Friday, January 27, 2017

73 Sects of Islam

In a well known hadith—found in three of the six canonical Sunni hadith collections (al-Kutub as-Sittah)—it is narrated that Muhammad predicted the Islamic Ummah, "will split into seventy-three sects". This post will quote the variations of this hadith, and shall then touch on a 4th/5th century A.H. book that delves into the hadith, and provides a listing of the 73 sects that the author believes to comprise the said 73 sects, with descriptions of their teachings.

I shall open with two variations/narrations from the Abu/Abi Dawud collection. In the chapter on the Explanation of the Sunnah we read:

4596. It was narrated that Abū Hurairah said: "The Messenger of Allāh said: 'The Jews split into seventy-one or seventy-two sects, and the Christians split into seventy-one or seventy-two sects, and my Ummah will split into seventy-three sects.'"

4597. It was narrated from Abū 'Āmir Al-Hawzanī that Mu'awiyah bin Abī Sufyān stood up among us and said: "The Messenger of Allāh stood up among us and said: 'Those who came before you of the people of the Book split into seventy-two sects, and this Ummah will split into seventy-three sects, seventy-two of which will be in the Fire, and one in Paradise. That is the Jamā'ah (main group of Muslims)." Ibn Yayā and 'Amr added in their Hadīth: "And there will emerge among my Ummah people who will be dominated by those whims and desires as rabies dominates its victim." 'Amr said: "Rabies does not leave any vein or joint of its victim but it enters it." (English Translation of Sunan Abu Dawud, Trans. by, Nasiruddin al-Khattab,Vol.5, pp. 155, 156.) [Alternate online English trans. here]

From the Jami Tirmidhi collection, in the Book on Faith, chapter 18:

(2649) Sayyidina Abu Hurayrah reported that Allah's Messenger said, "The Jews divided into seventy-one sects or seventy-two sects, and the Christians like that. And my ummah will divide into seventy-three sects.

(2650) Sayyidina Abdullahibn Amr reported that Allah's Messenger said, "The same things will be faced by my ummah as the Banu Isra’il faced as a shoe compares with (its pairing) shoe, to the extent that if there was anyone of them to have approached his mother (for sexual intercourse) then there will be in my ummah who would do that. And the Banu Isra’il divided into seventy-two sects and my ummah will divide into seventy-three sects, all of whom will go into the Fire except one millat (sect). “The sahabah (RA) asked (him), “Who are they, O Messenger of Allah (SAW)”. He said, “(Who follow) what I am on and my companions (are on).” (The Translation and the meaning of Jâmi' Tirmidhi, Trans. by Maulana Fazal Ahmad and Rafique Abdur Rehman, Vol. 2, pp. 141, 142.) [Alternate online English trans. here.]

And from the Sunan Ibn Majah collection, in the chapter on the Division of the Nations:

3991. It was narrated from Abu Hurairah that the Messenger of Allāh said: "The Jews split into seventy-one sects and my nation will split into seventy-three sects."

3992. It was narrated from 'Awf bin Mālik that the Messenger of Allāh said: " The Jews split into seventy-one sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy in Hell. The Christians split into seventy-two sects, seventy-one of which will be in Hell and one in Paradise. I swear by the One in Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, my nation will split into seventy-three sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy-two in Hell." It was said: "O Messenger of Allā, who are they?" He said: "The main body."

3993. It was narrated from Anas bin Mālik that the Messenger of Allāh said: "The Children of Israel split into seventy-one sects, and my nation will split into seventy-two, all of which will be in Hell apart from one, which is the main body." (English Translation of Sunan Ibn Mājah, Trans. by, Nasiruddin al-Khattab,Vol.5, pp. 203, 204.) [Alternate online English trans. here.]

And finally, the narrations provided by the late 4th/early 5th century A.H. heresiologist Abu Mansur 'Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi, in his al-Farq bayn al-Firaq:

THE tradition has come down to us through the following chain of authorities: abū-Sahl Bishr ibn-Ahmad ibn Bashshār al-Isfarā'ini, ‘Abdāllah ibn-Nājiyah, Wahb ibn Bakiyyah, Khālid ibn-'Abdāllah, Muhammad ibn-'Amr, abū Salmah, abū-Hurairah that the last said, the prophet of Allah—peace be unto him—said: “The Jews are divided into 71 sects, and the Christians are divided into 72 sects, and my people will be divided into 73 sects.” And we are told by abū-Muhammad ‘Abdallāh ibn-Ali ibn Ziyād al-Sumaidhi, who is considered of interest and authoritative, that he heard through the following chain of authorities: Ahmad ibn-al-Hasan ibn-'Abd al-Jabbār, al Haitham ibn-Khārijah, Ismā‘īl ibn-‘Abbās, ‘Abd-al-Rahmān ibn-Ziyād ibn-An'am, ‘Abdallāh ibn-Yazid, ‘Abdallāh ibn ‘Amr, that the prophet of Allah said: “Verily there will happen to my people what happened to the Banū Isrā’īl. The Banū Isrā’īl are divided into 72 religious bodies, and my people will be divided into 73 religious bodies, exceeding them by one. All of them are destined to hell fire except one.” They said: “O, prophet of Allah, which is the one religious body that will escape the fire?” He said: “That to which I belong, and my companions.” The Kādī abū-Muhammad ‘Abdallāh ibn-‘Umar, the Mālikite, says: “We have it from my father, who had it from his father, that Walid ibn-Maslamah said that al-Auzā'i said that we are told by Katādah, who had it from Anas, who had it from the Prophet: ‘Lo, the Banū Isrā’īl are divided into 71 sects, and lo my people will be divided into 72 sects, all of them destined to hell fire except one, and these are the true believers.’ ” (Al-Baghdādī, (Al-Fark Bain al-Firak) Moslem Schisms and Sects, trans. Kate Chambers Seelye, pp. 21, 22.) [Links to online PDF copies of the book HERE.]

The aforementioned al-Baghdadi, in his al-Farq bayn al-Firaq, identifies the 73 sects that he believes constitutes the predicted schisms mentioned in the above narrations. He also adds over a dozen other sects that he feels are too aberrant to be listed under the pale of Islam. In part II of his book he writes:

...treats of the manner in which this community has been divided into 73. It also contains an explanation of the sects which are collected under the general name of the Millat al-Islām. There are two chapters in this part: one deals with the explanation of the idea underlying the different sects included under the general name of Millat al-Islām; the second concerns the explanation of how the community has become divided, and the enumeration of its 73 sects. (Ibid. pp. 25-39.)

And then in part III he provides an, "explanation of the various opinions of the heretical sects and a detailed explanation of the heresies of each sect." (Ibid. pp. 41-210.)

For those folk who have some interest in the divisions and schisms of the Islamic paradigm, I can think of no better work than al-Baghdadi's to begin one's exploration into the topic.

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Spirituality in the Land of the Noble - A Book recommendation

Spirituality in the Land of the Noble, by Dr. Richard C. Foltz, is an excellent introduction into the incredibly rich history of religion and spirituality in the region now known as Iran.

When the book was first published back in 2004, Dr. Foltz was an Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Florida; he is currently Professor of Iranian Studies at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. His Ph.D is in Middle Eastern History, from Harvard University. As for his own personal faith, he states that he is an, "erstwhile Calvinist", but does not go into any detail beyond that. (p. xiii).

The Amazon book description follows:

This is the first book to tell the story of Iran's shaping and transmitting of the world's religions, starting with the Iranian merchants and missionaries who brought, not only Islam, but also Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism to China. (LINK)

The book contains the following chapters:



JUDIASM - pp. 43-60

BUDDHISM - pp. 61-75

CHRISTIANITY - pp. 77-95


ISLAM - pp. 115-140



A competent review is available HERE.

As for myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It is concise, very well written, and should appeal to a wide range of audiences. Dr. Foltz is one of those rare authors who is able to communicate a good deal of depth into a relatively short tome (204 pages).

Sincerely hope a few readers will take the time to read this contribution, and then share their thoughts with me.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Alī's Qur'ān: was it substantially different from the Uthmānic compilation?

I finally was able to obtain a copy of a book that I have wanted for nearly a decade now:

When originally published back in 2006 as a hardback, the retail price for the book was $199.95—way too expensive for this retired beachbum. However, during some recent online research I noticed that used paperback editions of the book were now available for under $30.00 (see this link), a price even I could afford.

The first chapter of the book that I decided to read was Diana Steigerwald's, "Twelver Shī'ī Ta'wīl" (the 25th - pp. 373-385). I started with this chapter due to my ongoing interest in the differences between the Islamic sects. One very important development in my studies followed my reading of Wilferd Madelung's comprehensive book, The succession to Muhammad, which compelled me to  adopt the view that Alī was the legitimate successor to Muhammad, not Abū Bakr—this development is quite germane to Steigerwald's contribution.

Moving on, the focus of chapter 25 is summarized in the following selection:

The issues surrounding the Shī'ī Qur'ān are multiple; they cover much more than just the history of the text and its variations. Other major subjects include exegesis (ta'wīl) of the text, the distinction between exoteric (zāhir) and inner (bātin) meanings. In this chapter, I will show how the Twelver Shī'ites (Ithnā ashariyya) have interpreted the Qur'ān and developed their spiritual exegesis. This research provides a comprehensive account of the history while not pretending to be exhaustive. (Page 373)

A bit later, she writes:

The Qur'ān is a divine revelation, but its interpretation is human, hence there have been different interpretations. The differences in interpretation began shortly after the death of Muhammad. Different companions of the prophet began to differ from each other and with the passage of time these differences also deepened in their scope. Also, many groups came into existence in the early period of Islam and every group tried to justify its doctrine by interpreting the Qur'ān. (Page 377)

The section under the heading, "Early Debates on the Qur'ān" (pp. 378-3), is quite good, and prompted the title of this thread. Within that section, Steigerwald briefly relates the well known history of what became known as the Uthmānic Qur'ān, and then goes on to include some informative history on Alī's compilation of the Qur'ān; note the following:

According to many early transmitted reports,  Alī wrote his own compilation of the Qur'ān (Ibn Sa'd 190415: II, 338; al-Ya'qūbī 1960: II, 135; Ibn al-Nadīm 1971: 30; al-Suyūtī 1967: I, 204, 248; al-Kulaynī 19579: VIII, 18) and presented it to the companions; but they rejected it, so he took it back home (Sulaym n.d.: 72, 108; al-Kulaynī 19579: II, 633; al-Ya'qūbī 1960: II, 1356). These reports also pointed out that there were substantial differences between the various compilations of the Qur'ān. The only copy of the complete Qur'ān with verses proclaiming the exalted status of Alī and the future Ima'ms, was in Alī's possession. Alī, known for his vast knowledge of the Qur'ān (Ibn Sa'd 190415: I, 204), preserved this original copy and passed it on his successors. In his codex of the Qur'ān he had reportedly indicated the verses which were abrogated, and those which abrogated them (al-Suyūtī 1967: I, 204). (Page 378)

Now, back in April 2010, I published a thread which explored some of the issues touched on by Steigerwald:

Towards the end of the opening post I wrote:

Now, it seems that some individual Shi’ites take a contrary position; some have even forged both complete surahs and ayat, and then attempted to introduce them as corrections to the Qur’an. However, one should not confuse such feeble attempts with the official position of the Twelvers.

I based the above conclusion on the sources I quoted and/or linked to in the above thread. However, its seems that I need to adjust my thinking, for Steigerwald provides important information which complicates the issue concerning the possibility that Alī's Qur'ān had some substantial differences with the Uthmānic compilation of the Qur'ān. In addition to what I quoted above concerning Alī's Qur'ān, Steigerwald then relates a Shī'ī "practice" which significantly complicates any conclusion/s one may draw:

The Shī'ī  community learned early on that to express their beliefs openly was fruitless. This only caused their community to be persecuted. Hence they started to practice taqiyya (religious dissimulation), which allows a Shi’ite to deny his or her faith under dangerous conditions. (Page 378)

She also writes:

The Shi’ites of the first four Muslim centuries believed that Uthmān excised significant segments from the original Qur'ān and thus the fourth type of variant concerns some words that were omitted intentionally by Uthmān such as references to Alī and the imaāma... (Page 379)

And so, it seems that adjustments need to be made on my part concerning the issue of differences between Alī's Qur'ān and the Uthmānic compilation; but before doing so, much more study and reflection needs to be engaged in on my part.

Grace and peace,