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THE SECTS THAT HAVE GONE ASTRAY

Sayyid Abdul Qadir Gilani
(Ghawth-i `Adham)

al-Ghunya li-Talibi Tariq al-Haqq

on the Sects.

The following traditional reports provide us with our basic information concerning the sects [firaq] that have gone astray from the path of right guidance:

According to a report from Kathir ibn 'Abdi'llah ibn 'Amr ibn 'Awf, on the authority of his father, who heard it from his grandfather (may Allah be well pleased with him), the latter stated that Allah's Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) once said:

You must follow the exemplary traditional practices [sunan] of those who have gone before you, by treading in their very footsteps. You must take exactly the same course as the one they took, inch by inch, cubit by cubit, span by span, to the extent that if they had ever entered a lizard's lair, you would enter it too.

What happened in the case of the Children of Israel was that they split up, in spite of Moses, into seventy-one sects, each and every one of them in error, apart from one solitary exception, namely the party [firqa] of Islam and their community [jama'a].

Then they split up again, in spite of Jesus, son of Mary, into seventy-two sects, each and every one of them in error apart from one solitary exception, namely the party of Islam and their community.

What will happen next is that you [Muslims] will split up into seventy-three sects, every one of them in error, apart from one solitary exception, namely the party of Islam and their community.

According to another traditional report, this one transmitted by 'Abd ar-Rahman ibn Jubair ibn Nufair, on the authority of his father, who passed it on from 'Awf ibn Malik al-Ashja'i (may Allah be well pleased with him), the latter said that Allah's Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) once said:

My Community [Umma] will split up into seventy-three sects, and the sect that will cause the greatest mischief for my Community will be the one made up of people who use their own subjective opinion as the standard by which to assess affairs. They will declare what is lawful to be illegal [yuharrimuna'l-halal], and they will legitimize that which is unlawful [yuhalliluna'l-haram].

We have it on the authority of 'Abdu'llah ibn Zaid that the following words of Allah's Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) were reported by 'Abdu'llah ibn 'Umar (may Allah be well pleased with him and with his father):

The Children of Israel split up into seventy-one sects, each and every one of them in the Fire of Hell, apart from one solitary exception. My own Community will eventually split up into seventy-three sects, each and every one of them in the Fire of Hell, apart from one solitary exception.

When they asked: "Which is that one solitary exception?" he replied (Allah bless him and give him peace):

Those who are about what I and my Companions are about.

This splitting up into sects, which was predicted by the Prophet himself (Allah bless him and give him peace), did not occur in his own lifetime, nor yet during the period [covered by the Caliphates] of Abu Bakr, 'Umar, 'Uthman and 'Ali (may Allah the Exalted be well pleased with them all). It happened only after the lapse of many years and decades, with the passing of the Companions [Sahaba] and the Successors [Tabi'un], the seven jurists [fuqaha'] known as the Jurists of Medina, and the learned scholars ['ulama'] and jurists of the great provincial cities [amsar], generation after generation. As these worthy people died out, true knowledge ['ilm] was taken beyond the reach of all but a very few, a tiny band who were to become the only group saved from damnation [al-firqat an-najiya], and through whom Allah would keep the religion [din] intact. It all turned out just as Allah's Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) had said it would, in the words transmitted by way of 'Urwa on the authority of 'Abdu'llah ibn 'Umar (may Allah be well pleased with him and with his father):

Allah (Exalted is He) will not remove knowledge from the breasts of men after He has given it to them. What He will do instead is take away the learned scholars. Each time He takes away a learned scholar, He will be taking away the knowledge that was in his possession, until the only people left are those who know nothing at all. These people will therefore be in error themselves, and they will also lead others astray.

According to a differently worded version, transmitted by 'Urwa on the authority of his father, it is reported that 'Abdu'llah ibn 'Umar (may Allah be well pleased with him and with his father) once heard Allah's Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) say:

Allah (Exalted is He) will not remove knowledge by snatching it directly away from the people at large, but He will take knowledge away by taking away the learned scholars. Eventually, when there is not a single learned scholar left, the people will accept ignorant men as their leaders. When they are asked to give advice [on questions of Islamic religious law], they will issue pronouncements [aftaw] without knowledge, so they will be in error themselves and they will also lead others astray.

This next report has been handed down to us from Kathir ibn 'Abdi'llah ibn 'Awf, on the authority of his father, who stated that his grandfather attributed the following words to Allah's Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace):

The religion will surely wriggle back home to the Hijaz, just as a snake wriggles home to its lair. Within the Hijaz, the religion will then most certainly take refuge in the inaccessible stronghold at the peak of Mount Arwiya. The religion first appeared as a stranger in exile [gharib], and it will go back to being a stranger in exile once again, so may blessings abound for the strangers in exile [fa-tuba li'l-ghuraba']!

When someone asked: "Who are the strangers in exile?" he responded by saying (Allah bless him and give him peace):

Those who will repair the damage done to my exemplary practice [sunnati] by those who come after me.

In a report that has been handed down to us on the authority of 'Ikrima, Ibn 'Abbas (may Allah be well pleased with him and with his father) is quoted as having said: "Never will there come a period of time in which people do not kill off a traditional practice [sunna] and bring an heretical innovation [bid'a] to life."

We learn from a report transmitted by al-Harith that 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (may Allah be well pleased with him) once said: "Allah's Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) had been speaking about disruptive temptations [fitan], so we asked him: 'What is the way of escape from them, O Messenger of Allah?' To this Allah's Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) replied:

'The Book of Allah is the Wise Remembrance [adh-Dhikr al-Hakim]. It is the Straight Path [as-Sirat al-Mustaqim]. It is that which tongues do not become confused about. It is that about which the jinn did not stop saying, once they had heard it: "We have indeed heard a marvelous Qur'an!" (72.1). If a person makes it the basis of the doctrine he chooses to profess, that person will be professing the truth, and if a person makes it the basis on which he rests his judgment, that person will be acting justly.'"

In a report from 'Abd ar-Rahman ibn 'Umar, al-'Irbad ibn Sariya (may Allah be well pleased with him) is quoted as having said:

"Allah's Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) had performed the dawn prayer [salat as-subh] with us, then he had treated us to an eloquent exhortation [maw'iza], which affected us so powerfully that tears streamed from our eyes, our hearts trembled, and our hides were scorched. We felt so moved by it that we said: 'O Messenger of Allah, it seems like the exhortation of one who is about to take his leave!' He responded to this by saying (Allah bless him and give him peace):

The counsel I bequeath to you is dutiful devotion [taqwa] to Allah, and paying heed and obedience [to your leader], even if he happens to be an Abyssinian slave, for anyone who lives on after me will experience much disharmony.

You must therefore strive to follow my exemplary practice [sunnati], and the exemplary practice of the rightly guided Caliphs [sunnat al-khulafa' ar-rashidin] after I am gone. You must hold on to it with a very tight grip, and doggedly sink your teeth into it. You must beware of novel fashions [muhdathat al-umur], for every novelty is an heretical innovation [bid'a], and every heretical innovation is a deviation from the right path."

According to a report transmitted on the authority of Abu Huraira (may Allah be well pleased with him), Allah's Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) once said:

Whenever a person summons other people to take the path of right guidance, and finds followers, he will be entitled to the same reward as those who follow his lead, though nothing will be subtracted from their rewards. And whenever a person summons other people to take the way of error, and finds followers, he will be subject to the same penalties as those who follow his lead, though nothing will be subtracted from the penalties incurred by them.

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