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Islam and Sectarianism ( 3 March 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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A Different Perspective on Islamic Unity and Sectarianism


By Ro Wassem

March 03, 2014

One of the most used arguments used by atheists (and other like-minded people) against believers in some sort of religion is that religion has split mankind into factions resulting in much violence; therefore religion is evil and must be abolished. Valid point, but I think it’s biased. It’s not religion exclusively that divides people; rather people fight over all sorts of things. Race being an example. Should we, or rather, can we get rid of the diversity of our colours?

Things are neutral. Religion is neutral. It’s your attitude towards it that determines whether you choose to unite, or divide with others. Shifting the blame doesn’t solve anything. So, we need to identify the problem and look for solutions.  Education, as with everything else, is required to curb oppressive ideologies like racism and sectarianism, which is what the Quran aspires to do.

On unity, the Quran says:

You must hold fast, all of you together, to the Bond of God and be not divided into sects (Sura 3:103).

And do not be like the ones who became divided and differed after the clear proofs had come to them. And those will have a great punishment (Sura 3:105).

Those who break the unity of their Deen and become sects, you have nothing to do with them whatsoever. Their case will go to God and He will then tell them what they had been doing (Sura 6:159).

(And do not be) of those who have divided their Deen and become sects, every faction rejoicing in what it has (Sura 30:32).

Steadfastly uphold the Deen (Way of Life), and do not break up your unity therein (Sura 42:13).

What Went Wrong?

Despite these very clear and straight-forward commandments, the “Muslim World” is quite the hub of violent sectarianism that causes much bloodshed within those regions. We have this nasty habit of cherry-picking the verses we choose to follow. So, the verses that call for unity often get ignored and are replaced with scholarly opinions that promote sectarianism. Furthermore, fundamentalism and bigotry play a part as well.

Let me take you through the mindset of a sectarian, as I myself have been through that phase. It is the unshaken belief that my sect is the only ‘right’ version of Islam and worthy of salvation, while all others are misguided and headed for doom. Instead of compassion, there is a strong sense of fear and hate for them. Assuming infallibility for one’s self, religion becomes a tool to satisfy the ego by calling others infidels and other derogatory labels. All in all, it is either my way, or the highway.

"What if I show you the something in the Quran that absolutely shatters sectarianism? Contrary to popular opinion, there is not only one “correct” path to Islam (Peace), rather there are multiple paths."

Through this Book, God guides to paths of Islam (Peace), those who seek His Approval. He brings them out of darkness into the light of His grace, and guides them to the straight path (Sura 5:16).

As for those who sincerely strive for Us, We surely guide them onto paths that lead to Us. God is with those who do Good (Sura 29:69).

If we were to measure spiritual maturity in terms of our biological growth, then fundamentalism is the childhood. A natural phase, but something you must grow from. You may read my full piece on stages of consciousness here.

How Can We Unite?

Let me start by clearing a misconception. Unity does not equate to uniformity. Some people have the view that unity can only be achieved among people who have the same (or identical) set of beliefs, cultural practices, and paradigms. This is not only highly improbable, but is also flawed conceptually. See, human beings are complex creatures, having unique experiences that shape their paradigms. Forget billions of Muslims, you would not find two people who are exactly the same.

To me, unity can be achieved regardless of the beliefs of others. It is the internalization that God has created people with a free will of their own, and that they may choose whichever spiritual path that makes them the closest to God and turns them into a better human being. I am not discouraging rational debate, I must add. Indeed, debate is crucial for growth and reform. However, you stop playing God, as you realise that judgment belongs to God alone (13:40). All it takes is spiritual maturity and broad-mindedness from your side.

Dropping The Labels Does Not Solve The Problem.

One of the solutions put forward to achieve unity is to identify yourself as only a Muslim instead of a Sunni Muslim, a Shia Muslim, a Quranist Muslim, or a Sufi Muslim. For a long time, I agreed with this notion. However, now I think that it’s superficial at best. Labels don’t create sects; sectarian behaviour does. The problem with identifying yourself as only a Muslim is that sectarian behaviour may still exist within. You may consider yourself a “true Muslim” and others “not so true Muslims”. I have experienced this first-hand, so I’m convinced that this is not the answer.

You simply can’t expect every Muslim to share the same interpretation of the Quran. Therefore, labels help us identify one another. And, identification is a crucial factor in dialogue. Let’s take an example. If you ask me where I am from, and I respond by saying that I am a “citizen of the world”, do you expect the conversation to evolve from there? There is a lack of information, so it might stop there and then. However, if I say I’m an American, you may share your personal stories that are relevant, and the dialogue furthers.

So, the problem doesn’t lie in the labels, it lies in sectarian behaviour which is a psychological construct. The sectarian ideology is the real culprit here which needs to be addressed. The ideology is that since X and Y are different from me, they must be my enemies. Different approaches to Islam are not a threat to unity, bigotry is!

The key word in those verses, as we saw above, is to “not DIVIDE into sects”. You can be a Sunni Muslim who does not discriminate against Shias, for example. In this case, you find that Sunni Islam makes the most sense to you, but for others, it might be Shia Islam or Quranist Islam. Realizing that freedom of belief is a gift of

God, you not only unite with other Muslims, but also free yourself from the negative energy of hate.

In a nutshell, sectarianism causes division. Division causes hate. Hate causes extremism. Extremism causes bloodshed. Hence, this becomes the perfect recipe for an unstable society and precisely why sectarianism has been severely discouraged in the Quran.

Final thoughts

O Muslims! We must stop dividing over petty issues and instead unite to fight the power-mongering psychopaths that seek to cause disharmony between us.  Disunity can never bring about any good! Let us put all the barriers of race, gender, sex orientation, religion, and politics to rest and respect people for what they are, provided they are not harming another human being. I call for unity! I call for Islam (Peace)!

Ro Waseem is a progressive thinker who blogs about Muslim Reformation at

This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.