Question: Why do we have to have sects? Why can’t we all be one nation (ummah)? What is wrong with Salafism? Why can’t we listen to any and every scholar, no matter what his religious orientation is?
Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
Thank you for your important question.
A sect (firqa) is a group of Muslims who do not acknowledge the other Muslims who disagree with them as having a valid argument. For example, Sunni Muslims do not believe that Shii Muslims have a valid argument for their differences with Sunni Muslims. There is no necessity in having sects, but they just happen.
A school of thought (madhhab) is not a sect. A school of thought recognizes another school of thought as mistaken, but as having a valid reason to disagree with them. A school of thought is a natural part of any intellectual development and specialization. As such, schools of thought exist in education, science, law, mathematics, and the Islamic disciplines.
Examples of schools of thought in the Islamic discipline are the Four Schools of Islamic Law (al madhahib al arbaa), and the two main schools of Arabic grammar, the Basrans, and the Kufans. Each group has its own system of solving problems within its discipline and holds that the systems of the other schools are wrong, but recognizing that there is a legitimate reason for the difference of agreement between them.
The point of any school is to solve problems and to work in a systematic way. Dogmatic allegiance to the school is not a goal. The goal is to create graduates of the system.
On a legal level, what is wrong with Salafism is that it attempts to solve legal (fiqhi) problems without first mastering the discipline in question and without a clear methodology. Its freedom from any school of thought (madhhab) means that it is not a product of any previous debate and thus primitive, and not aligned with any solid problem-solving process. This is starkly different from fatwas produced by madhhab-trained scholars.
On a theological level, what is wrong with Salafism is that it borders on anthropomorphism, which is dangerous.
The fundamental problem with Salafism is that it results in someone issuing a religious verdict in a specialism that they are not actually specialized in. It is like a mechanic working on someone’s lungs instead of his car.
I’m sure there are many Salafi preachers whose words are very moving, and as long as they are not talking about the details of halal and haram, or about the details of the tenets of faith, there is normally no harm in listening.
I pray this helps.
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language