The Chasms Between the Isms

We Muslims have a lot of -isms. Just amongst the Sunnis, we have the Salafis, the Sufis, the non-mabhabis, wahhabis (whatever that is, usually an uncreative catch-all),and of course the four madhabis. These are just the ones I know. I’m sure there are a few more. Amongst the Shi’a, there are Ismailis, Qadyaanis, Aga Khanis (they might be all the same, just different names, I don’t know), and I’m sure quite a few more. But, do we let the existence of the -isms come in the way of understanding the other’s -isms? For examples, do Salafis really understand the Sufis? Do Sufis appreciate the core principles of the Salafis? If so, great, end of post. But it’s not so. Salafis pronounce takfir on Sufis every now and then. Sufis warily eye Salafis from the other corner of the room, thinking there is something wrong with “those people.” Madhabis are constantly defending the correctness of their madhabs. Non-madhabis are usually getting in the faces of madhabis to provoke a reaction of some sort. Some madhabis are so confused, they mix non-madhabi principles into their practices and then insist it makes sense even when it clearly doesn’t. Some people call others Wahhabis just because they can’t really figure out what they are (I’m talking about Muslim abuse of this weird term) when in fact they are into the Tableegh movement. This is basically a chicken soup of -isms, and while chicken soup may be good for the soul, it really isn’t when the soup has endured beyond it’s shelf-life. The chicken soup needs to be tossed out. We need to cook up a new batch, oh people of the Ummah.

What caused these yawning divides between you and me? You is not you the reader. You is referring to the Muslim Ummah in general.  Me just might be me specifically. Me is definitely the Muslim with the ism on his or her shoulder. Because, sometimes, it feels like it’s me against the world. No, not just the world, but the Muslim world. Me, personally, I am a Sunni Muslim. I see the beauty of Sufism…and I see the beauty of it’s flip side, Salafism. I can’t really say I see the beauty of the other -isms, because I either a) don’t, or b) know nothing about those other -isms. But I do know just enough about those who subscribe to traditional methods of tasawwuf and those who subscribe to ideas of traditional Salafism to know that there need not be a chasm between us. Those on the path of salafism like to say that they are on the manhaj, the true path, and I have no doubt that they are. Salafi sheikhs have a way of crystallizing points of tawheed to the finest grain, and I have no doubt that they all transmit the importance of tawheed accurately and beautifully. I have no doubt, of course, because I went beyond my prejudice finally and actually read them. Those who are on the path of Sufism like to demonstrate their belief in the oneness of Allah and the beauty and grace of his Nabi sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam in more poetic and analogical ways. Perhaps, this differing style of communication is the cause of misunderstanding between the two ideologies. I don’t know…I am not smart enough to figure it out. There are extreme Salafis and extreme Sufis who really have nothing to do with either path, yet they are there murking up the chicken soup. Perhaps, one day, we’ll be smart enough to figure out that the murkier ones are not the ones we need to be paying attention to. Yes, this might be a pipe-dream.

So what caused this? Has it always been this way? Are the gaps ever going to close? Is it going to get a lot worse before it gets better? Allah knows best. All I know is that it’s oftentimes easier for us to go along and get along with non-Muslims than with each other. I have no problem with getting along with non-Muslims; some of the nicest people I’ve known are not Muslims. I’ve learned some amazing things about how to be a better person from non-Muslims. I’ve even found it easier to be friends with some non-Muslims. So, that is clearly not my issue, but it is a problem when we value the other, despite the differences between us, more than we value each other, despite the similarities among us. That is just sad. And that is not a problem that you or I can solve by ourselves. It is a problem that we have to face collectively.

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10 Responses to The Chasms Between the Isms

  1. realistic bird says:

    I think the main problem that leads to other issues is ta3asub (discrimination/bias/prejudice), thinking that their group is better than another rather than accepting yes there are differences but neither of them are perfect. Yet, at the same time they fail to remind themselves that they have more in common than differences.

    May Allah SWT guide them so we can actually deal with the important issues of this ummah and not who is right or wrong.

    Jazaki Allah khier

  2. Ayan says:

    Interesting post!

    I couldn’t agree more with the comment above. I personally do not have any issues with what one chooses to follow but what gets on my nerve, is when one tries to shove their own interpretation and belief as absolute. There are difference of opinions on many issues, if the scholars (who are the most knowledgeable of the Ummah) cannot come to an agreement. What makes one think that argumentation and name-calling will perhaps solve it.

  3. Ajla says:

    I too believe we all should try to agree to disagree. Most of us are simple beings who get pieces of knowledge here and there to be able to walk straight on the path and rarely really dive into the whole picture and get the knowledgable explain to us all of the differences inside of the whole. And few of us have so much time to really listen and have time to reflect.

    The big picture is made of small things, but we stay too stuck looking at the small things. But then again, it would be unfair to just look at the big picture because that would be ignoring the small pieces that create the big picture and would mean one ignores to grow, whilst that is something we are told to do, learn. How complex.

    ” I have no problem with getting along with non-Muslims; some of the nicest people I’ve known are not Muslims. I’ve learned some amazing things about how to be a better person from non-Muslims. I’ve even found it easier to be friends with some non-Muslims. So, that is clearly not my issue, but it is a problem when we value the other, despite the differences between us, more than we value each other, despite the similarities among us. That is just sad. ” – I wholeheartly agree.

  4. Muwahidah says:

    assalamu Aleykum sis..

    jzk for your post, i just wanna say that salafis dont make takfir of sufis. except some of the extreme sufis who really do things that takes them out of the millah..

    another thing is, you wrote “has it always been this way”? and yes it has been this way with since the time of our salaf. how many books did the mashayikh of that time write about sufis..

    sister if you read arabic i could link you to some of the books..?

    jazakillahu khayran..

    i ask Allah to unite this ummah on haqq and bless us with following the quran and sunnah as Allah swt is pleased with..

  5. Hey salaams!

    Firstly, awesome post!

    I am currently studying for a certification in Islamic finance, and am awestruck how different the interpretation of something simple can be between the different schools of thought. I attended a global seminar last year on Islamic finance, and part of the guest list were a select number of imams from the 4 schools of thought. I raised a question during the Q&A session that “Why cant a compromise be reached between the different schools of thought to achieve a common aim in Islamic Finance?”

    Their common reply – “There are too many differences to reach a common concensus”.

    I guess there are too many people with too many “personal” views and unfortunately our religion comes second in these circumstances.

  6. Wa’AlaykumusSalaam, all 🙂 Thanks for the great input, all. I really appreciate it.

    It was intended to be a very general post. Not every Salafi pronounces takfir on every Sufi, and usually it’s not even taken to that extreme…just like not every Sufi (who truly adheres to principles of tasawwuf) regards Salafis with disdain and suspicion. And sometimes, we have to be able to distinguish whose practices are sound, so pointing out issues with Sufis (or Salafis or anyone else) is not in and of itself a bad thing. I guess what I’m hoping for is a middle ground–that if one does not know what sufism or salafism is about, then don’t go around pointing fingers and finding flaws, because the flaws one find may may not be an actual flaw. For example, I once described Rabia Basriyyah as a sufi, and although the person didn’t know who she was, she proceeded to misunderstand every quote from Rabia Basriyyah just because, well, she was a sufi and therefore must be wrong. Allah only knows if she was a sufi…I usually use the term sufi to describe a person very close to Allah. It’s more this kind of informal “takfir” that bothers me. Take issue with the principles behind the label, not the label itself, is more what I was driving at.

    Sheikhs pointing out the flaws in ideology, yes, I’m aware that has been around for a long time. And it makes sense that would do that–because they have sound reasoning behind their decisions. Their sound reasoning comes from intense knowledge of Islam…so they can say such things. They are taking issue with specific parts of ideology, not merely making random, uninformed pronouncements.

  7. Muwahidah says:

    jazakillahu khayran ukhti. yes of course the ulama judges based on knowlegde and we dont judge based on what we think is right or wrong, but according to what the ulama described it to be, according to Quran and sunnah. i wouldnt say anything from my mind but thats why i asked you if you knew arabic so i could link you to the words of the ulama 🙂

    you said that you describe someone whos close to Allah as sufi? but whats that based on? the word sufi came from those who was wearing wool (soof), thats how it started..

    “Abush-Shaikh Al-Asbahaanee reported with a chain of narration connected to Muhammad bin Sireen that it reached him that a group of people preferred wearing wool, so he said: ‘There are some people that prefer to wear wool claiming that they resemble the Messiah, son of Maryam. However, the guidance of our Prophet (sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) is more beloved to us, and he (sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) would wear cotton and other types of clothes.’ Or he stated words similar to this.”

    Then he (Ibn Taimiyyah) said after this: “These people ascribe themselves to outer garments, which in this case is wool (soof) garments. So it can be said about o­ne of them that he is a Soofee. However, their methodology is not restricted to the wearing of woolen garments, nor do they mandate that o­n anyone or adhere to ordering it. They o­nly attach themselves to it due to it being the outer condition”

    please read the rest of the article here :

    The Meaning and Origin of Sufism

    http://www.calgaryislam.com/imembers/Sections+index-req-viewarticle-artid-334-page-1.html

    • That was a very informative article, jazakiAllah khair. I’ve heard of the soof-wool explanation before. I don’t know how much you’ve read about Sufism, but there are quite a few other great resources on the meaning and application of Sufism. I usually find it best to go to an adherent of a faith, movement, or ideology to get the most sincere description of it, rather than an opponent of a given ideology. Those who are interested could read this article, Tasawwuf: Its meaning and significance and here is a very good book one can read online, called Shariat and Tasawwuf.

      Note: I am not a Sufi, I have a very long way to go before I can attain such a pure closeness to Allah. But I greatly admire the sahih forms of Sufism, and am aware of the not-so-sahih forms. May Allah always guide toward that which is sahih, no matter what we call ourselves. Ameen.

  8. Umm AbdulAziz says:

    ASsalamualaikum,

    While it may have already been stated there is a very simple answer to your chicken pot question.
    1) differences in opinion were present during the time of the Sahaba radiAllahu anhum based on their personal interactions with the Rasool SalAllahualaihiwa salam
    2) most people during the time of the shaykhs of the four madhabs followed the shaykhs of the four madhabs.
    3) a more recent trend is that of people who chose not to follow a madhab but come to conclusions themselves.
    4) sufism isn’t a madhab in itself, its the spiritual aspect where as shariah is the fiqh aspect of islam. It just got named more recently but was present from the time of the Prophet (SAWS)

    • Wa’AlaykumusSalaam and welcome to my blog, Umm AbdulAziz 🙂 All of these are very good points, and I could not agree more on their validity. I guess what I was asking was, “why can’t all our -isms coexist in the same pot anymore?” Especially since the four madhabs have been around and coexisting for a long time, so it’s not like we don’t know how to respect differences without going all out and pronouncing takfeer on one another. And thank you especially for point number 4. The links I referenced in the above comment are a longer version of what you said in one sentence. 🙂

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