What is the point of the difference of sects in Islam?

One of the issues, which attract much argument, is that of the sects. As well as trying to show it as a cause of separation, some people aim at blundering minds with demagogy. When looked into attentively, it will be seen that the sects emerged out of necessity and have never been a cause of separation.

Islam, which is composed of faith and practice, the sects in it deal with the realm of practice. That more than one sect emerged stems from the fact that the imams of sects understood the outer principles differently. (Mektubat, 449)

For example, while Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was praying, his forehead bled because of stones on the ground. Hazrath Aisha (may God be pleased with her) took the stone from his forehead. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) got his ritual ablution again and continued praying. The Imam of the sect Hanafi Imam Azam, and that of the sect Shafii Imam Şafii handle this issue in two different ways: Imam Azam concludes that because the forehead of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) bled because of the stone, he renewed his ablution; while Imam Şafii says that it was because Hazrath Aisha touched his forehead that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) got his ablution. Thus, in the sect Hanafi it was accepted that even a little drop of blood takes away ablution; while in the sect Shafii the touch of women takes it away. As is seen, both views are correct and have sound evidence of their own.

The advent of sects

Until our Prophet (pbuh), the Sharia-the set of Islamic laws- concerning secondary details have been revealed differently, while the essentials and basics of it stayed the same; moreover, even in the same century different people were given different Sharia. But with the coming of our Prophet (pbuh) there was no need for different Sharia and the religion he issued sufficed all the centuries long. But in the issues that are secondary and pertaining to details there have been a need for the sects. The imams of the right sects fulfilled this duty and solved the problems of the humanity. As a miracle, our Prophet (pbuh) prophesized that these imams would come and would accomplish a big responsibility, and they verified him with the work and service they have performed.

The Islamic sects have never allowed internal clash and disorder-except for some small instances- and the imams of these sects have always been respectful to each other and never denied one another, and did not claim assertively that they intended to establish a sect, and they expressed their views and ijtihads- deducing secondary judgments from the Quran and Hadiths, which were later gathered together to form a sect, only when there was need for it.

For example, when Imam Azam (80-150, of the Hegira) expressed his ijtihad about an issue, he would say: This is the view of Numan bin Sabit (Imam Azam). This is the best of the views we could deduce. Whoever expresses a better view than this, he is the one closer to the truth.

Imam Malik (the founder of the sect Maliki, 93-179 of the Hegira) said, I am human. Sometimes I err, and sometimes say just the right thing. For this reason, examine my views and ijtihad. If you find them suitable for the Book and the Sunnah-the way Hz Mohammad pbuh) lived, accept them; and if not, deny. (Hayreddin Karaman, Fıkıh Usulü,33)

Also the founder of the sect Hanbali, Imam Hanbali (164-241, of the Hegira), and that of the sect Shafii, Imam Shafii (150 – 204, of the Hegira), never asserted themselves and did not speak impolitely and did not offend their colleagues. Later on, the views and ijtihads of these knowledgeable people were gathered together by their pupils and other knowledgeable people and presented to the benefit of the community, in order for them to pray in peace.

Is it possible that the truth be more than one?

There is a question which was asked fervently and challengingly in the newspaper articles against Muslims, and which is still repeated much: The truth is only one; how come the different and even contrary views of the four sects are the truth at the same time?

Bediüzzaman answers this question, A glass of water has five effects upon five different patients: For the first one it is a must because for his illness it has a healing effect. For another it is as dangerous as poison because of his illness; it is medically forbidden for him. For another the water is a little dangerous; so it is reprehensible. For another it is good and without harm; so it is Sunnah for him. For the last one it is neither hazardous nor beneficial; medically it is permissible for him. And here the truth has become many. All the five are correct. Can you say that the water is just a remedy, and so obligatory, and that there is no other truth other than it.

Just like this example, divine judgments vary according to the adherents of the sects. And they change truthfully and each one becomes the truth itself.

Whichever of the secondary issues, which seem different in each sect, we look into, we can see that the basis and grounds upon which they are put are each right and correct. About this issue, Imam Sharani wrote a book and put forth how the imams of sects understood issues by making a comparison between them.

An example:

The imams of sects differed not in Islamic issues, but in the way of practice and with suitable reasons for them. All the imams, for example, have agreed upon the wiping of the head in performing ablution, but differed in its style and amount.

The decree of God, who made it a must on us to get ablution, Wipe your heads, has come with the verse bi ruusikum. One of the richest of the languages, in Arabic, the letter b comes to the beginning of words to mean sometimes to beautify, sometimes some, and sometimes to join. The imams of sects have understood differently the meaning of b in the beginning of the verse of ablution; and this caused different practices.

For this reason, Imam Malik says, When wiping the head, the entire head must be wiped, because the b here is used to beautify the word. It doesnt have separate a meaning.

Imam Abu Hanifa, however, says, This b is the b which has the meaning of some. So it is enough to wipe just a part of the head.

And Imam Shafii says, This b is the b that means to join. So, if the hand touches the head, and just some hairs, it is enough. This being the case, it is evident that all the imams of sects are on the right path and that the judgments that seem contradictory in secondary issues are not a cause of separation, and that the claims of the people with bad intentions are baseless.


Meanwhile, although the law is the same, one hundred percent different and contrary verdicts are given from different courts because of differences of understanding. As no one can oppose this fact, it is not very healthy and compatible with realism that the issue of sects is that much exaggerated.

Can the sects join? As human beings are not the same, so are their sects not the same, though their Sharia is just one. If the majority of humans were to lead the same kinds of lives just like the pupils of a school, then the sects might be united. However, todays circumstances do not allow this. (7)

Thus, each believer must perform his prayers in accordance with a sect and must follow a certain sect. But the imams of sects and great mujtahids-the performer of ijtihad which is the act of deducing secondary judgments from the Koran and Hadiths-do not have to follow each other; they act according to their ijtihads. We should not listen to the ones who criticize the imams of sects.

Can the views of the sects be united on a certain issue, or who can do that?

This is the act of bringing the judgments of two or more sects together about a certain issue. Only the imams of sects or the ones equal to them can do this. After this unification, if the outcome is a judgment that cannot be accepted by any sect, then this unification is not permitted. For example; in marriage, joining the sects of Hanafi, Maliki, and Shafii, and thus performing a marriage without family, the money paid to the bride, and witness is not acceptable; because neither an imam of sect nor any other mujtahids accepted this kind of a marriage. (8)

Common view is that after the happening of an event and performance according to a certain judgment, it is not permissible to accept the judgment of a sect that changes the judgment of this event. But; it is because the sects are a blessing that a deed is accepted by one of the sects in the issues that escape compensation, and this leads man to peace of heart. For example, Imam Abu Yusuf performs his Friday prayer after he has washed in public bath. Afterwards he is informed that there was a dead mouse in the water tank of the bath. According to the sect of Hanifi, his ablution is not acceptable and he performed his prayer, notwithstanding. But as it was not possible for him to perform his Friday prayer again-as it is performed together-, he said: We will act in accordance with our brothers from Medina. But in the issues that can be compensated, this is not possible. If we act that way, we may ruin our spiritual beings.

Unification can be applied after the unintentional performance of a deed. And this can be in the issues that cannot be compensated; for example, the Friday prayer; because it is performed in certain times and under certain conditions. After the expiration of this time, this prayer cannot be compensated. But the midday prayer is not like that. If a condition that may have invalidated the prayer is realized later, if its period still continues, it is performed again; if the period is gone by it is compensated later.

Sources:
1. Mektubat, s. 449, Bediüzzaman Said Nursi.
2. a.g.e., s. 108
3. a.g.e., s. 449
4. Fıkıh Usulü, Hayreddin Karaman, s. 33.
5. Sözler, Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, s. 513.
6. Hayat ve Biz, Ahmed Şahin, s. 235
7. Sözler, Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, s. 512.
8. Fıkıh Usulü, Hayreddin Karaman, s. 34-35

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Alaaddin Başar (Prof.Dr.)

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