Divisions between us are growing on a daily basis, even between groups of supposedly pious Muslims. When infused with other elements such as the colonial legacy, culture and our materialistic desires today, the Islam practiced today is a very muddled version of the original Islamic teachings. How do we disentangle ourselves and practice Islam the way it should be implemented?
Why are Muslims divided?
Muslims draw the main principles of Islam from the Qur’an and Sunnah. Where matters have not been specifically covered by the Qur’an and Sunnah (for example, due to new technology), then Muslims should rely on the pronouncement of the majority of learned scholars who have considered the matter based on the application of the Qur’an and Sunnah and have reached a consensus.
The Qur’an outlines the messages given to the people before us, what became of them, and what will become of us depending on how we behave. If we take heed of what happened to the communities before us, we will, through our behavior, know where we are heading. The precedent or fixed ways of Allah never change.
There is only one Qur’an, and there is only one Sunnah. So why are Muslims nowadays so divided about the practice of Islam?
There is only one set of rules in the Sunnah, and this was carefully recorded and compiled by the Companions who spent time with Rasulullah (SAW). However, the invitation and education on Islam as taught by Rasulullah (SAW), alongside the revelation of the Qur’an, lasted 23 years. None of the Companions accompanied the Prophet SAW day and night the entire duration of his messengership.
Thus, it may be correct that the Companions recorded the actions and verdicts of Rasulullah (SAW) correctly, but there is an added layer of personalized circumstances for each issue, which gives the appearance of contradictory Sunnah. For example, a young man asked Rasulullah (SAW) if he may kiss his wife during Ramadan, and the answer was no. An elderly man asked Rasulullah (SAW) the same question, and he was permitted to kiss his wife. The difference here was that younger people are more passionate, whereas elderly ones are less likely to be lustful. Situations are variable, and even an alternation from summer to winter can change the ruling on certain matters. Many Companions only saw things during specific timeframes or situations. One Companion may record the way things are done during a state of war, for example, while another observed how things were done in a state of truce. Different situations have different rules, so even rules on salat and fasting seem to appear different if one does not understand the original context.
However, obedience to Rasulullah SAW and the unity of the ummah were the overriding concerns of the Companions. When the Prophet (SAW) passed away, the Muslim diaspora began. Tens of thousands of learned Companions journeyed across the world in order to spread the message of Islam, and with them, the different rulings under the Sunnah based on what they knew. Each of them practiced and spread Islam based on his individual experience with and observation of Rasulullah (SAW).
None of their views were wrong but they did not unanimously agree on certain technicalities. This led to minor variations on the fiqh (regulations). It is noted however, that there was no divergence in the aqeedah or the core belief of the Islamic faith. Everyone was in agreement on the basic tenets of Islamic faith and its practices.
Despite their different opinions, the Companions never fought. Their divergent views did not generate animosity amongst them. The Companions and early scholars respected each other’s opinions and held on to the rope of Allah.
It is also important to note that the revelation of the Qur’an is divided between the era of Mekah and Madinah. Two thirds of the Qur’an was revealed in Mekah, before the early Muslims migrated to Madinah. The message of the Qur’an revealed in Mekah strongly emphasized the oneness of Allah, trust in Allah, and was intended to fortify faith and certainty of faith in Allah. Only a handful of people embraced Islam over the first 13 years of revelation in Mekah, but their faith was unshakeable. In its early days, the development lay on the strengthening of the faith of the individual and the cultivation of the bond of Islamic brotherhood. Islam was planted within the hearts of the early followers, and grew from within them, watered by the true belief of Allah, akhirah and the unseen. Over the years, through various adversities, these early developed the spiritual strength and resilience they needed to eventually migrate to Madinah for the sake of Allah.
If you study the sequence in which the invitation to Islam was done, Rasulullah (SAW) did not come charging to his people ordering them to wear the niqab or grow a beard as his opening line! This was not his priority. However the way we learn and teach Islam today is the opposite. When we see a woman, the first thing we try to impose on her is the hijab. We study and implement Islam from academic and technical aspects only, but not in order to get closer to Allah and His messenger.
During the 13 years of the preliminary da’wah, only about 100 people embraced Islam (based on other sources, the number did not exceed 400). This is after the daily da’wah efforts by Rasulullah (SAW) for 13 continuous years. Why so few people in such a long time? With the wisdom of Allah, had there been too many Muslims in the early days, it would have encouraged a revolution. During the days of Mekah revelations, Allah had prohibited fighting and jihad. If Allah had allowed the Muslims at this time to fight and die for His cause, the handful of Muslims then would not have survived any confrontation with the Quraish, and the message of Islam would have died with them. Today, would we be patient enough to restrain ourselves from retaliating when persecuted unjustly?