Al Ghazali used to say that the Muslims are very good at division. By that, he made it look as if he was talking about one of four most basic arithmetic functions. The other being summation, subtraction and multiplication. But then he continued: if you see two Muslims arguing, probably they belong to three groups.
People during his time loved to differ. But this love for polemics seems to be human nature. It affects not only the Muslims, but others as well. For instance, the Christians are said to have about 33,800 denominations, as reported in the Newsweek Magazine some years back.
Against that huge number, we the Muslims can take pride in ourselves, because we only have two sects: Sunni and Shiite. In Sunni, we only have four schools of thoughts (mazaahib). The Shiites too have about as much.
Malays and their Muslim brothers in South East Asia belong to the mazhab of Shafie (mazhab being singular of mazaahib). The Indians, Pakistanis and the Turks are Hanafites; the Africans, except for the Egyptians, are mostly Malikites; and the Saudis are Hanbalites.
Our Shiite brothers in Iran, Iraq and Bahrain, meanwhile, are Imamiyah; in Sana’a Yemen, the Zaydiyah; in parts of Syria and Lebanon, the Alawiyah and the Druze, both of which are the variations of Ismailiyah.
So, we can take comfort in not having too many variations and denominations. But can we?
The reality, of course, is not that neat. What was prevalent in Al Ghazali’s time is also prevalent in ours. It is an established fact that we love to argue and to differ. We like to take a fight not only with others of different faiths, but also among ourselves.
We say the Hanbalites are fine, but not the Wahabis. If we ask, who are the Wahabis, the answer given is that they are the Saudis. But the Saudis would rather consider themselves simply as Muslims, or at most Hanbalites, not Wahabis. The name Wahabi is what we label them, not how they look at themselves.
In Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, we pride ourselves of being the followers of Shafie’s Mazhab. But if Imam Shafie were to come and mingle with us, he would be surprised at how his name is being used or abused by us. When Shafie formulated and put forward his opinion, he also accepted the opinion of others. But when we “follow” Shafie, we reject what others say, including those who are also the followers of Shafie’s mazhab. If we are to include politics into the equation, the differences get compounded.
Yet the Prophet said that differences are blessings to his Ummah. On our part, however, we often take these differences to be curses instead.
In fact, we go one step further. We always call for unity, for tolerating differences. In spite of the call for unity, ironically, the number of diverging groups keeps increasing. When we have differences with the group that we belong, we get out of the group and form the new one. Yet, we have the audacity calling for unity.
I always find this issue—the issue of unity, of agreement and disagreement, of similarities and differences—fascinating. It is an age old issue; primordial, in fact.
Before Adam was created, the angels were already asking Allah as to why He wanted to create a creature who will certainly indulge in mischief, fighting against one another. Allah simply answered in His characteristic way: I know what you know not.
It did not take long before the angels’ prophesy came to be realized. As soon as Adam had children, the older son, Cain (Qabil), killed his younger brother, Abel (Habil), over some disagreement.
We need not bother ourselves with the source of the disagreement between Cain and Abel, or who is right and who is wrong. This story is well known. It is told both in the Quran and the Bible. The fact remains that even the first generation of mankind were already engaged in what we are engaging now.
Relatedly, one of my readers, a good friend of mine, sent this email to me. Allow me to quote him verbatim:
Can you tell us a story about unity in Islam. From my knowledge, right from the start of Saidina Osman, we already divided into faction. Why we never unified into one. In Malaysia we have 2 parties which are UMNO and PAS. Can ISLAM be one? No more faction, i.e., wahabi, druz, syiah…no more Saudi, Syria, Libya….
Frankly, I have no answer to his question. For the moment, however, I have a story somewhat relevant to the theme we are discussing.
After Syaidina Ali bin Abu Talib was assassinated and the caliphate went to Muawiyah, people sometimes criticized the late caliph. One day, sitting in a mosque, one of the leading companions of the Prophet, Saeed bin Zayd, overhead a man abused Ali. Irritated, he got up and said:
"I bear witness to the Apostle of Allah (SAWS) that I heard him say: "Ten persons will go to Paradise: "Abu Bakr will go to Paradise, Umar will go to Paradise, Uthman will go to Paradise, Ali will go to Paradise, Talha will go to Paradise: Zubair bin Al-Awwam will go to Paradise, Sa'd bin Abi Waqqas will go to Paradise and Abdur-Rahman bin Awf will go to Paradise. If I wish, I can mention the tenth." The People asked: "Who is he?" so he kept silence. They again asked: "Who is he?" He replied: "He is Saeed ibn Zayd." [Abu Dawood]
Now, you may have heard of the above hadith before. It is called the Hadith of the Ten Promised Paradise. If you are not familiar with that hadith, google it and you will find many entries about it.
I googled it myself and found many entries. In spite of the many entries about the above hadith (Google found 896,000 entries for that search), none satisfactorily explains the background as to why it was narrated in the first place. To fill that gap, I shall try to offer my perspective on it.
The first thing to note is that the narrator himself is relatively an obscure figure to the non specialist, although he was one of the leading companions, and included in the Ten Promised Paradise which in itself is a great honor. We are familiar with the names Abu Hurayrah, Aisha, Ibnu Abbas, Abu Darda, Ibnu Umar, etc., but we rarely hear the name Saeed bin Zayd.
I have mentioned him in passing in The Story of Hunafa Part 3. He is the son of the hanif, Zayd bin Amr, and the brother in law of Umar Al Khattab. He appeared in the famous story of Umar’s conversion as the brother in law who got beaten by Umar. But it was Umar who got famous, not Saeed.
Saeed bin Zayd was probably among the least known leading companions, although he always participated in every major event that took place either during the Prophet’s time, or after his death. He was always foreshadowed by his celebrated brother in law, Umar Al Khattab. On his part, he never aspired to be in the leadership position and always shunned limelight.
Although he was among those qualified to be considered for Umar’s successor as a caliph, the latter did not nominate him on account of their blood relationship. Even supposed he was chosen, he would have given way to his more illustrious colleagues.
He supported and pledged his allegiance to the first three caliphs after the Prophet died. But when Ali assumed the caliphate and fought against Muawiyah over the issue of retaliation over the assassination of Uthman bin Affan, he chose to remain neutral. He neither sided with Ali, nor with Muawiyah, believing that the two shouldn’t engage in the civil war.
But when Ali was assassinated, and Muawiyah took over the reign as the caliph, it became a habit for some to criticize and abuse Ali. Muawiyah himself respected Ali and considered the latter to be his worthy opponent. Alas, it is always the case that the followers tend to be more extreme than the leader. As we have earlier noted, the followers of the mazhab of Shafie tend to be more “Shafiite” than Shafie himself.
To further clarify the matter, do note that the above quoted hadith appears in the Book 40, Number 4632 of Abu Dawood. This version does not give much background as to why the generally taciturn Saeed made that kind of remark. The clearer version appears in the subsequent hadith by the same compiler. For readability, I shall not reproduce the hadith verbatim but rather narrate it in a story form.
One day, Saeed entered the Mosque of Kufah and was greeted by one of his friends there. A moment later, one man started to speak abusively. Saeed then asked his friend whose name was Rabah bin Al Harith whom this man was abusing. Upon being told it was Ali, he scolded his friend for not doing anything about it. Saeed then stood up and narrated the hadith as quoted above. He then added:
The company of one of their man whose face has been covered with dust by the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) is better than the actions of one of you for a whole life time even if he is granted the life-span of Noah.
Now, you need to pay particular attention to this phrase: [a] man whose face has been covered with dust by the Apostle of Allah.
Who is he?
He is none other than Ali. If we read the seerah of Ali, then we would know that he is known by two nicknames (kunyah). The first is Abul Hassan, for he was the father of Al Hassan, the grandson of the Prophet; and the second is Abu Turap, the Father of Dust. Saeed was essentially saying that “you, the abuser of Ali, are not even an iota of what Ali was. A day of Ali is better than your actions for your life time, even if you live as long as Noah did.”
As we know, Noah lived for one thousand years minus 50, as Quran puts it in Chapter 29 verse 14. Or, in our plain language, 950 years.
But the significance of this hadith lies not in the way it was narrated, although that is quite interesting in itself. Neither is the significance lies in the fact that these companions had been promised Paradise even before their death, although that in itself is indeed a great honor. After all, what can be a greater honor than being promised a Paradise while one is still alive, thereby explicitly giving a guarantee that no matter what he does, he won’t go wrong.
So, what is the significance of this hadith? We shall answer that question in the next part, insyaAllah. Stay tune.
End of Part 1