As people we can all admit to stereotyping, and labeling at some point. Our message boards and social media bear testament to this. The more technology eases communication, we conversely find social trends of isolation rising. A recent study of Facebook users found that the amount of time you spend on the social network is inversely related to how happy you feel throughout the day. In our current communal malaise we question the speaker and not what is spoken, creating virtual and real inquisition panels with virtual executioners to keep deviance at bay. Labeling can have negative impact on how individuals see each other and themselves, hampering bonds. Stigma is a powerfully negative label that changes a person's self-concept and social identity. Often those in a perceived majority or norm seek to alienate any perceived variance via the vehicle of labeling.
Imam Shatibi (d. 1388 CE), the great jurist and legal theorist, spoke of this as a “disease of sectarianism and labeling ”:
Thus, I was in a situation resembling that of the famous Imam, ‘Abd al-Rahman bin Battah, the Hafiz, with the people of his time. He describes that himself, saying, “I wondered at my situation, whether traveling or resident, with those close to me and those far off, those who knew me and those who did not. I found in Makkah, Khurasan and other places that most of the people I met, whether they agreed with me or opposed me, invited me to follow what they were saying and to confirm it and bear witness to it.
♦ If I confirmed what he was saying and gave him permission in that (as the people of this time do), he would label me ‘one in agreement.’
♦ If I had reservations about a single letter of his words or a single one of his actions, he would label me an ‘opponent.’
♦ If I mentioned regarding any of his words or deeds that the Book and Sunnah have been related different to that, he would label me a Khariji.
♦ If I recited a hadith to him regarding Tawhid, he would label me an anthropomorphist.
♦ If it were regarding Iman (Faith), he would label me a Murji’i.
♦ If it were regarding actions, he would label me a Qadari (denier of Predestination).
♦ If it were regarding Gnosis, he would label me a Karrami.
♦ If it were regarding the virtues of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, he would label me a Nasibi.
♦ If it were regarding the virtues of the Prophet’s Family, he would label me a Rafidi (Shi’i).
♦ If I kept silent about the explanation of an ayah or hadith, only replying with ayat and hadith, he would label me a Zahiri (Exoterist, Literalist).
♦ If I replied with something besides ayat and hadith, he would label me a Batini (Esoterist).
♦ If I replied with ta’wil (interpretation), he would label me an Ash’ari.
♦ If I rejected the ayat and hadith [i.e. the questioner’s understanding of it], he would label me a Mu’tazili (Rationalist).
♦ If the hadith were regarding traditions such as recitation [of al-Fatihah behind the Imam], he would label me a Shafi’i.
♦ If it were regarding Qunut [in Witr Prayer rather than in Fajr], he would label me a Hanafi.
♦ If it were regarding the [uncreated nature of the] Qur’an, he would label me a Hanbali.
♦ If I mentioned the strongest view amongst all the reports which people took as their position, for there is no prejudice or favouritism in legal rulings and hadith, they would say: he has insulted our integrity!
Further, more amazing than all that is they label me with whatever they wish of all these labels after studying traditions (ahadith) of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) with me! If I agreed with any of them, others would show enmity to me. If I compromised with them all I would anger Allah, Blessed and Exalted, and they would avail me nothing with Allah. Therefore, I am holding fast to the Book and the Sunnah and I seek the forgiveness of Allah, besides Whom there is no god, being the Oft-Forgiving, Ever-Merciful!” This is the complete quote from Ibn Battah: it is as though he, Allah have mercy upon him, was speaking for everyone, for you rarely find a famous person of knowledge or outstanding personality who has not been accused of these matters or at least some of them. This is because desires sometimes permeate people opposed to the Sunnah; in fact, the reason for leaving the Sunnah is ignorance of it. The following of desires is dominant amongst people of dissension, and when this is so they accuse the person of Sunnah of not being from among its people! Further, they condemn his words and actions, attributing such things to him.
(From the introduction to Imam Shatibi’s Al-I’tisam (“Holding Fast”), translated by Usama Hasan)