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The meaning of the ahadith of 73 Sects

The Messenger (SalAllahu alaihi wasallam) said;

The Jews were divided among themselves into seventy one or seventy two sects, and the
Christians were divided among themselves into seventy one or seventy two sects. And My
Ummah will be divided among itself into seventy three sects. Abu Dawood, at-Tirmidhi, alHakim and Ahmad among several others, reported this Hadith. At-Tirmidhi said; Hadeethun
Hassanun Sahih.
In another variation, Imam Ahmad recorded that Abu `Amir `Abdullah bin Luhay said; "We
performed Hajj with Mu`awiyah bin Abi Sufyan. When we arrived at Makkah, he stood up after
praying Dhuhr and said; The Messenger of Allah (SalAllahu alaihi wasallam) said;

The People of the Two Scriptures divided into seventy-two sects. This Ummah will divide into
seventy-three sects, all in the Fire except one, that is, the Jama`ah. Some of my Ummah will be
guided by desire, like one who is infected by rabies; no vein or joint will be saved from these
This hadith was also narrated by Abu Dawood (2/503), Ahmad (4/102) and al-Haakim (1/128)
among others, with similar wording but with the following addition;
: .
Seventy two in hell fire and one in the Jannah: that is the 'Jama`ah.'
Some scholars, such as ash-Shawkani and al-Kawthari mistakenly said that this addition is weak.
Ibn Hazm wrongly said that it was fabricated.
It is important that Muslims understand this honourable hadith in the correct context. Thus, with
the help of Allah (Subhanahu wa taaala), a detailed presentation of the meaning of the hadith, its
historical manifestations, and its impact on the way Muslims view each other will be given. This
hadith has been used by certain people to disparage others; so some who follow the Ijtihad of
Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdul Wahhab consider those who do not, as being of the sects that will

enter the hell fire. Some who followed the Shafii school said this about the Hanafi School and
Hanafi about the Shafii and so on. Some Sunnis said the same for the Shia, and vice versa.
The hadith mentions the word Firqah; this word is a lafz mushtaraq, or homonym. It is a word,
which has many meanings. Allah (Subhanahu wa taaala) mentions this word in different
contexts in the Quran;

Nor should the Believers all go forth together: if a contingent (firqah) from every expedition
(taifah) remained behind, they could devote themselves to studies in religion, and admonish the
people when they return to them, - that thus they (may learn) to guard themselves (against evil)
[TMQ At-Taubah: 122]
Here, the word firqah is used to mean group or expedition.

There is among them a section (firqah) who distort the Book with their tongues: (As they read)
you would think it is a part of the Book, but it is no part of the Book; and they say, "That is from
Allah," but it is not from Allah. It is they who tell a lie against Allah, and (well) they know it!
[TMQ Ale-Imran: 78]
Here again the word firqah is used, but in this context, it is something that is condemned, for the
action they carried out was distorting the revelation.
So the context will indicate what the meaning is of the word being used.
With respect to the hadith, Allah's Messenger (SalAllahu alaihi wasallam) explains to us how the
Jews were divided into seventy-one sects or firqah, and the Christians were similarly divided into
seventy-two firqah. Then he (SalAllahu alaihi wasallam) states that this Ummah will divide into
seventy-three sects and that all but the one who follows what he (SalAllahu alaihi wasallam) and
his companions followed will be in hell.
Thus, stating the division among the Muslim Ummah amid the Jews and Christians is meant as a
condemnation of this act. The questions that therefore arise are, in which areas did the Jews and
Christians disagree and how did their disagreement lead to the formation of a firqah or sect? The
Quran al-Kareem, ordered us not to divide as the Jews and Christians did. Thus, it is important
to understand in what it was that they differed.
a) They disagreed over their Messengers. Allah the Supreme says;

And We had given Musa the Book and followed him by Messengers. And We gave Isa the son
of Maryam the clear signs and supported him with Roohul Qudus (Jibra'eel). Is it that when ever
a Messenger came to you with a matter that you do not like, you turned with arrogance, calling
some liars and killing others? [TMQ Al-Baqarah: 87]
And He (Subhanahu wa taaala) says;

And We gave Isa the son of Maryam the Clear signs. But they disagreed, some of them believed
and some disbelieved [TMQ Al-Baqarah: 253]
They also disagreed on their Book. Allah the Supreme says;

The people of the Book did not disagree except, out of mutual jealousy, after knowledge had
come to them [TMQ Ale-Imran: 19]
They divided between themselves, calling each other kafir. Allah the Supreme says;

And the Jews claimed that the Christians are on nothing, and the Christians claimed that the
Jews are on nothing, while reciting the Book. Those who have no certain knowledge said as they
did. Allah will be the Judge between them on the Day of Judgement in that which they disagreed
on. [TMQ Al-Baqarah: 113]
Upon studying the areas in which they disagreed, one finds that they disagreed in the
fundamentals of their Deen. They disagreed on their Prophets, the Day of Judgement, the Unity
of Allah, resurrection, heaven and hell, etc. These are disagreements on the foundations of belief.

Since Allah (Subhanahu wa taaala) and His Messenger (SalAllahu alaihi wasallam) ordered us
not to divide as the People of the Book did, then we are to avoid that area which their
disagreement occurred in. This means that disagreement on the fundamentals of the Deen is
To explain the above mentioned further, the Tafseer of the ayah;

And hold tight to the rope of Allah and divide not, [TMQ Ale-Imran: 103],
needs to be looked into. Allah (Subhanahu wa taaala) orders the Muslims to hold tight and not
let go of the rope of Allah (Subhanahu wa taaala) and not to divide.
'The rope of Allah'
Ibn Masood (ra), Ali bin Abi Talib (ra), and Abu Saeed Al-Kuddrri (ra) said it is the Qur'an.
Others said it is the Deen of Allah (Subhanahu wa taaala). Others like Ibnul Mubaarak said it is
the Jamaah.
'And divide not'
At-Tabari said; and do not disperse away from the Deen of Allah and His covenant which he
took from you in His Book: that you should be together in obeying Him and His Messenger
(SalAllahu alaihi wasallam).
Ibn Katheer said; He ordered them to stay in the Jama`ah and not to divide.
Al-Qurtubi said; Do not divide as the Jews and the Christians in their Deenand it could mean
do not separate based on your desires and interests.
Therefore, the disagreement that Muslims are not allowed to have is in the fundamentals of their
Deen, not in its branches. This is due to several reasons:
a) The texts that condemn the disagreement order the Muslims not to disagree like the People of
the Book who disagreed in the fundamentals as previously explained.
The Sunnah of the Messenger (SalAllahu alaihi wasallam) permitted disagreements in the
branches or Furoo`.
c) The disagreement that existed among the Sahabah were in the Furoo', not in the Usul
(foundations of the Deen). No condemnation was made about such disagreements in the Furoo.
d) The followers of the Companions (Tabi'een), the generation that followed them, and the
scholars of the Salaf (predecessors) accepted the disagreement in the Furoo but not in the Usul
ud-Deen (foundations of the Deen).

So, for example, Ash-Shafi'i (ra) states in his book Ar-Risalah; Disagreement is of two types:
One that is Haram and the other is not. Everything that Allah established by the definite proof
(Hujjah) in His book or clearly stated by His Prophet is Haram to disagree over by the one who
knows of it. As for that which can be understood differently or by analogy, since the text can bare
itthere is room for [disagreement] unlike in the clearly stated.
Ibn Taymiyah (ra) in his book al-Fatawa al-Kubra, Vol. 20, p.256 stated; Then it [the texts] are
divided to: that which is definite in its dalalah (meaning). Its definiteness is established in its
chain [of narrators] (Sanad) as well as in its contents (Mata), where we are sure that Allah's
Messenger (SalAllahu alaihi wasallam) said it and meant that meaning. The other which is
indefinite in its dalalah (meaning). As for the first, it must be believed in and acted according to.
This is indisputable among the scholars in general. The scholars might disagree however in some
news whether their chains are definite (Qati) or not and whether their meaning is definite or not.
An example of such disagreement is with regard to the news transmitted by the one (Khabarul
Wahid) that is accepted by the Ummah or the one that the Ummah has agreed to act upon.
So the subject that the hadith discusses is not the differences, which arise from interpretation of
the texts, which are preponderant in meaning, but it is condemning those firqah (sects) that have
differed in the foundations of the Deen. Indeed, the Sahabah (ra) had disagreed in matters, which
were related to the branches of the Deen, but they remained united on the foundations of the
Deen. Subsequently, the great Mujtahideen of Islam differed on many aspects of the Deen, but
they were again in the branches. So the firqah which are punished in hell fire, are not those
groups which have these legitimate differences. Therefore, those who follow a particular
Madhab, such as the Shafii, Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki or even those who follow the schools of
thought from the Shia like the Jafari or Zaidi, are not labelled with disbelief.
Rather, those sects that are mentioned in the hadith are those who have left the fold of Islam such
as the Qadiani, who claimed Prophethood after Muhammad (SalAllahu alaihi wasallam), or those
Alawi, who claim Ali (ra) to be god incarnate (may Allah protect us from such deviation), or
those who deny the punishment in the Ahkirah, etc. Any group that contradicts the definite text
of the Quran, falls outside the fold of Islam.
The Hanafi scholar, Ibn Abideen stated this fact; There is no doubt in the disbelief (kufr) of
those that falsely accuse Sayyida Aisha (ra) of adultery, deny the companionship of Sayyidina
Abu Bakr (ra), believe that Sayyidina Ali (ra) was God or that the angel Jibril mistakenly
descended with the revelation (wahy) on the Messenger of Allah (SalAllahu alaihi wasallam),
etc. which is apparent kufr and contrary to the teachings of the Qur'an. [Radd al-Muhtar, 4/453].
Ibn Abidin continues; "It is difficult to make a general statement and judge all the Shia to be nonbelievers, as the scholars have agreed on the deviation and defection of the deviated sects."
Even the Shia scholar of the Quran, Allama Muhammad Hussein Tabatabai, writes in his very
famous exegesis, Tafseer-ul-Meezan, 12th edition, page 109, published in Iran, regarding the
completeness of the Qur'an; The Quran, which Almighty Allah descended on Prophet
Muhammad (SalAllahu alaihi wasallam), is protected from any change.

Unfortunately, the ignorance and bigotry of certain groups has led to the passing of Takfir, which
had affected the Jews and Christians. It is a way of thinking which regards ones own opinion
and views in matters within the Deen as unquestionably right, and any belief or opinion opposed
to or differing from them as unreasonable or wicked.
The Muslim Ummah is one. The Quran found in the mosques, throughout the world, whether in
Karachi, Tehran, Cairo, Madinah, or Algiers is one. Allah (Subhanahu wa taaala) states;

Verily, this brotherhood of yours is a single brotherhood, and I am your Lord and Cherisher:
therefore serve Me (and no other) [TMQ Al-Anbiyah: 92]
The Shia are part of this noble Ummah; they are Muslim and brotherly love needs to exist
between all the Muslims. Indeed the Muslim is a brother of another Muslim, whether he is Shia,
Sunni or whatever authority he imitates or whichever Mujtahid he follows. This is how the
Messenger of Allah (SalAllahu alaihi wasallam) taught us,

The Muslim is a brother of another Muslim, he doesn't oppress him, neither does he hand him
over to the enemy, he doesn't disappoint him, nor does he humiliate him.
Allah (Subhanahu wa taaala) states;

It is He who has called you Muslim. [TMQ Al-Hajj: 78]
Any disagreement which exists, is something which can be referred to the divine texts,

and if you differ in anything refer it back to Allah and His Messenger [TMQ An-Nisa: 59]
Indeed, it is clear for those who take notice, that the Kuffar have gathered against us and have
thrown us all into one bracket and are not going to let a day pass without the spilling of Muslim
blood. In spite of the fact that the Kuffar are split in accordance with their benefits, they come
together in the war against Islam, and compete in their enmity against it. So should we not gather
against them, bonding around Islam, not artificially splitting ourselves into Sunni and Shia and
various Madhabs?

The Unbelievers are protectors, one of another: Unless ye do this, (protect each other by

establishing the Khilafah), there would be turmoil and oppression on earth, and great mischief.
[TMQ Al-Anfal: 73]

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