There seem many different “Islams”, some I have heard of like Shia, Alawites, Ismaeli, Sunni, Wahhabi and many others. Which one is the right one?
Virtues of the first generations of Muslims:
Collectively, the first generations of Muslims are known as the “Pious Predecessors” (as-Salaf as-Saleh), and include the “Companions” (Sahabah), the “Followers” (Tabi‘un) and the “Followers of the Followers” (Tabi‘ al-Tabi‘in).
‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Amr relates that Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, said: “Verily, the Children of Israel split-up into seventy-two sects; and my ummah will split-up into seventy-three sects, all of them are in the Fire save one”. They asked: Who are they, O Allah’s Messenger? He said: “That which I and my Companions are upon” (Al-Tirmidhi, no.2641; al-Hakim, no.444).
ʿImrān Bin Ḥusayn reported that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “The best of the people are my generation, then those after them, then those after them…” This is reported by Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood, al-Tirmidhee, al-Nasa’ee, and others.
God says, “And the first forerunners [in the faith] among the Muhajireen and the Ansar and those who followed them with good conduct – Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him, and He has prepared for them gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever. That is the great attainment” (Qur’an, 9:100)
In a hadith reported by Abū Mūsā al-Ashʿaree, Prophet (pbuh) said, “The stars provide security for the heavens; when the stars are gone, the heavens will receive what it has been promised (of destruction). I provide security for my companions; when I am gone, my companions will receive what they have been promised (of tribulations). And my companions provide security for my Ummah; when my companions are gone, my Ummah will receive what it has been promised (of disunity and fights). Recorded by Muslim (2531), Aḥmad, and others
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The short answer:
From the above, it is clear that the earliest generations were the best Muslims, and may i say the “Certified” people. So, the right group is that which understands & follows Islam as understood by the Companions of the Prophet Mohamed (pbuh).
The Detailed answer:
There are two broad categories – Sunni & Shia/Shiite. In the beginning, Muslims had just one leader for politics & religion. It was Prophet Muhammad & then the Caliphs. (Please read the brief inaugural speech of the first caliph at http://wp.me/pmMJ0-iP. It touches upon several critical elements, including Governance, Justice, relationships between the ruler and citizens, external & domestic affairs) The differences that arose during the period of fourth caliph Ali were originally political, but later they assumed religious overtones. Broadly, Sunnis revere all the family members & companions of the Prophet, while the Shiites have different opinions about them. The implications of reverence is enormous. For example, if you don’t believe (Contrary to the proofs) that they were honest, then everything (Qur’an and Hadeeths) that came from them is suspicious.
Sources of Islam:
The fundamental sources of Islamic knowledge are Qur’an and Hadeeths (Sayings, actions and approvals of the Prophet). The dreams of people, or hallucinations / illusions experienced aren’t sources of Islamic law. The Qur’an and Hadeeths have been well protected (Recorded, Verified, Narrators examined, Memorized by Millions, Students’ notes were certified, etc.). BUT, the Muslims – both individuals and groups – mayn’t be following the sources. So, anytime someone says anything about Islam, ask him/her, “Show me the proof from Qur’an or Hadeeths“. If people refuse to provide proofs, know that they are at the least ignorant.
Interpretation of the Sources:
People may interpret the same quranic verses or hadeeths differently. Different opinions don’t matter in some cases (for example, in some laws of prayer, fasting, etc.), but in some areas, like Creed (Aqeedah), only one answer is right. For example, is God everywhere?. The answer is NO. Now, i need to provide proof, for this answer, from Qur’an and Hadeeths. Here it is: http://wp.me/pLuqX-3d
Whose interpretation is correct? I’d say the people who know Islam best. (We seek the best doctor, engineer, lawyer, etc. for our needs & clarifications). Logically, the most qualified people to interpret Qur’an and Hadeeths are the people who lived during the revelation of Qur’an and who learned from the Prophet himself. Who knows Islam more (I say Islam, not astronomy or medicine)? The students (companions) of the Prophet.
It is not only logical, but there are also evidences from the Qur’an and Hadeeths themselves about the virtues and importance of companions of the Prophet. (Read the Virtues of the first generations of Muslims)
Though it may seem many of the contradicting interpretations are correct, it is not tough to find the truth. For example, you may find Shiites (Shias) and a few others like Barelvis, claim that there are proofs from the sources for using intermediaries to reach God (Tawassul or Waseela), decorating graves, etc. The quickest way to challenge them is to ask, “Did the Companions of the Prophet do these?”. The answer is NO. So, it is not tough to find (even without an in-depth knowledge of Islam) that these people are twisting the truth.
BTW, just like the speech of the first caliph, the letters, edicts (fatwas), speeches of many companions of the Prophet have been recorded.
Who are the Muslims who consciously seek to understand Islam as understood by the earliest & “Certified” generations? Salafis. This doesn’t mean anyone who is not calling him/herself as a Salafi is a deviant. Conversely, not everyone who calls himself a Salafi can be right.
Problems with the Salafi label:
1. Islam is the religion of God. It was not founded by Mohamed. Muslim is the term used by generations of worshipers of God. The followers of teachings of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are Muslims. The followers of Prophet Mohamed believe Adam, Noah, Jacob, and so on are Prophets (or, Messengers) of God. With this background, one can understand why some or many Muslims refuse to be identified by any label other than “Muslim”
2. Another issue is false associations. Osama claimed to be a Salafi, while the middle-eastern scholars who condemn terrorism and extremism are also called Salafis. The first generations of Muslims (i.e. Salaf) were not violent extremists.
3. The ideologies (Matters of faith, fiqh – matters of worship, Methodology) of most groups overlap with one another
4. Salafiyyah is a methodology. It has no central administrative figures like Pope or Archbishops. So, irrespective of whether a person calls himself a Muslim, a Wahhabi, a Salafi, a Sunni, or any other label, what matters is how s/he approaches Islamic Sources.
5. The term Salafi as a noun originated in modern times. No one called himself a salafi up until the early 20th century
Dr. Yasir Qadhi wrote, “In as much as the term refers to a methodology, it would be fair to say that it does not specify any one particular or distinct community or group of believers. The generic nature of this term is further illustrated by the fact that more than a dozen distinct groups either identify themselves as Salafī, in that they believe themselves to be on the Salafī manhaj (methodology), or they do not object to the term being ascribed to them even if they themselves do not use it. Whilst saying this however, it is worth noting that every one of these groups considers the correct application of the term exclusive to itself, alleging that all other claimants are not representative of ‘true Salafism'” (http://muslimmatters.org/2014/04/22/on-salafi-islam-dr-yasir-qadhi/)
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