“Then We will surely extract from every sect those of them who were worst against the Most Merciful in insolence.” (Qur’an 19:69)
If there is any hadith that is truly abused by Muslim preachers and layman alike it is the alleged hadith of the ‘73 sects‘.
“According to a well-known hadith, “The disagreements of my community are mercy.” (ikhtilaf ummati rahma). Whether or not this hadith is sound it is a positive light on a phenomenon that is familiar to every reader. Radical-not to speak of modern-Islamic literature: the Muslim community does not agree on much of anything. This is obvious in every field including-Qur’anic exegesis, hadith, jurisprudence, kalam (dogmatic theology), Sufism, philosophy, ethics, and so on. One of the many issues that scholars disagree on is how exactly to understand the disagreement. Certain approaches to Islamic teachings find it offensive and try to do away, some times by claiming elusive validity for one position by citing the hadith, “My community will divide into seventy-two sects and all but one will enter the Fire.” Other approaches are more inclined to acknowledge the disagreements as a result of divine wisdom, and compassion. They may cite the hadith in the version that says, “My community will divide into seventy-three sects all but one, the zindiqs will enter the Garden.“
Taken from the book: “Between Heaven and Hell: Islam, Salvation and the Fate of Others” by Mohammad Hassan Khalil
Chapter 3 ‘The Ambiguity of the Qur’anic Command by William C Chittick page 65)
It is an excellent book, which is a collection of essays on the issue of soteriology, from various Muslim perspectives.
The source for this reference, in turn, is quoted as:
“Both hadiths are cited as sound (Sahih) by the eleventh-century scholar Al Al-Isfhanai in his book: Kitab Al-Dhari’ah ila Makarim Al–Shariah ed. T.’Abd al-Rauf Sa’d (Cairo Maktabat Al-Kulliyat al-Azhariyya, 1972) (there is no agreement on the identity of the zindiqs). No doubt the second hadith is quoted much less than the first, but my point is simply that well-known scholars do in fact cite it.”
Now, did you not realize there is a narration that states:
“My community will divide into seventy-three sects, all but one, the zindiqs will enter the Garden”
Why is this narration not more widely known among the Muslims? Maybe its easier to cast everyone into hell who doesn’t agree with your narrow definition of Islam, than it is easier to pinpoint ‘a particular sect‘ as being ‘the‘ deviant group.
I am sure this particular narration would be a real game-changer in the Muslim community if it were circulated more often. We have to rely upon orientalists like William Chittick to bring these gems to our attention should be cause for reflection. For the record, I am grateful for Professor Chittick bringing this to our attention.
So now let us juxtapose the two narrations together:
Version 1) “My community will divide into seventy-three sects all but one the zindiqs will enter the Garden”
Version 2) “My community will divide into seventy-two sects and all but one will enter the Fire.”
Now no matter how you try and spin it, there is a contradiction between these two.
Now you can imagine what the various Muslim factions have tried to do overtime. Those that uphold the authority of version 2, or propagate it in deference to version 1 what do you think they do? They try and connect themselves to other versions of the same hadith.
Namely the following:
It was reported from Awf ibn Malik who said: the Blessed Messenger (saw) said:
“The Jews were divided into seventy-one sects, one of which is in Paradise and seventy are in the Fire. The Christians were divided into seventy-two sects, seventy-one of which are in the Fire and one is in Paradise. By the One in Whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, my Ummah will be divided into seventy-three sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy-two will be in the Fire.” It was said, O Messenger of Allah, who are they? He said, “Al-Jama’ah”
Source: (Sunan Ibn Majah, no. 3982)
Now there are a lot of peculiar issues regarding this narration.
The term ‘al jamaah‘ or translated as ‘the group‘ is very ambiguous.
This is why in other traditions the ambiguity is helped along, or patched over, by the added ascription of ‘me and my companions‘.
It is noteworthy that one of the companions Muaviyah ibn Abu Sufyan who fought a bitter sectarian war with another companion, Ali Ibn Abu Talib is also a transmitter of the ‘73 sects‘ hadith. He (Muaviyah) interestingly does not narrate the added ascription of ‘that which I and my companions are upon.‘ Obviously, we know the reasons why it would make sense to ascribe this particular wording through the medium of Muaviyah.
For those of you do not understand why this is obvious I direct your attention to the following:
Especially. where Dr. Jonathan Brown (May Allah continue to bless him) states:
“There are even reports from the early historian al-Mada’ini that Mu’awiya encouraged systematic forging and circulation of hadiths affirming the virtues of the caliphs and Companions at Ali’s expense.”
(cited from Al-Mada’ini’s Kitab al-ahdath; Ahmad b Sa’d al-Din al-Miswari, Al Risala al-munqidha min al-ghiwaya fi turuq al riwaya, pp. 51-55) this citation is found in Dr. Jonathan Browns book “Hadith Muhammed’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World page 70“)
So it is not very helpful, again assuming that the Blessed Messenger (saw) ever made such a statement, to leave such an important point so ambiguous.
The other issue is the fact that none of the scholars of any sect could name for us the following:
1) The names of the 71 Jewish sects.
2) The names of the 72 Christian sects.
3) Agreed upon list as to the 73 Muslim sects.
Number 3 would end up being duplicitous in nature. You can imagine every group that believes in such narrations rushing to make claims of being the ‘one sect‘.
Not to mention the following:
“Verily those who split up their religion and became sects, you have absolutely nothing to do with them.” (Qur’an 6:159)
How strange it would be indeed for the Blessed Messenger (saw) warning Muslims to not become factions and then saying in the same sentence unless you are the ‘correct faction‘!
Some will counter and say that the Qur’an does not always use the word faction in a negative light.
An example of that being:
“And it is not for the believers to go forth all at once. For there should separate from every division of them a group (firqa) to obtain understanding in the religion and warn their people when they return to them that they might be cautious.” (Qur’an 9:122)
Just like the Qur’an does not use the term Shi’a always in a negative light.
“And among his Shi’a was Abraham” (Qur’an 37:83)
However, again I believe the point is taken.
The other issue with the text or ‘matn‘ of this particular hadith is the obsession with the number 70 (plus). For example, why are the Jews not 91 factions, and the Christians 92 factions and the Muslims 93 factions? Why this particular number?
I have a theory on why this is. I will give you collaborative evidence. This particular hadith was wisdom saying that contained esoteric understanding of the number 70. Thus, it was incorporated from another tradition that eventually became redacted onto the lips of the Blessed Messenger (saw).
I use the following as my evidence:
“Ask forgiveness for them, [O Muhammed], or do not ask forgiveness for them. If you should ask forgiveness for them seventy times – never will Allah forgive them. That is because they disbelieved in Allah and His Messenger, and Allah does not guide the defiantly disobedient people.” (Qur’an 9:80)
“Further, make him march in a chain, whereof the length is seventy cubits!” (Qur’an 69:32)
“And Moses chose from his people seventy men for Our appointment.” (Qur’an 7:155)
One of the early Muslims mystics named, Hamdun Al Qassar has a saying that many people take as a hadith which says,
“If a friend among your friends errs, make seventy excuses for him. If your hearts are unable to do this, then know that the shortcoming is in your own selves.”
No doubt Hamdun had taken this from the Christians.
” Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)
The point being is that it is taken figuratively. Namely that the Jews were divided, the Christians would be even more divided and the Muslims would be even more divided.
It doesn’t mean like some of our brothers from the ‘Ahl Sunnah’ try, and now neurotically try and search out, define and separate ourselves from anyone who differs from us.
The Qur’an gives amazing insights into differences.
“Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation, but He intends to test you in what He has given you; so race to the good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will inform you concerning that over which you used to differ.” (Qur’an 5:48)
This one verse of the Qur’an has four very powerful points.
1) If Allah (swt) he could have made us all one. This is in everything, from creed to race, and so forth.
2) There is wisdom in not making us one in everything. Allah (swt) intends to test us by our differences.
3) So in the meantime, we should race towards what is good. Sure we will have differences, but let us focus on building up and not tearing down.
4) Ultimately Allah (swt) will settle our differences. That is the beauty of it here. We will all get a chance to stand before the glory of the Almighty! Rather or not we enter into paradise or we suffer in hell fire; at the very least each and every one of us will be judged, case by case. Not as a collective or a group!
Allah (swt) draws this out further.
“The Jews say: “The Christians have nothing to stand upon; and the Christians say: “The Jews have nothing to stand upon.” Yet they both profess to study the same Book. Like unto their word is what those say who know not, but Allah will judge between them in their quarrel on the Day of Judgment.” (Qur’an 2:113)
In other words, it has never been the duty of a group of scholars to decide who is and who is not a believer! This verse tells us that not even the coming of Islam and the knowledge of Islam will be enough to settle the differences and disputes that Christians and Jews have among themselves.
Surely that is something to ponder.
“And do not be like the ones who became divided and differed after the clear proofs had come to them. And those will have a great punishment.” (Qur’an 3:105)
“And We gave them clear proofs of the matter. And they did not differ except after knowledge had come to them – out of jealous animosity between themselves. Indeed, your Lord will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection concerning that over which they used to differ.” (Qur’an 45:17)
So it is the knowledge that caused the people to become prideful. Whereas the more we know the more we should realize how little we know.
So let me in this with a quote from the New Testament. I think it is important because it echoes the verse quoted above, “so race to the good”
“Now concerning things sacrificed to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1)
In other words, if something is not clear to someone or it is ambiguous or they are not convinced of a position than leave it to Allah (swt) to deal with them.
Allah (swt) is not saying that we cannot have differences or disagreements, but that we should mediate our differences.
“O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best way and best in the result.” (Qur’an 4:59)
“And indeed this, your religion, is one religion, and I am your Lord, so fear Me. But the people divided their religion among them into sects – each faction, in what it has, rejoicing.” (Qur’an 23:52-53)