Most Muslims will easily agree (at least those that are educated and/or living in the west) that sub-sects within Sunnism such as Deobandis, Barelwi, Jamati etc is clear sectarianism, but Sunnism has been romanticised so profoundly that they will not regard it as a sectarian divide; and so they will wear the Sunni badge proudly (same goes with Shi’ism too). The fact of the matter is, though some of these labels were in theory adopted as a descriptive label of a certain unique theological stance, in practice, they are adopted blindly and is a point of serious divide.
They are oblivious to the fact that the Qur’an came to eliminate sectarianism amongst all of mankind and germinate a universal brotherhood, but today we practice sectarianism on its basis! Even the term ‘Muslim’ is being practised divisively, as it is not a reference to a religion to be divided from other people; nor is it a specific group of dogmatic people with a distinct religious system totally separating themselves from other religious tenets.
‘muslim’ vs Muslim
Muslim is a description and a generic reference to any portion of humanity that recognises the absoluteness in God’s wills and desires and follows a path to seek and submit to His will and order. Henceforth, the term ‘muslim’ is not exclusive to Muslims. Islam is a universal truth, so naturally, it will follow that a muslim will be a universal phenomenon from people of all cultures and even from all religious or non-religious backgrounds, whether they label themselves as such or not. In fact, as per Qur’an, a massive portion of submission/muslim is not a ‘religious’ activity, but reforming elements of political and social activities. Therefore, many social activists and political revolutionaries can be considered muslim even if they had other religious labels, or no religious affiliations, other than the belief in a diety.
The Qur’an consigns some core guidance that if any individuals uphold whether they label themselves as Muslims or other, then they are paradise worthy; peacemaking, serving the needy and oppressed, purifying the political stage by injecting it with ethics through involving themselves in its discourses, always seeking the unity of all creation, holding God as the prime mover etc.
Therefore, any individual who frames their life-view through these principles is paradise worthy irrespective of the labels they may happen to wear. In fact, even an atheist will have a chance to be considered for paradise, who is a sincere researcher, full of thought, with no malice in their heart for anyone, reaches the end of their life before reaching the enlightenment of the existence of God; because their intention wasn’t to reject God after knowing there must be a Creator, but rather to gain conviction in his heart through research and knowledge, however, has enough enlightenment to act upon the principles of Qur’anic righteousness, such as serving humanity. Such a person does not deserve Hell. Paradise is bigger than the believers and God’s mercy is vast.
In short, the message of the Qur’an is universal, and its true message is understood through a humanistic worldview; thus any ideation that contravenes this course and is limited to one particular crowd is not Islam, it is sectarianism.
Successful is any individual who breaks down such constricting and exclusive practices, and embraces a broad spectrum of human universal values, and is the one who is following the mainstream and the Qur’an; anything less is cultish, no matter how large the following. Of the many functions of the Qur’an, one is to inspire and facilitate this breakdown of the toxic grip of humanity by exclusiveness and divisiveness.
My Little Experiment On Sectarianism
Unfortunately, sectarianism is so deep-rooted in certain individuals that anything coming from their opponents they would automatically reject. In fact, rejecting without any level of evaluation simply because it is emanating from the opponent is itself a sign of suffering from deep sectarianism.
Many years ago, as a student of theology, I found myself inadvertently amongst those whom my teachers have advised me as astray and should avoid. However, it has always been my nature to hear both sides of contention before making judgements. So I made good use of the opportunity and interrogated them. And judging from their answers I found that the difference is almost negligible. I was gifted a book at the end of the dialogue which was written by the founder of this sect. I found that the subject within the book hardly differs much from my teachers’ views.
So I conducted an experiment — I photocopied the book without the reference to the author’s name and asked my teachers and senior colleagues to review my latest reading material. To those who I presented the original, they rebuked me as soon as they read the name of the author for even thinking of reading such filth. To those who I presented the copy, they praised it as a well-written book, though they respectfully said they disagreed slightly on the subject.
This little experiment made me alert to my own biases and sectarianism.
My First Experience Of Intra-Bigotry
Sadly, along with sectarianism, intra-bigotry amongst Muslims is just as bad as Muslimophobia; Muslims really need to stop intra-bigotry if they are to voice against bigotry from others.
Long ago when I first started my journey into the world of theology I attended a Deobandi institute, as most Muslims around me belong to the Sunni-Hanafi sect, but they are also further divided into mainly three types of Hanafis — Deobandi, Barelwi, and Jamati. However, I never saw myself constricted to only the Deobandi interpretation of the Hanafi school.
A few years later whilst still a student at this institute, I was offered to teach young children at a local Barelwi mosque. The elders, who thrived in this intra-sectarianism imported from back home, saw me as a deviant Deobandi and tried to give me a hard time; all the attendees of this mosque had a practice of shaking each others’ hands immediately after the conclusion of the prayers, but always ignored mine with the exception of a few, and also did not reply to my greeting of Salam.
This was my first experience of intra-bigotry. Fortunately, there was a communication gap between me and these elders; they couldn’t speak English and I never spoke Urdu. So they could not further their bigotry into verbal vomit.
However, they were restless and wanted to somehow communicate to me that Deobandis were utter filth and I should convert. One day some elders turned up at the end of my class with an English-speaking chap to give me a lesson on the falsehood of Deobandism and the truth of Barelwism. The chap spoke at length of the ills of Deobandism and that they were not true Hanafis. I asked him if he has any similar problems with Hanafism, and he responded negatively.
I further asked, then why do we limit ourselves to a middle-man; why can’t we skip Deobandi, Barelwi and Jamati interpretations and do away with all the intra-bigotry, and directly follow the teachings of Imam Abu Hanifa? I told him that I see myself as a Hanafi, and any teachings of the Deobandis, Barelwis or Jamatis tallies with Imam Abu Hanifa I accept otherwise I reject.
The chap was satisfied and happy with this response, shook my hand and left. From the next day the elders had a positive atmosphere towards me and began shaking my hands after the prayers. I was occasionally even made Imam of the prayers if the main Imam was not present.