SECTARIANISM IS NOT ISLAMIC
Sectarianism has recently become a burning issue which has been a thorn in the body of the Muslim Ummah for over thirteen centuries. We are witnessing the calamitous tendencies to tear this Ummah apart by promoting sectarianism. This is a major and serious cause that is contributing to the decline and rapid retardation of the Muslims. At the root of the problem are people and organizations that are benefiting from it directly and indirectly. In addition to those beneficiaries are the narrow minded and ignorant extremists who are being used and encouraged to further tear the Ummah apart without them realizing the grave error that they are causing to Islam. Unfortunately, there are many ignorant Muslims amongst us who want to use sectarianism for short term political gain and in the meantime to further tear apart the Muslims and encourage violence and promote hatred between the various sects. Then there are those ignorant extremists who think that 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 spread their unfounded religious thinking on others. Their derailed 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 trend has lead to further destabilize the Ummah and veer the Muslims to side albeit non-issues. 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. Every one of them thinks that he or she is doing service to Islam and in the mean time winning their 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 complete misunderstanding of the issues.
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 of affairs is at least a first step towards the clarification that Islam has nothing to do with this mess and perchance to alleviate the animosity and make the adherents to the various sects realize that sectarianism has no fundamental Islamic foundation. As will be shown in the present discourse, sectarianism is non-existent in the basic teachings of Islam. It has no basis, neither in the Quran nor in the Sunnah. This tragedy has been brought up by the ignorant Muslims upon themselves and it is the duty of every well meaning Muslim to document that Islam has nothing to do with this state of mind.
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 Mohammad. In fact the Quran warns us not be trapped in the quagmire of sectarianism. This was made clear in the following revelations which must be understood in the context of the clear prophecy of the following verses of our present situation:
First and foremost, Allah says in the Holy Quran
3:103 "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 in 6:159 "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 6-51 "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 two verses are as clear prophetic reference to the state of the Muslims to-day as any prophecy can be. The Muslims have blindly followed the path of others and have clearly deviated from the straight path of Allah and have become divided into sects. The above two verses provide us with as clear a condemnation of all sectarianism arising out of people's intolerance, mutually exclusive claims to be the only true exponents of Quranic teachings and to wrongly assume that they are the one and only true sect that is following the Quran and the Sunnah of the prophet!
It is tragic to realize that what has contributed to this schism is the mere fact that the Muslims have committed a grave error in calling themselves names other than Muslim. This grave error has precipitated this alienation between one Muslim individual and another who happen to prefer the interpretation of one scholar of the teachings of the Quran over another scholar. Instead of welcoming these differing opinions to arrive at a suitable solution to their particular needs, they have so blindly adhered to these interpretations and, through their ignorance, have elected to look at these interpretations as “cast in stone” of an otherwise one man’s opinion versus another.
Let us not forget that to call ourselves any name but 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 Allah called Adam, Noah, and Abraham. In fact all of the prophets are Muslims.
In chapter 2 verse 128:
Oh our sustainer, make us surrender ourselves onto Thee, and make out of our off-springs a community that shall surrender itself unto Thee.
In chapter 2 verse 132:
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.
In chapter 2 verse 135:
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” 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 Mohammad, henceforth, logically we can only call ourselves Muslims and nothing else.
The name of “His” religion is Islam “religion to God is Islam.” It is the name He gave to all of his revelations to mankind. Who are we to have the audacity to call ourselves any other name but 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 Muslims.
The 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 exactly the definition of a Buda’a. Let us refresh our memory with 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 to follow is that of the Quran and the Sunnah, then surely by calling ourselves the same name as that which our prophet used to go by must be the right path. 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!
By insisting on calling ourselves by our true and only name given to us by God almighty, we have in a stroke eliminated from our midst that factor which has fostered divisiveness and sectarianism. It has greatly contributed to our downfall and 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 need.
A Muslim, because of his or her lack of knowledge in the fundamentals of Islam or in its applications to his or her daily life, may have found it necessary to seek direction and advice from people that are more knowledgeable than he or she is 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. 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 only 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. Affiliation or following 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 biotechnology, 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, “ 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 that are meant not only to serve and guide the Muslims from the time of the prophet to our present and for future generations. Islam, the submission to the will of God, is the one and only message that was revealed to mankind from the time of Adam and until the Day of Judgment.
Prophet Mohammad complimented the scholars and had said" the differing opinion of the scholars of my people is a blessing." This is how these different opinions of our well meaning scholars should be viewed, as a scholarly advise feeding into and within the stream of Islamic thought and jurisprudence which is a dynamic source that should keep up with the changing times and can only be limited by the wide confines of the basic boundaries of Islam which our creator has defined for us to lead us into the straight path which is His Path. Since the time changes and the scholars change, consequently and out of necessity, 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 should not be viewed as the only opinion in town. The Muslims are free to choose from these differing interpretations to fit their understanding of Islam to enable them to live a life that is compatible with Islamic Principles and in keeping with the changing times. After all, Allah says that “there is no compulsion in religion,” after it has been made abundantly clear what the basic tenets of the religion are. To lead a proper Islamic way of life, we follow in the footsteps of our prophet who was only a Muslim and did not call himself any other name.
The path of Muslims who submit to the will of Allah is the straight path that God had advised us to do. Let us follow it and do not follow other paths as He so kindly admonished us. “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 when He invites us to hold tight to His rope and not to be divided. 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 and 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.
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, these ignoramus are in effect making themselves play the role of God who alone has the right to judge as to who goes to hell and who goes to heaven. It is not our business to serve a death sentence onto others and to have appointed ourselves as the judge 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. Let us be realistic and tolerant and know what our assigned role is as human beings who claim to be Muslims! 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 in this world. This is what religion is all about.
Dr. Abdullatif Aljibury
February 15, 2007.