Introduction

Sayyid Abdul Qadir Gilani (Ghawth-i `Azham) 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:

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