By Zeeshan Rasool Khan
Soon after Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (PBUH) left the worldly existence, there was a split in the Ummah that led to emergence of three major sects: Sunnis, Shias and Kharijites. Sunnis, the largest denomination of Islam ,known as Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l-Jama‘h or simply as Ahl as-Sunnah believe Muhammad (PBUH) did not clearly designate a successor and the Muslim community acted according to his Sunnah in electing his close friend and a father-in-law, as the first Caliph (Head of State) of Islam. Sunni Muslims regard the first four caliphs (Abu Bakr(RA), Umar Ibni Khitaab(RA), Usman Ibni Afaan(RA) and Ali Ibni Abi Talib(RA)) as “al-Khulafau-ur-Raashidun” or “The Rightly Guided Caliphs.”
Ahl as-Sunnah further includes four sub-sects, Hanafi, Shaafi, Maliki and Hanbali differing on the basis of principles of jurisprudence and finer judgments. Another sect , the Shias, in addition to believing in the authority of the Quran and teachings of Muhammad (pbuh) believe that Muhammad’s (PBUH) family, the Ahle-byaih, including his descendants known as Imams, have special spiritual and political authority over the community and believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s (PBUH) cousin and son-in-law, was the first of these Imams and rightful successor to Muhammad (PBUH) .They thus reject the legitimacy of the first three caliphs.
Whereas, Kharijite is a general term embracing a variety of Muslim sects which, while originally supporting the Caliphate of Ali, later on fought against him and eventually succeeded in his martyrdom in the mosque of Kufa. Kharijites have almost been disdained. Though, at present there are only few remaining Kharijite or Kharijite-related groups, they maintain most of the beliefs of the original Kharijites but have relinquished the more aggressive methods. After this split, another sect namely Ahle-Hadith emerged as a movement of hadith scholars between 2nd- – 3rd century who considered the Quran and authentic hadith to be the only authority in matters of law and creed and in recent times is championed as Salafi movement and is now considered as brain child of Wahhabi Movement.
All these sects have the same opinion as far as the fundamentals of Islam are concerned. All sects have full faith in five pillars of Islam but there is lack of unanimity on other beliefs. For instance, Sunni reverence all four companions of Prophet (PBUH) but the Shia believe, God chose Ali (RA) to be Muhammad’s successor, infallible, the first caliph of Islam and negate the stature of other three caliphs. Similarly, Salafis consider celebration of Birthday of Muhammad (PBUH), as an innovation while as both Shia and Sunni consider it Mustahab. Salafis believe visiting and establishing shrines is an example of polytheism, whereas Shia and Sunni treat it as mode of gaining spiritual blessings and so on.
However, it is important to note here, each sect has its own answer to questions of difference. Each sect has evidence(s) to prove its ideological point of view thus conflict between them has always been discernable .While the dispute between these sects –especially between Shia-Sunni was often violent in the past however, there was shift in their approach .They have started recognizing one another as legal rather than sources of error or heresy in contrast to one another and exercised much restraint to preserve the intrafaith harmony. There had been changes in the belief of people at helm who stressed much upon unity, ignoring the differences.
But with the ingression of volatile brains into the arena of oratory, all developments proved otiose .The gulf in between is widening with every passing day. Most of them now engage in questioning each other’s faith, accusing each other of Shirk (polytheism) and launching tirades against each other from pulpits is now a norm .Every preacher wants to project himself and his ideology only the truest. Some indulge into blame games calling each other as ‘agent’ and accuse one another of receiving funds. If anyone tries to return to the principles of oration, he is compelled by other’s spewed venom to distract.
Even the common masses consider the sermon incomplete, if fatwa is not issued against other sect. For them, the orator, who describe others as pagans, deviants and innovators is intellectual and is accoladed with titles like, Sher (lion), Gazi (Conqueror), Shaykh (wise), Qateye’shrik (iconoclast), Manazir (Debater) and so on. Amidst of this, what is happening to image of our religion, what damage it does to our integrity, what impression it lays on the minds of other communities at global level, what message it sends to non-Muslims who are so far been inspired with teachings of Islam, is often depreciated, as their concern is not to present true picture of religion but publicize their personality and foster their religious thought.
Sadly, these controversies are turning uglier .Criticism is not restricted to utterances but counter-ideologues are attacked and heckled too .Since last decade, many preachers have been targeted –all aimed to silent them .Although, it could have been conspiracy to drive a wedge between the two ideologies but these approaches have been seen through the prism of sectarianism. The attack of such instance that was witnessed was on Molana Mushtaq Ah Khan ,followed by an attack on Molana Dawoodi (Kashmir based Sunni Scholars) in 2004 and 2006 respectively .The former survived after receiving half-dozen bullets and later after a grenade was lobbed at his congregation. In the recent past, veteran religious and social worker Molana Jalaludin Bangroo escaped death after he was fired upon. There has been increase in incidents of heckling as well, and are happening routinely now.
A few months back, a Salafi scholar namely Mushtaq Ahmed Veeri was also manhandled by group of people and now, there are reports two more young faces of Sunni school of thought were heckled by people of other faith recently, which is no ways ignorable. Incidents of this sort are alarming and can lead us to position from where we cannot withstand. We all know, unity and harmony is all what we need at the moment but that cannot be maintained by acrimony and by waging war against each other .This can only elevate hatred among us, deepen the cracks and make us vulnerable to enemies. They want us to see carved up, abject and hapless and our internal bitterness is serving them best. Remember unity is strength; it leads to victory .Unity is power, divisions render you powerless and in current scenario we cannot expect existence after division. Forces are determined to harm us and the only way to counter is to unite. Either we need to follow the thought ‘Stand firm on your ideology and don’t meddle into others’ or we need to resolve disputes through Quran and Sunnah .Moreover ,using intellect and knowledge is attribute of human while believing in ferocity is beastliness and would lead to annihilation of Ummah . Let’s deliberate before it is too late.
—The author works in the Education Department and can be reached at:Mohdzeeshan605@gmail.com