What is a sect, and is the Lahore Ahmadiyya Jama‘at a sect?

Friday Khutba by Dr Zahid Aziz, for Lahore Ahmadiyya UK, 15 September 2023

“And surely this your community is one community, and I am your Lord, so keep your duty to Me. But they split apart their unity into sects, each faction rejoi­cing in what it had. So leave them in their ignorance till a time.” — ch. 23, Al-Mu’minūn, v. 52–54

وَ اِنَّ ہٰذِہٖۤ اُمَّتُکُمۡ اُمَّۃً وَّاحِدَۃً وَّ اَنَا رَبُّکُمۡ فَاتَّقُوۡنِ ﴿۵۲  فَتَقَطَّعُوۡۤا اَمۡرَہُمۡ بَیۡنَہُمۡ زُبُرًا ؕ کُلُّ حِزۡبٍۭ بِمَا لَدَیۡہِمۡ فَرِحُوۡنَ ﴿۵۳ فَذَرۡہُمۡ فِیۡ غَمۡرَتِہِمۡ حَتّٰی حِیۡنٍ ﴿۵۴

“(Do not become from among) those who split up their religion and become sects; each faction rejoicing in what it has.”  — ch. 30, Ar-Rūm, v. 32

مِنَ الَّذِیۡنَ فَرَّقُوۡا دِیۡنَہُمۡ وَ کَانُوۡا شِیَعًا ؕ کُلُّ حِزۡبٍۭ بِمَا لَدَیۡہِمۡ فَرِحُوۡنَ ﴿۳۲

The verse before the first verse which I read above, which I have not quoted, begins with the words: “O you messengers”. So in this verse, v. 52, all prophets are addressed by God and told that they are one community, with God as their Lord. It is added that their followers split apart this unity and became different factions, each rejoicing that it was the right one. Of course, God could not address all messengers at the same time because they came into the world at different times and in different places. So what is meant is that each messenger came with the same basic message, to do the same thing, so that the messengers can be considered as belonging to one and the same community. But it was through their followers that various different reli­gions came into existence, with each religion saying that only its adherents will be accepted by God as being on the right path, while everyone else will be consigned to hell. The Quran considers religion as just one, and it considers different religions as being sects of that religion.

Again, in the second passage which I recited, instructing that you should not become like “those who split up their religion and become sects”, it is not referring to the creation of sects within Islam. What it means is that Islam has not come to add further division among religions by adding yet another religion to the list of existing religions. Islam has, in fact, come to declare that the prophets of all religions had given the same basic teaching of the worship of One God. However, later on the followers of the various prophets stopped giving prece­dence to the primary message of their prophet, and instead they raised certain secondary matters to the level of fundamentals. Different religions were built around these secondary issues, and their followers came to regard these secondary points as more important, so that you had to believe in them in order for gain acceptance from God; otherwise you were doomed.

On the basis of the above verses, an objection is sometimes raised against us by other Muslims that our Move­ment, by its very existence as a separate group among Muslims, is violating the teaching of Islam not to create sects. As I pointed out just now, these verses are talking about religions themselves as being sects, each one proclaiming about itself that only it is true. These verses teach that Islam is not such a sect among the existing religions. Unfortunately, our Muslim critics are the ones who have turned Islam itself into such a sect which proclaims that only its followers will be admitted into heaven by God, while all others will be rejected. You will hardly ever hear them mentioning what various religions have in common and how to develop understanding between Islam and other religions. They consider that being Muslims they are superior to everyone else, and they are destined to be the true rulers of the whole world, and they look down upon followers of other faiths. On the one hand, they claim that they want unity within Islam by removing all sects, but on the other they promote disunity and strife between Islam and other religions, so as to divide humanity.

As to the question of sects within Islam, of course the Quran requires Muslims to be united internally. It says to Muslims: “And hold fast by the rope of Allah all together and do not be disunited” (3:103). By the “rope of Allah” is meant the Quran. That is the only, one certain thing that Muslims can be united on. In the next verse, it adds: “And from among you there should be a community who invite to good and enjoin the right and forbid the wrong. And these are they who are successful.” This verse requires that among Muslims there should be a group whose functions are to invite outsiders to the message of the Quran and to teach Islam to Muslims them­selves. The first function is called “inviting to good”, i.e. to the Quran, and the second function is enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong, i.e. instructing Muslims as to what is right and wrong.

The claim of our Lahore Ahmadiyya Jama‘at is that it is such a group, and not a sect. Let us again look at the verse before this one, which I read above: “And hold fast by the rope of Allah all together and do not be disunited” (3:103). So what do you do when you see Muslims following some beliefs, practices or ideas that are clearly contrary to the Quran? Do you say that to try to correct them will cause disunity among Muslims, and not causing disunity is more important than holding fast by the rope of Allah? The greatest of Muslims who have ever lived always believed that bringing Muslims to the correct path where they had gone wrong was far more important than fearing that this would cause disunity among Muslims.

Shortly after the death of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, there arose issues which divided his Companions. On some matters they expressed and taught different points of view and interpretations. They did not hold back from this for fear of dividing Muslims into sects. Moving on a few years later, around fifty years after the Holy Prophet’s death we see the famous example of Imam Husain, grandson of the Holy Prophet. All Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husain in the month of Muharram and they lament the events of his murder, and that of his small band of followers, by the forces of the cruel caliph Yazid at the place called Karbala.

That tragedy could have been easily avoided if Imam Husain and his 70-odd follow­ers had accepted Yazid as the rightful caliph, as had been done by the vast majority of Muslims of the time. We do not find our critics accusing Imam Husain of breaking the unity of the Muslims, and the whole of the Muslim world considers Hazrat Imam Husain’s stand against Yazid to be an act of the greatest courage and sacrifice. Muslims cry and lament at Muharram that Imam Husain was on the side of truth and right. We don’t see our critics crying and lamenting that he was wrong and should have maintained the unity of Muslims by taking the pledge of alle­giance to Yazid.

The Lahore Ahmadiyya Jama‘at is, in fact, the very opposite of a sect. It has always strongly advocated that Muslims should work together on the causes that they agree on. They should not fight on matters they disagree on, while still retaining their disagreements and identities. Islam in its dealings with other religions, mainly the Jewish and Christian religions, pointed out to them those basic principles and teachings given to them by their prophets which they had neglected and not acted upon. Islam came to revive those principles. In the same way, inside Islam itself, the Lahore Ahmadiyya Jama‘at pointed out to Muslims certain basic principles of Islam given to them by their religion but which they neglected and had drifted away from. It aims to revive those principles.

One such principle is that anyone who claims to be a Muslim by declaring the Kalima Shahada must be regarded as a Muslim and treated by us as a Muslim brother. Various sects in Islam have declared members of other sects as non-Muslims, unbelievers and expelled from the fold of Islam. The Lahore Ahmadiyya Jama‘at emphasises that this practice is against Islam, and that it causes disunity and discord among Muslims. How can then our Jama‘at be accused of creating a sect when it teaches that members of all sects of Islam are Muslims? In fact, our Jama‘at is almost the only Muslim group to put forward and emphasise this principle.

The Lahore Ahmadiyya Jama‘at has throughout its history came to the rescue and assistance of Muslims all over the world. Muslims in many places in the world, including in the Indian subcontinent itself, found themselves under attack by Christian missionaries or the Arya Samaj Hindu sect. These anti-Islamic groups sought to convert them to their faiths by making all manner of allega­tions against Islam, the Quran and the Holy Prophet Muhammad. The local Muslims would send a message to Muslim organisations in the Indian subcontinent asking for help in combating these attacks. Their message was sometimes sent directly to the Ahmadiyya Anjuman in Lahore, or it was sent to some large, well-known Sunni Muslim body who, being unable to help, would forward it to the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Lahore. In response, our missionaries would be des­patched to such places, or if this was not possible then our litera­ture was sent there, to combat these attacks against Islam. It is no exaggeration to say that, due to the Lahore Ahmadiyya Move­ment’s work, millions of Muslims were thus saved from either leaving Islam altogether or becoming alienated from it.

In addition, there was the great missionary work of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Move­ment done in Western countries through the Woking Muslim Mission from 1913 to the 1960s, and the Mission at the Berlin Mosque in Germany from 1924 till today. There is no scope in a khutba for giving any details of this, but apart from the propagation of Islam these missions catered to the religious and social needs of Muslims in Britain and Germany when there was no other Muslim organisation there to help them. Although the Woking Muslim Mission ceased to exist in the 1960s, the work done by it for the general Muslim community is commemorated at regular events even now. One such event is at Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking, tomorrow.

The Lahore Ahmadiyya Jama‘at worked for the cause of Islam in a broad sense, from which Muslims of other sects benefitted. The Jama‘at did not work to defeat other Muslim sects and prove itself true over them, as other Muslim sects had been doing against each other. It is evident therefore that it is not a sect. In the end we pray that may Allah accept the great sacrifices and efforts of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Jama‘at made purely for the cause of Islam and the benefit of all Muslims — Ameen.