Sectarianism, Understanding sectarianism, its causes and ways of protecting against it: Nasir al-Aql


Understanding sectarianism,

its causes and ways of protecting against it

By Dr. Nasir Abdul Kareem



مفهومه – أسبابه – سبل الوقاية منه

تأليف الشيخ : د. ناصر بن عبدالكريم العقل

Translation with Adaptations,

Introduction and Annotation by

Abu Salman Deya ud-Deen Eberle

(( أبو ســـلمان ضياء الدين ابرلي ))

(52 pages)

Translator’s Introduction


The first issue: Understanding Sectarianism

The Second issue: The Distinction between Sectarianism and Differences

Warning about Some Mistakes

Third Issue: The occurrence of sectarianism in Muslim Ummah

Fourth Issue: History of Sectarianism in Islam

Leaders of Innovation and Misguidance

Fifth Issue: Causes for Sectarianism

Some examples of deficiency in methodology of learning knowledge

Sixth Issue: How can we protect ourselves from Sectarianism?


Forth coming (insha-Allah: God willing)


Excerpt from pages 2-8

(Scroll down to bottom of page for footnotes)


In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent in Mercy, the Most Merciful

Praises for Allah the Almighty and Majestic and may Allah bestow His salutations of praises, peace and blessings on the our Prophet Muhammad, his family and companion and all those who follow in faithfulness and goodness until the Day of Resurrection


Translator’s Introduction


The lecture translated here about sectarianism – with some adaptations to make the reading smoother and some deletions of unnecessary details – gives an astute synopsis on the subject. Although the work is mostly self-explanatory, a speaker in his lecture environment often abridges some texts for the sake of time. I have attempted to expand on some of these references in the footnotes since I felt that the English readers would like to have these points explained in detail to remove any ambiguity. In a few other places I have expanded upon some points from myself for greater clarity. These footnotes are marked with TN to differentiate them from the author’s footnotes.  It is hoped that this work will benefit the universal community of Muslims, a community under severe stress from internal and external challenges and from attacks of sundry agents of corruption that seek to exploit the ugly reality of ignorance, prejudice, negligence, extremism, sectarianism, and innovation in our midst. Indeed Allah is the Protector and the Guide, and how perfect is He in Protection, Security and Guarantee.


Abu Salman Deya ud-Deen Eberle




Indeed, all praise belongs to Allah. We praise Him, seek His Aid and His Forgiveness and we seek refuge in Allah from the evil of ourselves and from the evil of our actions. Whomsoever Allah guides, none can misguide, and whomsoever Allah misguides none can guide thereafter. I bear witness that there is no god except Allah (nothing has the right to be worshipped except Him), who is alone without partners, who said:

{ وَأَنَّ هَذَا صِرَاطِي مُسْتَقِيمًا فَاتَّبِعُوهُ وَلا تَتَّبِعُوا السُّبُلَ فَتَفَرَّقَ بِكُمْ عَنْ سَبِيلِهِ }

“And this is my Straight Path so follow it and do not follow other ways which will separate you from His Way.” (6:153)

And I bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger, who warned his nation from falling into innovations and the dissention of sectarianism like what befell the previous nations, when he said:

وَالَّذِي نَفْسِي بِيَدِهِ لَتَتَّبِعُنَّ سُنَنَ الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ شِبْرًا بِشِبْرٍ وَذِرَاعًا بِذِرَاعٍ وَبَاعًا فَبَاعًا

حَتَّى لَوْ دَخَلُوا جُحْرَ ضَبٍّ لَدَخَلْتُمُوهُ

“You will follow the ways of those before you hand span by hand span, arm length by arm length even to the extent that if they entered the lizard’s hole you would follow”. [1]

This is especially true in this era of ours in which there are numerous innovations in religion spread about in the lands, false desires, abundant corruption and hypocrisy are prevailing upon the people. The false desires abound in spite of the fact that there is abundant knowledge propagated; yet – unfortunately – much of this knowledge is without blessings for those who achieve it, since it is taken from unauthentic sources. It is unreliable because it is taken from other than the Qur`an and the Sunnah and the books of the rightly guided leaders of Islamic jurisprudence, those who are taken as excellent examples in religion. It is either taken from unqualified people, or from those who are not grounded upon the methodology of the people of knowledge and jurisprudence. The many modern ways of learning knowledge are a blessing but they are detrimental to some people since they rush to learning without caring much about taking this knowledge from the right people. This type of knowledge is without any benefit, from which the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, sought refuge.[2] The blessing of knowledge is actualized when it is taken from the true scholars since this is the way of the believers. Taking knowledge by modern ways without recourse to the true scholars is of negligible benefit and may produce false desires, deviant sayings distant from the Sunnah, sectarian ideas, and argumentation in religion. Our research here will be about sectarianism: understanding it, it’s causes, and the ways to avoid it. [3]

I will limit the scope of my discussion in this subject to five issues.


The first issue: Understanding Sectarianism


“Iftiraq” in Arabic is to separate, divide and split up by cutting off from one another. It also means to go away from the source, the correct way, and the group.

In Islamic terminology it means to go away from the Sunnah and the united group in some principles or set of principles of religion that are established and confirmed, whether they are principles of creed and belief, of defined action in religion, or of general public welfare of the Muslims, or all these together.

In a narration Abu Hurairah, may Allah be pleased with him, said that the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:

‏ ‏ مَنْ خَرَجَ مِنْ الطَّاعَةِ وَفَارَقَ الْجَمَاعَةَ فَمَاتَ مَاتَ مِيتَةً جَاهِلِيَّةً وَمَنْ قَاتَلَ تَحْتَ رَايَةٍ ‏ ‏عِمِّيَّةٍ ‏ ‏يَغْضَبُ ‏ لِعَصَبَةٍ ‏ ‏أَوْ ‏ ‏يَدْعُو ‏ ‏إِلَى ‏ ‏عَصَبَةٍ ‏ ‏أَوْ يَنْصُرُ ‏ ‏عَصَبَةً ‏ ‏فَقُتِلَ فَقِتْلَةٌ جَاهِلِيَّةٌ وَمَنْ خَرَجَ عَلَى أُمَّتِي يَضْرِبُ بَرَّهَا وَفَاجِرَهَا وَلَا ‏ ‏يَتَحَاشَى ‏ ‏مِنْ مُؤْمِنِهَا وَلَا يَفِي لِذِي عَهْدٍ عَهْدَهُ فَلَيْسَ مِنِّي وَلَسْتُ مِنْهُ ‏‏

“Whoever goes out from obedience and separates from the group and then dies, will die the death of the (times of) ignorance. Whoever fights under the banner of blindness getting angry for the limited group, calling to the limited group, seeking to aid the limited group to victory and gets killed then his killing is like of the times of ignorance. Whoever goes out from my nation striking the righteous one and the wicked one (of the Muslims), without caring about the believers and not fulfilling the trust that is entrusted: he is not of me, nor am I of him.” [4]

Therefore opposition to the people of Sunnah and the unified group in any of the principles of creed is sectarianism and separating oneself from the unified group; opposition to a consensus of the Muslims is sectarianism and separating oneself from the unified group; and opposition to the unified group of Muslims and the leader in a general public welfare is sectarianism and separating oneself from the unified group …

Every form of greater disbelief is sectarianism, but not every separation into a sect is greater disbelief.  What I mean by this is that every act or belief that makes a person apostate from Islam by departing from an established principle of Islam or from the Sunnah or from the unified group is sectarianism, but not that every act of separation into a sect is necessarily disbelief.  In other words, a group of people may become a sect but this cannot be described as disbelief even if they separate themselves from the consensus of Muslims, like the separation of the Khawaarij. The first Khawaarij separated themselves from the Ummah (community of believers) and rebelled violently in opposition to the unified group and the established leader, but the companions did not judge this as disbelief  rather that they disagreed about their affair. When Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, was asked about them he did not rule that they were disbelievers. [5] Abdullah ibn Umar, may Allah be pleased with them, and others of the companions had the same opinion. And some of them would make prayers behind the leadership of Najdah al-Huroori. Abdullah ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with them, would answer the invitation of Nafe’ ibn al-Azraq and engage him in debate citing the evidences of the Qur`an just as two Muslims debate evidences. [6]


The Second issue: The Distinction between Sectarianism and Differences


It is critically important to distinguish between separating into deviant sects and differing. The scholars must pay special attention to this subject, especially since some of the callers to Islam and the students of knowledge, those who haven’t completed their studies and their understanding of the religion needs more research, do not differentiate between the issues of difference of opinion in jurisprudence and the issues of sectarianism wherein dissention from the correct position makes a person of the deviant sects. This lack of distinction and understanding between the two may lead some of them to make rulings of sectarianism when they are really differences of juristic opinion. This is a serious mistake, which is the result of ignorance about the roots of sectarianism and its details and who has the legitimate authority to rule about another person or group that they are deviant. Therefore it is necessary that we mention some of the things that distinguish between sectarianism and variant opinions in jurisprudence.

First Difference: Sectarianism is the worst form of differing, its ultimate extent may result into a separation into sect or it may not reach to that extent. Thus sectarianism is differing and variance and then something more, but not every difference and variance is separation into a sect. Upon this basic fact is built the next point of difference.

Second Difference: Not every occurrence of dissention and difference is a separation into sectarianism; rather sectarianism is an occurrence of acute dissention and difference. Many of the issues about which the Muslims differ are the kind of issues in which differences of opinion are valid yet it is not allowed to call the opposing opinion as an occurrence of disbelief, or separation by distancing oneself away from the unified group, or deviancy from the Sunnah of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. [7]

Third Difference: Separation into sects only occurs concerning the fundamentals of religion in which differences are not allowed. These fundamentals are what are definite on account of a clear scriptural text of the Qur`an and the Sunnah and the consensus (Ijma’a) of the Muslims, or what has become the universally recognized and practiced methodology of the Ahl-as-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah of which there is no disagreement. The person who opposes this kind of fundamental is sectarian, whereas if he differs in something that is not this kind of fundamental then this is differing and variance of opinion in jurisprudence.

The differences may be in the things other than the fundamentals in which it is allowed to have a variance of opinion and in which it is accepted to make endeavors of independent reasoning (Ijtihad). This all is possible, and is a probable cause for the variant opinion. The difference may also be on account of ignorance, or duress, or interpretation, and this is reasonable in those issues of independent reasoning (Ijtihad) and the extended branches of jurisprudence. [8] It may even be in some of the fundamentals in which the qualified eminent leaders of jurisprudence excuse those who make some mistakes, or in side issues of creed and faith the basics of which are agreed upon. An example of this is the consensus in the occurrence of al-Isra` wal-Mi’raaj (Night Journey and Ascension) but the difference of opinion is about whether the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, saw his Lord Allah the Exalted with his eyes or in the heart? [9]

Fourth Difference: It may be that a difference of opinion is based upon an endeavor of independent reasoning (Ijtihad) and with good intentions for which even the mistaken person receives a reward since he is seeking the truth, yet the one who is correct receives more reward. [10] The mistaken person may even be praiseworthy for his endeavor of independent reasoning. Nevertheless if this difference extends to become a separation into sectarianism, then it all is reproachable. Separating oneself into a sect doesn’t occur by an endeavor of independent reasoning or by good intentions and a person never receives a reward for it rather he is punishable. Sectarianism is always reproachable and only occurs by innovation (Bid’ah), followings one’s false and evil desires, or blind imitation, or compound ignorance. [11]

Fifth Difference:  There are many scriptures warning of punishment for separating into sects and any sectarianism is always deviation and destructive, which is not necessarily the case with differing because differences of opinion may occur in those issues for which there is some valid scope for differing according to various endeavors of independent reasoning, as mentioned before. It may be that the person with the opposing viewpoint took that view for a legitimate motive or because the decisive scriptural proofs did not reach him and no one has yet presented them to him.  It may be that he took this view due to a pressing situation of duress that gives him a legitimate excuse but others do not know the details of his case.  It may be that the person misinterpreted the scriptures and the truth of the proofs have not been made clear to him by which the burden of proof is established against him.

[1] Reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim. [TN This is part of the hadeeth reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim and others, and the narration above is the wording of Imam Ahmad and others, whereas one of the wording of al-Bukhari and Muslim is as follows

لَتَتَّبِعُنَّ سَنَنَ مَنْ قَبْلَكُمْ شِبْرًا بِشِبْرٍ وَذِرَاعًا بِذِرَاعٍ حَتَّى لَوْ سَلَكُوا جُحْرَ ضَبٍّ لَسَلَكْتُمُوهُ

قُلْنَا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ الْيَهُودَ وَالنَّصَارَى قَالَ فَمَنْ

“You will follow the ways of those before you hand span by hand span, arm length by arm length even to the extent that if they went into the lizard’s hole you would go in. It was asked: O Messenger of Allah: the Jews and Christians? He said: Who else?”   Another wording mentions (لَاتَّبَعْتُمُوهُمْ ), from Itiba’a, to follow, The two prerequisites of having a worshipper’s deed accepted by Allah the Exalted, are (1) to have sincerity to Allah in that worship, and (2) to follow the way and law of the Prophet, peace be upon him.  The first is called Ikhlas (الإخلاص ), and the second Itiba’a  (الإتباع). Both are absolutely necessary for salvation. ]

[2] Reported by Muslim no. 2723 and others, on Zaid ibn Arqam, may Allah be pleased with him, who said that the Prophet said, peace and blessings be upon him: (اللهم إني أعوذ بك من علم لا ينفع) “O Allah I seek refuge in You from the knowledge that does not benefit.” [TN The full narration reads:


كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ‏ ‏صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ‏ ‏يَقُولُ ‏ ‏اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ الْعَجْزِ وَالْكَسَلِ ‏ ‏وَالْهَرَمِ ‏ ‏وَالْجُبْنِ وَالْبُخْلِ وَعَذَابِ الْقَبْرِ اللَّهُمَّ آتِ نَفْسِي تَقْوَاهَا ‏ ‏وَزَكِّهَا ‏ ‏ أَنْتَ خَيْرُ مَنْ ‏ ‏ زَكَّاهَا ‏ ‏أَنْتَ ‏ ‏وَلِيُّهَا ‏ ‏وَمَوْلَاهَا ‏ ‏اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ قَلْبٍ لَا يَخْشَعُ وَنَفَسٍ لَا تَشْبَعُ وَعِلْمٍ لَا يَنْفَعُ وَدَعْوَةٍ لَا يُسْتَجَابُ لَهَا

“ O Allah I seek refuge in You from powerlessness, laziness, cowardliness, miserliness, senility, punishment of the grave and trial of the Antichrist. O Allah give to my soul its fear of you with piety, and cleanse it You are the best who cleanses and purifies, You are its Master, Protector and Owner, O Allah I seek refuge on You from knowledge that does not benefit and a heart that does not fear sin and a body that does not become satisfied and a supplication that is not answered.”]

[3] This research was a lecture given in Riyadh KSA, in Rabe’a ath-Thani 1412 H.

[4] Reported by Muslim.

[5] [TN It is reported in the Musannif of ibn Abi Shaibah 7/535 that when he was asked about the  Khawaarij :

أهم مشركون قال من الشرك فروا قيل فمنافقون هم قال إن المنافقين لا يذكرون الله إلا قليلا فما هم قال قوم بغوا علينا

“Are they idolaters” He replied: “They ran from idolatry.” He was asked, then hypocrites?  He replied:   “The hypocrites do not remember Allah except a little.” He was asked, Then what are they? He said: “They are only people who transgressed against us.”]

[6] See Ibn Taimiyyah, Minhaj as-Sunnah 5/247.

[7] [TN Differences may be of the kind like variety in which each is valid, or where only one is valid. They may be in crucial and essential issues wherein the opposing view is deviant and in secondary issues wherein the opposing view is merely mistaken. ]

[8] [TN Ijtihad means to strive one’s utmost in deriving the best ruling according to the principles of jurisprudence to fit a situation wherein there is no clear text of scripture specifically pertaining to it, or where there is conflicting information and opinion which has reached the jurist. Only qualified jurists who have reached a high degree of competence in the various Islamic sciences are allowed to exercise this function, otherwise the ignorant and foolish would wreck havoc in the community. ]

[9] [TN The details of this are too many to note but we can mention that Allah the Exalted said:

}سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي أَسْرَى بِعَبْدِهِ لَيْلًا مِنَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ إِلَى الْمَسْجِدِ الْأَقْصَى الَّذِي بَارَكْنَا حَوْلَهُ لِنُرِيَهُ مِنْ آَيَاتِنَا إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ {

“Exalted is He who took His Slave by night from al-Masjid al-Haraam to al-Masjid al-Aqsa whose precincts We have blessed, to show him of Our signs.  Indeed, He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing.” (17:1) And the Prophet said, peace and blessing be upon him, when the companion Abu Dtharr, may Allah be pleased with him, asked him if he saw his Lord on the night of al-Isra`a wal-Mi’raaj (the Night Journey and the Ascension), whereupon he said: (نور أنى أراه) “I saw light, how could I see Him?” Reported by Muslim, at-Tirmidthi and others.  And in the narration of Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, may Allah be pleased with him, in Sahih Muslim, the Prophet said, peace and blessing be upon him:

حِجَابُهُ النُّورُ ‏‏لَوْ كَشَفَهُ لَأَحْرَقَتْ سُبُحَاتُ وَجْهِهِ مَا انْتَهَى إِلَيْهِ بَصَرُهُ مِنْ خَلْقِهِ ‏

“…His Veil is Light (in a narration: Fire), if He lifted it the entire creation upon which the radiance of His Face reaches by His sight would become burnt.”  And in a narration (وَفِي رِوَايَةِ ‏ ‏أَبِي بَكْرٍ ‏ ‏النَّارُ) “His Veil is Fire…”] These narrations prove that humans cannot withstand the Magnificence of exposure to openly seeing Allah the Exalted in this life, and Allah knows best. There are many proofs that the people of Paradise will be given the gift of seeing Allah and that it will be the most beloved of all the pleasures of their bliss.]

[10] [TN This is according to the famous reliable narration:

إِذَا اِجْتَهَدَ الْحَاكِم فَأَصَابَ فَلَهُ أَجْرَانِ وَإِذَا اِجْتَهَدَ فَأَخْطَأَ فَلَهُ أَجْر

“If the judge (or ruler) is correct he receives two rewards and if he misses he receives one reward.”]

[11] [TN The above mentioned four differences are the main reasons for one separating himself into a deviant sect. Compound ignorance is the kind wherein the person doesn’t even know that he doesn’t know.]




One Response to Sectarianism, Understanding sectarianism, its causes and ways of protecting against it: Nasir al-Aql

  1. Amazing work . Really appreciated

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