Rejecting sects and sectarianism - ERGÜN YILDIRIM

Rejecting sects and sectarianism

An Islamic summit just passed through Istanbul. The unity of Muslims, the ummah, for the first time was declared to the world from such a level. Sectarianism and racism was rejected. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan defined Sunnism and Shiism as incitement. Belonging to Islam was promoted above all sects. This is an understanding of Islam above sects. At the start of the century Islamic intellectuals passionately defended this view. Moreover some went to the extent of discussing to compile them together. Because sects are the Muslim communities' greatest sociological and political fault line. People describe themselves in the scope of these relations and imitations. The longest historical understandings that give humans identity. Yet, sometimes these understandings become narrow and swallow. They become absolute and opponent politics. This is exactly what we are experiencing today. Today the meaning of 'sect' has narrowed down and they have positions that make them absolute. This attitude they have damages Islam's extensive belonging. Sects almost replace religion. Or rather Islam reduces down to sects. Muslims from other sects are accused with profaneness if they are not from the same sect as the other. An exclusionist, marginalizing and dominating approach is adopted. For example there is a group that says Islam equals the “followers of sunnah,” “followers of sunnah” are equivalent to Hanafism, Hanafism is equivalent to Naqshbandism, and Naqshbandism is equivalent to the Ismailağa group – a sufi order in Turkey.

Muslim communities always experienced sociological, theological and intellectual pluralism with sects. Taking a look at “Kitab al-Milal wa al-Nihal,” the book written by the Islamic scholar Muhammad al-Shahrastani, is enough to understand this. Islam encountering different social dispositions has given it an enriched sociology. “The followers of sunnah" have extensive pluralism, tolerance and richness. Muslims live within tens of sects, hundreds of cults and dispositions. Profanity and faith are perceived as a belief issue, and are evaluated within a restricted scope. Even the biggest of “harams,” acts forbidden in Islam, do not exclude one from the religion. There are many ways to remain Muslim and live among Muslims.

The comments of Said Nursi, an important figure of Islamic unity, on the relations Muslims need to establish with sects and Wahhabis are very important. He both criticizes the Wahhabis and also highlights their positive aspects. He separates political and religious issues from each other. He says that once Muslims started to discuss God's lordship characteristics in regards to tombs and saints, then they started to deviate from religion, and that this was warned by God: “God wanted to amend this situation thus He bothered them with the Wahhabis.” Hence, in this way, Nursi does not approach Wahhabism with a singular approach. He adopts the same attitude toward Shiism as he divides it into Shiite authority and Shiite caliphate.

The solution Muslims have found to sects through history are evident. Neither without a sect, or with a sect. As sectarianism narrows Islam, rejecting sects destroys the expansions, methods and experiences Islam has gathered in the past 14 centuries. It wipes out the cultural, theological and sociological riches of Muslim societies. It destroys the systematics and interpretations of different societies, different ages and different schools. It closes the road to what carries Islam into society and daily life. This disturbs the flow and leads to great chaos in belief, kalam – a school of philosophical theology, asserting the existence of God as a prime mover and the freedom of the will – and Islamic Law.

Solving the issues that come with sects is not possible through rejecting sects. It is important to understand sects as sects, and compare them with the basic Islamic principles. This should be done without breaking away from Islam's extensive belongingness. This is the middle path built with Imam Ghazali. The middle path has been the road to bring Muslim societies out of great chaos and depression. This is the way to go today as well.

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