Egotistical Sectarianism

The following passage is quite profound:

“And people make mistakes in these matters, because they understand the apparent titles of actions present in the Book and the Sunnah, but they do not know their essential realities. Many memorize texts of knowledge, the greatest of which is the Qur'an, but do not have enough of an understanding or belief that would distinguish them from others who did not memorize the Qur'an or gain Sacred Knowledge… And there is another principle here: It is that not every action that begets kashf (unveiling) is better than an action that does not beget kashf. For that every kashf not used to assist in God’s religion is part of the enjoyments of this life, and [in this sense] could be granted to disbelievers [therefore not making kashf a criterion of being in God’s favor].”

Who do you think said this? Imam Al-Ghazali? No. Imam Al-Muhasibi? One more guess. Imam Al-Haddad? Wrong again. This quote appears in the 11th volume of the Fatawa of Imam Ibn Taymiyyah in a 2004 edition, pages 397 and 398, printed in Saudi Arabia.

Has it sunk in yet? Imam Ibn Taymiyyah is talking about people getting stuck at outward meanings without understanding ultimate realities. And did I just read kashf? This may be hard to believe for some people. The rampant sectarianism dividing Muslims has little to do with objectively justifiable differences and more to do with subject projections on others. Since we are playing jeopardy, try this:

“As for how [the student is to shake hands with the shaykh], the Sunnah is for the hands to firmly grasp each other to indicate support for one another. But you [followers of some Sufi tariqas] make it with the fingers, and turn one of the hands and kiss it, which is disliked based on the relied upon opinion and not considered part of the Sunnah of shaking hands according to any of the scholars. Worse than that is following this kiss [of the hand] with putting the forehead on it, which is something that has the likeness of prostration – in fact, such a thing is exactly like prostration. Hence, it is impermissible due to this likeness of prostration to it, especially given that scholars have made impermissible a lesser act than this, which is bowing the head due to its similarity [to the bow in prayer].”

Sounds like Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, right? But it is not. May be Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim? Not quite. Shaykh ibn Baz? Still wrong. That passage is from Uddat Al-Mureed As-Sadiq (Provision of the Sincere Seeker) by Sidi Ahmad Zarruq in the 2007 edition, pages 73 and 74, printed in Lebanon. It should be noted here that this print was edited by a scholar that follows the Shadhili and Darqawi tariqas, and Sidi Ahmad Zarruq himself was a follower of the Shadhili tariqa, having written numerous works on it.

The modern world is characterized by a reductionist approach to matters of inquiry, combined with an ethnocentric view of the other. It is reductionist because it assumes that knowing the part will bring about an understanding of the whole. It is ethnocentric because it assumes the moral high ground in its evaluation of the other.

If one spends the time and energy to go through scholarly works exalted by different Muslims, they will arrive at a puzzling conclusion. On the whole, all the scholars are more or less saying the same things. They differ in their depths of understanding and ways of expression, which is where most of their differences lie. Where they do have divergent positions in branches of theology or jurisprudence, their differences stem from perspectives that can only be explained philosophically, which only a few people can grasp. After all, how is it that prominent scholars referencing the same Qur'an and Sunnah can differ? They can, and this is not surprising. The problem is not in their differences. It is in how these differences are handled.

Intellects differ in aptitudes, and people have different perspectives. If the message of Islam is going to be a universal message, the simplest understanding of theology that asserts the oneness of God and the final Message of the Beloved ﷺ must be sufficient for one to be saved. What we cannot do is engage in anathematization against one another merely because we have understood our simple creed at different depths.

The Qur'an is filled with stories of people that have come before us. These were not meant to be bedtime stories. Their purpose is to warn us of the archetypes of human behaviour and how we can get ourselves destroyed. “God sent Prophets carrying with them the Book with Truth to judge between people in matters of their dispute. But it was no other than those to whom it was given who, led by envy against each other, disputed it after the clear signs had come to them” [2:213]. It is interesting to note here that most Muslims try to assert their understanding as the clear one, and rejecting it would be a sign of arrogance. However, the reason for the dispute in the first place as mentioned in the verse is envy of the other. The Arabic phrase used in the verse literally means, “oppressing one another.”

When different madhabs (schools of jurisprudence, i.e., Hanafi, Maliki, etc.) are considered sects, and different understandings of matters related to branches of theology are made into core issues and considered enough to declare a Muslim outside of Islam altogether, something went really wrong in the intellectual and spiritual education of the Ummah. This is further exacerbated by the rise of a YouTube generation, which gets its impressions about other Muslims through videos uploaded by people who are more interested in sensationalism to gain a dollar than in spreading anything of positive substance.

The passages at the beginning of this article should be reflected on. As a consequence of our irrational sectarianism, many of us are depriving ourselves of immense benefit that we could be gaining from different scholars. Selective readings and labels can give us false impressions of one another, and further fuel our antagonisms. It is about time we all get over ourselves, and stop manufacturing arguments that entrench us into more egotistical sectarianism.

Mohamed Ghilan will be at the 5th Annual Pearls of the Qur'an Conference on April 18-20, moderating the session, "Keeping the Text in Context", where a diverse panel of scholars will address the divisive issues putting our community at risk and offer advice on how to move forward.