Allah says in the Majestic Qur’an, “Hold fast all together to the rope of Allah and be not divided.”
The very first generation of Muslims that lived and established Islam in their lives with Muhammad, the son of ‘Abdullah, had glory and triumph that no nation that existed before them or any that came after them achieved. This is a reality which no one denies. Thus we find that every conscious Muslim dreams about this reality and so in his own way tries to work for this glory to return within his life and the life of those around him. However, to dream is one thing and the reality is another.
The division of this Ummah started very early after the death of the Messenger of Allah. After Islam became strong and its enemies found that they could not defeat it physically they started to attack it by undermining the faith of the common people and those newly converted to Islam by introducing new concepts that were alien to the Islam brought by Muhammad. This wave of attack brought about an almost total standstill to the quest for sound knowledge and facilitated the easy spread of deviant concepts and new innovations in this din. The vast majority of Muslims are now totally lost and their understanding of Islam was very much diluted with deviant ideas which allowed anyone who wanted to capitalize on the ignorant to do so with ease. People now lost the correct way and so they did not know what method to use to understand this din. Therefore, instead of referring matters of belief (‘aqidah) to the Qur’an and the sunnah they turned to the books of philosophy which, although written by Muslims, were all affected by the Greek, Persian and other prevalent thoughts of that time.
Issues of fiqh on the other hand were completely restricted to the four Imams. And so as time went by the people became totally fanatical about their madhab (school of thought). This caused the noble Imams to be treated by their followers as the prophets ought to be treated (i.e. as if they were protected from errors). Whatever any of them said was taken as totally correct by those who followed them (as if it were revelation).
This dangerous state of affair led to blind following (taqlid) of humans at the expense of revelation. Blind following of other than Allah and His Messenger along with widespread ignorance was definitely the major sources of all the division that occurred in the din. And this attitude closed the doors of ‘ijtihad. Proofs were no longer looked into to understand anything in the Islam and the Qur’an and the sunnah of the Messenger which must be used for our guidance now became means for the Muslim of acquiring blessings (barakah).
This further led to the state where anyone could now give fatawa (legislative rulings in Islam) and also say anything he felt like saying about Islam because there was no threat that anyone would ask for proof from the Qur’an or the sunnah. On the other hand the people who were listening to him had no basis to determine whether what they are hearing is correct or not because they themselves have lost any attachment to sources of Islamic law. This condition of ignorance and blind following was also predicted by the Messenger, who said: “Verily, Allah does not take away knowledge by snatching it from the people, but (this is done) by causing (the death) of the scholars until none of them is left alive. People would then appoint ignorant leaders for themselves who would be consulted in matters of religion and they would give fatawa without knowledge, falling into misguidance and misguiding others” Muslim
The Messenger of Allah said: “O mankind, I am leaving two things with you, if you cling to them you will never go astray; the Book of Allah and my sunnah (way of life).”Al-Hakim and Al-Bayhaqi
This hadith is laying the basis for the Muslim if he does not want to go astray. It follows, therefore, that if at anytime some one finds himself going astray, then he is not holding on to one or both of these sources. The problem we face, however, is that every Muslim stand by this claim that they are holding on to the Qur’an and the sunnah, so how can anyone determine whose claim is correct?
The Messenger of Allah left this way very clear for us as he said, “I am leaving you on a clear way, its night is like its day and none turns away from it except that he would be destroyed.”
He told us that the way he left is very clear and then in the following hadith he explained for us what it is. He said,
“The Jews were divided into seventy-one groups and the Christians were divided into seventy-two and my Ummah will be divided into seventy-three and each of them will be in the fire except one.” The companions asked: “Who are they, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “They are those who are on the like of what I and my companions are upon.”
And in another hadith, he said: “The best people is my generation then those that follow them, then those who follow them.”
In the above hadith the Prophet is telling us the way to understand the Qur’an and the sunnah is the way the sahabah understood and practiced it. If the understanding of the Qur’an and the sunnah of any group coincides with the understanding of the Companions in all issues, then that group would be the one that is on the truth.It must also be very clear that only one group of all the groups that are existing is on the correct way as is explained in the hadith.
The saying of Allah further emphasises that there is only one way. He said:
“Whoever opposes the Messenger after the guidance has been clearly shown to him, and follows other than the way of the believers, We shall keep him in the path he has chosen, and burn him in hell, and what an evil destination.” Al-Qur’an 4:115
Who were the believers during the time the Qur’an was being revealed? Were they not only the Messenger and the first generation of believers? So Allah is also making it very clear that there is only one way i.e. the way of the Messenger and his companions.
“So if they (i.e. the people) believe in the like of what you all believe, (only) then they are rightly guided; but if they turn away, they are only in opposition. So Allah will suffice for you against them. And He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower.” Al-Qur’an 2:137
Who are the people Allah refers to, as ” … in the like of what you all believe … “, during the time of this verse being revealed, were they not the first generation of believers who witnessed the revelation. So once again Allah makes it clear that there is only one way i.e. the way of the Messenger and his companions. The Prophet, peace be upon him, has also stated, “Whoever introduces something (new) into this matter of ours (i.e. Islam), will have it rejected” [Al-Bukhari] and, “Whoever does an act which we have not commanded, it will be rejected.” [Muslim]