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Sectarian controversies have a long and complex history in Islam and they have been exploited and amplified by rulers for political ends. However, the notion of Muslim unity has remained an important ideal and in modern times intellectuals have spoken against sectarian divisions. Prominent figures who refused to identify with a particular Islamic denomination have included Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, Syed Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Iqbal and possibly Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Recent surveys report that large proportions of Muslims in some parts of the world self-identify as "just Muslim", although there is little published analysis available regarding the motivations underlying this response.
The description non-madhhabi may be used for example in relation to Islamic studies at educational institutions that are not limited in scope to one particular madhhab or school of jurisprudence. For non-denominational Muslims, Pew uses the description of "choose not to affiliate" while Russian officials use the term "Unaffiliated Muslims" for those who do not belong to any branch or denomination.
The term ghair-muqallid, i.e., "non-follower", can be used to describe the adherants of movements such as Salafism and Ahl-e-Hadith who do not necessarily follow the rulings of a particular traditional madhhab but identify as Sunni Muslims.
History of sectarianism
After the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, two conflicting views emerged about who should succeed him as the leader of the Muslim community. Some Muslims, who believed that Muhammad never clearly named his successor, resorted to the Arabian tradition of electing their leader by a council of influential members of the community. Others believed that Muhammad had chosen his cousin and son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib to succeed him. This disagreement eventually resulted in a civil war which pitted supporters of Ali against supporters of the founder of the Umayyad dynasty Muawiyah, and these two camps later evolved into the Sunni and Shia denominations. For the Shias, Ali and the Imams who succeeded him gradually became the embodiment of God's continuing guidance, and they tended to stress the religious functions of the caliphate and deplore its political compromises; Sunnis were more inclined to circumscribe its religious role and more readily accepted its pragmatic dimensions. As these differences became increasingly vested with religious importance, they gave rise to two distinct forms of Islam.
One assumption is that Sunnis represent Islam as it existed before the divisions, and should be considered as normative, or the standard. This perception is partly due to the reliance on highly ideological sources that have been accepted as reliable historical works, and also because the vast majority of the population is Sunni. Both Sunnism and Shi'ism are the end products of several centuries of competition between ideologies. Both sects used each other to further cement their own identities and divisions.
In the Early Modern period the conflict between Shias and Sunnis took a turn for the worse when the Safavid and Ottoman dynasties turned the military conflict between them into a religious war after the Safavids made Shia Islam the state religion in their empire. During that era some Sunnis and Shias for the first time began refusing to recognize each other as Muslims. Sectarianism continued to be exploited for political benefits into modern times. An example of this was the Zia regime in Pakistan, who used sectarian divisions between the Sunni and Shia to counter the growing geopolitical influence of Iran, as well as to distract from the domestic political problems. Post-Zia governments in Pakistan continued to "cynically manipulate sectarian conflicts for short term political gain."
Development and thought
Islam originally brought a radical egalitarianism to a fiercely tribal society, within which a person's status was based on his tribal membership. The Quran set all individuals as equals, erasing the importance of tribal status. The primary identity of "Muslims" became simply "Muslim", rather than as a member of a tribe, ethnicity or gender. The Quranic concept of the ummah depends on this unified concept of an Islamic community, and it was appealed to again in the 19th century, as a response to colonialism by European powers. One Muslim scholar leading the emphasis on Muslim unity was Muhammad Iqbal, whose views have been referred to as "ummatic". Iqbal emphatically referred to sectarianism as an "idol" that needed to be "smashed forever". He is quoted as having stated, "I condemn this accursed religious and social sectarianism, there are no Wahhabis, Shias, Mirza's or Sunnis. Fight not for interpretations of the truth when the truth itself is in danger." In his later life, Iqbal began to transcend the narrow domain of nationalist causes and began to speak to the Muslims spread all over the globe, encouraging them to unify as one community.
Iqbal's influence on Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, is also well documented. Jinnah, who was born to an Ismaili Shia family and briefly converted to Twelver Shi'ism as a young man, publicly described himself as neither Shia nor Sunni, his standard answer to questions asking him to define his sect being: was Muhammad the Prophet a Shia or a Sunni?
Other intellectuals who spoke against sectarianism during this era were Altaf Hussain Hali, who blamed sectarianism for the decline of Muslims, the Aga Khan III, who cited it as a hindrance to progress, and Muhammad Akram Khan, who said sectarianism drained the intellectual capacities of Muslim scholars.
Non-denominational Muslims may also defend their stance by pointing to the Quran such as Al Imran verse 103, which asks Muslims to stay united and not to become divided. In Pakistan, sectarianism is cited as a hindrance to the unification of Islamic Law: "Codification of the Islamic Laws related to family and property on the basis of the concept of Talfiq should also be considered. This will require strong public opinion in favour of this unification of the Islamic Law on a non-sectarian basis, as no change can be considered permanent unless it has full support of the public."
There are faith schools and graduation programs with curriculums that have been described as being oriented towards non-denominational Islam. Non-denominational Muslims have been adopted by some theocratic governments into their fold of pan-Islamism as a means to tackle unreasoning partisanship and takfirism. Some academic press publishing companies have assigned a proper noun-like title to Muslims without a specific sectarian affiliation by capitalizing the designation as Just a Muslim. The customs and rituals practised by non-denominational Muslims in Northern Nigeria are statistically more likely to be Sunni-inclined. In other jurisdictions, some officials have applied a mandatory religious instruction that purportedly gives students a non-denominational outlook in an attempt to appear pluralistic, but in practice, does no such thing.
Western-born Muslims are more likely to be non-affiliated than immigrant Muslims, and when pressed may suggest they try to follow Islamic religious texts "as closely as possible". Although Pew has given comprehensive figures on Muslims with an unspecified branch or affiliation, earlier research from 2006 has also come from CAIR. Some publishers and authors have categorized such non-specified Muslims as being within the liberal or progressive stream of the faith. Sahelian non-denominational Muslims have demonstrated an aversion to austere religious measures. However, non-denominational Muslims in a locality in India have expressly suggested that non-denominational Islam is more traditional than what they consider as the more puritan and reformist Deobandi movement.
Although some non-denominational Muslims came to their position influenced by their parents, others have come to this position irrespective and in spite of their parents. Some laymen non-denominational Muslims exhibit hostility towards the notion that Islam is divided into the binary subdivisions of Sunnism and Shiaism, thereby erasing space for the unaffiliated non-denominational Muslims.
Non-denominational Islam has been described as a generic or a broad run-of-the-mill approach to the faith. Some adherents to the non-denominational form of Islam perceive it as less judgemental or censorious. Some non-denominational Muslims consider their unaffiliated stance to be a shield against the risk of becoming docile and meek subjects of domineering clergymen. According to the Muslim Council of America, facets occurring among non-denominational Muslims from a practical point of view includes lacking organizational convenance or spokespersons, and in terms of precepts, a universal or inclusive approach to all schools of thought. According to MCA, non-denominational Muslims also deemphasize the opinion of scholars, viewing them as non-binding, reject the blasphemy or riddah laws within Islam, and posit the implementation of human dignity, freedom of expression and human intellect according to circumstance and changing situations, such as discernment between the present and seventh century Arabia. They have also depicted non-denominational Muslims as having a theological position that favors self-determination, human intellect, human dignity, a proportionate level of egalitarianism between the various religions and genders, and adapting to changing circumstances. Despite on occasion sourcing indicating that those identifying as just a Muslim may constitute up to a quarter of Muslims, more established institutions may express hostility to such a flexible approach to faith due to its ability to foment attitudes calling for an elimination of Islamic clergy.
In 2017, there were 144 non-denominational prayer rooms and other places of worship in the United Kingdom, open to all denominations. This represented 7.4% of the total of mosques and Islamic prayer rooms in the UK. 99% of them provided women's facilities such as prayer space, toilets or ablution spaces. In 2013, there were 156 non-denominational Muslim prayer rooms and places of worship in the U.K, although according to Mehmood Naqshbandi, the congregation does not necessarily subscribe to the same viewpoints as the staff. This represented 3.5 per cent of the total mosque capacity and 9.4% of the total number of mosques and Islamic prayer rooms in the UK. Those who are non-denominational Muslim have seen the term adopted or adherents coalescing with a wide assortment of persuasions, including Muslim revivalists, Salafists, active members of the Muslim Brotherhood, LGBT Muslims, or the quintessential all-embracing Ansar-ud-Din college, described as a "non-denominational Muslim institution" in Ota Ogun State, Nigeria wherein in the 1950s, all its Islam-related shelves were stocked with books solely affiliated with Ahmadiyya or from western orientalists, even though Ahmadiyya is considered heretical by institutions in some of the most populous Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia.
According to the Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project, at least one in five Muslims in at least 22 countries self-identifies as "just Muslim". The country with the highest proportion of Muslims identifying themselves in this non-sectarian way is Kazakhstan at 74%. It also reports that such respondents make up a majority of the Muslims in eight countries (and a plurality in three others): Albania (65%), Kyrgyzstan (64%), Kosovo (58%), Indonesia (56%), Mali (55%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (54%), Uzbekistan (54%), Azerbaijan (45%), Russia (45%), and Nigeria (42%). Other countries with significant percentages are: Cameroon (40%), Tunisia (40%), Guinea Bissau (36%), Uganda (33%), Morocco (30%), Senegal (27%), Chad (23%), Ethiopia (23%), Liberia (22%), Niger (20%), and Tanzania (20%). However, Encyclopædia Britannica reports that in the 20th century the majority of Muslims in all nations except Iran, Iraq, and Yemen were Sunnis. Despite the data from Pew Research Center regarding the percentage of non-denominational Muslims, people who identify as 'just a Muslim' are more likely to be Sunni, as most Sunnis believe that they are the true Muslims.
It has been described as a phenomenon that gained momentum in the 20th century which can overlap with orthodox Sunni tenets despite adherents not adhering to any specific madhab. In an alluding commentary on surah Al-Mu'minoon verse 53, Abdullah Yusuf Ali states:
The people who began to trade on the names of the prophets cut off that unity and made sects; and each sect rejoices in its own narrow doctrine, instead of taking the universal teaching of unity from Allah. But this sectarian confusion is of man's making. It will last for a time, but the rays of truth and unity will finally dissipate it. Worldly wealth, power and influence may be but trials. Let not their possessors think that they are in themselves things that will necessarily bring them happiness.
- Tolu-e-Islam; inspired by the principles of Muhammad Iqbal's philosophy, led by Ghulam Ahmed Pervez, Tolu-e-Islam is an organization based in Pakistan. It does not affiliate with any political party or religious sect. Its goal is to spread the principles of the Quran, with an aim to bring about a resurgence of Islam.
- The People's Mosque; an online nondenominational Muslim movement that seeks to distinguish itself by contrasting its own principles with ultra-conservative political Muslims.
- Cambridge Central Mosque is a non-denominational place of worship.
- Ansar-ud-Din college, a college in Ogun state, Nigeria.
- Islam and democracy
- Islam and LGBT
- Islam and modernity
- Islam and secularism
- Muʿtazila (rationalist Islamic school)
- Persecution of Shia Muslims by Sunnis
- Spiritual but not religious
Reform movements within Islam:
- Benakis, Theodoros (13 January 2014). "Islamophoobia in Europe!". New Europe. Brussels. Archived from the original on 31 January 2016. Retrieved 20 October 2015.
Anyone who has travelled to Central Asia knows of the non-denominational Muslims – those who are neither Shiites nor Sounites, but who accept Islam as a religion generally.
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THE appalling and catastrophic pictures of the so-called new extremist Isis Jihadist group made me think about someone who can say I am a Muslim of a non-denominational standpoint, and to my surprise/ignorance, such people exist. Online, I found something called the people's mosque, which makes itself clear that it's 100 per cent non-denominational and most importantly, 100 per cent non-judgmental.
- Kirkham, Bri (2015). "Indiana Blood Center cancels 'Muslims for Life' blood drive". Archived from the original on 25 November 2015. Retrieved 21 October 2015.
Ball State Student Sadie Sial identifies as a non-denominational Muslim, and her parents belong to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. She has participated in multiple blood drives through the Indiana Blood Center.
- Pollack, Kenneth (2014). Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy. Simon and Schuster. p. 29.
Although many Iranian hardliners are Shi'a chauvinists, Khomeini's ideology saw the revolution as pan-Islamist, and therefore embracing Sunni, Shi'a, Sufi, and other, more nondenominational Muslims
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40 per cent called themselves "just a Muslim" according to the Council of American-Islamic relations
- Mustapha, Abdul (2014). Sects & Social Disorder. p. 5. ISBN 9781847011077.
of Muslims identified themselves as Sunni, 12 per cent as Shi'a, 3 per cent as Ahmadiyya but 44 per cent as 'just Muslim' (Pew Forum, 2010)
- Muttitt, Greg (2012). Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq. Vintage. p. 79.
A January 2004 survey by the Iraq Centre for Research and Strategic Studies, for instance, asked people which description suited them best Sunni Muslim, Shi'a Muslim or just Muslim'.
- Boulting, Ned. On the Road Bike: The Search For a Nation's Cycling Soul. p. 155.
What is your religion, asked a UN official. Muslim. Are you Shi'a or Sunni. Just Muslim
- Tatari, Eren (2014). Muslims in British Local Government: Representing Minority Interests in Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets. p. 111. ISBN 9789004272262.
Nineteen said that they are Sunni Muslims, six said they are just Muslim without specifying a sect, two said they are Ahmadi and two said their families are Alevi
- Lopez, Ralph (2008). Truth in the Age of Bushism. p. 65. ISBN 9781434896155.
Many Iraqis take offense at reporters' efforts to identify them as Sunni or Shiite. A 2004 Iraq Centre for Research and Strategic Studies poll found the largest category of Iraqis classified themselves as "just Muslim."
- Tan, Charlene (2014). Reforms in Islamic Education: International Perspectives. ISBN 9781441146175.
This is due to the historical, sociological, cultural, rational and non-denominational (non-madhhabi) approaches to Islam employed at IAINs, STAINs, and UINs, as opposed to the theological, normative and denominational approaches that were common in Islamic educational institutions in the past
- Rane, Halim, Jacqui Ewart, and John Martinkus. "Islam and the Muslim World." Media Framing of the Muslim World. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2014. 15-28
- Obydenkova, Anastassia V. "Religious pluralism in Russia." Politics of religion and nationalism: Federalism, consociationalism and secession, Routledge (2014): 36-49
- Qasmi, Ali Usman. "Islamic Universalism: The ‘Amritsarī’Version of Ahl al-Qurʾān." Journal of Islamic Studies 20.2 (2009): 159-187.
- Maghen, Ze'ev. "See No Evil: Morality and Methodology in Ibn Al-qattān al-Fāsī's Ahkām al-nazar bi-Hāssat al-Basar." Islamic Law and Society 14.3 (2007): 342-390.
- Abou Zahab, Mariam. "Salafism in Pakistan." Global Salafism: Islam’s New Religious Movement, Roel Meijer (ed.)(New York: Columbia University Press, 2009) (2011): 126-142.
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- Hughes, Aaron (9 April 2013). Muslim Identities: An Introduction to Islam. pp. 115–116. ISBN 9780231531924.
It is a mistake to assume as is commonly done that Sunni Islam arose as normative from the chaotic period following Muhammad's death... This mistake is based in... the taking of later and often highly ideological sources as accurate historical portrayals - and in part on the fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslims throughout the world follows now what emerged as Sunni Islam...
- Hughes, Aaron (9 April 2013). Muslim Identities: An Introduction to Islam. p. 116. ISBN 9780231531924.
Each of these sectarian movements... used the other to define itself more clearly and in the process to articulate its doctrinal contents and rituals.
- Bartold, Vasily (1936). Mussulman Culture. University of Calcutta. pp. 143–144.
- Copland, Ian (18 October 2013). South Asia: The Spectre of Terrorism. pp. 138–139. ISBN 9781317967736.
- Esposito, John (13 July 2011). What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam: Second Edition. p. 16. ISBN 9780199794133.
- Esposito, John (13 July 2011). What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam: Second Edition. p. 17. ISBN 9780199794133.
- Junid, Sanusi (2002). "Iqbal and Muslim Unity". Intellectual Discourse. International Islamic University Malaysia. 10 (2, 115–124): 116.
Iqbal's vision was Ummatic and hence he should be referred to as "the poet philosopher of Muslim unity."
- Jones, Justin (24 October 2011). Shi'a Islam in Colonial India: Religion, Community and Sectarianism. pp. 25–26. ISBN 9781139501231.
- Junid, Sanusi (2002). "Iqbal and Muslim Unity". Intellectual Discourse. International Islamic University Malaysia. 10 (2, 115–124): 120.
Iqbal was no longer writing for Indian Muslims alone but for his coreligionists scattered all over the world. He had switched from Urdu to Persian to make his message available to the largest number of the adherents of Islam.
- Ahmed, Khaled. "Was Jinnah a Shia or a Sunni?". The Friday Times. Archived from the original on 17 November 2011. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
- Intra-Societal Tension and National Integration, p 119, A. Jamil Qadri - 1988
- The Oxford Dictionary of Islam defines Talfiq as "Legal term describing the derivation of rules from material of various schools of Islamic law." Oxford Islamic Studies Online
- GHAFUR, ABDUL (1987). "Islamization of Laws in Pakistan: Problems and Prospects". Islamic Studies. 26 (3): 271. JSTOR 20839846.
- GSRC (2015). "Degree overview: Theology and religion". Retrieved 19 October 2015.
Most theology schools are based in a religious tradition—a specific sect or denomination of a major religion (i.e., a branch of Rabbinical Judaism, a Catholic order, or a school of Buddhism); a general foundation in a major religion (i.e., nondenominational Islam or Christianity)
- Mustapha, Abdul Raufu (2014). Sects & Social Disorder: Muslim Identities & Conflict in Northern Nigeria. p. 54. ISBN 9781847011077.
... the Ahmadiyya (3%), the 'something else' (2%), the 'Just a Muslim' (42%), and the 'Don't Know' (4%) (Pew 2010, 21). Most of the 'Just a Muslim' are also likely to be Sunni-inclined
- Torfs, Rik (2012). Islam, Europe and Emerging Legal Issues. p. 29.
The Turkish government maintained that religious instruction was mandatory because it was objective, pluralist and neutral, that is nondenominational ... The perception of the applicants was totally different ... they argued that the teaching was done from the perspective of Sunni Islam
- Section 2: Religious Beliefs and Practices, Pew Research Center
- Testerman, Janet (2014). Transforming From Christianity to Islam: Eight Women's Journey. p. 13. ISBN 9781443862004.
If people ask me “What are you, Sufi, Shiite or Sunni?” I say No, I'm just a Muslim. I follow the Quran as much as I can, and if I have questions I go to scholars, but I don't get myself involved in any divisions.
- Roelle, Patrick (2006). Islam's Mandate- a Tribute to Jihad: The Mosque at Ground Zero. p. 374.
In a 2006 survey of 1,000 Muslim registered voters, about 12% identified themselves as Shi'a, 36% said they were Sunni, and 40% called themselves "just a Muslim," according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
- Aamir, Omer; professor Fatima Mustafa (2013). Federalism and Pakistan.
Their dream of turning the conflict into an Arab against the Shiite's is turning into a reality. A dark twisted reality for the liberal non denominational Muslims
- Kennedy, Lisa (2015). "Film review: "Timbuktu" depicts the beautiful and the brutal". The Denver Post. Retrieved 21 October 2015.
In town, the jihadists have begun imposing Shariah laws on the locals. Many of the citizens are already devout, if non-denominational Muslims, but this pushes them.
- Cughtai, Muhammad Ikram (2005). Jamāl Al-Dīn Al-Afghāni: An Apostle of Islamic Resurgence. p. 454.
Condemning the historically prevailing trend of blindly imitating religious leaders, al-Afghani refused to identity himself with a specific sect or imam by insisting that he was just a Muslim and a scholar with his own interpretation of Islam.
- Bowen, Innes (2014). Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent. Oxford University Press. p. 7. ISBN 9781849043014.
- Nielsen, Jorgen S (2018). Exploring the Multitude of Muslims in Europe. Brill Publishers. pp. 111–114.
In fact, as a large number of Lithuanian converts to Islam, who are both rank and file of "Education and Heritage," are of non-denominational and / or revivalist leanings, with some of them identifying with Salafi creed, it is best to be described as a denominationally nondescript organisation.
- University of California. Federal supplement. [First Series.] (Volume 212 ed.). p. 868.
A non-denominational Muslim. I am not registered with any particular sect”. He was an active member of the Muslim Brotherhood; was acquainted with its constitution and took the oath described therein
- van Nieuwkerk, Karin (2018). Moving In and Out of Islam. p. 73. ISBN 9781477317488.
- Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (1958). Conference Proceedings (Volume 6 ed.). The Institute.
In the library of the Ansar-ud-Din training college at Otta, a non-denominational Muslim institution, all the books in the Islamic section are by Ahmadis, with the exception of two by Western Orientalists
- Burhani, An (2014). Hating the Ahmadiyya: the place of "heretics" in contemporary Indonesian Muslim society. pp. 133–152.
or heresy by various Muslim institutions in both India and Pakistan, the region of its origin, as well as other Muslim countries, including Indonesia
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- The Meaning of the Holy Quran, New Edition with Revised Translation and Commentary, Published by Amana Corporation, page 853
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We are Muslims! 100% non-denominational, 100% non-judgmental, 100% dedicated to helping the people