Sectarianism- Historical Cracks That Must Be Healed


Submitted by

Dr. Abdel Latif Aljibury

Sectarianism has been a thorn in the body of Muslim societies for over thirteen centuries. Recently, we are witnessing horrific acts as a consequence of sectarianism with calamitous consequences for the whole world.

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 a only first step towards clarifying that Islam is at odds with sectarianism. Sectarianism has no basis in Islamic Ideology. It has no basis, either in the Qur’an or in the Sunnah of the Prophet. Sectarianism was brought about by political schisms and the struggle to achieve power with complete disregard for the well-being of Muslim Society. The historical origins of these schisms have been thoroughly covered elsewhere in this encyclopedia.

The Quran has forewarned the Muslims against 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 تَتَّبِعُوا ألسبل فتفرق بكم عن سبيله ذلكم وصاكم به لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
“And know this is the straight path 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 which arose out of people’s intolerance of others, and the exclusive claims to be the only genuine and true adherents of the 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 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 the Quran and the Sunnah by a different scholar. 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 adhere to 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:

إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْيٌ يُوحَى وما ينطق عن الهوى
“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 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.

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.

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.
By calling ourselves 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 opinion of the scholars is mercy, God is giving us the liberty and means to adhere to His true path which is none of the various and the myriad of sects which claim to be the “true path.’ May be this is the rude awakening that we need in order to come to God’s true path!

To be true to our faith, it follows, that we cannot and must not affiliate ourselves to one or the other scholar or school of thought as being the one and only 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, the Quran and the Prophet that all Muslims agree to.

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.

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: 6-153

” … 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.

Religion’s major function is to build good morals and character. Its 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 does and who does not qualify to live in peace. It is our duty as the representatives of God on earth to improve the world we live in and cooperate to bring about harmony, tolerance, justice and peace. This is what religion is all about. The Quran 5:2 states:

وَتَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْبِرِّ وَالتَّقْوَىٰ وَلَا تَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّهَ شَدِيدُ الْعِقَابِ
“Help one another in furthering virtue and God’s consciousness, and do not help one another in furthering evil and enmity; and remain conscious of God: for, behold, God is severe in retribution!”