What is meant by " The Surviving Sect" which is mentioned in the famous Hadith? And what are the characteristics by which it can be recognized by a Muslim?
All perfect praise be to Allah, The Lord of The Worlds, and may His peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad and upon all of his family and companions.
Allah enjoined Muslims to abide by His Book and the Sunnah of His prophet (PBUH), since He said (What means):" And hold fast, all of you together, to the cable of Allah, and do not separate." [Al-Imran/103]. In addition, He forbade them to be in state of dissension since this will be cause a reduce in force and disappointment, in this regard Allah, The Exalted said (What means):" And obey Allah and His messenger, and dispute not one with another lest ye falter and your strength depart from you; but be steadfast! Lo! Allah is with the steadfast." [Al-Anfal/46].
Furthermore, Allah, The Exalted forbade Muslims to be in state of dispute and to with draw from religion because this will turn the nation into divided sects and parties, as He said (What means):" Lo! As for those who sunder their religion and become schismatics, no concern at all hast thou with them. Their case will go to Allah, Who then will tell them what they used to do." [Al-An'am/159] also, He said (What means):" Of those who split up their religion and became schismatics, each sect exulting in its tenets." [Ar-Rum/32]. Further, this unlawful dispute has nothing to do with the jurisprudential disagreement which takes place among scholars and researchers who adopt reasoning as regards jurisprudential matters, since the latter difference of opinions doesn't spoil amity.
However, the majority of the Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) nation, back in the Islamic history, were abiding by the doctrine of the People of Sunnah and Jamaa'a, whereas many sects' names emerged on the scene with a few figures. Yet, they regarded as Muslims but they adopt extremism or lusts in dealing with Islam and its matters.
In this regard, the latter sects were foretold by the Prophet (PBUH) in the following Hadith, in which he said (What means):" The people of the Book before were split up into seventy two sects, and this community will be split into seventy three: seventy two of them will go to Hell and one of them will go to Paradise, and it is the majority group. [Related by Ahmad, Al-Hakim, Ibn Majah and others]. In addition to another utterance reported by Al-Byhaqee and others:" All of them will go to Hell fire save the majority sect." And in a different one :" What I am on today along with my companions."
Further, the saying of the Prophet (PBUH) :" All of them will go to Hell." doesn't render them as disbelievers, since he considered them of his community; yet, they chosen the wrong path and contradicted moderate Islam; therefore, labelling them as disbelievers is impermissible save if they contradicted the pillars of Islam ;thusly, they should be dealt with logic, science and kindness which are enjoined by Allah.
The raising number of sects' names doesn't mean that they form the majority of our nation; rather, the majority of scholars and Muslims are of the ones who adhere to the path of the Prophet (PBUH) and his righteous companions regarding the foundations of Aqeeda (Islamic creed) and abiding by it.
It is stated by Bader Ad-deen Al-Ainee, in an interpretation of the term ( majority group) mentioned in the above Hadith:" The majority group ordered to be followed by Islamic law are scholars, because Allah, The Exalted make them a pretext on his slaves as they usually seek their religious opinion and follow their footsteps. In addition, they are the one mentioned in the following verse, whereas the Prophet (PBUH) said (What means):" “God will not cause all my people (or he said, Muhammad’s people) to err." [Omdat Al-Qaree' vol.35 pp.147].
The accredited major schools regarding fundamentals of Islam, are the ones in which their opinions have no innovations such as: The ones allege of world's oldness, the denial of physical resurrection, Al-Jaber: (The allegation that people are compelled and can't choose which path to follow (between the wrong and righteous path), Al-Qadar: which is the denial of Allah's knowledge regarding events , the saying that slaves create their actions, Rafed (The hatred of Abu Baker, Omar and the righteous companions (May Allah be pleased with them all), Al-Naseb (The hatred of Ali (May Allah be pleased with him) and the family of the Prophet (PBUH), Al-Tajseem and Tashbeeh (That Allah Has an imaginable figure or organs while He, The Exalted Has no semblance at all. Kindly Refer to Al-Baher Al-Raeq vol. 18 pp.307].
The accredited schools of thought in Islam as regards branches of Islam, are the ones that observe the basics of Ijtihad ( Independent reasoning) ,Istidlal (Seeking for Sharia evidence side by side with observing a proper examination of it in order to obtain the religious opinion of a matter) from evidences obtained from the Holy Quran, Prophetic tradition, Ijmaa' (consensus), Qiyas (analogy), Al-Istihsaan (Departing from a ruling of Qiyas (analogy) in a certain case, in a manner that is different from the way similar cases have been decided on the basis of the Quran, Sunnah (Prophetic tradition) or Ijmaa' (consensus of the scholars, Al-Istishab (Approvals of the past which apply in the present, and future) and Masalah Mursalah (Interests that are neither acknowledge nor rejected by Sharia).
Therefore, the path of Allah, His Prophet and believers has been clarified and outlined in comparison with others through moderation and straight; in this regard, Allah, The Exalted, said (What means):" And (He commandeth you, saying): This is My straight path, so follow it. Follow not other ways, lest ye be parted from His way. This hath He ordained for you, that ye may ward off (evil)." [Al-An'am/153].
In addition, Al-Mulla Ali Alqari (May Allah have mercy on his soul) explained the characteristics of the moderate surviving sect as follows:" The path of Allah is moderate in which it has no excessiveness nor unreasonable opinions regarding religion; rather, it is based on monotheism and straightness. On the other hand, the path of heretics is inclined and included remissness, extremism, deviation, variety and disagreement." [Marqat Al-Mafateeh Sharih Mishkat Al-Masabeeh vol.2 pp.50]. And Allah knows best.