Tag Archives: Islamic sects

Sectarian Logic

Who is Going to Hell?

What is our preoccupation with WHO is going to hell, why do we feel the need to identify and point at that? If it is to correct them then we must ask instead who is practising religion wrong?. Practising religion wrong does not equate to going to hell. The religion under discussion is Islam.

By focusing on their hell-bound-ness it becomes a terminal condemnation. By focusing on their wrongness it becomes a criticism. A less rigid approach is an acknowledgement of different ways to doing a thing.

In psychology, fixation on condemnation (of bigotry proportions) is attributed to insecurity of one’s self with the issue. Hence the notion that homophobes are actually not confident in their sexuality and the way to balance that is by asserting themselves outwardly in condemning homosexuals. What does that say about Muslims who go out of their way to identify other muslims as Kuffaars?

Belief in only one right Islamic sect is a very common one. There is a popular hadith (sayings of prophet muhammad) that is used in defense of the-one right sect of Islam. Usually, the proposer of the hadith is convinced that his/her “sect” or doctrine is the right one. This post is about an alternative interpretation of the hadith and an excursion to available interpretations.


These are the available hadiths garnered and which are repeatedly used in support of the existence of the one true sect. Most of use of the hadith in support of the ineluctiblility of sects is achieved by a literal reading. Here they are:

  • My ummah will be divided into seventy three sects. All of them will be in the Fire except one? [Saheeh Muslim, no.976]
  • A group of my ummah shall remain steadfast, on the truth, victorious, unharmed by those who oppose them, and do not support them, until the death or until the Day of Resurrection [Saheeh al-Bukhaaree, nos.71 and 3641, and Saheeh Muslim, no.1920] 
  • The Jews were divided among themselves into seventy one or seventy two sects, and the Christians were divided among themselves into seventy one or seventy two sects. And My Ummah will be divided among itself into seventy three sects. [Abu Dawood, At-Tirmidhi, Al-Hakim and Ahmad]
  • The People of the Two Scriptures divided into seventy-two sects. This Ummah will divide into seventy-three sects, all in the Fire except one, that is, the Jama’ah. Some of my Ummah will be guided by desire, like one who is infected by rabies; no vein or joint will be saved from these desires. [Abu Dawood (2/503), Ahmad (4/102) and al-Haakim (1/128) 

What is a Sect?

If we are to take a literal reading (of the above hadiths) then we cant make assumptions of what a sect is. Even though someone has pointed out that the arabic word used as sect has other meanings (group, expedition, contingent) we must decide on a meaning to carry on.

Are sects Sunni, Shi’a, Sufis and others? But doesn’t Sufi’s cross Sunnis and Shi’as?  Are sects the different school of thoughts within each large category? does that then make Sunni and Shi’a Super-sects? It seems defining a sect is also a question of defining the level of making distinction; at Sunni-Shia level, at madhhab (school of law) level or at Aqida (creed) level. Or is Sect a subjective and derogatory word used to refer to any that does not align with your ideas or exact practice? If we are to read the hadiths literally, then we might have a help. We can then be certain that at whatever level we decide to classify a sect, the total must not be greater than 73. If we can find a division that is close to 73, then that may be it. On the other hand, we might consider a non-literal contextual reading of the number 73.

Before presenting my case, let us explore a reading of the hadiths by Samir Ibn Zarfarkhan (his part of the posts)which I found on the ‘net and it seems to me the most comprehensive argument I have come accross in support of the hadiths.

According to Samir

The hadiths are warning against divisions by reference to Jews and Christians. This makes sense since there were no divisions as such in Islam at the time. Since Muslims believe they worship the same God that the Jewish and Christian prophets preached and they learn from “people’s mistakes” in these religions, then this argument is in point. But division on what basis?

He pointed out that according to the Quran, the Jews and Christians disagreed on the following: Messengers, Books and called each other unbelievers. This means that the hadith warns Muslims to divide in Books and Messengers and not to call each other unbelievers. The definition of a sect may then be said to be a division in Messengers and Books and the calling of another group unbelievers. Since most Muslims dont differ on the first two, it seems you become a sect when you see other muslims as unbelivers. But then again, there are Islamic fundamentals without which one can’t be a muslim (thus an unbeliever)?

Next Samir says Muslims can’t differ in their fundamentals but the branches (Furoo’) can differ.  Not believing in the declaration “There is only one God and Muhammad is his messenger” makes one a non muslim. But prefering the Ahl-Al-Bayt over the Khulafaa’ur-Rashidun is hardly fundatmental to Islam (even though it may seem so).

Basically, a sect (based on my understanding of Samir) is group of Muslims that see as unbelievers other Muslims that differ from them in non-fundamental tenets of Islam. This is one reading but I propose an alternative reading.

My Humble Reading

I focus on the number of sects mentioned in the hadiths and without reading it literally, but contextualize it. Just as division was warned-against in the context of Jews and Christians, the number 73 is in the context of “71 or 72”. There is a progression which mentions the Christians and Jews as having “71 or 72” sects but the Muslims will have 73. Why just one extra? The significance here is that Muslims will have more sects than the Jews and Christians had at that time; it must have seemed unthinkable to early Muslims. The common number in the numbers is 7, which is known in Arabic  to symbolize a large amount (wonder why rewards are in multiples of 7?). Therefore the 70 means many and the remaining numbers serve to make one greater or less than the other. Mathematically 73 > “72 or 71”.

Secondly, as long as the division of the Muslims refers to the whole Muslim-Ummah, then there could be one “sect” which basically consist of Musilms that don’t belong in any sect. Let us call them the circumstantial-sect. These Muslims can be classified as a sect just so that they can be compared against other real sects. Another way to look at this is that having 73 sects could mean 72 sects plus 1 group of others who belong in no sect. The only way this may not be the case is if every Muslim belongs to a sect but that is unlikely.

IF a Muslim sect is as we have defined it (viewing disagreement in non-fundamental issues as unbelieving) AND there may exist a circumstantial-sect, THEN it logically follows that the only unique (distinguishable) sect is one that refuses to be a sect; the circumstantial-sect. Becareful though, a group that describes itself as non-sectarian yet displays pretentious-ness of sects, qualifies as a sect in this discussion. Afterall there is a consumer label called No Label.

Thus is the alternative Sectarian Logic.

In Conclusion

This is a praise-song to those who claim no sect. It is not a case for their legitimacy as better than sect members. It is to debunk the sect member who thinks his sect is not among the “72 going to hell”. As long as the authenticity of the hadiths remain verified, hopefully we will realize how it is not our job say who is going to hell or not. We might eventually see the absurdity in sectarianism.

As for those who get offensive for sectarian allegience, that is not the point of this post but if i may spare it a sentence: that is wack!


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