Ever since the death of our Prophet(ﷺ) the Ummah has been plagued with disputes. From the first and second fitnah, to the rebellions, dynastic intrigues and coups, Islamic is hardly as rosy as nostalgic Daees would like it to be.
Scholarly disputes have been just as bloody and bitter as well. Even within the “Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaa”. There are stories of Creedal and Madhab disputes and brutal clashes that can make any reader queasy.
Entire books can be written on the history of Creedal Differences alone. However this article is not really meant to detail them. That is for another time.
I would like to share my own personal reflections on these Creedal Differences.
When I first started IDI(Islamic Discourse Initiative) I had assigned some brothers to do a series of articles summarizing the three major schools of Aqeedan in accessible manner.
The Asharis, the Maturidis and the Atharis(Salafis).
The intention was to somewhat bridge the bitter divide. A naive expectation.
And over the years I have let the bitter polemics affect me as well. For the worst. I let my perspectives be negatively affected by each “camps”.
Most online debates, or let’s just say mudslinging, are centered around the issues of Allah’s sifat. Other times it’s istigatha and takfir.
What I have learned to accept is that people from both “camps”, including myself, tend to strawman the issue and often read the other theological “camp” in an uncharitable manner.
Fact is, as far as I have read, neither the Asharis/Maturidis or the Atharis make absolute claims about Allah’s Sifat.
Atharis accept the Dhahir for what it is without speculating or explaining the how. The term Dhahir is erroneously equated to literalism, an issue we often encounter when translating to English from any Eastern Languages. And those who have their metaphysics deeply embedded in Kalam will tend to interpret this as Tajsim because they tend to not understand—or simply care not to—the Athari metaphysics which is accepting the Dhahir without likening Allah to His creation.
On the flip side, Asharis/Maturdis tend to do Taweel to avoid likening Allah to His creation. The Asharis/Maturdis developed this framework over centuries. They try to give explanations for what Allah COULD have meant by the verses and narrations relating to his Sifat. As far as I have read they do not make a definitive assertion. Most educated Asharis I have come to know would always avoid making definitive conclusion and leave it at, Allah knows best, like the Atharis.
So in short, Atharis accept the Dhahir and leave the HOW to Allah. Asharis do Taweel but leave the definitive details to Allah as well.
While it might seem “trivial” from a bird’s eye view, this one difference has been a cause of bitter polemics. Many of which I myself have taken part in myself which included uncharitable characterization of the Asharis. It was perhaps shaped by my bad experiences with extreme Taqleedi Individuals over the years.
There are other differences and issues which I will not delve into in this article. Perhaps another time.
I am not going to pretend that these differences are going to go away overnight. I am not going to say that these differences are merely verbal and trivial. If it were so, the gap wouldn’t be vast as it appears today.
However, I will stop adding to the sectarianism and bitterness among the Ahlus Sunnah.
I paste an article Sh. Akram Nadwi had written years ago.
Tell Us : What Are You?”
Written by : Dr. Muhammad Akram al-Nadwi ; Oxford
They said, “You’ve written on Islamic Fiqh through the school of Imam Abu Hanifa (may Allah have mercy on him) and gathered (in your writings) proofs from him. Additionally, you’ve written a biography about him. So you’re a Hanafi. But then we see that you combine between prayers during travel, and give fatwa declaring the permissibility of wiping over socks. And you don’t mind if your students follow a specific Imam (in taqleed) or if they don’t follow anyone – so you’re a ‘ghayr-muqallid’ (someone who doesn’t adhere to one of the schools of thought).”
And they said, “You’re an Ash’ari because you graduated from Dar ul-Uloom Nadwatul Ulama, and the madrasahs in India generally follow the Ash’ari creed. But we see that you hold Allamah Shibli Noumani in high regard, you heap praise upon him, extol his virtue, and have respect for him. And he was Maturidi. So you must then be Maturidi. But then we see you teach Aqeedah al-Tahawiyyah, and you refute the Ash’aris and the Maturidis while giving preference to the methodology of the ‘salaf’ (predecessors), so you must be Salafi.”
And they said, “You pray in the Oxford mosque, and that’s a mosque for the Barelwis. So you must be a Barelwi. But then we see you sitting with the elders of Deoband and their senior scholars, so you must be a Deobandi. And then we see you praying Jumu’ah with the Arabs, mixing with them, being friendly with them while they’re being friendly with you. And they’re Wahhabis, so you must be a Wahhabi.”
And they said, “You go with Jama’ah al-Tableegh (in their outings), so you must be a Tableeghi. But then we see you criticizing their (use of) false, and weak narrations – so you must be from ‘Jamaat-e-Islami’ – many of your friends also belong to it, you visit their centers, and give lectures and classes there. And then we see you love Hasan al-Banna al-Shaheed, and you praise his book ‘Mudhakkirat al-Da’wah wal-Da’iyah’ and you’re a fan of the books ‘al-Tasweer al-Fanni fi’ al-Qur’an’ and ‘Mashahid Yaum il-Qiyamah’ of Sayyid Qutb, and ‘Duaa’t la-Qudaat’ of Hassan al-Hadibi, so you must be Ikhwani.”
And they said, “You read ‘Ihya Ulum al-Din’ of Ghazzali, and you relate stories from it to people. And you also peruse through ‘al-Mathnavi’ of Rumi and cite lines of poetry (from it), and express emotion through it – so you must be a Sufi. But then we see you vilifying Ibn Arabi’ and those who express (the ideology of) Wahdatul-Wujud (the Unity of Existance). And you criticize the ‘mystical states’ of the people of Sufism, and their ‘stations.’ And you deny their ‘conversations’ and ‘invocations’ (the divinely inspired statements claimed by Sufis to be made during their mystical state). So you must be from the followers of Imam Ibn al-Taymiyyah – we see you exalting him and encouraging your colleagues and students to read his books.”
They said, “So we’ve become confused by you. Tell us, what are you? Do you belong to any of these groups yet cajole with others hiding behind Taqiyya (dissimulation)’? Or are you without any school of thought at all? Or are you (being) political, and diplomatic (in order to) protect your interests and benefits by associating with the many diverse groups out there? Just tell us, what are you?”
I said, “I believe in Allah, and His Angels, and His Books, and His Prophets, and in the Day of Judgement and in destiny – that the good and the bad is from Allah and that there is resurrection after death.”
They said, “We’re not asking you about that. All of us believe in that, rather we’re asking you about your affiliation, the name (from the groups) that you choose for yourself.” I said, “Allah says : ‘…And He named you ‘Muslims.’’ (Surah al-Hajj : 78). So I am a Muslim, the son of Islam, brother of the Muslim.” They said, “You’ve increased us in even more confusion about yourself. And we’ve never been more confused about you than we are today.
The upshot to take from this is that the Ulema of Ahlus Sunnah have all beneficial knowledge to offer. Take the good and leave the bad. It’s easier said than done but as Talib Ul Ilm, that is the basic thing we should be able to do. Else we will find ourselves deprived of crucial knowledge in what is a very difficult time. Good Ulema are increasingly sparse and if we bicker and boycott others, we only seek to weaken ourselves and serve the interests of our enemies.
The theological disputes won’t end anytime soon. Perhaps not until Judgement Day even. But in my opinion, in grand scale of things, it is trivial in some ways. The majority of the laity don’t care about theological disputes. Most even don’t know the meaning Madhabs.
What plagues them are issues related to Imaan i.e belief in Allah and His Deen. What people struggle with is praying regularly. What people struggle with is their Nafs; often centered around trauma and addiction.
What people struggle with is living their Deen in corrupt systems that are enforced on them by oppressive regimes.
The need of the hour is to strengthen our communities across the globe. To help all the Muslims, young and old, to overcome the challenges and trials they face in life. To support our oppressed brothers and sisters. And to establish Islam as ordained in the Quran and Sunnah.