As a start, let us understand - that when a group define themselves with a name, it does not mean that they are creating division, separation or disunity.
However, when a group of people depart from this larger group, then it is not only important BUT OBLIGATORY to make it distinct and differentiate these two groups (the old larger group and the splinter group) as different identities.
There is no compromise and acceptance of falsehood in the name of unity.
This treatise will explain this stance further InshaAllah.
Who are the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah ?
Many people today like to classify themselves as belonging to the Saved Sect (Firqatun-Najiyyah) - Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah; but do these people really know which is the Saved Sect, from the many sects we have today?
The Ulama have infact done their duty to clarify some misconceptions by way of definitive proofs from the Qur'an and Sunnah, as well as quotes from the profoundly learned Classical Scholars of Islam.
Know that there is only one Saved Sect in Islam, and this is the original pristine form of Islam that has been transmitted to us by Allah SWT in his Qur'an, his Rasul SAW, the blessed Companions RA and the great scholars of Islam RA who have been following their Straight Path for more than one thousand years of Islam's history.
The first question that should be raised is:
"What differentiates one sect from another sect?"
The answer to this is simple and definitive.
Know that the chief characteristic that distinguishes one sect from another, lies not in the differences of opinion that its scholars have attained by making ijtihad from the sources of the Shari'ah (this leads to the formation of the Madhabs), but rather - the actual belief (aqidah or i'tiqad in Arabic) that the scholars and followers of the sect in question are clinging onto - since the founding of their respective sect.
The Iman held by the Sahabah RA, the Tabi'un RA, and the Tabi-Tabi'un RA was the same. There was no difference between their beliefs. Today MOST Muslims in the world are in the Madhab of Ahlus Sunnah i.e. most people who say that they are Muslims - are Sunnis.
All the seventy-two heretical groups of bid'ah appeared (mainly) after the second century of Islam. Founders of some of them lived earlier, but it was after the Tabi'un RA that their books were written, and that they appeared in groups and defied the Ahlus Sunnah.
Who Brought The Beliefs Of The Ahlus Sunnah ?
Rasulullah SAW brought the beliefs of Ahlus Sunnah. The Sahabah RA derived these teachings of Iman from the source i.e. the Qur'an and Sunnah. And the Tabi'un (successors), in their turn, learned these teachings from the Sahabah RA Ajma'in. And from them their successors learned; thus the teachings of Ahlus Sunnah reached us by way of transmission and tawatur (through many undeniable chains of transmission).
These teachings cannot be explored by way of reasoning. Intellect cannot change them and will only help understand them. That is, intellect is necessary for understanding them, for realising that they are right and for knowing their value.
Let us now see what Allah Ta'ala has said in the Holy Qur'an with regards to this discussion:
Al-Qur'an, Surah Al-Imran, Verse 103:
"And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of Allah and be not divided."
The following narrations help to synergise the meaning of the Ayat further:
Abu Sa'id al-Khudri RA informed that the Prophet SAW declared:
"The book of Allah is Allah's rope stretched from heaven to earth."
Abdullah ibn Mas'ud RA reported that Rasulullah SAW said:
"Surely this Qur'an is Allah's strong rope, manifest light, and beneficial source of healing. It is protection for those who hold fast to it, and a means of salvation for those who abide by it."
There is no indication in this verse of the prohibition of disagreement in the branches (furu') [of fiqh] as this in reality is not dissension. This is because true dissension is one wherein concord and unity become virtually impossible. As for disagreement in judgements based on personal effort (ijtihad), it is due to differences in deducing obligations (fara'id) and the minutiae of law.
Thus we now understand by what is meant by separation, division and disunity. It is due to difference in belief and thus Usuluddin i.e. the way Islam should be understood.
Al-Qur'an, Surah Al-Imran, Verse 105:
"And be not like those who separated and disputed after the clear proofs had come unto them: For such there is an awful doom."
Al-Qur'an, Surah Al-An'am, Verse 159:
"As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, thou has no part in them in the least: Their affair is with Allah: He will in the end tell them the truth of all that they did."
Al-Qur'an, Surah Al-Mu'minun, Verses 52-53:
"And verily this Ummah of yours is a single Ummah and I am your Lord, so keep your duty unto Me. But they have broken their religion among them into sects, each sect rejoicing in its tenets."
Al-Qur'an, Surah Al-Rum, Verse 30,32:
"Those who split up their Religion, and become Sects, each sect exulting in its tenets."
Al-Qur'an, Surah An-Nisa, Verse 115:
"He that disobeys the Apostle (Muhammad) after guidance has been made clear to him and follows a way other than that of the believers, We appoint for him that unto which he himself hath turned, and expose him unto Hell - a hapless journey's end!"
Al-Qur'an, Surah Al-An'am, Verse 153:
"This is My Straight path, so follow it. Follow not other ways, lest ye be parted from His way. This has he ordained for you, that ye may ward off (evil)."
"Do Not Disunite !" - What Does This Mean In The Qur'an ?
The Qur'an declares, "Do not disunite!"
This ayat means - Do not disunite in i'tiqad, in the teachings of beliefs!' Most ulama, for example, the grand Ulama amongst the Sahabah RA - Abdullah ibn Mas'ud RA interpreted this ayat similar as above and said that it meant:
"Do not deviate from the right path by following your desires and corrupt ideas."
This ayat does not mean that there should be no disagreement in the knowledge of fiqh. It forbids separation which causes discord and dissension in the knowledge of i'tiqad.
The disagreement in the knowledge (of fiqh) derived through ijtihad in the field of practices (amal) is not a discord, because such disagreement has brought to sight the rights, the fardhs and the subtle teachings in amal and Ibadah (worship).
The Sahabah RA, too, differed from one another in those teachings that explained the daily life, but there was no disagreement among them in the knowledge of i'tiqad.
The ayat of the Qur'an meaning:
"They parted into groups in the religion..."
Refers to the people of bid'ah who would arise in this Ummah and innovate true Islam.
In a Hadith reported by Umar RA, Rasulullah SAW said to Aishah RA:
"The ayat about the partitions into groups in the religion refers to the people of bid'ah and to the followers of their nafs (desires) who would arise in this Ummah."
Allah declared in Surah Al-An'am, Ayat 153:
"This is My Straight path, so follow it! Follow not other ways, lest you be parted from His way!"
Other ways here, the Ulama have explained refer to the Jews, Christians, and other heretics departed from the right path; you should not part like them!
In Ayat 103 of Surah Al-Imran, Allah declares:
"And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of Allah, and do not separate!"
The Ulama of Tafsir explains that Allah's rope meant Jamaah, unity. The command, 'Do not separate', shows that it is so and the Jamaah are the possessors of Fiqh and Ilm (knowledge).
One who separates from the Fuqaha (scholars of fiqh) as much as a span falls into heresy, becomes deprived of Allah's help and deserves Hell, because the fuqaha have been on the right path and have held on to the Sunnah of Rasulullah SAW and on to the path of al-Khulafa ar-Rashideen RA.
As-Sawad al-Azam, that is, the majority of the Muslims, are on the path of Fuqaha. Today, this group of salvation comes together in the Four Madhabs, namely the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, and Hanbali.
Imam Abu Dawud RA has quoted the well known Hadith concerning the division of the Muslim Ummah into seventy-three sects in his Sunan:
"Abu Amir al-Hawdhani said, "Mu'awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan (RA) stood among us and said, 'Beware! The Apostle of Allah (SAW) stood among us and said: 'Beware! The People of the Book before (you) were split up into 72 sects, and this community will be split up into 73, seventy-two of them will go to Hell and one of them will go to
Another version of the above Hadith is as follows:
"Awf ibn Malik reported that the Prophet SAW said, 'The Jews split into 71 sects: one will enter
And in another version of this Hadith the Prophet SAW goes onto say that the saved sect, "...Are those who follow my and my Sahabah's path" (Tirmidhi)
Imam Muslim RA has related in his Sahih a Hadith on the authority of Hudhaifah ibn al-Yaman RA who said:
"People used to ask the Messenger of Allah (SAW) about the good times, but I used to ask him about (the) bad times fearing lest they overtake me. I said, 'Messenger of Allah, we were in the midst of ignorance and evil, and then Allah brought us this good (time through Islam). Is there any bad time after this good one?' He said, 'Yes'. I asked, 'Will there be a good time again after that bad time?' He said, 'Yes, but therein will be a hidden evil.' I asked, 'What will be the evil hidden therein?' He said, '(That time will witness the rise of) the people who will adopt ways other than mine and seek guidance other than mine. You will know good points as well as bad points.' I asked, 'Will there be a bad time after this good one?' He said, 'Yes. (A time will come) when there will be people standing and inviting at the gates of Hell. Whoso responds to their call, they will throw them into the fire.' I said, 'Messenger of Allah (SAW), describe them for us.' He said, 'All right. They will be a people having the same complexion as ours and speaking our language.' I said, `Messenger of Allah (SAW), what do you suggest if I happen to live in their time?' He said, 'You should stick to the main body of the Muslims and their leader' I said, 'If they have no (such thing as the) main body of the Muslims and have no leader?' He said, 'Separate yourself from all these factions, though you may have to eat the roots of trees until death comes to you and you are in this state.'"
(NB-It is not likely that there will be an absence of a Jama'ah, since I have already quoted the Prophet, peace be upon him, as saying: 'A group of people from my Ummah will continue to fight in obedience to the command of Allah, remaining dominant over their enemies. Those who will oppose them shall not do them any harm. They will remain in this condition until the Hour overtakes them.')
Imam Muslim RA relates on the authority of Abu Hurairah RA that the Prophet SAW said:
"'Whoever is disobedient, and departs from the majority, and then dies, has died in a state of Jahiliyyah."
Imam Muslim RA also relates the following Hadith on the authority of Ibn Shurayh RA:
"After I am gone, there will come days of corruption and turmoil. When you see people damaging the unity of the Community of Muhammad SAW, you must fight them, whoever they may happen to be."
Imam Ahmad RA and Abu Dawud RA said that Abu Dharr RA reported the Prophet SAW as saying:
"He who separates from the main body (of the Ummah) by even a hand's breadth from the Community he throws off Islam from his neck."
Umar RA reported that on one occasion Rasulullah SAW stood up among them and said:
"Whoever among you desires the centre of
Arfajah RA reported Rasulullah SAW as saying:
"...that Allah's hand is over the Jama'ah and the Devil is with whoever deviates from the Jama'ah." (Collected by Imam al-Tabarani)
Mu'adh ibn Jabal RA reported that Rasulullah SAW said:
"The Devil is like a wolf among humans as a wolf is among sheep; it snatches the stray sheep. So beware of the paths which branch off and adhere to the Jama'ah, the masses and the masjid." (Riwayat Ahmad)
Al-Harith as-Ashari RA reported that Rasulullah SAW said:
"I bid you to do five things: to remain attached to the main body (Jama'ah of Muslims), listen to your ruler (the Khalif of the Islamic state) and obey him, and migrate, and fight in the way of Allah. And he who detaches himself from the main body of the Muslims (Jama'ah) to the extent of one span of hand, he in fact, throws off the yoke of Islam from his neck, and he who calls with the call of ignorance, he is one from the denizens of Hell beyond doubt, even if he observes fast and says prayers and considers himself as a Muslim." (Musnad Ahmad)
Abdullah ibn Umar RA reported Rasulullah SAW as saying:
"Follow the great mass (as-Sawad al-Azam) for he who kept himself away from it, in fact would be thrown in Hell Fire." (Ibn Majah, Mishkat)
The Ulama have clearly described that As-Sawad al-Azam means - the largest group of the learned scholars and pious persons whose opinions are held in high esteem in Islam.
Sufyan ibn Uyayna RA narrated from Abdul-Malik ibn Umayr RA from Abdur Rahman ibn Abdullah ibn Mas'ud RA from his father RA, that the Prophet SAW said:
"Allah will grant prosperity to His servant who hears my words, remembers them, guards them, and hands them on. Many a transmitter of law is no lawyer (faqih) himself, and many may transmit law to others who are more versed in the law than they. The heart of a Muslim shall never harbour vindictive feelings against three: sincerity in working for Allah; faithfulness to Muslims; and conformity to the community of believers (Jama'ah) - their call shall protect (the believers) and guard them from (the Devil's) delusion.'" (Darimi, Ibn Hanbal, Mishkat-ul-Masabih, Bayhaqi)
Thus we must understand:
Rasulullah SAW is the leader of the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah.
The Sahabah RA were all Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah.
The Tabi'in RA and the Tabi-Tabi'in were all Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah.
All of the great Muhaddithin RA were Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah.
The Imams of the four Madhabs are indeed Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah.
Also, the two Imams of Aqidah i.e. Imam Maturidi RA and Imam Ashari RA were both Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah.
Hundreds of thousands of profoundly learned Ulama and Awliya coming after them all belonged to the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah.
For a Muslim to enter