A 13th-century Moroccan Sufi on the Hadith of the 73 Sects

Bismillah.  An important explanation of what is meant by “What I and my Companions are upon” in the hadith of the 73 sects, a phrase often abused nowadays by un-Islamic, sectarian mindsets.  With thanks to Arnold Yasin Mol for digging this out.

In the tafsir by the 12-13th century Moroccan Sufi, Abu al-’Abbas al-Subti, he makes a very interesting exegesis on Qur’an verse 16:90 and the famous 72-sects Hadith. Through Asbab al-Nuzul he sees that 16:90 was revealed about the brotherhood pact between the first Muslims from Mecca (Muhajirun) and the helping community in Medina (Ansar) through which they obliged each other to share everything equally. The word ‘adl (عدل) in 16:90 means ‘equal value/weight/justice’, and so al-Subti understands that true justice means sharing everything equally among everybody. Later he sees that the famous 72-sects Hadith (72 Muslim sects go to Hell, 1 sect is saved) which is abused by many groups and sects to declare themselves the ‘saved sect’ and all others as condemned, was said the day after the ‘equal sharing pact’ was made, and thus equal sharing is what the Prophet and the first Muslims followed. The Hadith isn’t about following detailed sectarian rules concerning creed and ritual; to be saved is to share equally among mankind.

“I found a verse in the Book of God that had a great effect on both my heart and my tongue. It was, ‘Verily, God commands justice and the doing of good.’ I pondered this and said [to myself], ‘Perhaps [finding] this is no coincidence and I am the one who is meant by this verse.’ I continued to examine its meaning in the books of exegesis until I found Gharib at-Tafsir, which stated that [the verse] was revealed when the Prophet established brotherhood between the Emigrants (Muhajirun) and the Helpers (Ansar). They had asked the Prophet to establish a pact of brotherhood between them, so he commanded them to share among themselves. In this way, they learned that the justice commanded [by God] was through sharing. Then I looked into the saying of the Prophet: ‘My community will be divided into seventy-two sects, all of which will be in the Fire except the one followed by me and my companions,’ and found that he said this on the morning of the day that he had ordered the pact of brotherhood [to be established] between the Emigrants and the Helpers … So I understood that what he and his companions adhered to were the practices of equal sharing (mushatara) and favouring others (ithar). Then I swore to God Most High that when anything came to me I would share it with my believing brethren among the poor. I followed this practice for twenty years, and this rule affected my ideas to the point where nothing dominated my thoughts more than uncompromising honesty (sidq).”

[translation: Vincent J. Cornell, “Realm of the Saint: Power and Authority in Moroccan Sufism”]

Cornell also mentions that to Abu ‘l-‘Abbas, every act of human mercy (rahma) evoked a merciful response from the all-merciful God (ar-Rahim). He summed up his theory of reciprocity with the maxim: “[Divine] Being is actualised by generosity” (al-wujud yanfa’ilu bi ‘l-jud).

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3 Responses to “A 13th-century Moroccan Sufi on the Hadith of the 73 Sects”

  1. abdulraheem123 Says:

    Reblogged this on Abode of Mercy.

  2. sayedahmad2012 Says:

    بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم
    Dear brother
    My comments on the Abu Al Abase Al subti literature; Here is a copy of part of his literature;
    “Through Asbab al-Nuzul he sees that 16:90 was revealed about the brotherhood pact between the first Muslims from Mecca (Muhajirun) and the helping community in Medina (Ansar) through which they obliged each other to share everything equally. The word ‘adl (عدل) in 16:90 means ‘equal value/weight/justice’ and so al-Subti understands that true justice means sharing everything equally among everybody.”
    My comments on this matter are as follow:
     According to the verse 50 Al Qesas which states that; Translation; if they do not accept your requirement then believe that; they are following their own fancies, inclinations and likings. And who is the more astray than the one who is following their liking and fancies instead of following Quran Karim. In another words, those they are not following the instructions of Quran Karim and are following their own fancies and liking are the most astray.
    Now, in order to exempt us from the rows of the aberrant we have to rely on Quran Karim whatsoever we say or do.
    If we dig the above part of the literature of Moroccan Sufi, Abu al-’Abbas al-Subti, Then we will ultimately understand that; according to Moroccan Sufi, Abu al-’Abbas al-Subti Quran Karim has come to the prophet (s.a.t.a.w.s) based on the requirements of the situations and circumstances. But if we go to the verse 32 Al Forqan; it states there that; Translation: The infidels said; why Quran Karim didn’t come to you all at once? The reason is this that; I recited Quran Karim to you slowly in order to insert it, affirm and uphold it in to your heart.
    Now based on this order we can say that ; Quran Karim is not conditionally oriented revealed book as said by Moroccan Sufi, Abu al-’Abbas al-Subti, and others. But Allah (s.w.t), has decided from himself to send the Quran Karim part by part. He has also decided; What about the part should be about to be sent? How much it should be and when to be send? All of these things are decided by Allah (s.w.t).
     So far as the aids of the Ansar to the emigrants are concerned, it is based on many orders of Quran Karim to the Muslims that; Muslims have to distribute some of their possessions between people. For example in the verse 267Al Baqarata, it is ordered that; to distribute alms from the things you find or produce lawfully and from your agricultural yields.
    But; Moroccan Sufi, Abu al-’Abbas al-Subti, said in his literature that:” Through Asbab al-Nuzul he sees that 16:90 was revealed about the brotherhood pact between the first Muslims from Mecca (Muhajirun) and the helping community in Medina (Ansar) through which they obliged each other to share everything equally. The word ‘adl (عدل) in 16:90 means ‘equal value /weight /justice’, and so al-Subti understands that true justice means sharing everything equally among everybody.”
    Here, once again we observe that; Moroccan Sufi, Abu al-’Abbas al-Subti has introduced a wrong concept of the verse 16: 90. However he has shown Asbab al-Nuzul as the source on which he relies, but his biggest fault is this that; he didn’t rely on Quran Karim. In the mean time Subti has shown that even the writer of Asbab al Nuzul didn’t know Quran Karim. If the writer of Asbab al Nuzul knew Quran Karim, he would necessary know the verse 82 of Al Nesa then he would have not translated verse 16; 90 in such a way to happen in contradiction with other verses of Quran Karim, the Verse 82 Al Nesa states that; Translation: Why don’t they reflect on Quran Karim? If it was from others than Allah (s.w.t), then they would have found many contradictories in to it.
    Here I want to show some of the orders of the Quran Karim which rejects the concept of distribution of your possession equally between you and the other people.
    If we go to the verse 28 Al room which states: shortly translated: Allah (s.w.t) bring you an example of yourself. Are those who are in your possession, partner to you in what Allah (s.w.t) has provided you as means of subsistence or his blessed you with, such that to have equal share with you?
    Of course the answer of this question of Allah (s.w.t) is no. This is because of this fact that; Allah (s.w.t) says in the verse 29 Al Asra: Translation; do not keep tight your hands such that you do not distribute any alms to the needy people or do not have your hands so much open to give so much of your wealth as alms to the people that, later you will be regretful and sad for giving of that amount of alms.
    Now we clearly see that; the concept that Asbab Al Nuzul as introduced about 16: 90 is in contradiction with the last two verses. And from the verse 82 Al Nesa we know that; it is not right.
    From these two verses we come to this conclusion that; the literature of Moroccan Sufi, Abu Al Abbas Subti is a deviation from the orders of Allah (s.w.t). And creation of the sources like Asbab Nuzul and Tafseer are all means which have been created to be used as support for providing such deviations from Quran Karim. And thus all of them are fig and trivial.
    • The next important point of the Moroccan Sufi Abu Al Abbas is the Hadith about the split of the Muslims in 72 sects.
    According to verse 105 Al Emran which states: Translation; Do not be like those who created parties and groups and diverged after the Quran Karim came to them. Such people will face big tribulation.
    And based on the verse 33 Hameem Al Sajda/ Fossellat, Translation: who is the best speaker than the one, who is inviting people toward Allah (s.w.t), perform good deeds and say that I am Muslim?
    Thus these verses and similar other verses actually avoid even the idea of formation of sects inside Muslims. Because; for sure the endeavour of Muslims is always to prevent them from the heavy torture and do things which Allah (s.w.t) like it most. Then for sure Muslims prevent them of formation of sects in order to be prevented from the fire of the hell. And promulgation of such baseless gossips is means to prevent Muslims to adhere to Quran Karim.
    And according to the verse 188 Al Aaraf; the prophet (s.a.t.a.w.s) professes that he do not know prophesy and expressing the idea of the division of Muslims in to twelve sects is a kind of prophesy. This means that this Hadith is not right. And Hadith has been taken as a means of deviating Muslims from the orders of Quran Karim.

  3. Abu Fatimah al Britaani Says:

    I dont think this is a very likely interpretation of the hadeeth to be frank. The hadeeth mentions jews and christians also and is most likely talking about protestant, catholic etc, not generous christians and non generous christians. Its not about fiqh differences of small issues of aqeedah though. Its on major issues like ahmadis for example. I think as long as you are sunni you are in the jama’ah inshallah. its good to encourage unity upon one sect. If british muslims are to unite upon one british islamic community and vision, we cant really have ahmadis and barelwis and deobandis and salafis and shia and alawi etc.encouraging sectarian unity as much as possible is beneficial as long as the vision we unite upon is moderate and good. in fact, you are the one calling for muslims to unite on the issue of when ramadhan comes in

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