Schisms and heterodoxy among Muslims

An etiological analysis & lessons from the past. 

One of Islam's major objectives is to achieve unity of mankind through unity of God. The first and essential step toward unity of mankind is the unity of the Muslim community (Umma.) Quran's exhortations to Muslims to remain united are stated in clear and unambiguous terms. "And hold fast, all together, unto the bond with Allah, and do not draw apart from one another. And remember the blessings, which Allah has bestowed upon you: how you were enemies, He brought hearts together, so that through His blessings you become brethren". (Al-Imran. 6:159 and Al-Anbiya. 21:92-93.) Islam's annoyance at those who tear apart the unity of the community "wide asunder piece by piece, --" (Al-Muminun. 23:52-52) is unmistakable. The condemnation of previous communities who have broken apart in sects also appears forcefully on multiple occasions. (Al-Anam. 6:159 and Al-Anbiya. 21:92-93.)

It is therefore surprising and perplexing to see how divided and torn apart the Muslim community is. Heterodoxy or departure from the original religious point of view of the Quran and Sunnah (The way) of Prophet Muhammad appears to be the rule rather than the exception. In fact sometimes it is difficult to identify a group that is universally accepted as truly representing the tenets of Quran. There are a multitude of Islamic and quasi-Islamic sects. In one instance an entirely new religion has evolved. This old and continuing phenomenon of discord and heterodoxy deserves close scrutiny and analysis.

Clustering of sects and movements according to etiology.

Although chronological and descriptive accounts of the various movements and sects in Islam are available and useful, it would be more instructive to look at them from a causative point of view. An attempt at understanding the reasons, which lead to the departures from the norm, would be more meaningful than a mere cataloging of beliefs and practices.

  1. Political discord about succession: The Kharajites and the Shias.

  2. Conceptual differences between "freedom of action" versus "Will of Allah." Asharites and Mutazalites.

  3. Mystic influences: Sufis and Barelvis.

  4. Back to the roots movements: Wahabis and Salafis.

  5. Modernizing movements. Syed Ahmed Khan's Aligarh Muslim University in India and Mohammed Abduh's original Salafiya movement in Egypt.

  6. Movements that sprang from charismatic leaders. Hashashians that were followers of Hasan Salah and Ahmadiyas that follow Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Groups that are looking for a savior or Khalifa like the Hizb ut Tahrir.

  7. The suicidal militant.

  8. The evangelists (Tablighis.)

  9. Miscellaneous: Qarmatians that were a communistic faith. Bahaism that started out as an offshoot of Islam is now a distinct and separate faith.

1. Political discord about succession.

In the first civil war fought among Muslims at Sifffin in 669 C.E (37 A.H), Ali and Muawiya agreed to settle the dispute about succession by arbitration. A group of puritans among the followers of Ali disagreed and broke away forming the first heterodoxic group in the history of Islam. They believed only God (Allah) could decide the issue of succession. How this could be accomplished is a mystery to me.

One of the beliefs of this group, "The Exitors" (Kharajiya) was that any Muslim who committed a major sin became de facto an apostate and earned the death penalty. Though sincere in their beliefs "The Exitors" were uncompromising and dogmatic and were responsible for much violence in early Islam. Their descendants are called Ibadites after an early leader Abdullah bin Ibad and are much more moderate in their views.

Political discord about succession also lead to the formation of the party of Ali (Shia of Ali) now simply called the Shia. The Shias account for approximately 10-15% of Muslims. They believe that the their religious or Imam has to be a direct descendant of Ali and is infallible. The Imam is the only source of religious instruction and guidance. There are many sub-sects among the Shias. The sub-sects are based largely on the number at which the chain of Imams is believed to have broken with the occultation, rather than death, of the last Imam in the chain. Iranians (Ithna Asharis or twelve Imamers) believe the chain broke with the 12th Imam. The "Ismailis" on the other hand claim the chain broke with the 7th Imam. The Ismailis consecrate the number 7 and point out that there are 7 heavens, 7 orifices in the head, 7 stages of knowledge, 7 major prophets and world goes around in cycles of 7 thousand years. Shia philosophy is highly chiliastic awaiting the return of the "occulted Imam." In the absence of the Imam his surrogate, for example the Ayatollah, has absolute authority. As a result of the massacre of Imam Husayn (Ali's son and Prophet Muhammad's grandson) and his followers at Karbala, there is also a pervasive sense of martyrdom. Annual commemoration of this massacre occurs in the first 10 days of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar.

2. Conceptual differences of opinion about "freedom of action versus the will of Allah."

Wasil ibn Ata broke off from his mentor Hasan al-Basari a famous teacher, and founded the Mutazalite movement. Italaza the root word for Mutazila means to secede. The issue at hand was the status of a Muslim who had committed a major sin. Was he as the Kharajites claimed an apostate and should be killed or was he merely a hypocrite as Hasan al-Basari taught? Wasil ibn Ata felt the status of that category of sinner was somewhere between those two positions.
Mutazalites were essentially rationalists and believed man had free will. They proclaimed Quran to have been "created in time and that it wasn't the uncreated word of Allah." Heavily influenced by Greek (Hellenistic) philosophy they applied reason to solve all problems. They were ascendant in the time of Khalifa al-Mamun in 212 A.H. and persecuted others. The next Khalifa, in whose reign Asharism took hold, in turn persecuted them.

Al-Ashari a former Mutazalite formed an anti-Mutazalite movement named after him. This school proposed "man has power over his will but has control over his responsibilities, even though they are willed by Allah." The famous Nizamiyah School was founded to propagate the Ashari viewpoint. Asharism is the prevalent viewpoint on man's free will in Islam today.

3. Mystic Influences.

Sufism is a reactive movement that arose to counter and soften the rigid and harsh ritualism of orthodox Islam. It injected a heavy dose of mysticism and is widely accepted as the "inner dimension" of Islam. Sufis are ascetic in their practices and their language is veiled and allusive. There is a liberal use of metaphors of wine and love in Sufi discourse. Dhikr (Trance) sessions are important in their practice. There are many Sufi sects in South and Central Asia and Iran. Most Sufis are Sunnis. Some Sufi practices appear to be influenced by Persian Shaminism and Indian Hinduism. In the Indian sub-continent the "Barelvis" follow many of the Sufi practices including use of music (Qawwali) and intercession by their teacher or Peer.

4. Back to the roots movements.

Wahabism founded a little over 200 years ago rejects all innovation in Islam after the third century from the Prophet Muhammad's time. They attack saint worship and believe in divine decree (Qadr) in all human endeavor. They are rigid in their interpretation of the Sharia (Islamic jurisprudence) and notoriously intolerant of Sufism and of innovation. One major reason for Wahabism's continued influence is its patronage by the Saudi royal family. Wahabism is the official creed of Saudi Arabia. An example of the literalist Wahabi interpretation of Islam is that women are denied the right to drive a car to "protect their dignity". The Deobandi movement of the Indian sub-continent is a watered down version of Wahabism.

Many of the politically active movements like the "Muslim Brotherhood" have "back to the roots philosophy" as their driving force. The rationale of these movements is that the way out of the current decline of the Muslim community is to go back to its origins.

5. Modernizing movements.

Other reformers feel that Muslim renaissance will come by way of modernization and finding creative solutions to new problems based on old principles (Ijtehad).

Syed Ahmed Khan, popularly known as Sir Syed, formed the Aligarh Muslim university with the intent of bringing Western education to Muslims. He was much vilified in his time but was remarkably successful. At the time of its formation many of the ruling elite in Pakistan were graduates of Aligarh.

Another important reformer, Mohammad Abduh and his disciple Rashid Rida in Egypt formed the Salafiya movement. They ascribed Quranic verses about human institutions to prophet's thinking rather than the word of Allah. The Salafiya movement has metamorphosed into a clone of Wahabism.

There have been a number of other reformers like Ali Shariati in the Shia tradition, Jamaluddin Afgahani who was a charismatic speaker but wrote little, the Pakistani scholar of Islamic thought Fazalur Rahman who did much of his work at the University of Chicago and among current scholars Khaled Abu Fadl who lives in California. However these reformers have been unable to generate populist reform movements and influence only a minority of Muslims.

6. Followers of charismatic leaders and groups that are looking for a savior.

Hashashians, consumers of Hashish (Assassins) were the followers of Hasan al-Salah. The followers of this creed were heavily indoctrinated in the Ismaili brand of Shia Islam. Active in 1112 C.E. (480A.H.) they were believed to follow their leaders instructions unto death. The stories about them claim that would take Hashish and would go unhesitatingly on missions of assassination as well as suicide. Most of these stories appear to be fiction perpetrated by the Crusaders who were constantly harassed by daring raids from this group. There survivors of Hashashians are called Khojas whose titular head is the Agha Khan. They would be considered a quasi-Islamic sect.

Mirza Ghulam Ahmed 1922 C.E. (1290 A.H.) started out as reformer. Later he declared himself many things at different times including "Prophet", "Mahdi of Islam", the promised "Messiah of Christians" and "Krishna of Hindus". The Ahmediya movement is basically a personality cult and has broken onto Qadiyani and Lahori factions. The state of Pakistan has declared it un-Islamic. However this has been successfully challenged in South African courts. It is quite likely that just as the Bahais did earlier, the Ahmediyas may declare themselves a separate religion.

The "Hizb ut Tahrir" is a relatively new group that has as its main goal the establishment of the Caliph (Khalifa) who will be the savior for the Muslims. They feel Muslims should unite in one Islamic state that is administered by Sharia. Anyone who governs by non-Islamic law is considered either a transgressor (Fasiq) or a disbeliever (Kafir.) Their economic system calls for the state revenues to be collected from multiple sources including booty of war (Maal-e-Ghanimat.) It is an important and largely peaceful resistance movement in the Russian Stans. In the US and West they have a small but vocal following that is known for its tactic of disrupting meetings of other groups and organizations that they consider hypocritical.

7. The suicidal militant.

Islam's rejection of suicide is clear and categorical. This rejection is based on the belief that life is a sacred gift from God that man may not end even if he is in pre-terminal distress. Islam's rejection of killing or even harming the innocent is equally clear and forceful.

"I f one slayeth another for other than man-slaughter or for spreading disorder in the land, it shall be as if he hath slain all mankind. But if one saveth a life of a single person, it shall be as if he hath saved the life of all mankind" (Al-Maida. 5:32)

It is therefore all the more surprising that the 21st century has seen the use of suicide attacks by militant Muslims to fight oppression. The desire to fight oppression is understandable as is the sense of powerlessness and humiliation in the face of hypocrisy and remorseless brutality. However the use of suicide attacks that additionally have caused many innocent deaths is difficult to understand.

These groups justify attacks on the military and civilians by designating the target groups or nations as those that are spreading "disorder" (Fasad) on earth. One scholar, citing civilian Palestinian deaths including the killing of large numbers of children, has rationalized suicide attacks within the state of Israel but not outside. The suicide attackers see themselves as martyrs to a noble cause and the act of suicide as altruistic. They appear to have rejected many other political and economic non-violent means available to bring about change. They forget that Prophet Muhammad never sent any one on a suicide mission. Islam honors bravery and martyrdom however Prophet Muhammad always prayed for the safe return of those who had go into combat.

8. The evangelists (Tablighis.)

The second largest congregation of Muslims after the Hajj is the gathering (Ijtema) of the followers of the "Tablighi Jamaat." Formed in the mid 19th century in India to evangelize new Muslims in the villages of North India it has become immensely popular and claims a following in the millions. The Tablighis follow a very structured routine that is simple though demanding. They are very particular about how they dress eat, sleep and interact with others. Their program has six steps to it that include bearing witness (Kalimah), performing ritual prayers (Salat), acquisition of knowledge and remembrance of Allah (Ilm-o-Zikr), social conduct that requires respect of all Muslims (Ikram-e-Muslimeen), sincerity of intent (Ikhlas-e-Niyyat), and sparing time for Allah (Tafriq-e-Waqt). This last requirement demands that the followers go away in groups for days to weeks at a time evangelizing other Muslims as well as rejuvenating their own faith. It is not uncommon to hear an announcement that a Tablighi Jamaat is visiting the local Masjid and a sermon from one of the leaders of the group will follow the prayer service.

9. Miscellaneous.

There have seen many different movements in Muslim history that defy easy stratification. An example is the Qarmatians that were a communistic sect. They shared property and wives by way of initiation into the group. Their claim to infamy lies in stealing the black stone (Hajr-e-Aswad) of Kaaba for over 20 years.

Islam influenced many of the local religions and traditions and sparked monotheistic movements in Hinduism. However a new religion Bahaism (also called Baabism) also emerged from it. Syed Ali Mohammad the charismatic founder of Bahaism had a Muslim background. Later he declared himself the gateway or "Baab" through which the divine truth is revealed. At various times he also called himself "Mahdi", "Buddhist Maitrya" and "Shah Behram of Zoraster".

Lessons from past experiences.

A retrospective review of the various schisms leaves one with the impression that although some of these movements were truly bizarre most were an understandable result of the growth of a community. They were a result of diversity and vigor in religious discourse and the influence of the faiths and traditions Islam came into contact with during its spread. It is also striking how poorly these variances from the norm were tolerated. The extent of persecution the heterodoxic groups were subjected to was sometimes extreme. In many instances the persecution drove the heterodoxic group to break away completely from the main stream and form a different cult or even a new religion. It is also apparent that most of these schisms could have been prevented or at least modulated if the larger orthodox community of the time had practiced simple tolerance and compassion.

1. Political discord about succession:

Political discord is avoidable by compromise for politics is indeed the art of compromise. Shia and Sunni discord may with good justification be called an accident of history. There are many areas of commonality between these two communities. The challenge is to focus on these areas of commonality and unite.

Political discord is not just a historical phenomenon. There are many areas of political discord in today's Muslim world. It is worth noting that states with representative governments are able to deal with the political discord best.

2. Conceptual differences:

Honest conceptual disagreements will predictably occur in any large religious community. It is the intolerance of other's point of view that results in much discord and sometimes bloodshed. By cultivating the simple art of respecting honest differences of opinion much of this discord could have been avoided. Arguably honest differences of opinion are healthy in the growth of any community. The challenge, as has been observed, is to disagree without being disagreeable. This is an area where Muslims may learn valuable lessons both from the ethics of disagreement the early companions of Prophet Muhammad practiced as well as from the prevalent culture in the west that respects differences opinion. A true paradox is that Muslims have shown more tolerance toward non-Muslims than toward each other.

3. Mystic influences:

Sufism is the vehicle through which Islam spread in most of South Asia and central Asia. It remains an important vehicle for the spread of Islam in the US and West. It continues to provide spiritual solace to millions. Its contributions to Islam are massive and it is clearly a part of Islam.

Nevertheless it is worth noting that the poet/philosopher Iqbal considered it one of the major weaknesses affecting Muslims. Many orthodox Muslims share this viewpoint. Nonetheless Sufis should be accepted it the main stream of Islam. The followers of Sufism should feel comfortable in all Mosques (Masajids) and their leaders should share the Friday podium with others. Sufis tend to be intolerant of Wahabi/Salafi Islam. They should take a hard look at some of the rituals that are heavily influenced by Hindu and Shaman practices as well reevaluate doctrines of intercession and self-annihilation.

4. Back to the roots movements:

It is easy to understand the evolution of the back to the roots movements. These are a reaction to the mutations that have arisen in Islam over time as well as a yearning for Islam's ascendant past. If they are able to modulate their extremism they could play a healthy role in the evolution of the Muslim community. The Sufi-Salafi divide is one of the major areas of friction among today's Muslims.

5. Modernizing movements:

Though diametrically opposed to the Whabi/Salafi movements in their approach the modernizing movements share the objective of reforming the community and restoring its strength. Their approach at reforming Islam is completely different from the Wahabi group. They use the innovative or "Ijtehadi" approach as opposed to the literalist or "Taqlidi" approach of the Wahabi/Salafi groups. The modernist approach provides the best chance of re-energizing Muslims. The modernist scholars, however, have been singularly unsuccessful in producing a populist movement and have remained largely elitist. If they could spawn a populist movement or teaching institution it would be of immense benefit to Islam and Muslims.

6. Movements that sprang from charismatic leaders and the Khilafa group:

As long as there are gullible and naive people around charismatic leaders can find fertile ground for their maverick ideologies. Additionally many Muslims are looking for a charismatic leader, in some instances Khilafa, to be their savior. These charismatic leaders and sects exploit this popular yearning in establishing their hold on their followers. The only antidote to this is increasing the level of education and sophistication among the general populace. The orthodox mainstream should keep lines of communication open with these fringe groups rather than spend its energies in unproductive confrontation. The more we reject these groups the more likely it is that they will break off completely.

7. The suicidal militant:

The suicidal militants spring from young men with seething and legitimate anger toward the oppressors of Muslims all over the world. These violent followers of the non-violent religion of Islam are an anachronism. Their suicidal missions are reactive to the injustice they are faced with and not the result of an accepted theology or philosophy. Restoration of justice and fair play within nations and in international relations will largely vaporize the motivation for a suicidal mission.

8. The evangelists. (Tablighis):

Some form of evangelism is an inevitable part of any religion. The intellectual leaders of this group have the opportunity to channel its enormous energy to practical piety like building homes for the homeless, teaching the illiterate, running food kitchens and shelters.

Will Muslims ever reach the degree of education and sophistication necessary to avoid schisms? The answer is unclear. However post 9/11 Muslims do not have the luxury of remaining divided.

The best chance of a moderate movement to emerge that would overcome disunity and heterodoxy among Muslims may still be in the West. The level of education among Muslims in the West is higher than in any Muslim majority country. They have free access to literature and varied opinion. This allows them to examine differing ideologies first hand without the filter of a biased opinion or censorship of the state or the intellectual oppression of the community that is present in most Muslim majority states. Muslims in the West are also influenced by the local traditions of freedom of expression and defense of other's point of view though not necessarily the Muslim viewpoint. A maverick in the west is often tolerated and sometimes even celebrated rather than ostracized.

The solution for heterodoxy does not merely lie in an attitudinal change. The emergence of a model Muslim state that is just, pluralistic, practices democracy based on Islamic principles (Shuracracy), is successful economically and has clout and dignity in world affairs would be the best antidote for many of the extreme trends among Muslims. Muslims would look to this successful role model and may stop trying to replicate the past.

Would the monumentally self centered and often Machiavellian worldview of the dominant political culture in the West allow that to happen? Would a Muslim state overcome its internal challenges and emerge as a role model for Muslims today? Once again the answers are unclear. Currently the only candidate state for this role is Malaysia. Turkey under the leadership of modernist Muslims and not the illiberal secular military that rules it currently also has a remote chance.

A united Muslim community (Umma) clearly is the first step before Muslims may fulfill the Quranic mandate of uniting the entire mankind.

Javeed Akhter, is the Executive Director of the Chicago based International Strategy and Policy Institute and he is the author of the book "The seven phases of Prophet Muhammad's Life,"

Suggested reading.

1. Glasse, Cyril. The Concise Encyclopedia Of Islam. Stacey International, London 1989.
2. Farah, Caesar E. Islam. Barron's 1987.
3. Iqbal, Mohammed. The Reconstruction Of religious Thought In Islam. Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi. 1981.
4. Holt, P. M. et al. The Cambridge History Of Islam. Cambridge University Press. 1980.
5. Rahman, Fazlur. Islam And Modernity. The University Of Chicago press. 1982.

Original posting: 2 April 2004


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Older Comments:
Assalam Alaikum Warahmatullah...Peace&bessings be upon Muhammad,his family,companions&US...Alhamdu Lillah,jazakAllah khairan.Islam is really the only solution& the future but Not s.e.c.u.l.a.r.i.s.m

Muslims are Muslims we must live as Muslims and die as Muslims. That is what Allah wants us to do. Whose words can be better than he who calls people towards Allah and does amalas Saleha and says he is among the Muslims.

Y.P. FROM U.S.A. said:
One of Islam's major objectives is to achieve unity of mankind through unity of God.

... and what a nightmare that would be!

"...I have already proved that it is an Islamic religion, one which
was commended by the Prophet to his followers. In fact, those who,
without any sanction from the Prophet, laid the foundation of a
'Saqifa', were themselves politicians, and not the followers of the
Holy family of the Prophet. It is characteristic of Iranians that
they look into things.
When they are convinced of their truth, they accept them, as they
accepted Islam when Iran was conquered by the Arabs. They were not
forced to do it. They gave up 'Zoroastrianism' and sincerely
embraced Islam. Similarly, when they were convinced by logic and by
'Ali's invaluable services, they accepted 'Shi'as'ism'. Contrary to
the assertion of many of your writers, the Iranians did not accept
'Ali during the caliphate of Harunu'r-Rashid, or, Mamunu'r-Rashid.
Alas. If only all Muslims paid heed to these things, we wouldn't be
divided today.

And I (also) heard him say on the Day of Khaibar: 'I would certainly
give this standard to a person who loves Allah and his Messenger,
and Allah and his Messenger love him, too.' He (the narrator) said:
'We had been anxiously waiting for it, when he (the Holy Prophet)
said: Call 'Ali. He was called and his eyes were inflamed. He
applied saliva to his eyes and handed over the standard to him, and

Below are some statements from the book "Peshawar Nights."
"....Shi'as', as you know, literally means "follower." One of your
greatest 'ulama', Firuzabadi, in his 'Qamusu'l-Lughat', says, "The
name 'Shi'as' commonly means every person who is a friend of 'Ali
and his 'Ahlul Bayt..."
"...Jalalu'd-din Suyuti, in his 'Durru'l-Mansur' quotes Abu'l-Qasim
'Ali Ibn Hasan (commonly known as Ibn Asakir Damishqi), who quotes
Jabir Ibn Abdullah Ansari, one of the greatest companions of the
Prophet, as saying that he, and others were sitting with the Holy
Prophet when 'Ali Ibn Abu Talib came in. The Holy Prophet said: "I
swear by Him Who controls my life that this man ('Ali) and his
'Shi'as' shall secure deliverance on the Day of Resurrection..."
"...Then he said: 'Ali is the foremost of you all in belief, the most
regardful about Allah's pledges, the most just of you all in
deciding matters of the people, the most equitable of you in
distributing allowances among the people, and the highest of you all
in rank before Allah..."'
The Shia debater in "Peshawar Nights" continues ".....You have been
unkind in saying that 'Shi'as'ism' is a political religion, and that
Iranian 'Zoroastrians' accepted it in order to save themselves from
Arab domination. You have said so in blind conformity to your
predecessors..." (to be contd.!)

Just had a comment here, the origins of Shiaism are not political,
they are spiritual. Also, it wasn't just the Kharijites that were
opposed to (or rather turned against) Ali and his followers, but the
Ummayyad rulers, like Abu Sufyan's descendants, and the former
himself was in opposition to the prophet, and only converted to
Islam reluctantly when he had no choice.
Islamic sects, cannot ignore the reality, which is that the prophet
pbuh himself had chosen Ali and his progeny as the best guides for
Muslims. There are numerous sources and traditions, both Sunni and
Shia to confirm this.
Two major Sunni sources, like Sahih Muslim and also Bukhari confirm
that the prophet said " I leave behind the Quran and my Ahlul-Bayt,
and if you hang on to these you will never go astray"
Here is also a passage from WIKIPEDIA and not only is the incident
of Mubahila, but also Hadees e Kisa telling us something:
"This hadith has been narrated on the authority of Shu'ba with the
same chain of transmitters. Amir b. Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas reported on
the authority of his father that Muawiya b. Abi Sufyin appointed
Sa'd as the Governor and said: "What prevents you from abusing Abu
Turab (Hadrat 'Ali)?" Whereupon be said: "It is because of three
things which I remember Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him)
having said about him that I would not abuse him, and even if I find
one of those three things for me, it would be more dear to me than
the red camel. I heard Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) say
about 'Ali as he left behind him in one of his campaigns (that was
Tabuk). Ali said to him: 'Allah's Messenger, you leave me behind
along with women and children.' Thereupon Allah's Messenger (may
peace be upon him) said to him: 'Aren't you satisfied with being
unto me what Aaron was unto Moses, but with this exception that
there is no prophet after me?' to be next post!

Great article, but I am a former Ahmadi who converted to Islam, and I know them very well, they will never declare themselves as a seperate religion, even though their theology is clearly against the fundemental beliefs of al-Islam. But yeah, we needs to get out of sectarian and embrace al-Islam.

The article is rather too brief to analyze the differences amongst the muslims. Just stating of the "facts" doesnt clearly spell out the differences that actually led to these differences in the first place.

The political discord about succession is rather ill stated. This discord didnt arise after the battle of siffeen but rather when the Holy Prophet (PBUH) passed away.

It was there that some of the well known companions of the Holy Prophet ran away to the Saqifa to decide on the succession which was then given to Abu Baqr while Ali and a band of close companions of the Holy Prophet stayed to carry out the burial of the Holy Prophet.

The shias believe that the right of succession belongs undisputedly to Ali and was given to him after the prophet's last pilgrimage at the plains of Ghadeer where the prophet announced:
"Do I not have more right over the believers than what they have over themselves?" People cried and
answered: "Yes, O' Messenger of God." Then Prophet (PBUH) held up the hand of Ali and said: "Whoever I am his leader (Mawla), Ali is his
leader (Mawla). O' God, love those who love him, and be hostile to those who are hostile to him." (Sahih Tirmidhi, v2, p298, v5, p63)

The sunnis however believe the appointment of Abu baqr at Saqifa bani sa'ad to be genuine. It is at this point that the two sects split.


We deviate the moment we try to explain as the Christian theologists do. I heard one good friend of mine saying that the concept of Tabligh came from the last Prophet's hijrah. Now I couldn't make a head or tail out of that explanation, but it seems many people do!!

We deviate the moment we stop our own judgment and rely totally on Imam's for explanations or comments (don't get me wrong, I am not against Imams, but I am against giving up one's own judgment only). I heard people saying it is forbidden in the Qur'an for women to visit graves or to be leaders. These people get surprised when I tell them that no such things are in the Qur'an. They are simply mingling up Fatwas (which are naturally debatable and it should be) with the Qur'an.

I heard people say let's go back to the Sahaba's time. Well there is no time travel machine!! It sounds much reliable if we say that let's apply the Glorious Qur'an and authentic hadiths in the problems, concerns and questions of present day life.

Yes, that's the key word. Stick to the Qur'an and authentic hadiths. And when you don't have a wonderful 'theology' (??) or explanation out of them, just say, "I don't know!!!" It is sticking to these two wonderful sources that paves the simple straight way.

This is quite an incoherent analysis, and I really was quite surprised it was even posted.

Just to give a comparison of the level of articles I am reading, check these out:

These articles embody the type of analysis and brilliance we so lack in most Muslim writers.


It is amazing how the ONE religion Allah has brought, has now come in its many forms. But we all believe in the major beliefs. Had Muslims held altogether to the Qur'an without following many of these "secondary documents", there wouldn't be such a big division. This is one reason why we get "pushed around".


Was Muhammad REALLY a Prophet? If so, does Nabi or Prophet mean to Prophicy? We all understand what Messenger means and the message was simpley "la ila ha ill Allah". But what does Prophet mean?
Did he prophicy the futer? Did he really say, "if a Black Slave with kinky hair becomes Your Leader, follow him"?
Did he really say that?
If so, what did he mean?
Did he mean that for today?
Imam W. Deen Mohammed was born "Mohammed" and is the descendent of Slaves.
In fact, African Americans are still "slaves" economically, socially, intellectually and spritually but, I guess, nobody believes that hadith about the Black Man being a Leader, or an Imam to them.
But has that hadity ever been examined about following a black?
I wonder

In the name of Allah, The Gracious, The Merciful
salaam wa rahamh: May Allah(swt) bless you for your efforts in putting out the article on 'Schism and Heterodoxy in Islam'. I found it rather ironic that you quoted Allah(swt)'s word in calling the Muslim ummah to unity, but at the same time you branded a very large number of 'Muslims' as deviant and sacrilegious. In my humble opinion, we can ill afford such criticizm, while the only thing we can do is perhaps criticize individual actions of Muslims that are clearly against the fundamental principles of Islam.
By branding the 'shia' school of thought as 'schism' or 'heterodoxy', my dear brother in Islam, you have included not only a vast majority of Iranians Muslims(which you have mentioned), but a majority of Lebenese Muslims, Iraqi Muslims, Syrian Muslims, Bahrani Muslims and a large number of Muslims from India and Pakistan and Hijaz, many of whom according to the definition of Islam are devout Muslims
Ironically, 'shia' Muslims, like all others, also believe that they stuck to the Sunna of the Prophet while others desisted. So where does this get us? Just look at the pathetic situation in Iraq. Can anyone doubt that if we unite under the banner of 'Tawhid', we would be such a force that nothing could penetrate us? Can we really afford discussing differences, or are we all living under the wishful thinking that Allah(swt) is on 'our' side.
When I went to post my note I read in your 'points to remember, 'do not condemn or degrade other beliefs.' Some of your information on the 'shias' was misleading and inaccurate. InshAllah, I pray that we can all 'hold fast to Allah's rope ALTOGETHER' not just you or me, but rather all those who sincerely believe they are the followers of ISLAM!. While this issue is not quiet as simplistic, I am disheartened and disappointed that Islamicity, the e-community that I have come to honor, would publish information that is contrary to bringing the ummah together.wsa

Vague and general statements made about Soofiya, or those who practice Ehsan, tassawuf. I believe that Sufi's exist all over the place, from Morocco, to Egypt, to Turkey, to Syria, to Uzbekistan, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Jordan. You cannot make general statemetns about groups and say that dhikr for sufi's is a trance kind of thing...yes it is the inner dimension of Islam...Wine is not Liberal for Sufi's, please I am not denying that there are many who do go into trances and may drink wine, Astagfirallah if I have made any wrong statements here, but the intercession by their peer is what you are referring to is to have a shaiykh, or spiritual leader, kind of like a teacher. IT's interpretation has been trashed and thrown around. Likewise the same has been done to salafi and wahhabi's.

Very good points in this article, but also very vague analyses as well. Thank you for letting me give my comments.

The Ahmadiyyas following Mirza Ghulam Ahmed have strayed from teh right path I agree. I cannot speak for other groups because I do not have the understanding of their values to the level at which I can pass such judgements though. But the Hizbut Tahrir as I understand was developed in search of a Khalifah, but the problem is that they do not believe in getting involved in the political process. There are problems which exist in every one of these groups listed I understand this and I am not simply pointing out one fact out of one group. This is just a matter of us taking criticism from one another and being okay with it.

In the end we must all hold fast to the rope of Allah.

I also believe that you cannot put the "suicidal militant" into a separate group as a movement or sect, because they have no affiliation to one particular group. Many of them are reactionary for some reason, Palestine adn now Iraq are obvious.

Otherwise I will say that it is a good attempt at drawing criticism to the Muslim community because we do need some sort of a wake up call. It doesn't hurt at all - yet there's always room for clarification and dialogue though.

There are many other groups/sects which were not listed here such as the 19ers, who believe that the number 19 plays some significant role in the Qur'an and they believe that it has been decoded into a mathematical formula and hte number 19 keeps showing up as some special annointed number with relevance and particular significance. These are dangerous ideas, especially when they remove the name of our Lord ALLAH from certain surahs in order to make the equation fit, or remove Bismillah'ir Rahman'ir Raheem from their formula's as well to justify the perfection of their equations.

Divine decree of destiny is one of hte 6 articles of faith. If one does not accept this and simply believes in free will and that "I as a human being" am the one who holds the power to make things happen alone.." that is wro


There is a strong western tone in the writing of this article, some vocabulary mistakes as well & some misnominations about Tazkia called Sufism as well as martyrdom mujahid that strikes military bases or ennemy soldiers should not be called suicide militant.
For details please go on the internet & check islamic sources for correct islamic terminologies & ignore western terminologies because they are not meant for you; they are meant for western masses & audiences. Let me briefly correct some common misconceptions & mistakes:
1-The exitors called Kharij are actually called Khawarij.2-Itazala not Italaza & yes it means to sucede. 3- Wael Ibn Ata illah not Wael Ibn Ata. 4-A position in between is actually Almanzila Bayna lmanzilatayn. 5-Khalifa is the representative of Muslims and Allah on earth; khilafa is the representation of Allah on earth. Dhikr is not trance please. It is remembrance of Allah; it is the corner stone of Islam performed to achieve tazkia (purification of nafs). The word sufism may have derived from Sofia (wisdom) & Soof (Wool)is neither a Quranic word nor is it a word found in Ahadith. Allah (swt) said in the Holy Qura'an :"Wa nafsin wa maa sawwaha fa alhamaha fujuraha wa takwaha; quad aflaha man zakkaha wa quad khab man dassaha". Zakka, tazkia & zakat intend to help Muslims purify their nafs (the self)& are Quranic words & again Sufism is not. Tazkia should be used instead & Ahl tazkia are wonderful Muslims & some of them were mujahideen. Some of the great leaders of Ahl tazkia are Imaam Ghazali, Abdul Allah Ibn Adham, Rabia al-Adawia, Abdul Alquader Al-Jilani, Abdul Rahmaan Al-Majdoob, Umaar Almukhtar, India's Shaik Ilias (founder of Jamaat Tabliq) and Egypt's Imaam Hassan Albanna(founder of the Muslim Brotherhood)and his successor Syed Qutb; Morocco's Shaik Abdul Salaam Yacine (founder of Jamaat Aladl wa Lihsane) & Pakistan's Abul A'la Almawdudi (fouder of Jamaati Islami)Lebanon's Shaik Hassan Fadl Allah (the founder of Hizbul Allah)

As-salaam Alaykum Wa Rahmatullahi brothers and sisers,
Mashallah, I am very happy with the aim and quality of the article. Only two quick things to say. Ibn Sabah and his followers were, in reality, romanticized by the Crusaders as the "Old Man of the Mountain" and his "fearless Assassins". They were slandered (wrongly, but out of legitimate feelings of fear and anger) mostly by the Ottoman Sunni and neighboring Shia who were their actual primary targets, contrary to the popular belief. The Ismaili elevated imamate practically to diety, turned away from the five pillars of diin, and in the Assassins sect set the precedent for today's suicide attackers. I respect their rights and care sincerely for many I have met; they strike me on the whole as capable, friendly and tolerant. However, since from their beginning they have gone well outside the limits of Islam, I cannot accept them as Muslims nor even as quasi-Muslims ("partially submitted totally to God, great and glorious", what does that mean anyhow?...sorry, only kidding). I pray that Allah, most compassionate, most merciful, will give them the Hidaya, and they will learn about and love Islam as they only think they do now.
Also, the position of Islam is much improving in Turkey under Erdogan, Alhamdulillah. The economy is rebuilding, and civil and religious freedoms are strong and growing. Advocates of modernism and education like Harun Yahya and Fethulla Gulen are enormously popular. Mr Gulen is even well known outside of Turkey for establishing free schools for Muslim and non-Muslim children the world over, advocating inter-faith dialogue, tolerance, and human rights (although it must be noted he is not allowed back in Turkey at present on charges he criticized Attaturk). So while it remains to be seen what will become of Tukey as a "Muslim leader", my hopes are high, and all other things aside the Turkish people can not be ruled out as a powerful force in the future of our Ummah.










Javed Akhtar has simplified the basis of differences among Muslims and has correctly stated that the most possible populist reformist movement is likey to come from an open society, like the West. This is precisely the reason most ulemas are against the West, as they see free thinking educated liberals depriving them of jobs!

it was good to read about the variety of muslims but it was also heartening to read that there has been and is still so much of hostility among the followers of Islam. I would aslo like to draw your attention to the regularly used words like sufi islam, shia islam, sunni islam and now militant islam, the trend started in the western media and it was unfortunate to see similar terminologies in the present article I think we should remember that Islam is Islam and its only the interpretation of Islam which has been changing, it is the followers of ISlam which have divided themselves into groups, therefore it would be better to say shia muslim, sunni muslim, militant muslim rather then the earlier ones.

also one thing which was missing in the article is the stress on the unity of the community. Absence of hadith highlighting that prophet predicted 72 sects needs special attention. i hope that authors in future will keep in mind that the community does not only expect FACTS from them but what is also expects is the solution, may Allah show all of right path.
Khuda Hafiz

Br. RH, please don't make blanket statements. I believe there are many Jews who agonize and feel the pain and suffering of the Palestinians. Not all Jews follow the principles of Zionism, there are surely many who remember what the Nazis did to them, and are compassionate humans.

Now Imagine the smile and laughter of a little child, look at your own if Allah has blessed you, this child is innocent and is a Muslim (one who submits to Allah) until his or her parents' indoctrinate them, nothing can justify taking this sweet life, a gift to be cherished.

Remember also that Moses the friend of Allah was brought up in the house of the Pharoah, the enemy of Truth.

Yes today we are weak, humiliated, oppressed but let us show that despite all that they throw our way we are strong in faith, upholders of the Truth and examplars of all that is best.

There's a saying where I come from which states "if a dog bites you, you don't have to bite it back".

Let us have faith in Allah and become the best of communities.


There are certain crucial mistakes in this article such as to equate Shiism with Iranians as if we look carefully we will note that the Shiism is the Madhab of Azerbaijan, Irak (most part, who are not Iranians), Turkey (Kars, Kurdish part and Alevis who are turks not Iranians), Bahrain, Kuwait, Pakistan, Indonesia, India, Caucasus, Afganistan, Lebanon, Syria ... so I think to argue that Iranians decided the number of Imams and Shia is associated with Iranians only is a grave mistake, no?

Salam Alikum

Thats perfect, islamic groups. All groups have the same niyyat calling to follow to Allah rules written in Quran, but unfortunately most of muslims all over the world are still fighting dividing among themselves & 4getting the main goal of Islam..

"And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah's favour on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make His Signs clear to you: That ye may be guided." Al-Imran 103

"And from among you there should be a party who invite to good and enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong, and these it is that shall be successful." Al-Imran 104

"And be not like those who became divided and disagreed after clear arguments had come to them, and these it is that shall have a grievous chastisement" Al-Imran 105

Salam Alikum

What a nice and well researched article. While I agree with most of the author's submissions, I like to make these comments;.

First the muslim MUST learn to call himself/herself a MUSLIM all of the time. Do not label yourself as anything other than muslim. Allah(SWT) has told us in no uncertain terms that a believer is identified by the label MUSLIM (the name chosen for us by prophet Ibrahim(AS)). Any deviation from this can only lead to kufr! Subhanal-lah. We all shoul begin now from here.

Second, the mention of Turkey as a good example of where Islamic renaiasance could began is absurd. As far as 'm concern Turkey deviated from the principal tenet of Islamic Government since the time of their renegaade leader kemal Attartuk..

The author made an interesting point on the muslims in America leading the way towards unifying the Ummaah, that I tend to lean towards not for the reason, that they have all the litrature which 'm contesting the criterea he used to make that judgement, but for the fact that the muslims in North America have enormous freedom learn and make, heavy but reasonable value judgements and execute them to greater extent more than any other place on earth.

As salamu Alaikum. knowledge is everything, i think all muslims should try as much as possible to gain both islamic and western knowledge accordingly and follow the ways of Allah.Wasalam

Article had some direction but I think it was a bit to text-book for commentry for me. There is more than what meets the eye and the divide is deeper than that. I think there ae more groups of people than sufis that have problems with the salafi/wahabi movement. And I think it is ignorant to call dhikr trance. LEAVE THE SUFIS ALONE THEY ARE ON ALEVEL THAT THE GENERAL WILL NOT UNDERSATAND UNLESS THE WANT TO FOLLOW THE PROPHET OUTSIDE HIS HOUSE AND INSIDE HIS HOUSE AND IF ALLAH PERMITS THEM TO UNDERSTAND THEM . AND SHEIKH ABDUL QADIR AL-JULANI WAS A SUFI AND A STRICT SUNNI SO WAS AL-GHAZALI

The majority o Ibadits are in Oman and some in North Africa, They follow Ahmed Bin Ibad who was a Tabi, his student Jabir Bin Zaid used to go to Aisha (R.A.A) to ask questions about the prophet. Their current Mufti(Imam Khalili) resides in Oman. For a long time time the moslim world cosidered them kafirs ( how ignorant can we be!) Imam Khalili went on air and chalanged any questions, after he proved himself a mufti in saudi called him up and apologized.

Some responses after reading this article were:

(1) Many religions of the world got corrupted in practice by their "followers." Islam too got victimized by its followers.
(2) One recurring phenomenon in Islamic history has been men who were more interested in grabbing power in this world than they were in striving for the Deen. This state of affairs prevails to this day--from the so-called religous leaders, to political leaders, to the power struggles in local, neighborhood masajids.
(3) Another recurring phenomena in the Muslim ummah have been the tendency towards anti-individualism, anti-freedom of thought, autocratic, irrationality, irreligious, anti-conscience at the micro/individual level attitudes.

The screaming need of the day and essential for the survival of the ummah is for the individual Muslim to take control of his/her own mind and thinking about everything related with their Deen (Faith). There is need for debate and dialogue between us on a daily basis. But those among us who want power for themselves tell us otherwise.
And, last but really the most important of all is our corruption of the concept of Tawheed in our practice of Islam. We are, in fact, worse than the so-called Kaafirs for we claim we believe when we don't(One shocking item I read was that there were Iraqi men who were offering girls and children for sex to United States soldiers in return for "protection". Take this as an example of the kind of moral and spiritual degradation that has overrun those who make mockery of Tawheed).I believe that it is this and this alone that has brought shame, dishonor, fragmentation, suffering, death and destruction upon us around the world. And this state of affairs will only get worse. The Muslim ummah is on a self-destructive path.

For when all is said and done, it is at the individual level that we need to strive for.

Rehashing our Islamic history will get us nowhere. It just helps us dig a bigger hole to bury u

I am not sure my author combine Ahmadiyas and Hizb ut Tahrir into one group..... Ahmadiyas are non muslim full stop.... and Hizb ut Tahrir is Islamic movement with goal of estabishing Khalifa...

With in the Military there are many times people are placed in positions where their chances of survival are slim or none.

This was done for people holding particularly rear gaurds and frontal attacks. In current parlance these are called shock troops. They are highly motivated and self sacrificing. They accept shahada so that their nation may live.

The palestinians who have no weapons to defend themselves have many shahid. Within Israel all Jews are either in the Army or the Army reserve. This includes men and women. Thus the question of innocents is moot. The Palie leadership has repeatedly asked the Israelis to make a mutual truce regarding civillian life. If the Israeli's stop killing innocent palestinains and the palies will stop killing non-uniformed Israelis. The Israelis have repeatedly refused although they did agree to the mutual truce with the Hizbullah in Lebanon.

Well written article and I learned a lot from it. What is happening to Islam also happens to other faiths. The two biggest problems that face Islam as well as Christianity, Judaism and others are modernizing our faith without losing what is important and dealing with blasphemies that are often brought into the faith by the wicked. These wicked are often head clerics.

Modernizing our faith is extremely hard and there often are major differences of opinion on what is proper. Ancient religions didn't face factors brought on by technological advances both good and bad. Who can honestly know for a fact what theologians from 1,500 years ago would think of many of today's common practices?

Evil religious leaders has always been a problem and today is no exception. Examples of this are the modern "jihad" of some Islamic groups who justify, like the article spoke of, murder and suicide done on the name of Allah. Allah would never tell a believer to break one of his commandments.

In Christianity evil religious leaders are advocating practices like homosexuality as being acceptable according to God's love for us. Yet the Bible is very clearly against this practice.

The biggest lesson is to learn the scriptures for yourself and do not blindly follow religious leaders. Use the entire scriptures and not just carefully selected portions of scripture to judge your religious "leaders."

Ignorance is no longer bliss, it is dangerous in the day and age we live in. It saddens me when I find websites by our (sunni)Muslim and (shi'a)Muslims brothers in cyberworld that seem to exist mainly to belittle, put down, misinform, selectively twist history onsidedly and build dislike(hatred) for other Muslims.

Very informative and pray that ALL muslims make the effort to understand the teachings of the Quraan and the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAWS) so that we all remain a UNITED ummah as instructed.

SYED FROM U.A.E. said:
It is a nice comprehensive artical.Unity of Umma lies in following the teaching of Prophet(PBUH).
As Prophet(PBUH) was generous, Merciful, compassionate and considerate yet when it come to following commands of Allah(SWT)he was firm.

Sahaba kiram(RA)followed Prophet(PBUH)in total and they were not politicians for that reason Islam has flourished.
Even today if we follow them we can have unity.Put others before us and we shall have unity.

As the other groups which have deviated from the basic teaching of Islam they should not be counted as Islamic sects but as other religions.

Islam is creation of Allah(SWT)hence human interfreance is not allowed.

Allah(SWT) has said all momins are brothers.Hence irrespective of region, education and economics
an Ijtima of all Ulema from every country should meet work for the unity of Islam.

I am against caliphate.

Shura yes with limited democracy.


A very rich,nice and well structurally detailed work.The writer at a point reflects his love for the tabligh's ways of conducts thus gave a picture of being a tabligh. I commend his effort towards redeeming the image and teneths of Al-Islam as regards the terrorist and suicidal attacks on the globe.Al-Islam is the religion of peace and peaceful it shall remain.(Insha Allah)
Maa salam.

The article was generally good, but the solution it proposes are too simplistic and in other cases unrealistic. The divide between the sunni and shia has long ago evolved from political to a theological dispute. The article does not provide a comprehensive solution to dealing with theological differences. In other cases, e.g. Ahmediyyah Movement, surely it would be better for it to be another religion, otherwise their radical beliefs which are in no way Islamic leads to the confusion of the ignorant masses amongst the Muslims as is happening in Bangladesh for example.

Very well researched and thought provoking. This could help carve out the path to a fair and just society established by Prophet Mohammad sm. People in pre-Islamic days were also worshipper of God - of their own creation.

Our Prophet contemplated, struggled and sacrificed to find the true God, understand the realtionship between each individual and the Creator Allah, the meaning of life - leading to the creation of a just and fair society/community as demonstrated by Sahabas - we only hear as shining examples.

Last weekend the Greek community in Toronto celebrated their independence from 400-years of Ottoman rule. They claim the Greeks were able to preserve their culture, faith and language even under 400-years of oppression by the Ottomans.

It does not need a scholar to see the truth that how tolerant the Ottomans were. It takes a few generations in less than a cetury to turn cultures around, as was the case in Soviet Union.

We need to take time to examine and understand who we are as a human being, our relationship with our creator Allah, and why we are on this earth.

After all, Islam helped people bring meaning in life and lead a fulfilling life in this world and in the hearafter.

May Allah guide us in finding the true God!


Salamu ALaikum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatu. The Ummah in America is so very divided and it is a tremendous problem. Yesterday at Jummah we had a Khutbah that looked at the example of Khalif Omar. The sad thing was that afterwards, each member seemed to appy the lesson to others and not to themselves, especially the leaders of our masjid. When one looks to have a leader at a masjid, perhaps we need to use Khalif Omar as a yardstick and not the things of Dunia. It was extremely sad and disheartening.
Ma Salamah.

Assalamu alaikum. The article seems to equate the "Taqlidi approach" with the Wahabi/Salafi movement. Why then might comments critical of "Taqlid" appear to evoke accusations (by other commentators) of "Salafi heresy?" I am admittedly a relative newcomer to Islam but it seems to me that whenever a person refers to Taqlid as "a blind following" some other person almost invariably seems to accuse the first person of being a Salafi.

Furthermore, the term "innovative" (used within the article to describe modernists who favor the "Ijtehadi approach") seems to have a negative connotation with respect to Islamic theology. Also, the prospect of lecturing a Sufi on the need to show greater tolerance for Salafi viewpoints would seem, at least to me, a bit unsettling. Wassalam.