photo of people gathered at kaaba mecca saudi arabia

The Need for Plurality, Education, and Qualified Leadership

Sectarianism in Islam is a complex problem that requires a multi-faceted approach. Discover how education, leadership, and plurality can help solve this issue and promote unity in the Muslim community.

Unlike Middle Eastern and Indo-Pak societies, many of us live in cosmopolitan towns and cities. Hence, there is diversity in attitudes, interests, and more specific ideologies: beliefs, thoughts, and concepts. There is not one kind of Muslim with one school of thought, etc. This has given birth to many disputes. Today it does not suffice to say ‘I’m a Muslim’ without adding a label or attaching yourself to a certain sect.

A problem then arises when the layman gets exposed to this, especially for those who are uneducated in Islam. They will either add fuel to the fire out of ignorance or distance themselves from the ‘warmongers,’ i.e., the ‘scholars,’ hence further away from Islam to the extent of leaving the religion. I have personally encountered students asking in a negative light; “Why is there so much Ikhtilaf (scholarly difference) in Islam?” or “What doesn’t have Ikhtilaf?” (The five pillars of Islam!?). This can simply be pushed aside by saying ‘it’s a lack of knowledge, and he’ll learn.’ He can learn, but what about the busy layman who doesn’t get this opportunity except for browsing on YouTube during the break for some inspirational speech and ends up viewing ‘Why such and such a person/group has deviated!’ More importantly, what is the root of this problem?

In such a diverse society, there is an unparalleled need to promote the good teachings of Islam, set aside differences, and accept plurality. That being said, we cannot be superficial about it by presenting this plurality in a shallow manner as if we are living in the best of generations. This would most probably fail. Rather we need to assess the reality. There is deviance in our societies, but this does not necessitate the Takfir card (ex-communication), nor does it mean belittling or ridiculing the ‘other sect.’ There are different levels of sectarianism, of which some are currently acceptable, for example, in Fiqh, and this is supposedly unique to our faith tradition.

In identifying the causes of the problem, lack of education is number one. It is undeniable that a good quality Islamic education will broaden your mind. Then again, this isn’t so true when you learn from those who have a ‘cult-like’ mentality. Meaning, if you have information bias, the expected results would not be achieved; rather it would lead directly to the problem you are trying to solve.
A point to be made here is that the masses do not have basic knowledge, so in the hunt for answers, they will search ‘Shaykh Google’. Evidently, there’s open access to a lot of information but how can a layman process this information correctly without the basic knowledge of telling right from wrong (while everybody’s mind works differently) and consequently ‘innovating his own school of thought’ or becoming his own ‘Mufti’. Understandably, the solution is to find a person with knowledge that you trust. On the other hand, it also means this ‘scholar’ cannot play the guilt trip giving unsatisfying answers as though the knowledge is restricted to the scholars. The general teaching of Islam is to be able to ask critical questions. Allah says: (So ask the people of knowledge if you do not know.)
فاسألوا أهل الذكر إن كنتم لا تعلمون

This brings me to the next cause of the problem, the lack of qualified leaders. It is essential for communities to commit to training and developing leadership in the youth. Some make scholarships so ‘inaccessible’ as if you have to travel overseas and study for many endless years or you don’t have a right to touch knowledge. Although this is something more associated with the past, the ‘scholarly class’ has also faced a backlash of aversion in the Catholic tradition. Moreover, the plurality in Fiqh has progressed largely compared to certain eras in history, for example, four Imams of different schools of thought leading separately in one Masjid. The solution to this is simple, the layman doesn’t have a school of thought rather he follows his local scholar (which is generally accepted throughout tradition). However, this does not mean the scholar should feel he is infallible nor does this allow monopolisation of knowledge as indicated earlier. This is in fact another cause of the problem of sectarianism. Rather the masses should be endorsed different layers and various levels of Islamic knowledge and not be attacked with the ‘all or nothing’ mentality. It is key for everybody to be a knowledgeable consumer. This entails that if you do not have basic knowledge, you will be spoon-fed, taken for a ride and taken advantage of (similar to that information bias).

Finally, I would like to highlight spreading the good teachings of Islam as mentioned earlier. Many have a tendency to publicly critique people or groups or request scholars or institutions to critique them. In simple words, take sides and hold the banner of a certain sect. In response to this, we need to take into consideration an example from Islamic history. Before the Qur’an was even compiled in a book format the ‘Qur’an’ of Musaylamah’ was published to the people. Despite being aware of this, not a single companion spent time in refuting it. This is done in the faith that Allah will always preserve the truth and will never let falsehood prevail. Deviance and falsehood are infinite, so a student of knowledge needs to be productive and have an unprejudiced study of the Qur’an with its application and the Sunnah along with the understanding of the Seerah (biography of the Prophet – PBUH). A key principle in approaching text is open-mindedness with a balanced mentorship.

In conclusion, sectarianism in Islam is a complex issue that arises from a lack of education, information bias, the absence of qualified leaders, and the tendency to take sides and hold the banner of a certain sect. It is essential for communities to promote the good teachings of Islam, set aside differences, and accept plurality. This can be achieved through a commitment to train and develop leadership from the youth, endorsing different layers and various levels of Islamic knowledge, and approaching texts with open-mindedness and a balanced mentorship. By addressing these root causes, we can work towards creating a more tolerant and inclusive Muslim community.


No responses yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Ocean of Islam

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading