Sects of Islam

Sects of Islam0%

Sects of Islam Author:
Publisher: World Organization for Islamic Services (WOFIS)
Category: Religions and Sects

Sects of Islam

This book is corrected and edited by Al-Hassanain (p) Institue for Islamic Heritage and Thought

Author: Allamah Sayyid Sa'eed Akhtar Rizvi
Publisher: World Organization for Islamic Services (WOFIS)
Category: visits: 2436
Download: 1867


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Sects of Islam

Sects of Islam

Publisher: World Organization for Islamic Services (WOFIS)

This book is corrected and edited by Al-Hassanain (p) Institue for Islamic Heritage and Thought

Sects of Islam

Author(s):Allamah Sayyid Sa'eed Akhtar Rizvi

Publisher(s): World Organization for Islamic Services (WOFIS)


Thiswork is published on behalf of

The typing errors aren’t corrected.

Table of Contents

Introduction 4

Person of God 5

Notes 5

Can Allah be seen? 6

Attributes of Allah 7

Notes 7

Place of Reason in Religion 8

Lutf: Grace 9

Note 9

God’s Promises 10

Note 10

Why believe in God? 11

Our actions: Taqdir 12

Notes 12

Prophethood 14

Infallibility 14

The Prophets 14

Imams 14


In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

There is no difference of opinion amongst Muslim sects that the ‘religion’ of Allah is Islam; that the only way to know Islam is through the Book of Allah and thesunnah of the Holy Prophet; and that the Book of Allah is what is known as the Qur’an, is without any addition or subtraction.

And what difference is there is in the interpretation of some of the verses of the Qur’an; and in believing or not believing some of thesunnah as genuine; or in its interpretation.

This difference of approach has led towards the difference in some basic principles and some laws ofshari’ah .

As the basic principles of Islam arewell-known , I do not think it necessary to enumerate all the beliefs. It will be sufficient if some of the important differences are described here to give the readers afairly comprehensive idea of the main characteristics which distinguish theShi’ahs from the Sunnis.

All the Muslims agree that Allah is one, Muhammad is His lastProphet and that one day Allah will resurrect all the human beings and all will be answerable to their beliefs and actions.

All of them agree that anyone not believing in any of the above three basic principles is not a Muslim.Also, they agree that anybody denying the famous tenets of Islam, likesalah (prayers),sawm (fasting), hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca),zakat (religious tax), etc., or believing that the famous sins, like drinking wine, adultery, stealing, gambling, lie, murder, etc., are not sins, is not a Muslim, though he might have been believing in Allah and His Prophet Muhammad, because to deny such things is tantamount to deny theProphethood of Muhammad and hisshari’ah (Divine Law).

When we go further, we come across thosesubjects which are not agreed amongst the Muslims, and there the differences between the different sects of Islam begin.

Person of God

The Sunnis say that Allah has a body, not like the bodies that we know of. There is a vastmaterial which can be quoted here describing that belief.But as all the Sunnis nowadays areAsh’arite (followers ofAbu’l-Hasan al-Ash’ari ), I would like to note down his belief on this subject.

He says “We confess that God is firmly seated on His Throne . We confess that God has two hands, without asking how We confess that God has two eyes, without asking how. . We confess that God has a face We confess that God has knowledge We affirm hearing and sight, and do not deny that, as do theMu’tazila , theJahmiyya , and theKhawarij . We affirm that God has power. .”1

We, theShi`ah Ithnaasharis (the followers of the Twelve-Imams inShi’ism ) believe that Allah doesn’t have a body.

“Verily, Allah is One, Unique, nothing is like Him, He isEternal ; Hearing, Seeing, Omniscient, Living, Omnipotent, above every need. Hecannot be described in terms of substance, or body, or form, or accident, or line, or surface, or heaviness, or lightness, orcolour , or movement, or rest, or time, or space. He is above all the descriptions which can be applied to His creatures.”

“He is away from both extremes: Neither He is just a non-entity (as atheists and in a lesser degree that theMu'tazilites have implied), nor He is just like other things. He is Existent, not like other existing things.”2

Of course, there are some verses in theQur'an which ascribe the words used for limbs to the person of God.But according to the interpretation of our Imams, they are used in a metaphorical, not literal sense.

For example, the verse: “Everything is mortal except His face” means ‘except His person’. Surely, even the Sunnis cannot say that only the face of God will remain, while all His so-called limbs will die!Similarly Allah has used the word ‘Hand’ in several places in the Qur'an.But it means His Power and His Mercy, as in the verse: “But His hands are outspread”.


1. A. J.Arberry , Revelation and Reason in Islam, pp. 22 - 23; quoted from al-Ibana by Abu’1-Hasan al-Ash’ari .

2. AshShaykh as-Saduq , Al-I’tiqadat .

Can Allah be seen ?

As a direct result of theabove mentioned difference, the Sunnis say that Allah can be seen. Some of them, like Imam Ahmadibn Hanbal , say that Hecan be seen in this world, as well as in the life hereafter. Others say that Hecan be seen in the life hereafter only.

On the other hand, we, theIthna 'asharis , say that He cannot be seen anywhere, because He has no body, and because Allah says in theQur’an:

“Sight cannot reach Him” (6:103).

The Sunnis use the following verse as their proof:

“Some faces on that day (ofjudgement ) will be fresh, looking towards their Lord” (75:22-23).

But in the Arabic language, the word “nazar ” does not imply ‘seeing’. Often itis said : ‘nazartu ilal hilal falam arahu ’ (I looked towards the new moon but I did not see it). Therefore, the verse cannot imply that they will see God. According to our interpretation, it means that they will be looking forward for the blessings of Allah.

Attributes of Allah

According to theShi’ah Ithnaasharis , attributes of Allah can be put in two distinct groups: First,those attributes which denote His person; second, those attributes which denote His actions.

Ash-Shaykh as-Saduq says:

“For example, we say that Allah was forever 'Hearing, Seeing, Omniscient, Wise, Omnipotent, Having power, Living, Self-existent; One and Eternal. These are His personal attributes;.

“And we do not say that He was from ever Creating, Doing, Intending, pleased, displeased, Giving sustenance, Speaking; because these virtues describe His actions; and they are not eternal; it is not allowed to say that Allah was doing all these actions from eternity. The reason for this distinction is obvious. Actions need an object. If, for example, we say that Allah was giving sustenance since forever, we will have to admit the existence of sustained things since forever.

In other words, we will have to admit that the world has always existed. But it is against our belief that nothing except God is Eternal.”

It appears that the Sunnis have no clear view of this distinction. They say that all His attributes are Eternal.And that was the actual cause of their belief that the Qur'an, being thekalam (speech) of God, is Eternal, not created. Because they saidthat He has always beenmutakallim .“TheHanbalites so far have said that ‘not only were the words and sounds of the Qur'an eternal, so that even its recital was uncreated, but its parchment and binding shared the same qualities . In the so called Testament of AbuHanifah . a more moderate view is expressed: ‘We confess that the Qur’an is the speech of Allah, uncreated, His inspiration, and revelation, not He, yet not other than He, but His real quality, written in the copies, recited by the tongues . The ink, the paper, the writing are created, for they are the work of man’”. 1

But as we, theShi'ah Ithnaasharis , distinguish between His personal virtues and His actions, we say:

“Our belief about the Qur'an is that it is the speech of God.It has been sent by Him - it is His revelation, His book and His word. All is its Creator,Sender and Guardian...”2

The bitter quarrelsamong two groups of the Sunnis (Mu’tazilites andAsh’arites ) on this subject are well-known, and there is no need to relieve them.


1. A. J.Arberry , Revelation and Reason in Islam, pp. 26 – 27.

2. Al-I’tiqadat .

Place of Reason in Religion

This is one of the most important distinctions between the Sunnis on one side, and theIthna’asharis on the other. To be more exact,I should have used the wordAsh’arites , in place of Sunnis.But all the Sunnis nowadays areAsh’arites .Mu’tazilites have become extinct long ago, though some of the great scholars of the recent times like Justice Amir ‘Ali wereMu’tazilites .

Anyhow, theShi’ahs say that irrespective of religious commandments, there is real merit or demerit in different courses of actions, and it is because a certain thing is good that God orders it, and because the other is bad that He forbids it.

The Sunnis deny this conception. They say that nothing is good or evil in itself. Only what God has commanded us is good and what He has forbidden us is evil. Ifa thing is forbidden by God it is bad; then if God cancels the first order, and allows it , it will become good, after being bad.

In other words, theShi’ahs say that God has forbidden us to tell a lie because it is bad; the Sunnis say that lying has become bad because God has forbidden it.

TheShi’ahs recognize the relation of cause with effect. The Sunnis deny it. They say that there is no cause except Allah.And it is just a habit of Allah that whenever, for example, we drink water He quenches our thirst. Based upon the above difference of attitude about the position of reason in religion are the following differences:-

TheShi’ahs say that God never acts without purpose or aimlessly. All His actionsare based on wisdom and intelligent purpose.The proof being because it is not commendable, rationally, to act without purpose. The Sunnis on the other hand, because of their denouncement of rational merit or demerit, say that it is quite possible for God to act aimlessly.

It follows that, according to theShi’ahs , God doesnothing which has inherent demerit in it. The Sunnis deny this.

TheShi’ah say that all actions of Allah are intended for the benefit of His creatures. Because He Himself has no need; and if His actions become devoid of benefits for His creation also, they will become aimless, which is rationally not commendable. The Sunnis deny this, because of their stand about rational merit or demerit.

Lutf : Grace

Based upon the above differences, is the difference about their attitude towards the Grace of Allah. TheShi`ahs say that the Grace is morally, incumbent upon Allah. “By grace, it is understood that action on the part of God which would help to bring His creatures nearer to His devotion and obedience and facilitate their moral correction, (which is) morally incumbent on Him.

“Allah has commanded us to be just, while He Himself treats us with something better, namely grace (tafaddul ).”

The Sunnis, on the other hand, say, “God leaded astray whom He wills and guided aright whom He wills, and it is not incumbent upon God The Most High to do that which may be best for the creature.”1


1. Creed of an-Nasafi .

God’s Promises

Based upon our stand on justice and grace is our view that “whatever God has promised as reward for any good work, He willfulfil it; but whatever He has threatened as punishment for any bad work, it is upon His discretion. If He meted out the punishment, it will be by His justice; if He forgives it, it will be by His grace.”1

We are confrontedboth by theKharijites andMu’tazilites on one side and theAsh'arites on the other. TheMu’tazilites andKharijites say that it is incumbent upon God tofulfil His threats also. He has no power to forgive. TheAsh’arites , on the other hand say that it is not incumbent upon Him even tofulfil His promises of rewards. They go so far as to say, “even if Allah was to send the Prophets to Hell, and Satan to Paradise, it is not against virtue, because there is no inherent demerit in any action.”


1. Ash-Shaykh as-Saduq , al-I `tiqadat .

Why believe in God?

TheShi’ahs say: Manis obliged by his reason to know God, and to obey His commands. The Sunnissay: Reason has nothing to do with anything. Of course, it is necessary to believe in Allah, but noton account of reason. It is necessary because Allah has ordered us to know Him. According to the Shiite view, this type of proof creates a vicious circle. Believe in God.Why? Because God has ordered it. But we do not know who is God. Why should we obey Him?

TheShi’ahs say: God cannot give us a command beyond our strength, because it is wrong rationally. The Sunnis do not agree with it.

Our actions:Taqdir

Are our actions really ours?Or are we just a tool in the hands of Allah? TheShi’ahs say:Taqdir means that, 'Allah possesses foreknowledge of human actions. But He does not compel any man to act in any particular way.’”1

To make it clear, it should be explained here, that man's conditions or actions are of two kinds (i )Those actions about which he can be advised, ordered, praised or blamed. Such actions are within his power and are dependent upon his will. (ii) Such conditions about which hecannot be praised or blamed, like life, death, etc . Such conditions are outside his sphere of will or power. For example, we can advise a patient to consult this or that doctor and remain under his treatment; but we cannot advise him tobecome cured .Why this difference? Because getting treatment is under his power, butgetting cured is not in his power. It issomething which comes from Allah.

But even our freedom of action is a gift of Allah. He has given us the power, the freedom, the strength, the limbs, thewisdom and everything with which we do any work. Therefore, we are not independent of Allah, because our freedom is not only givenbut even sustained by Him.But our actions are not compelled by God, because He, after showing us the right and wrong ways, and after enjoining us to do right, has left us to our own freewill. If we go wrong, it is our own choice.

Ash-Shaykh as-Saduq says: “Our belief in this respect is what has been taught by al-ImamJa’far as-Sadiq : ‘There is no compulsion (by God) and no relinquishing the authority (of God); but a condition between these two conditions.’ Then the Imamwas asked : ‘How is it?’ Hesaid: ‘Suppose you see a man intending to commit a sin; and you forbade him; but he did not listen to you; and you left him; and he did commit that sin. Now when he did not pay heed to you and you left him, it cannot be said that you ordered him or allowed him to sin.’”2

In other words, we believe that God has given uspower and will and then has left us free to do what we like. At the same time, He has taught us, through the prophets, what isright and what is wrong. Now, as He is Omniscient, He knows what our actions will be in different times of our life.But this knowledge does not make Him responsible for our actions more than a meteorologist can be responsible for cyclones and storms, if his forecasts come true. True forecasts are the result, not the cause, of the impending event.

The Sunnis on the other hand say that Allah is the Creator of all our acts.“No act of any individual, even though it is done purely for his benefit is independent of the will of Allah for its existence; and there does not occur in either physical or an extra terrestrial world the wink of an eye, the hint of a thought, or the most sudden glance, except by the degree of Allah . of His power, desire and will. This includes evil and good, benefit and harm, success and failure, sin and righteousness, obedience and disobedience, polytheism and belief.”3


1. Al-I’tiqadat .

2. Al-I’tiqadat

3. Al-Ghazali : as quoted inShia of India, pg. 43


Based upon their belief oflutf (Grace), theShi’ahs believe that it is incumbent upon Allah to send Prophets or their successors to this world to guide people towards the right path. The Sunnis say that it is not incumbent upon Allah, because they do not accept necessity oflutf .

TheShi’ahs and Sunnis in the first instance, and then the Sunnis among themselves, disagree about the theory of 'ismah (infallibility) of the Prophets.


What is our conception of ‘ismah ? It islutf (grace) ofAllah which helps a person to refrain from sins, without effecting in any way his will and power. Ama’sum (sinless) person has the power to commit sins; but he does not even think about sins because his spiritual standard is so high that such inferior things do not enter his mind.

The Sunnis do not speak with one voice upon this subject.

They first differ about the point when ‘ismah begins. Some say it is after the declaration ofProphethood ; others say that it is since childhood.

Second Difference: The scope of ‘ismah before declaration ofProphethood : Some say that it covers all sins;majority say that they are protected fromkufr (infidelity) only.

Third Difference: The scope of ‘ismah after declaration ofProphethood ; it is agreed that the Prophets could not tell a lie afterProphethood .But what about other sins? Some say that they could commit other sins either intentionally or unintentionally; but themajority say that they could commit it unintentionally, but not intentionally.

Fourth Difference: About minor sins: They say it was possible for the prophets to commit minor sins, even intentionally.But that they were protected from such minor sins which might have degraded them in the esteem of people.

TheShi'ah Ithna-‘asharis ’ stand about ‘ismah is that all the Prophets were sinless and infallible; they could not commit any sin, whether major or minor, whether intentionally or unintentionally; and that they werema’sum from the beginning of their life till their last breath.

The Prophets

Ash-Shaykh as-Saduq says about Prophets that:

“Their word is the word of God, their order is the order of God, their forbidding is the forbidding by God . And that the Chiefs of the Prophets are five - and they are (called) “ulul `azm ” - and they are Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (be blessings of Allah upon them all) and that Muhammad is their Chief and best of all.”


TheShi'ahs say that Imam must be appointed by God; that appointment - may be known through the declaration of the Prophet or the preceding Imam.

The Sunnis say that Imam (or Caliph, as they prefer to say) can be either elected, or nominated by the preceding caliph,or selected by a committee, or may acquire power through a military coup. If heis elected , it is enough that one man should dobay’ah (allegiance) to him.

TheShi’ahs say: That Imam must bema’sum (sinless).

The Sunnis say (including theMu’tazilites ) that ‘ismah is not a condition for caliphate. Even if he is a tyrant and has sunk himself in sins,Hanbalites ,Shafi’ites andMalikites forbid people to rise against that caliph. They say that they should preserve.

TheShi’ahs say that Imam must possess above all such qualities as knowledge, bravery, justice, wisdom, piety, love of God etc. The Sunnis say it is not necessary. A person inferior in these qualitiesmay be elected in preference to a person having all these qualities of superior degree.

TheShi’ahs say that ‘Ali was appointed by Allah to be the successor of the Prophet, and that the Prophet declared it on several occasions. The Sunnis say that the Prophet did not appoint anybodyto be his successor.