By Dr. Abdullatif Aljibury

Sectarianism has been a burning issue or a thorn in the body of the Muslim Society for over thirteen centuries. Recently we are witnessing calamitous consequences of tearing the Muslims apart resulting from promoting sectarianism. Secularism is a major cause contributing to the continued decline and/or stagnation of the Muslims.

Religion’s major function is to show us how we can get along with each other through tolerance and understanding. It does not give us the right to pass judgment on others to say who qualifies to live in peace and left unharmed and who does not qualify for this privilege. As things stand now, many ignorant people are in effect making themselves play the role of God. It is not our business to serve a death sentence onto others and to have appointed ourselves as the judge, the persecutor and the policeman at the same time! This is also known as Lynching! Isn’t it time that we wake up to reality and take charge of our destiny? It may still be possible. It is our duty as vicegerents of God on earth to improve the world we live in and cooperate to bring about harmony, tolerance, and peace. This is what religion is all about.

At the root of Sectarianism are people and organizations who benefit from it (directly and indirectly). At their disposal are narrow minded fanatics and ignorant extremists whom they use and encourage to tear the Muslims apart.

Unfortunately, there are many ignorant Muslims who want to use sectarianism for their short-term political gain by encouraging violence and promoting hatred between the various Islamic sects.
There are other fanatics who think they can impose their way of thinking on others by “the edge of the sword” believing that they have been empowered by the Almighty to impose their religious thinking on others. Their deranged mentality of “my way is the only way” is in complete contradiction to God’s demand of the believers that “there is no coercion in matters of faith.”

This is happening in front of our very eyes throughout the Muslim World. We witness the daily carnage of Muslims of different sects killing each other irrespective of their gender or age. Each thinks that he or she not only is doing service to Islam but also winning his/her way to paradise. It has become mandatory on those of us who see this calamity to point out this tragic case of ignorance and the misunderstanding of the basic issues of Islam.

It is a well known fact that people are enemies of what they are ignorant of. To expose the ignorance that has led us to this state is only a first step towards the clarification that Islam has nothing to do with this mess. The adherents to various sects should realize that sectarianism has no basis in Islamic foundation. As will be shown in the present discourse, sectarianism is actually non-existent in the basic teachings of Islam. It has no basis, neither in the Quran nor in the Sunnah. Sectarianism was brought about by ignorant Muslims upon themselves and it is the duty of every sincere Muslim to show that Islam has nothing to do with this mindset.

Islam, from the beginning, was very much against this trend as was very clearly mentioned in the Quran and exemplified by the deeds and actions of the Prophet Muhammad. In fact the Quran warns us to not be trapped in the quagmire of sectarianism. This was made clear in the following revelations: Allah says in the Holy Quran 3:103:

وَاعْتَصِمُواْ بِحَبْلِ اللّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلاَ تَفَرَّقُواْ وَاذْكُرُواْ نِعْمَةَ اللّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ …
“And hold fast altogether onto the bond with Allah and do not draw apart from one another and remember the blessings which Allah has bestowed upon you….”

And the Holy Quran says in 6:159

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ فَرَّقُواْ دِينَهُمْ وَكَانُواْ شِيَعًا لَّسْتَ مِنْهُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ إِنَّمَا أَمْرُهُمْ إِلَى اللّهِ ثُمَّ يُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا كَانُواْ يَفْعَلُونَ
“Verily, as for those who have broken the unity of their faith and have become sects, you have nothing to do with them.”

Also in 6-153 the Holy Quran says:

وَأَنَّ هَـذَا صِرَاطِي مُسْتَقِيمًا فَاتَّبِعُوهُ وَلاَ تَتَّبِعُواْ السُّبُلَ فَتَفَرَّقَ بِكُمْ عَن سَبِيلِهِ ذَلِكُمْ وَصَّاكُم بِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
“And know this is the straight way leading to me, follow it then, and follow not other ways lest they cause you to deviate from His path.”

The above verses are references to the state of the Muslims in the past as well as today. They are a clear condemnation of all sectarianism, for such arises out of people’s intolerance of others, and exclusive claims to be the only genuine and true exponents of Quranic teachings. They assume that they are the very ones and theirs is the only true sect that follows the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet!

It is tragic to realize that what has contributed to this schism is the that many Muslims have committed a grave error in calling themselves names other than “Muslim.” This error precipitated the alienation between one Muslim individual and another, since the other happens to prefer the interpretation of a different scholar of the teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah. Instead of welcoming these differing opinions to arrive at a suitable solution to their particular needs, they blindly and rigidly adhere to these interpretations and, elect to look at these interpretations as if “cast in stone” of an otherwise one opinion versus another.

Our Prophet has made a declaration of a far reaching implication that Muslims should consider and perform especially in these trying days. The Prophet declared:

”The differing opinions of the scholars of my people are a blessing.”

The Prophet’s Tradition points to us the proper course of action, yet we adamantly veer away from the proper course. Here is an Islamic principle of a far reaching implication (that goes beyond the boundaries of the subject), that urge us to accommodate differing opinions. In the wider sense, this principle not only lets us accommodate but encourages differing opinions as a means of arriving at a correct judgment. Since Chapter 53 verse 3 declares that the Prophet speaks of the wish of Allah:

وَمَا يَنطِقُ عَنِ الْهَوَى إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْيٌ يُوحَى
“He does not speak out of his own desire.”

Therefore, God is in effect telling us that it is a blessing to have differing opinions. This is very healthy and should lead us in our search to arrive at the correct answer. Isn’t this the proper approach to arrive at the truth? Look how we have strayed away from the right path?

Throughout the Holy Quran, God makes it clear to mankind that He has admonished all of His Messengers and Prophets to carry out to the message called ISLAM, which means the submission to the will of the Creator.
Let us not forget that to call ourselves by any names other than Muslims is wrong. We are tampering with a basic tenet of the name of the religion to which we all belong and that is Islam. Therefore, by definition, we are Muslims and none other than Muslims. This is what God called Adam, Noah, and Abraham and all other Prophets as Muslims. In fact all of the Prophets are Muslims.

In chapter 2 verse 128:

رَبَّنَا وَاجْعَلْنَا مُسْلِمَيْنِ لَكَ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِنَا أُمَّةً مُّسْلِمَةً لَّكَ وَأَرِنَا مَنَاسِكَنَا وَتُبْ عَلَيْنَآ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ
Oh our sustainer, make us surrender ourselves onto Thee, and make out of our off-springs a community that shall surrender itself unto Thee.

And in chapter 2 verse 132 the Quran says:

وَوَصَّى بِهَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ بَنِيهِ وَيَعْقُوبُ يَا بَنِيَّ إِنَّ اللّهَ اصْطَفَى لَكُمُ الدِّينَ فَلاَ تَمُوتُنَّ إَلاَّ وَأَنتُم مُّسْلِمُونَ
And this very thing that Abraham did bequeath unto his children, and so did Jacob: Oh my children behold, God has granted you the purest faith; so do not allow death to overtake you without having surrendered yourselves unto Him.

Also in chapter 2 verse 135:

وَقَالُواْ كُونُواْ هُودًا أَوْ نَصَارَى تَهْتَدُواْ قُلْ بَلْ مِلَّةَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ حَنِيفًا وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
And they say, ”Be Jews or Christians and you shall be on the right path, Say Nay, but ours is the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false, and was not of those who ascribed divinity to none but God.”

Chapter 2, verse 136 specifically states:

قُولُواْ آمَنَّا بِاللّهِ وَمَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَيْنَا وَمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَى إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ وَإِسْحَقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ وَالأسْبَاطِ وَمَا أُوتِيَ مُوسَى وَعِيسَى وَمَا أُوتِيَ النَّبِيُّونَ مِن رَّبِّهِمْ لاَ نُفَرِّقُ بَيْنَ أَحَدٍ مِّنْهُمْ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ
We believe in God and that which has been bestowed upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed to Moses and Jesus, and that which has been vouchsafed to all the other prophets by their sustainer, we make no distinction between any of them, and it is unto him that we surrender and are Muslims.

Since we are the followers of His prophets from Adam to Muhammad, henceforth, logically we can only call ourselves Muslims and nothing else.
The name of “His” religion in the above Ayah is Islam “religion to God is Islam.” It is the name Allah gave to all of his revelations to mankind. Who are we to have the audacity to call ourselves any other than Muslims?

I submit to you with all humility that all other callings other than Muslims are foreign to the true spirit of Islam and unacceptable and should be fundamentally rejected by all well-meaning and open minded Muslims.

Any Muslim is unknowingly promoting divisiveness among Muslims by calling himself or herself a name that is foreign to the fundamentals of Islam. This situation fits the definition of a Buda’a. Any innovation to the fundamentals of Islam is called a Buda”a. By calling ourselves names other than Muslims is an unacceptable and damaging innovation to the fundamentals of Islam and must be rejected outright. Let us recall that innovations that do not cause a problem to the Islamic principles are acceptable and are encouraged. But we are all witnesses to this innovation “of calling ourselves names other than Muslims” which has precipitated a grave schism and damage to the Muslims. It does not take much reflection to realize that if any innovation that qualifies to be a Buda’a, then this is it.

If we want to be true to our claim that the right path for a Muslim is that of the Quran and the Sunnah, then surely by calling ourselves the same name as that which our Creator and our Prophet use to call us by, must surely be the right name! However, if we were to call ourselves a name that our Prophet never used throughout his lifetime and is non-existent in all of the Quran, this must surely be wrong! The companions of the Prophet who led an exemplary Islamic way of life never called themselves names that the Muslims of to-day are calling themselves with! Are we following the same religion as the Prophet and his rightful companions followed or what?

By insisting on calling ourselves by our name given to us by God Almighty, we would certainly eliminate from our midst the ugly sting that fosters divisiveness and sectarianism. It has greatly contributed to our present predicament.
Rather than calling ourselves names other than Muslims, we can be free of the artificial bondage to one school of thought and have the liberty and freedom to choose, from the various available opinions and interpretations of our well meaning and pious scholars, solutions that best fit our case and particular needs. With the admonition that the differing opinions of the scholars is mercy, God is giving us the liberty and means to use the scientific approach (which is to consider all available variables) in order for us to reach the right answer. May be this is the rude awakening that we need in order to come to the right path which is God’s path!

A Muslim, because of his lack of knowledge in the fundamentals of Islam or in its applications to his daily life, may have found it necessary to seek direction and advice from people that are more knowledgeable than he in that particular aspect of religion. There are many well meaning and knowledgeable scholars who dedicated their lives to explain and interpret the Quran and give their opinion as to how it can best be applied. For their effort, these scholars are greatly appreciated. It is quite admissible to refer to the major scholarly opinions as schools of thought as is the case, for instance, with regard to the Hanafi or Ja’fari schools of thought. Such schools have made major contributions to the interpretation and application of Islamic fundamentals. We are constantly in need of more scholarship and more scholars in this dynamic and changing world that we live in and for future generations to come.

By definition, it follows that we cannot and must not blindly affiliate ourselves to one or the other scholar or school of thought as being the one and only one whose interpretation and opinions are the genuine ones in the field. The opinions of these scholars and their interpretations are, by definition, time dependent unlike the fundamentals of the religion in the Quran and the Sunnah. Acceptance of the opinion of one school of thought must not lead a person to call himself or herself by the name of that particular scholar or by that school of thought that he or she has affiliated himself or herself to. Our allegiance is only to God and the Prophet and not to the scholars. This misguidance is unacceptable and leads to damnation as has indeed led the Muslim community into now!
Yes we need our scholars to busy themselves with explaining the new situations that confront us such as outer space, stem cell research, the environment and other topics that come up with the march of time. We are in need of more of these scholars at all times because our times are constantly changing and every day there is something new and wonderful as is explicitly mentioned in the holy Quran , 55: 29:

يَسْأَلُهُ مَن فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ كُلَّ يَوْمٍ هُوَ فِي شَأْنٍ
“Every day He manifests Himself in yet another wondrous way.”

We are in dire need to have these new discoveries and events to be explained to us in the context of the wondrous creation. We will appreciate the Muslim scholars and their differing opinions on the various subjects to give us choices within the boundaries of the vastly spacious concepts of the fundamentals of Islam.
Prophet Mohammad complimented the scholars and had said:

“the differing opinion of the scholars of my people is a blessing.”

It is in this vantage that the different opinions of our scholars should be viewed. They should be viewed as scholarly advise feeding into and within the stream of Islamic thought and jurisprudence. This dynamic source should keep up with the changing times and should only be limited by the wide confines of the basic boundaries of Islam.

Since the time changes and the scholars change, therefore the differing opinions of the scholars change. Every day is yet another wondrous way. The differing opinions of the well-meaning scholars should be, of necessity, of consultative nature only and not be viewed as the only opinion in town. The Muslims are free to choose from these differing interpretations, thus to enable them to live a compatible life with Islamic Principles and in keeping with the changing times. After all, Allah says that “there is no compulsion in religion,”.

The path of Muslims who submit to the will of Allah is the straight path as God had advised us. Let us follow it and do not follow other paths. Allah says in the Quran:

“Say this is My straight Path, therefore follow it.”

By following the straight path of our creator we will be doing the Muslims and ourselves a great service. We would be laying the foundation for unity that our creator has meant for us. We will, when we all call ourselves by the same name, have undermined the schism that has been the main cause for unrest in the last 1350 years. By calling ourselves Muslims only, we would be protecting the community from schisms and weaknesses that we can ill afford.

We have arrived at the moment of truth in our history. The status quo of blind following is no longer acceptable. This blind following has been directly responsible for the sectarian wars of attrition. It has led the Muslims to be divided and backward. The rest of the world is marching forward and we, Muslims, are still attacking other Muslims who are offering their prayers in the sanctity of God’s places of worship yet slaughtering each other in the name of sectarian affiliations and accusing the followers of other sects to be unbelievers who qualify to be slaughtered. Somehow the perpetrators are led to think that these crimes will make them secure their places in Paradise! What atrocities are committed in the name of religion? This is total ignorance of what religion is all about. It is really disgraceful.