and fear Allah, so that you may be shown mercy.”(Qur’an; 49:9-10)

Schools of Legal Thought and Sects:

There is unity among the Muslims, they all worship none but Allah, (One God), follow The last Messenger (Rasool) Muhammad (peace be upon him) and The last Scripture –Qur’an, one Qibla-Ka’ba (direction of prayer), then the question arises; Why so many groups among Muslims? This is due to difference in understanding and interpretations of the Scripture and Hadiths of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the matters related with implementation of certain religious, political, social and other duties. As far as the basic faith and fundamentals of Islam are concerned there is no scope for difference of opinion because they have been made absolutely clear.

 Incidental difference of opinion among the scholars in understanding of a Hadith to derive meanings either ‘literally’ as per the ‘text’ or based on ‘analogical reasoning’, is perfectly acceptable, as evident form Hadith; Narrated by Ibn Umar: On the day of Al-Ahzab (i.e. Clans) the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “None of you (Muslims) should offer the ‘Asr prayer’ but at Banu Quraiza’s place.” The ‘Asr prayer became due for some of them on the way. Some of those said, “We will not offer it till we reach it, the place of Banu Quraiza,” while some others said, “No, we will pray at this spot, for the Prophet did not mean that for us.” Later on it was mentioned to the Prophet and he did not berate (rebuke) any of the two groups. (Sahih Al Bukhari; Volume: 5, Hadith Number: 445)

It is established that if the Companions, who were direct recipient of guidance and instructions from the Prophet (peace be upon him), could develop differences in understanding of his instructions, it is perfectly normal for the Muslim scholars to form their genuine opinions based on either textual authority of Hadith or analogical reasoning. It is a well known fact that God has not gifted all humans with same level of intellect due to His wisdom and plan. The level of understanding differs from man to man. “He has raised some of you in ranks over others so that He may test you in the gifts He has given you.”(Qur’an6:165). Hence basic Schools of Legal Thought (Madhhabs) developed in Islam, not deviating to the basic tenants of Islam. History is full of examples where by individuals and groups, deviating from the fundamental doctrine of Islam was rejected by the faithfuls.

Sunnis and Shias differ in their understanding of ‘who held the power to interpret Shari’a’. They have no option but to except the oneness of Allah and Mohammad (pbuh).They have to obey Allah and Rasool as per Quran’s slight deviation can render them Munafiq. For Sunnis, the scholars had this right, as delegated by the actual ruler. Shi’a s initially believed that only an Imam (in this case, a descendant of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) could interpret Shari’a because the Imam, like Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was believed to be infallible.

When the line of appropriate descendants ended, this tradition was reinterpreted to grant judicial authority to the Fuquaha as the Imam’s representatives. Shi’a legal thought and jurisprudence is known as “Jafari”: Named after the sixth Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (699-748 C.E) the son of Muhammad al-Baqir, the fifth imam, and great-grandson of the fourth caliph, Ali. On his mother’s side, Ja’far was descended from the first caliph, Abu Bakr. This may explain why he would never tolerate criticism of the first two caliphs. Shi’a legal thought recognizes four sources of Islamic law; the Qur’an, the Sunnah (including traditions reported by the Prophet and the Imams), Consensus (which must include the Prophet’s or an infallible imam’s opinion to establish its validity), and Human Reason. Human reason is capable of inferring categorical judgments drawn from both pure and practical reason. Whatever is judged necessary by reason is also judged necessary by revelation. This correlation between reason and revelation has allowed Shi’a jurists to derive religious rulings on many issues not covered in normative sources such as the Qur’an and Sunnah.

 Since 1959 the Jafari School of jurisprudence has been afforded the status of “Fifth School” along with the Four Sunni schools by Al-Azhar University in Cairo. The other two legal schools that share the Jafari origin are the Zaydi and the Mustali Fatimid Ismaili jurisprudences. These two are somewhat closer to Sunnis in their derivation of religious practice.

The Rightly Guided Caliphs (632-661 C.E) :

The Prophet (peace be upon him) had rightly guided successors among his blessed companions, who followed his footsteps (Sunnah) to the best of their abilities in spreading knowledge, preaching Islam, and managing the affairs of Islamic State. The sequence of succession followed to the caliphate was; Abu Bakr as Siddiq (632-634 C.E), ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab (Caliph from 634-644 C.E), ‘Uthman Ibn Affan (644-656 C.E)and ‘All Ibn Abi Talib (656-661 C.E), may Allah be pleased with them all. The disputes that took place among the Prophet’s Companions were the result of sincere interpretations that they worked hard to reach. Whoever was right among them will be rewarded twice, and whoever was wrong among them will be rewarded once and his mistake will be forgiven. It may not be appropriate for any believer to criticize them rather they deserve of beautiful praise. Muslims should purify their hearts from hatred and malice against any of them, because Allah said about them: “As for those who believe and do good deeds – We never burden a soul with more than it can bear – they are worthy of Paradise, wherein they will live forever. We shall remove whatever ill-feeling they may have in their hearts against one another…” (Qur’an; 7:42-43),”They are not equal: those among you who spent and who fought before the conquest of Makkah. Those are higher in rank than those who spent and fought afterwards. But to all Allah has promised a great reward” (Qur’an;57:10); “The vanguard (of Islam) the first of those who forsook (their homes-(Muhajirin)) and of those who gave them aid (Ansar) and (also) those who follow them in (all) good deeds well pleased is Allah with them as are they with Him:”(Qur’an;9:100). And Allah said about other Muslims: “And those who came after them say: ‘Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in faith, and do not put in our hearts any malice against those who have believed. Our Lord, You are the most Kind, Most Merciful”‘(Qur’an; 59:10)

Richness of Islamic Scholarship: Initially during the period of ‘Rightly Guided Caliphs’ there was unanimity among the believers. However with the expansion of Caliphate to resolve new issues confronted by the Muslim society, the scholars formulated the responses basing on Qur’an and Sunnah. The very existence of main schools of thought is a testimony to the richness of Islamic scholarship. There are no differences among the main schools of thought with regard to the principles of faith or the essentials of worship. The differences relate more to matters of details or the views on political history. For generations after generations, Muslims prayed and lived side by side without ever the thought of belonging to one school of thought rather than another having any bearing on their mutual relationship or their dealings with one another. However this harsh fact cannot be overlooked that; in certain period of history and in particular places, rigid adherence to different schools of thought are found who advocate a total boycott of the followers of others. Such trends existed in periods of backwardness, when scholarship lost its creative aspect and concentrated merely on imitation.

Tolerance: In reality the greater the understanding of the principles of Islam and the scholarly methods employed by scholars, the greater is tolerance. It is only inward-looking, narrow minded and rigid students who advocate total adherence to a particular school and a rejection of everything else. Such an attitude is alien to Islam. Whenever tolerance prevailed, then it was a bright period in the history of Islam. Whenever intolerance took over, then it was a period of backwardness. Perhaps the worst manifestation of rigidly and narrow-mindedness is the total refusal by the followers of one school of thought to join the followers of another in prayer. This is against the practice and the teachings of the Imams who founded these schools of thought. Imam Al-Shafi’ee, for example, offered his prayers according to the manner followed by the Hanafi school of thought when he prayed in the mosque of Imam Abu Hanifah in Baghdad. He did that out of respect to the great scholar who had preceded him. Those who refuse to join an Imam (prayer leader) who belongs to a different school of thought are not only rigid and narrow-minded; they are ignorant as well. Had they known what exactly differentiates one school from another, they would have realized that what unites them is much greater than what divides them. They would have known that they all worship in an acceptable manner. Hence they would not allow their differences to affect their unity. It should be kept in view that God accepts worship when it is devoted purely to Him. All schools of thought teach how to make the prayer (Salah) dedicated to God alone.

Deviations (Bid’ah) and Fisq:

There is general tendency among Muslims to blame others for ‘deviations’ (Bid’ah) equating it with “Fisq”, which may not be appropriate. Fisq means transgression. As already explained ‘Deviations’ (Bid’ah) means to add or invent something in religion, which is not there. The two are not synonymous. As far as a person who practices certain ‘deviations’ is concerned, the matter really depends on what sort of deviations he practices. If it is something is related to the principles of faith, and he invents something new, then it needs to be critically examined. He may be guilty of something, which takes him out of the fold of Islam altogether.

Suppose that a person elevates someone to a degree, which makes him to share divinity or powers of Allah or considers someone as good as a prophet knowingly that there is no prophet after Muhammad (peace be upon him), such a person is surely falling in to disbelief. However this being a sensitive matter should be decided by the government in consolation with authentic scholars. On the other hand, if the Deviations’(Bid’ah) relates to a matter of detail then that represents no more than a slip or a mistake or even committing something forbidden. Everyone is subject to mistakes and is liable to commit even a grave sin, but if repents, and declare that he genuinely believe in the Oneness of God and in the message of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), he is to be believed as such, Allah alone knows the matters of heart.

Extremist and Intolerant Groups : In recent days a new thought has emerged which tries to reject all schools of thought claiming that following any of them is an innovation. This is again appalling, which results in further disunity of the Muslim community. What makes matters even worse is that such people give disproportionate importance to certain matters of detail and define their relationship with others on the basis of these details and how they approach them. For example, keeping a beard, its size, , standing astride in prayer so as to ensure that the feet touch the feet of other people standing on right and left, looking in one direction after finishing prayer so as not to shake hand with those who sit next, and similar matters are given such importance.

This gives an impression that unless these matters are handled exactly as they think, a person stands to incur God’s wrath and receive grievous suffering in the Hereafter. They are getting strength in the remote areas, recent incidences of opposition to preventive vaccination of children and prohibition of education of girls being un Islamic are matter of concern. If they are asked as to; what they have left to God’s forgiveness? They are perplexed. To these people and to those who follow rigidly their schools of thought, elevating them to status of separate religions, it is appropriate to declare that this is not the way the Prophet (peace be upon him), has taught, nor is it the way the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him), practiced. He taught tolerance and they practiced the perfect standard of tolerance. Rigidity was alien to their nature.

Tolerance and Equitable Treatment of Non Muslims Minorities:

Tolerance and moderation is the hallmark of Islam (Qur’an; 2:143).. Human life of Muslims and non Muslims are alike, has a very high place in Islam (Qur’an; 5:32). Muslims are encouraged to act towards all the non-Muslims living in Islamic state with kindness and equity (Qur’an; 60:8). Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the main enforcer of human rights safeguarding the legitimate interests of minorities. The Charter of Medina, in fact was the first ever written constitution in the history of mankind. This was based on the contract agreed upon by Muslims, Jews and others, stipulating that they all would be treated as equal citizens of Medina. It gave the right of protection, security, peace and justice; not only to Muslims, but also to the Jews who lived in the City of Medina, as well as the allies of Jews who were non-Muslims.

The monks of Mount Sinai were provided protection. A treaty was concluded with the Christians of Najran granting them complete freedom to practice their faith, security of churches and that no clergyman or monk to be turned out against payment of Jizya (poll tax). The life of non Muslim was considered equally sacred: (Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith: 9.49). Minorities in the Muslim State have always enjoyed a fair and kind treatment by the Muslim majority. On the personal level, there is nothing to stop any Muslim from forging a friendship with non-Muslims who harbour no ill intentions against Islam or its followers. The English educationist and historian, Thomas Arnold observed: ‘During the Muslim rule, on the whole, the level of tolerance exhibited towards non Muslims was missing in Europe till modern times’.

Unity of Muslim Ummah: The sectarian killing of Muslims by Muslims and even non Muslims, suicide bombing on the name of Islam is the most unfortunate phenomena which can never be justified in Islam by any school of thought. There is no provision for deviance in Islam to obey anyone except Allah and Prophet Mohammad. Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) in his last sermon has declared that Muslims should consult only Quran and Sunnah, so there is no Sunni or Shia but Muslims who subjugate their will to all Mighty Allah. So how can we think of sectarian divide as long as they are Muslims? Imams and other companions, who are subservient to Allah and his Rasool (pbuh), cannot be basis of our sectarian divide. These Imams also obeyed Allah and his Rasool including Holy Quran and sayings of prophet Mohd (pbuh).Then how can they lead us in different sects, when they were knowing that Neither Holy Quran does not advocate nor Prophet Mohd (PBUH) allowed sects or castes. In the present time, it is more important to stress points of agreement rather than points of disagreement, because what integrate Muslims is much greater than what divide them.

With the enemies of Islam trying hard to sow the seeds of discord among Muslims, such nefarious designs must be frustrated through unity of Muslims, following different schools of thought. The example of ‘Yathrab’ a town torn with civil and tribal feuds and dissensions before the Messenger of Allah set his feet on its soil. After that, it became the City of the Prophet, Medina, unmatched Brotherhood was established and it became the pivot of Islam. Later the Arabs were united under the banner of Islam to become the torch bearers of Islamic Civilization now covering the globe. The seeds of Arab Nationalism sown by colonial powers in Arab and non Arab Islamic world have only added to the further disunity of Muslim Ummah, realizing the dream of enemies of Islam.

Why can’t Muslims learn the lessons and revive the same unity with diversity and display the Muslim brotherhood based on tolerance and mutual existence. Marmaduke Pickthall noted: “It was not until the Western nations broke away from their religious law that they became more tolerant, and it was only when the Muslims fell away from their religious law that they declined in tolerance”. Muslims should remember what Allah says: “All together hold fast the rope of Allah (Faith of Islam) and be not divided among yourselves. Remember Allah’s favors upon you when you were enemies; He united your hearts, so by His favor you became brethren; you were at the brink of the fiery pit and He saved you from it. Thus Allah makes His revelations clear to you, so that you may be rightly guided.”(Qur’an; 3:103).


The main challenges to the faith are the form of the menace like unnoticeable (hidden) form of polytheism (shirk), deviations (Bid’ah), sectarianism, extremism and Intolerance. The Muslims should follow Qur’an and Sunnah of Holy Prophet, (peace be upon him) which also provide spiritual satisfaction through the prescribed methods of worship. While not compromising on the basic tenets of Islam, minor differences should remain within the domain of scholars for discussions not affecting the unity of Ummah. Although there are nowadays seen, Sunni and Shiite Islam, the two Islamic sects share common traditions, beliefs, and doctrines. All Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad was the messenger of Allah (the Arabic word for God). All believe that they must abide by the revelations given to the Prophet by Allah (as recorded in the Quran) and by the Hadith(sayings of the Prophet and his companions). The concepts of piety, striving for goodness, and social justice

are fundamental to Islamic belief and practice. Additionally, all Muslims are expected to live in accordance with the five pillars of Islam: (1)Shahada —recital of the creed “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet”; (2) Salat —five obligatory prayers in a day; (3) Zakat —giving alms to the poor; (4) sawm —fasting from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan; and (5) hajj—making a pilgrimage to Mecca once during a lifetime if one is physically and financially sound.

Islam rejects sectarianism intolerance and extremism, which was the cause of decline of previous believers and corruption of scriptures. Tolerance and moderation are the hallmark of Islam, life of Muslims and non Muslims alike, has a very high place in Islam, Allah says: “whoever kills a person, except as a punishment for murder or mischief in the land (through judiciary), it will be written in his book of deeds as if he had killed the mankind and whoever will save a life shall be regarded as if he gave life to all the mankind.”(Qur’an; 5:32) True knowledge of Qur’an and Sunnah will enable the believers to meet the challenges posed to their faith.

The Muslims feel very close to their beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by following his Sunnah in their daily life, then comes Prophets genealogy. However with the passage of time, there is more emphasis on adherence to the Sunnah in the physical appearance, rituals and worship where as the role model in his kind personality, social behaviour, tolerance and forgiveness have been mostly over looked in practical life. He was as great as a preacher, kind father, husband, just ruler and an ideal leader to be fully emulated to create love, tolerance and good behaviour, so scarce at present. Muslims are reminded of the saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “A Muslim is the one who avoids harming not only Muslims but whole mankind with his tongue and hands.”(Sahih Bukhari Hadith: 1.9).

Dr.Manzoor Ahmad Yetoo is an expert in environment, project & waste Management, occupational safety& health & pollution control and empanelled expert for IRCA