The topic of division within Islam is a sore spot for the world of Muslims. It is easy to find Muslims polarized on this issue and acting with great emotion and vigor trying to prove their views. In the minds of these Muslims, those who adhere to a different group are in gross error and have purposely twisted the meanings of true Islam to their own ends.
It is disappointing to converts when they find that Islam is not the unified religion it first appears to be. For me, a sense of dread enveloped me when I began to encounter religious factions within Islam. It was dread, because I was still mentally exhausted from the process of conversion to Islam, and yet here I was faced with different versions of Islam to sort out. I would again have to engage myself in serious study, prayer for guidance and self-evaluation to try and determine which of the factions, if any, were truthful. The discovery of division did not raise any doubt in me about Islam itself, but it raised doubt that any one group was in possession of true Islam. I had to consider the possibility of being a Muslim without a school just as I had had to consider being a Christian without a church.
The various schools of Islam sometimes harbor bad blood toward each other. And thus, it is not unusual to find books written by a scholar from one faction viciously defaming another faction to the point of calling it non-Muslim. Similarly, members from one faction will chastise members of another faction for causing disunity, when in truth neither group seeks disunity. After all, you cannot blame someone for pursuing what he/she finds to be true, even if it is different than what you find true.
I advise all Truth-seekers to stay away from those who speak viciously of other groups and accuse them of all sorts of misguidance and wrongdoing. Avoid their interpretations of the writings from the questionable “other” group. Instead, read their writings about their own beliefs.
As I have alluded to earlier, those who would find the Truth need to investigate all groups with an open mind and fairness. They should read works about a group written by numerous scholars and members of that group. They should judge a group by its own writings and teachings rather than other groups’ interpretations of such. They should not neglect study of a group because of its reputation or small numbers. They should not hesitate to ask questions of members of each group but should not take the answer of one person as representative of all members of the group.
It is each person’s duty, Muslim or not, no matter into what religion or school they were born, to determine for themselves where truth lies. They should not be satisfied that their own religion, culture, nation, or school holds the truth without extensive verification.
“…They say, ‘We follow that wherein we found our fathers.’ What! Even though their fathers were wholly unintelligent and had no guidance?” 2:170
Personally, I found a good place to start a study of all that is within Islam to be the Internet. Although it takes some effort to find it, it is possible to find good-quality information presented by each group that explains what they believe and why they believe it. You can also find lots of information about what they believe to be wrong with the other groups, but that type of information has to be regarded very carefully.
In my own study, I began first with the largest group, the Sunnis, and ultimately was not fully satisfied with any of the Sunni schools for the same reason that I was not satisfied with Christianity. For Sunnis, after the death of the Prophet (saw), religion came to the hands of ordinary, even if well-intentioned, men and thus the major sources of Sunni law come from such men. I also was unsatisfied that four schools within Sunni Islam should be considered as equally acceptable.
As a believer in a single Absolute truth and in a God who provides the means to that Truth, I strongly hold that minor differences in law do matter and that one way must be preferable to others. I could not accept using fallible collections of traditions of the Holy Prophet (saw), each of which contain numerous contradictory traditions and traditions which come from unreliable sources, as a primary source of the religion. Just like the Bible, the numerous errors and contradictions of the Sunni hadith (tradition) collections make them unreliable as a determiner of Truth. They are not from Allah (swt), but from men.
“If it had been from other than Allah they would have found therein much incongruity.” (4:82)
I do believe that traditions have a very important place in Islam but I feel that no collection of traditions should be regarded as sahih(error-free). And I also believe that traditions from those who demonstrate themselves to be the best Muslims should be preferred over those narrated by any other individuals.
The Sunnis largely consider ijtihad or the means of determining right and wrong in any new cases, to be dead. The scholars rely on centuries-old books for ijtihad and, as such, do not truly have access to modern rulings about modern situations. Thus, the Sunni Muslims are left to make their own decisions on new matters that arise. So, once again, there is no way for them to satisfactorily determine right or wrong on any new problem. The quest for Absolute truth has failed.
As for other groups, I found many of them also to be unacceptable but I shall avoid discussing them in detail for the sake of brevity. The reader may wish to engage in his/her own study of Ismailis, Ahmadis, Nation of Islam, Qadanis, Fatimids, Bohras, Wahabis and Ja’faris.
After a detailed study, I chose the Ja’fari school of Islam because I found that it alone met my criteria. I shall briefly discuss some of the information and factors, which led to my choice, but I do not intend thereby to provide enough information to convince anyone of its correctness (that would take more pages than this entire book). Each person has a duty to conduct their own bias-free (or as near to that as possible) and detailed study of where Truth lies.
During the lifetime of the Prophet (saw), Allah (swt) appointed twelve successors after the prophet who would uphold the religion and prevent its corruption. The first of these successors was publicly appointed at Ghadeer Khum, a short time before the death of the Prophet (saw), in front of 90,000 to 140,000 witnesses. Two Qur’anic verses were revealed on that day and the event of that day has been recorded more times and by more sources than any other.
“O Messenger! Make known that which hath been revealed unto thee from thy Lord, for if thou do not, thou will not have conveyed His message.” (5:67)
“This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favor unto you, and have chosen for you as religion Al-Islam [submission to the One God].” (5:3 )
The first verse is a command to announce what the Prophet (saw) had to announce at Ghadeer Khum, and the second is a statement that upon the finishing of this announcement Islam has been completed and perfected. What the Prophet (saw) said, according to the scholars of all schools of Islam, is as follows:
“O men and women! Allah is my master. I am the master of the faithfuls. I have a clear authority over their souls, and of whoever I am the master, Ali [his cousin whose hand he was upholding while speaking] is master. O Allah! Love him who loves Ali, hate him who hates Ali.” Muslim, vol.2, p.325 and many others
Further in verse 5:55, Allah says in meaning:
“Your mawla (master) can be only Allah; and His messenger and those who believe, who establish worship and pay the poor due while bowing down in prayer.”
It is virtually unanimous among all leading scholars of any school of thought that this verse refers to Allah, the Prophet (saw), and Ali. Ali (as) is the one for whom it has been recorded in the traditions that he gave charity (in the form of a ring he was wearing) while bowing in prayer.
The disagreement arises over the definition of the word “mawla” because it can mean master or friend. But, in the context of Ghadeer Khum, it is clear that it means master, because it is clear that when the Prophet (saw) is speaking of Allah (swt) and himself he means the master sense of the word. Otherwise the phrase “I have a clear authority over their souls…” would be out of place.
And it also makes no sense to stop thousands of people in the middle of a hot desert to announce that Ali (as) is a friend. After saying this at Ghadeer Khum, the Qur’anic verse came which announced that Islam had been completed and perfected. This also would not make any sense if he had merely said that Ali was a friend. But, it makes perfect sense if he had just announced that Ali (as) had authority over the people equal to his own authority.
Nearly all Muslim scholars believe in the concept of Imamate, i.e., the successor of the Prophet (saw) that upholds and protects the religion from corruption. The Sunnis generally hold that the first four Imams were the first four Caliphs and do not know who the remainder are. But clearly this is unacceptable, as the Prophet Muhammad (saw) said: “The person who dies and has not known the Imam of his time has died the same as one who died during the Age of Ignorance.” (Sahih Bukhari vol. 5, p. 13; Sahih Muslim vol. 6, p. 21 No. 1849; and others) This hadith clearly indicates that all people in all times, including our time, should know our Imam.
The view that the first caliphs were imams is questionable since God did not appoint the caliphs into their positions. The first caliph was chosen in a small private election that took place while the family of the Prophet (saw) was busy with the Prophet’s burial. Others took power by being appointed by their predecessor. There is no evidence in any Qur’anic verse or hadith that the successors of the Prophet (saw) should be chosen by election or personal appointment. Rather, the evidence is to the contrary that Allah (swt) has chosen and appointed those who would lead mankind, just as He has done throughout history.
“You will never find a change in the practice of Allah.” (35:43)
The Prophet first presented the message of Islam to his near relatives and even at that early date he introduced Ali as “my brother, my successor, and my caliph.” The Prophet again introduced Ali to the people (as successor) on numerous occasions concluding with Ghadeer Khum. The appointment of Ali was therefore no secret.
This is only a very small portion of my study concerning Ali (as) that led me to believe that he was appointed successor of the Prophet (saw) and that obeying him was made compulsory. For one who demands more proof, there are many books dedicated solely to establishing that God did indeed establish Imams or guides on earth including twelve after the death of the Prophet (saw), the first of which was Imam Ali (as).
Among the leaders of Sunni schools and among the Imams of the Ismailis and so on, it is possible to find examples of sin and teachings contradicting the Qur’an. This is to be expected from ordinary men, but not from those appointed by Allah (swt) to uphold the religion. One set of Imams, those twelve followed by the Ja’fari school, are singular in their adherence to Qur’an and lack of sin.
There are reliable hadith (records of the Prophet’s (saw) words and actions) in the Sunni books that the Imams will be twelve in number. Further there are some which name them all, and they are named in accordance with the Ja’fari (Shia) belief. A few of these traditions are quoted here from Peshawar Nights:
(1) Sheikh Sulayman Balkhi Hanafi in his Yanabiu’l-Mawadda,ch.76, reports from Fara’idu’s-Simtain of Hamwaini, who reports from Mujahid, who reports from Ibn Abbas, that a Jew named Na’thal came to the Holy Prophet and asked him questions about Tawhid (Unity of Allah). The Holy Prophet answered his questions and the Jew embraced Islam. Then he said: “O Holy Prophet, every prophet had a wasi (vicegerent). Our Prophet, Moses Bin Imran, made a will for Yusha Bin Nun. Please tell me who is your wasi?” The Holy Prophet said:
“My vicegerent is Ali Bin Abi Talib; after him are Hasan, and Husain and after them are nine Imams, who are the successive descendants of Husain.”
Na’thal asked the Holy Prophet the names of those Imams. The Holy Prophet said: “After Husain, his son, Ali, will be the Imam; after him his son, Muhammad; after him his son, Ja’far; after him his son Musa; after him his son, Ali; after him his son, Muhammad; after him his son, Hasan; after him his son, Muhammad Mahdi will be the last Imam. There will be twelve Imams.”
In addition to the names of the nine Imams, this hadith further states that each would succeed as Imam after his father. Na’thal made further inquiries, and the Holy Prophet described the manner of death of each Imam.
Then Na’thal said, “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that you are His Holy Prophet. I bear witness that these twelve holy Imams are your vicegerents after you. What you have said is exactly what is recorded in our books and in the will of Moses.”
Then the Holy Prophet said: “Paradise is for him who loves them and obeys them, and Hell is for him who is hostile to them and opposes them.”
Na’thal then recited some couplets to the effect that “May Allah, the Exalted, shower His blessings upon you, chosen Prophet and pride of the Bani Hashim. Allah has guided us by means of you and the twelve holy men whom you have named. Certainly Allah has purified them and preserved them from impurity. He who loves them is successful. He who hates them is the loser.
The last of the Imams will quench the thirst of the thirsty. He is the one the people will wait for. Prophet of Allah, your progeny is a blessing for me and for all the believers. Those who turn away from them will soon be thrown into Hell.”
(2) The great scholar, Sheikh Sulayman Balkhi, in his Yanabiu’l-Mawadda, ch. 76 reports from Manaqib of Khawarizmi, who reports from Wathila Bin Asqa’ Bin Qarkhab, who reports Jabir Bin Abdullah Ansari; and also Abu’l-Fazl Shaibani and he from Muhammad Bin Abdullah Bin Ibrahim Shafi’i, who reports Jabir Ansari (one of the chief companions of the Prophet) as saying: “Jundal Bin Junadab Bin Jubair, a Jew, came to the Holy Prophet and asked him about Tawhid. After hearing his reply, the man became a Muslim. He said that on the previous night he had seen Moses in a dream telling him: ‘Embrace Islam at the hands of the last of the prophets, Muhammad, and attach yourself to the vicegerents after him.’ He thanked Allah for the blessing of Islam. He then asked the Holy Prophet to tell him the names of his vicegerents. The Holy Prophet began by saying: ‘My vicegerents are twelve in number.’
The man said that he had seen this fact in the Torah. He asked the Prophet to tell him their names, and the Prophet said: ‘The first of them is the chief of the vicegerents, the father of the Imams, Ali. Then follow his two sons - Hasan and Husain. You shall see these three. When you reach the last stage of your life, Imam Zainu’l-Abidin will be born, and the last thing that you have of this world shall be milk. So cling to them so that ignorance may not mislead you.’
The man said that he had seen in the Torah and in other scriptures the names of Ali, Hasan, and Husain in their various forms. He asked the Holy Prophet to tell him the names of the other Imams.
Then the Holy Prophet named the remaining nine Imams with their epithets and added: ‘The last of them, Muhammad Mahdi, will live, but disappear. He will appear later and will fill the world with justice and equity, since it will have degenerated into injustice and tyranny. Verily, Paradise is for those who show patience during the time of his occultation. Paradise is for those who are firm in their love for him. These are they whom Allah Almighty has praised in the Holy Qur’an and for whom the Holy Qur’an is a ‘guide for those who guard (against evil). Those who believe in the unseen.’ Also He says, ‘These are Allah’s party: now surely the party of Allah are the successful ones.’” (58:22)”
Still among the Muslims are those who do not believe in the sinlessness of God’s messengers and guides. They say that those messengers and guides do not commit any sin or mistake in delivering the message or guidance but in other ways may commit fault. They also interpret passages in the Qur’an to indicate sins on the part of some prophets. There are numerous evidences contrary to that view, but such a belief is also contrary to reason.
First of all, God is perfectly capable of providing messengers and guides that do not commit fault. Secondly, if ever a messenger or guide did commit fault, even outside the normal realm of his religious work, it would affect his credibility and it would corrupt his purpose. Every waking deed of the messengers and guides is watched and is under scrutiny. If one of them did commit a sin, the followers would be likely to see it. It then becomes a question of how the followers are supposed to be able to tell which of the actions and sayings of that messenger or guide they are to follow. Which actions are from God and which aren’t? “Do what I say and not what I do” is inadequate for the deliverance and protection of God’s message, and God does not do inadequate work.
The Ja’fari school alone met my standards of possessing one absolute Truth derived from a God-protected source. Those who ultimately come to a different conclusion are entitled to do so. Tolerance of those who reach varied conclusions is the only action that agrees with the behavior of the Holy Prophet (saw). Among all groups and schools of Muslims are those who behave with very poor manners toward members of other groups. They allow hate and ill will to cultivate in themselves and justify their behavior by making a large list of grievances about the other party. I would ask those people to find any example in the demeanor of the Prophet of Islam (saw) or any prophet (sa) that matches theirs. Even those who were the outright enemies of Islam, and rejected it although its truth was apparent to them, were never treated disrespectfully or cruelly, neither were they made the victims of aggression, neither were they abused in any way, be it with physical force or with words.
“… And let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty.” (5:8)
*This article, which was originally part of a book titled ' Seeking the Straight Path: Reflections of a New Muslim', has been taken from: http://www.al-islam.org/seeking-straight-path-reflections-new-muslim-diana-beatty/%C2%A0how-can-you-believe#division-among-muslims. Accessed on October 5, 2015.
This is a great Piece written by a Muslim Convert…It is a recommended read for every new convert
It was written by Sister Diana Beatty, who was born into a Christian family and discovered Shi'a Islam while in college in Colorado.
As for those who strive in Us,
We surely guide them to Our paths (Quran)