Ali Vyacheslav Polosin: “Criminal sectarianism will never become the norm of life!”
Sects in Islam.
Sects propagation has caused lots of problems within the society. All the latest terror attacks are more or less connected with the representatives of different sects, usually using Islam as a cover. Ali Vyacheslav Polosin, Doctor of Philosophy and a prominent representative of Muslim community in Russia, is talking about present-day sects and their nature.
– What’s a sect and what’s sectarianism like nowadays?
– Bismillyahi Rrahmani Rrahim! Sect is a Latin word, meaning ‘school’. Initially its meaning didn’t have a negative sense. It was used for both Christian and other religious schools. However, during the state church formation in the Roman Empire all schools, but the official one, were labeled heretic and prosecuted. Since then the word came to have a negative sense. Later on the concept of sectarianism has expanded and lost its narrow anti-governmental meaning. But the term ‘sect’ entered science to denote various group manifestations of religious life and took on a negative meaning.
Theology defines a sect as a secluded group of people with their own way of worship characterized by an intrinsic secluded hierarchy. It is often secret and clandestine. Anyway little is known about the real internal life of such a sect. Its second feature is seclusion. It also means that its group members believe themselves to bear the ultimate truth as opposed to the rest of the people and to the religion that they segregated from. A sect usually has a totalitarian structure, rigid subordination, unconditional obedience, fanaticism etc.
The sect members are as a rule bound with obligations that make quitting impossible for them. This indicates that a sect is essentially marked by denouncing the outward world, which doesn’t bear the ultimate truth and therefore is fallacious. The sect members are a closed social group, who consider themselves the only bearers of the truth and their leader the ultimate authority.
– What is a sect in modern Islam?
– Nowadays the current theological definition allows us already to talk about the existence of such phenomena in Islam, especially in modern times, as there are certain secluded groups within Muslim communities too. They set themselves apart so much sometimes that they start talking about the other Muslims as inferior or even non-Muslims. We know such facts. History has seen a similar separation of Shiism from Sunnism in a milder way. With time the political conflict evened out, but there is still some doctrinal controversy going on. Today has called for the creation of a whole social movement and a theological school for studying the problems of overcoming interreligious disagreements. It was Shiite Iran where this became necessary. So here is a historical lesson of dissent and segregation. To be frank I have to note Shiites have never thought Sunnis are non-Muslim or infidel. They have never gone this far, and it gives them today room for further discussion.
However in Modern Times, almost recently, such intolerant groups have appeared. One of the most notorious modern phenomena is the so called ‘Salafite’ sect. Why do I say ‘the so called’ and why is it better to quote their name in the context? The matter is that we are talking about a group of people who seized a name and assumed the title of the righteous. It wasn’t other people who called them so, nor have they proved it with their deeds – but they self-proclaimed the bearers of a special religious purity and goodness!
They justify it by saying that there were our righteous predecessors, the Prophet’s brothers-in-arms (PBUH) and the first generations after them – in Arab ‘salafi’, i.e. a predecessor. Therefore “we are Salafites as we follow the predecessors’ way”. This self-proclamation is in itself erroneous if not to say fallacious, because we have only gleanings of reliable knowledge on the life of our righteous predecessors who we all respect and venerate and whose way and virtuous example we all strive to follow in our lives.
We have fragmentary knowledge based on Hadith and we don’t have a full notion of the predecessors’ life to draw far-reaching conсlusions. One of them said or did something… - but we can’t say there wasn’t a person among the first Muslims who didn’t do or say something quite the opposite. And this means we shouldn’t absolutize these things and base on insufficient data. The so called ‘Salafites’ neglect a huge layer of Muslim oral tradition, which has a great weight in Islam. And if any ‘Salafite’ tells you there wasn’t oral tradition in the Prophet’s time, you can feel free to laugh in his face, as this can’t but amuse a normal person! Indeed, the only way to pass on the knowledge was the oral tradition. This knowledge is passed over from mouth to mouth, and Tariqa, which is the keeper of the chain, is the only way to render to the Muslims the right story about the righteous predecessors. In the same way Hadith was passed on – and all this is well-known. The only innovation here is the ban on the oral tradition – which is exactly what the ‘Salafites’ did.
Even the readers of the Holy Quran who have been learning long the art of expressive reading can’t read the Quran in front of numerous believers – no matter what marvelous rhetors taught them the high mastery of reading the Holy Quran and how they succeeded in it – unless they were entitled to do so by the competent people, who had been authorized by other Masters of reading The Holy Quran. And that’s how it is in each branch of Islam, especially in the sciences dealing with human soul ‘Ihsan’ – sincerity, if we are talking about learning to be sincere in our words and deeds. And we know that without sincerity Allah will accept no our Salah and no our deeds. Therefore the exercise of sincerity is one of the most essential constituents of Islam. This is the Tariqa, or what we call Sufism. Tariqa teaches how to be sincere in one’s deeds and intentions. That’s what formed the historical Islam. Islamic tradition was passed along the Silsilah chain from the teacher to the student, who then became a teacher too and also passed the knowledge to the worthiest student. In this sense we can talk about the tradition and the traditional Islam.
As for the ‘Salafite’ sect, it self-segregated and self-proclaimed. Their “authority” Albany formulated an idea that it’s even insufficient to be Muslim now. You have to be ‘Salafite’. Their very name indicates it’s a sect separated from Sunni Islam, with its own structure. It also tends to use Takfir on the Muslims who don’t belong to the sect. Of course, there are different people in the sect and not everyone uses Takfir, but it’s still in their teachings. Takfir is the practice of declaring a person an unbeliever. In practice, Takfir means almost the same thing as excommunication in Christianity. A person becomes beyond the laws of the Almighty and society. Salafites easily use Takfir against others, and for them it means that they have the right to this person’s life and property. Thus they turn out to be a gang that commits ritual murder by imposing a sentence on those people, including Muslims, who don’t want to deal with them.
According to Islam no one has the right to excommunicate a person from religion or the grace of Allah. This can be done only by the person themselves. And these cases are described in theology. They are also described in Shariah. We all know them. Even if a person has renounced Islam, the Prophet (PBUH), or the Holy Quran, took some blasphemous actions publicly towards the Holy Quran – we still need to see closer into it. Maybe at the time he was deranged or mentally ill – then he won’t be considered an apostate and kafir. Therefore, only the person can do it, others can only affirm it. But if a man claims he is a Muslim, follows all the Pillars of Islam and the arcana of faith, performs Salah, then how can someone else declare him outside of Islam? It is impossible. Yet these ‘Salafites’ do.
So we can say that now we can also apply the word ‘sect’ to suchlike groups of Muslims. We can also speak of such sects as Hizb ut-Tahrir or Tabligh Jamaat. Sectarians even tend to emphasize their separation from the others by their looks. Members of Tabligh Jamaat wear Pakistani clothes and strictly shaped beards, it is also an external sign of the sect. They have a common way of life. They have become isolated. Their accentuated appearance similar to a uniform is designed to demonstrate to everyone that they consider different looks wrong, non-Muslim. There are moderate and radical ‘Salafites’. The radical ‘Salafites’ can be called a totalitarian sect by the modern classification of sects.
– So does Takfir practice turn out a sign of sectarianism in Islam?
– Yes, certainly. Sectarianism is totally unacceptable in terms of Shariah and classical, traditional Islam. I emphasize that the teachings of Islam clearly state that only Allah knows who is a worthy Muslim, who has faith, and who has lost it. Merciful Allah requires only sincerity and action from people. And if a person has proved by their deeds that they are Muslim, if they recited honestly Shahadah and try to live by Shariah, no one in the world has the right to question their faith! Only if the person will clearly and purposefully show it in public, being sane. Even a criminal, who committed a crime, can’t be called non-Muslim. Yes, their action is criminal and anti-Islamic – but we can’t take away their religion from them…
– If a certain social ideology mobilizes people in such a way that the mass of people starts to prevail over the bulk of the population, the bulk of believers, can we talk then about the spread of a sect, or is it a new religion?
– There is a misconception that a sect is a small group of people. Sects can be big, even very big. They may give the impression of a whole religious group. But this is only an impression. The point here is not the quantity, but the deeply rooted religious tradition. There are religions today that have existed for several millennia, yet they have few followers. Take for example Zoroastrianism. At one time it was a powerful religion to rival Christianity in the 3rd – the beginning of the 4th century AD. It was dominant in the particular area. Today there are quite small groups of Zoroastrians in Iran, where they used to be the majority, and in Azerbaijan, where the dominant religion today is Islam. Zoroastrians can also be found in India, and in some other regions too. However, the role of this religion was highlighted by a special status in the Iranian Constitution, for example. The followers of this religion are granted special rights. In other words, this is not a sect. But if you talk about ‘Salafites’: even if they get numerous, we can say this is a sect. Why? Because they are not rooted. This is an innovation. The cult itself is new (‘bid’ah’) and consists entirely of innovations. The oldest teacher they can refer to is a medieval alim Ibn Taymiyyah, who lived at the turn of the 11th-12th centuries. But it looks rather like an artificial ageing of their tradition. They, too, don’t want to seem a group with no teachers and traditions. However, Ibn Taymiyah was never a ‘Salafite’ and never called himself so! He was a scientist with a peculiar character and ideas, but he was not a Wahhabi. The sect appeared rather late as a political project and remains it up to this day. There is no religious tradition there.
Today they have a strong position only in Saudi Arabia, where an Advice and Reformation Committee was set up. Note-worthily, the word ‘reform’ itself implies a new order, innovations. It is what Wahhabi ideologists and adepts struggle against. In addition, the sect’s position in this country is secured by the political agreement with the ruling regime.
However, in other countries, these people have no power.
In other countries they are notorious only for the fact that while they hold quiet in Saudi Arabia, (even so, there have also been recent terrorist attacks and shootout with the police), as soon as they exit the country (as a rule, they are sent by the Western intelligence agencies), they leave their bloody trail: supporting odious political figures and groups, raising riots, preparing terror attacks, supporting separatist movements.
Mostly they were used by British intelligence agencies to create a system of managed conflicts to bring certain countries to their knees and to stop their opposition to the USA policy at present – and to the British policy in the past.
Getting back to the topic, I point out that it turns out that, though there are lots of sects today, they have no roots, no traditions. Islam takes root in many nations, with different languages and cultures and at different stages of social development. Turks, for example, have learned to express the teachings of Islam in their native language long ago. They translated all the books into their native language. They have their own Islamic heritage. The same thing happened in Iran, where many theological works were created in Farsi.
Nowadays some countries create their own Islamic mentality in English too. As they used to say, Islam is rooted in the masses. However, as for such sects, they are rooted nowhere, but still remain segregated aggressive groups opposed to the rest of the Muslim community and accusing it of hypocrisy and all other vices.
In other words, the point here is not the number of the followers. Their number may vary depending on the situation, geopolitics, support from other states, which use their military machine, huge political and financial potential to make these groups unhinge the foundations of Islam. Responding to your question, I draw the conclusion, that a sect will never grow into a full-fledged religion, and sectarianism, especially murderous and criminal, will never become the norm of religious life!
Written by Galina Hizrieva.
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