Schism, sects and Islam.

I wrote this in response to someone’s Facebook wall post that said:

“‘I’m NOT a Shi’ite, I’m NOT a Sufi, I’m NOT a Ahmedi, I’m NOT a Shafi-ee, I’m NOT a Hanbali, I’m NOT a Hanafi or I’m NOT a Maliki. I AM WHAT THE QUR’AN ASKED ME TO BE!.”‘

My response turned out longer than expected, and probably even longer if I spent more time writing it….

It is the nature of religion that schisms occur, the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) clearly stated that the Umma will divide into 73 sects. So whilst we should be Muslim, everyone has their own interpretation as to what this means. As rightly pointed out, the Prophet instructed us to be with the majority (sawad al-azam), the majority of Muslims. Muslims, throughout the majority of the history of Islam, have adhered to one of the four Sunni systems of jurisprudence (madhhabs) namely Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali and have held the tenets of faith as laid out by either the Ashari or Maturidi schools . These are not sects, as the ignorant and foolish think, but are valid interpretations of the primary sources of our religion that all the well known sages, savants, scholars, saints, rulers and laity have followed. The learned practitioners of the four maddhabs accept that each is a valid interpretation of the primary sources based upon the interpretive principles of jurisprudence (usul ul-fiqh).

The original statement of the poster is non-nonsensical. Clearly, you need to understand what each of the groups are and what principles they follow. The one who says that I only follow what is in the Quran and Hadith is beset by problems at the outset. Yes, we can take hadith and ayat of the Qur’an for personal edification and spiritual benefit, but then to try and derive rulings on various matters can lead us into serious consequences for our iman and the iman of others. Firstly, you need to have mastered the Arabic language and all its nuances, this is not a minor chore easily learned in a few months, you have to be devoted to the language for many, many years. Once you have mastered this, you need to have an indepth knowledge of the Qur’an, the history – where an ayat was revealed and why (sabab) and context of revelation for each verse or surah. There are verses which abrogate and those which are abrogated or retricted in meaning by others, there are many other technical aspects of Qur’anic interpretation that need to be learned. With regards to hadith, well, this is a minefield, the science of hadith can be a graveyard for the iman of people. One of the greatest hadith scholars of Islam, Abdullah ibn Mubarak said “Were it not for [Imam] Malik and [Imam] Al-Layth [two fuquha (jurists)], I would have been ruined. I used to think that everything that is ‘attributed’ to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is [obligatorily] applicable.” this is a warning from someone who was a giant of a hadith scholar, someone who lived and breathed hadith, that fiqh (jurisprudence)  is what we take and not hadith. Jurisprudence, by its nature is open to interpretation within broad interpretive parameters, and this is a job for fuquha (jursts), not for the likes of us. We think we are so knowledgeable, that we just type a search phrase into “sheikh” Google and pull out a hadith here, an ayat there and then be final about a matter, when it goes much deeper than a cursory search of the internet. Let us not be too flippant about our deen, the deen that hundreds and thousands, throughout history, have devoted their lives to preserve and transmit, who have been entrusted by God to carry it forward, from mouth to ear, each and every aspect of it, be it the preservation of the language of revelation, grammar, philology, the transmission of hadtih and the hidden flaws therein, history, biographies of narrators, and thousands of other foundations of the deen we have with us today. The sooner we realise that we are utterly indebted to those who have selflessly and tirelessly transmitted the deen to us, jazakAllahu khayra one and all, the sooner we will realised that we are ants before mountains and even with our technology, search engines and databases, with our egos runnning wild with delusions that we are “scholars” when are, essentially, the proverbial donkeys carrying books.

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