Extremist groups often site the Hadith from Sunan Abi Dawud stating, “Ummah (the community) will divide into 73 sects, all of them in hellfire except one,” as evidence for the veracity of their ideology while condemning all others who disagree or differ to death. This frame of thinking is atrocious; evidently, murderous when acted upon and adopts a constricted and erroneous interpretation of God’s purpose for humanity.
The extremist take the Hadith as some type of a categorical (qati) command to purify and check/correct/purify individuals, sects and groups’ faith with a self-serving litmus test while they and they alone are the arbiters of the correct answer which is supported only by the barrel of the gun. Contrary to extremist interpretations, the Hadith itself does not speak of removing people from the fold of Islam since the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) referred to all as being part of the Ummah. Furthermore, the Hadith warned of future divisions among the community and it does not contain any command but rather to be used as a counsel and to encourage unity as a highest ideal for the community.
The Hadith for me calls upon individuals to be extra cautious when belonging or engaging with a group so that you don’t end up claiming absolute truth and power in the name of the specific understandings held be it the sect or the group. Belonging to a sect or group is not the same or equal to believing in God and following the prophetic example. More critically, how does one arrive at or conclude that his/her group is the saved sect? What an easy path to take to claim one’s own group or sect as the only saved one while being content with or celebrating 72 being condemned or making sure to hasten the condemnation by visiting death upon them! Lastly, the Hadith is not prescriptive in such a way that is asking us to undertake a takfir purge in order to arrive at the saved, lonely and pure group. If God Himself stated that, “His mercy has overtaken His wrath” then how do extremists make wrath the over arching epistemic of the religion!
If anything the Hadith is possibly pointing toward unity and not to take one’s own group or sectarian understandings to be above the Ummah. To me, the idea of the saved sect might be understood to be inclusive of everyone that is ready to embrace everyone with differences because it is what a community is based upon. Islam does not call its followers to sameness or uniformity in worldly matters. Furthermore, Muslims are expected to have diverse opinions in understanding the revealed text; whereas, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said, “Differences among the scholars are a source of mercy to the community.” Indeed, what the Islamic tradition is calling for is scholarly differences and a type of scholarship and knowledge that will produce humility, patience and tolerance, rather than the narrow-mindedness, arrogance and exclusion even within the confines of the community.
What would the impact be if we took the position that the other sect or group might be the correct one while our own understandings are possibly faulty or at best incomplete! A sect or a group is not identical to the individual and as such when we look and reduce one another to only a sectarian view, then we lose the uniqueness inherent in every single person. The Hadith is a warning against group thinking and losing the ability to relate to individuals as they are and not reduce to their group affiliation.
What would the impact be if we treated every person as a sign of God in the world deserving of honor, respect and dignity for no other reason than being a human, fashioned and breathed life into it by God: every person is a vessel for the Divine Spirit. What would the impact be if we treated other individuals as more pure, honest and sinless than ourselves since others’ wrong actions are veiled from our own eyes and perceptions, but for certain we have total knowledge of our own sins and wrong actions. Being modest for knowing what our hands have writhed should engender us to tread lightly upon the earth while pointing the finger at no one other than our own selves. Differences and diversity in the world are Divine manifestation and not mere errors or acts of unbelief to be corrected by extremist violence that uses reductionist logic when it comes to comprehending God’s mercy and purpose in the world.
In Sahih al-Bukhari the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said: “I swear by Him in whose hand is Muhammad’s soul. Indeed, I hope that you will be half the population of Paradise.” It is outwardly obvious that the two Hadiths point to possible contradictions but it would only be so if we accept the first one in the narrow and restricted reading of it and imply that the majority is condemned. Yet, one can introduce the categorical (qati) Qur’anic verse, “You are the best community brought forth for humanity,” and resolve the contradiction and insist that the first Hadith is not an action or legal injunction Hadith but a call to maintain and forge unity despite sectarian and group divisions.
Must end Sunni-Shia violence
The deaths visited upon innocent lives in Kuwait, Tunisia, Somalia, the ongoing bloodbath in Syria, Iraq and previously in Pakistan and Afghanistan, are the acts of an extremist fringe attempting to claim authority and power by soaking streets, mosques and cities with blood and sowing destruction. It is a war fought by powers near and far for the purpose of resources, markets and status but the bodies of innocent people are sacrificed in a sick ploy utilizing religious, ethnic, cultural, regional, linguistic, gender and class differences to achieve its aim. How is it that the region is filled with weapons yet it doe not produce any of it and have to procure it from the advanced industrialized economies?
Is it a Sunni or Shia owned company that are manufacturing, marketing and selling these weapons? What part of the 73 groups mentioned above belongs to the merchants of death global country club? Could the saved group be understood in the present industrial material modern world to be the one most capable of purchasing and using weapons than the other 72? Could the rate and intensity of killing and mayhem be the defining criteria? The answer is an emphatic no and it never was the basis in the past and it should never be used in the current period.
Aside from being rich in oil and natural resources, the Muslim world is also a testing ground for new weapons to be marketed across the globe but this is not a video game, rather it is a violent real game and dead bodies are piling by the hundreds daily. How does it feel to be endowed with resources yet suffer a curse because of it? Weapons of all types are flooding into the market and adding fuel to an existing manufactured volcanic religious eruption with everyone killing each other while none really knowing the reasons for murdering or why they are to be murdered in return.
A sick “great game” had the devil witnessed, he himself would have been shocked, called it evil and refused to participate. But nay, men of global repute and stature stand behind it and advance it. What is it that they are seeking? Gold, silver, natural gas, oil and markets: earthly nothingness that no one will take with them to the grave. Even the Pharaoh who took much wealth with him, upon burial he could not protect it when gravediggers and archeologists came calling and now it is all owned and viewed by others.
We must reject any attempt to instrumentalize existing and normative differences to achieve or advance political agendas that have nothing to offer societies across the region. Sunni-Shia tensions are stocked to advance agendas and utilize it for regional and global power relations, which has nothing to do with existing classical differences of opinion within the Ummah. The current nation-states contesting for power and dominance in the region are keen at cloaking their claims to worldly material power with religious and high moral purpose. The response in the past and should be in the present that all who pray to the same prayer direction (qibla) are one community and existing differences are a natural and normative phenomena after the passing of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
We, as Muslims, should embrace the differences that exist among us, discuss it, lovingly argue concerning it and then forgive each other for our limited understandings for only Allah knows what is best and what is the true reality of all matters. Furthermore, we should embrace the diversity of the human family as our own since we also have an obligation to the shared lineage running in our veins and written on our DNA.
I call for brotherhood/sisterhood in Islam and brotherhood/sisterhood in humanity. May God have mercy and blessings on all those killed in the past few days but also may Allah have mercy on all lives lost to violence across the world. May God make this Ramadan a source of peace and tranquility and grant all the ability to see reality and the world as it is- a nothingness that has no value for the one pursuing the Divine.