Sunday, December 04, 2005

How many kinds of Muslims are there?

73 Sects
Sheikh Salman al-Oadah

There is a famous hadîth where the Prophet (peace be upon him) says: “My community will experience everything that the Children of Israel had experienced, following in their footsteps exactly, so much so that if one of their number had approached his mother publicly for sex, one of my community will do the same. The Children of Israel divided into 72 sects. My community will divide into 73 sects, and all of them will be in the Hellfire save one.”The people asked him: “And which one will that be?”He replied: “The one that follows what I and my Companions are upon right now.”

This hadîth is mentioned all of the time. In fact, scarcely does anyone speak on the topic of disagreement without mentioning it. This hadîth is often mentioned inappropriately and to audiences who cannot fully appreciate its implications. Therefore, I wish to discuss this hadîth and elucidate more clearly what it is telling us.

This hadîth is not recorded in either Sahîh al-Bukhârî or Sahîh Muslim. This by no means implies that the hadîth is unauthentic. However, it is possible that they did not mention it because it was not up to their arduous standards of authenticity.The hadîth can be found in the four Sunan works and in Musnad Ahmad with different chains of transmission. Some scholars declared it to be authentic or at least good, including al-Tirmidhî, al-Hâkim, al-Dhahabî, Ibn Taymiyah, al-Shâtibî, and Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalânî. Others declared it as weak, including ibn Hazm and Ibn al-Wazîr. The most correct opinion is that it is authentic; taking into consideration the large number of ways it has reached us, with some chains of transmission strengthening the deficiencies of others.

Nevertheless, we should not behave as if it is the only hadîth in the world that addresses the issue of difference among Muslims.We have the hadîth where the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “This community of mine is a community blessed with mercy. It is not punished in the Hereafter. Instead, it is punished in this world with strife, instability, and bloodshed.” [Musnad Ahmad, Sunan Abî Dâwûd, and Mustadrak al-Hâkim] It is an authentic hadîth. It indicates that Allah has shown mercy on the Islamic community and that its punishment will be in this world instead of the Hereafter.

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