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The voice of unity - Part III: roots of division

Sep 30, 2011, 2:31 PM

As the third in a series of talks regarding the subject of unity, the present article focuses on its antonym- i.e., the issue of division. At the outset, two types of differences are mentioned: 1) differences that are condemned in the Quran and 2) those that are consider beneficial, or at the least, tolerated by the faith. This talk focuses on the first of the two. Using the Quran as the underlying criteria to understand the issue, the author presents numerous verses from the sacred text in which the topic of division has been broached. His analysis results in the following conclusion: the issue of differences and falling into division is explicitly prohibited in the Quran and results in abasement in this world and retribution in the next.

In the name of Allah, the Compassion, the Merciful

The topic of our discussion in this chain of speeches is the one single Islamic Ummah and sectarian division. A discussion about unity is naturally related to a discussion about the roots division. How nice it would be if there were no differences, and the discussion was always about unity and brotherhood. But, the natural course of human life and the reality of the situation show that unity is couple with differences and division.

The Quran discusses the issues of unity and differences together, and as such it would be right for us to do so as well. But, the organization of issues and the summary of them, with the purpose of clarity and explanation, present an obstacle for such a method of discussion. 

In the pervious two speeches, two particular topics were broached. On the first day, I spoke about the unified Islamic Ummah in an attempt to answer the questions: What is meant by a unified Ummah and what conditions does it have? In the next session, I discussed Islamic brotherhood. Brotherhood, in reality, is the foundation of Islamic unity. Today, our discussion will be about the differences within the Islamic Ummah.

Considering that a great amount of confusion has gradually penetrated the Islamic world over the last fourteen hundred years, and considering the fact that division has permeated Islamic society, it is natural for us to want to examine and find the source of it. The issue of division must be raised and attention must be paid to it, perhaps even more so than unity. It is noteworthy that the Quran also mentions this issue more than it speaks of unity, and as mentioned earlier, the two issues are often discussed together. 



The discussion today will answer the following question: are differences always harmful, despicable, and to be avoided or is there such a thing as “beneficial differences”?

In reality, it must be stated that there are two types of differences. One type of differences pertains to beneficial differences, or a least differences that are not to be rejected or despised. There are also differences which are looked down upon and the Quran mention them on the same level as disbelief, thereby prohibiting them.

Some people may surmise that Muslims must be unified in all respects-that all Islamic jurists must pass the same verdicts and that all Islamic thinkers must have the same opinion. But this notion is opposed to both human nature and the Islamic point of view. Often differences can be considered quite positive because they create the foundations for thought and the prelude to reaching the truth. An example of such a preliminary is prudent doubt, and it is often stated that in so far as doubt can be a precursor to knowledge, it is positive. A person would not raise doubt in regards to a particular issue unless he has general knowledge of it, which then becomes the catalyst for him to pursue it further. Doubt causes him to obtain the reality of the issue and to understand it fully.  

Differences which act as the precursors to understanding and obtaining the truth are positive. But those that are motivated by evil and result in it are the ones that must be opposed; the misfortune of Muslims stem from this second types of differences.

The Quran has mentions many types of differences. The main portion of my speech will be about the verses which discuss these differences as well as their sources. This will be followed by an analysis separating those differences that should be rejected from those that are beneficial. In general, the following conclusion will be elaborated on: if the differences in question stem from thought or the deep pondering over an issue, without any other factor influencing it-such as politics, carnal desires, rebelliousness, or conceit-religion can tolerate it. This is the principle found in the famous tradition related through some sources about Muslim jurists: “The religious authority (mujtahid) who makes a correct ruling receives two rewards and the religious authority who makes a mistake receives one reward.”

Therefore, if differences do not stem from socio-political factors, from love and hatred, from conceit, from rebelliousness (as rebelliousness is mentioned numerous times in the Quran), from the transgression of one person upon another, or from division into parties and groups, and instead, if it stem from individuals sincerely pondering about their faith in order the understand the truth and arrive at a conclusion with regard to it, such differences can be tolerated by religion. It would even be accepted if such individuals came to a false conclusion. The grand religious authorities are in unison about universal principles, but they come to different conclusions about particulars.

In many verses of the Quran, the issue of differences has been examined as well as the source of these differences. These verses can be divided in the following manner:

1. Verses which prohibit separation and the formation of parties:

O apostles! Eat of the good things and act righteously. Indeed I know best what you do. Indeed this community of yours is one community, and I am your Lord, so be wary of me. But they fragmented their religious among themselves, each party exulting in what it had. (23:51-53)

Allah first addresses the messengers to eat of the good things (tayyibat) and to perform righteous deeds. He then states that their Ummah is a single ummah [of messengers] and that Allah is their Lord. Here, the unity of the Ummah is a necessity stemming from the oneness of the Lord. Next the messengers are ordered to have piety. This piety-which has been emphasized continuously in the Quran-is when one takes precaution from acting in accordance with one’s carnal desires, ignorance, or conceitedness.

This means that the prerequisite for success in relation to forming a unified Ummah under a monotheistic world view is being firm in piety. One should no lose control of oneself. One should not subject oneself to that which the heart desires, that which the carnal soul dictates, or that which the material world demands. Rather, one should guard oneself and always keep oneself in check.

This part of the verse was about unity. As was mentioned, the Quran usually fragmentation while discussing the issue of unity. Therefore, without delay it states: “But they fragmented their religion among themselves.” The Arabic phrase used is taqatta’u which means to tear something apart with force and persistence, implying that there was clear division between them-that they broke up to such an extent that unity was not possible thereafter. Then it state: “each part exulting in what it had.

Here, the “difference” in question pertains to the break-up of a society or the following of a religion in such a way those specific parties are formed.


To be continued