Ibn Taymiyyah wrote: ‘The saved-sect is described as being ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah. They are the overwhelming multitude (al-jumhur al-akbar) and the great majority (al-sawad al-a‘zam). The other sects are followers of aberrant views, schism, innovations and deviant desires. None even comes near to the number of the saved-sect, let alone its calibre. Instead, each such sect is extremely small [in number] (bal qad takunu’l-firqatu minha fi ghayati’l-qillah).’
The Qur’an goes to great lengths to stress the need and obligation of Muslim unity. For instance, it states in a celebrated verse: Hold fast, altogether, to the rope of God and be not divided. [3:102] It also says: Be not like the idolaters; who split up their religion and become sects, each party rejoicing in what it has. [30:31-32]
Given these verses; and given the many demands in the Sunnah for Muslim unity; and given the great virtue, rank and status this ummah is depicted with in the Revelation; those hadiths that speak of the Muslims splitting into seventy-odd sects, all except one destined for Hell, seem to contradict that spirit of honour and unity.
Understandable, then, why some scholars deem these hadiths on iftiraq or “splitting-up” as awkward; struggling to fit them into the general spirit of excellence the ummah is distinguished by. For what merit is there in…
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